The Taxi

By Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017

The old town hall clock was chiming 3am, the start of the witching hour, when the rain which had threatened all evening started to fall in torrents. Each huge droplet bounced a full foot from the cobbles, causing a second-tier cascade of lesser force at ground level. I shivered in the frigid wind and huddled deeper into my coat beneath the insufficient shelter of my umbrella.

It was late, or early, depending on how you viewed it. But I was done for the night. There were no more punters to be ‘had’ after 3am during the week. I hoped I’d made enough to satisfy him, but it was time to go home, shower and sleep before he came for his cut.

I stepped continually from side-to-side. Half of the movement to keep warm and the other to alleviate the burning in the balls of my feet. I still wasn’t use to wearing heels all night.

I began to wonder yet again whether I should just walk and save the money, when the cab pulled up to the curb. Mostly, the taxi rank is serviced by City Cab, because that is the biggest firm around here. There are other firms though and even a few independent drivers so I didn’t pay much attention to the cab other than to note it was grey rather than black, but it could have been neon pink with yellow stripes and I wouldn’t have cared.

“Bonchurch Avenue please.” I said as I climbed in, closing my umbrella and scooting along the back seat, until I was behind the driver. “The corner near the Empire “

The driver didn’t acknowledge my request, but the cab pulled smoothly away as I settled in my seat and fastened my safety belt. The door lock mechanism clicked. It seemed louder than usual, perhaps because the engine and tyre noise were less. I looked up to check the meter was at zero, and screamed. There was nobody in the driver’s seat.

Despite having heard the door lock and the fact that the taxi was moving, I still pulled the handle and was surprised that I couldn’t get out. I banged on the driver’s partition and screamed at the non-existent driver to let me out. The taxi moved faster.

Using the handle of my umbrella, I tried to break the side window. The umbrella handle shattered, but the toughened glass did not. A shard of broken plastic stabbed deep into my palm. I screamed again. Blood welled from the site of the injury as tears welled in the corners of my eyes. Whether the tears were from pain or fear I could not honestly say.

The world sped passed the windows. I had been in the taxi for less than five minutes, collected from the city centre, but already I did not recognise the scenery outside. The sky had cleared and lightened, but the taxi hurtled at dangerous speed through countryside. Fields flashed past on either side, the vehicle never seemed to turn. It seemed to travel to fast to be able to. I looked through the front window. The road ran on endlessly before me, into the dawn. We passed no other vehicles and nothing came in the opposite direction.

Suddenly the road narrowed, hedgerows closed in on either side, forming an arch above and plunging the taxi into a darkness on either side, with the faint dawn in the distance and headlight beams illuminating the immediate road. The vehicle did not slow. The view from the side windows was black. I looked out of the back window, and wished I hadn’t. Behind me wasn’t simply darkness, but the night sky complete with stars.

After we’d been travelling an hour by the reckoning of my watch, I felt my panic and fear lessening. I still trembled with adrenaline, but it is impossible to maintain terror without immediate threat.

I pulled the shard of plastic from my palm and applied a tissue and pressure to stop the bleeding. Another hour passed. The wound had mostly clotted and was bored and tired. It was 5am, I had been awake for almost a whole day.

At least the meter isn’t running. I thought as I succumbed to sleep.

I woke to sunlight in my eyes, the smell of ozone and the sound of sea gulls. I remembered the noise they made from summer holidays with my grandma, before … before she had died, and my life had ended. I had gone to live with my mother and the endless string of ‘uncles’. I lay across the back seat of a car, and for a moment I wondered where I was. Then I remembered the taxi and the ride. The car was still now.

I sat up and looked out of the window. The sky was a perfect blue with just a few cotton wool clouds. The taxi was the only car in the very centre of a small car park. There was a high fence on three sides of the car park but on the final side was a view of the sea. I must have been on a hill as it was below and in the corner of the car park stood a single storey, white stucco building that screamed toilets.

There was a loud click. The door locking mechanism had released. Without waiting for further invitation, I flung open the door, gathered my things and climbed out. As I closed the door to the taxi, the engine started and it drove away, leaving me who knows where.

I walked to the edge of the carpark, crossed the road and stood at the edge of a cliff, looking down on the sea. I’d been to this place before. I knew that if I followed the path it would lead down to a beach and the other direction was the village centre.

“Morning Hazel.” A woman’s voice called. The voice was from my dreams. I turned, and there she stood. My grandma, who was dead these last 10 years. “Welcome home child.”

She opened her arms and I ran to embrace her.

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The Wrong Door

By Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017

I wrote this short story in a half an hour exercise at the Ecclesfield Library Writers group on Wednesday evening in response to the prompt ‘On the way back from the toilet she opened the wrong door.’ The only changes to it before posting here are a spell check.

Carla wandered down the corridor of the hospital looking for a non-staff, non-patient toilet. She questioned five sets of people, changed floor level and turned numerous corners before she managed it.

Relieved, Carla headed back in the direction of when she thought she’d come from. This was only supposed to be a flying visit on the way home from work. She was to drop off some clothes and collect dirty washing from her father-in-law. Her journey here had been dreadful – bumper to bumper traffic all the way. By the time she reached the hospital the call of nature had been more of a scream. She hadn’t paid much attention to anything other than finding a loo.

Other than going down a floor, she didn’t remember the route. It annoyed her this level had no lines painted on the floor to follow and no signposts. It was also deserted. In front of her was a fire door that looked as though it lead into a stairwell. If she got back to her father-in-law’s floor she would be able to find the ward no problem.

The door was heavy. Carla pushed against it and had decided it was locked. She was about to move on when it clicked. The noise echoed ominously down the empty corridor but as the door opened it revealed a stairwell on the other side. Not the one she’d come down, but it lead upwards and should take her back to the right level.

She let the door go. It swung closed behind her and clanged like a prison. Something made her turn. The  door had no handle this side. She couldn’t open it. There was no fire alarm point beside it either.

With no choices other than up or down, Carla set off up the stairs. As she walked the, the lights went out behind her, leaving the stairwell totally dark. It was an internal staircase with no windows to allow in natural light. Not that there would have been any at this time of the evening in the middle of winter.

‘Motion activated’ she thought, stepping back down a step and waving her arms to activate the light sensors. The stairwell remained dark.

Below her she heard a faint scuffing noise. Carla told herself she hurried so the lights would not turn out on her, then she turned and headed up the stairs at a pace that left her breathless.

There had only been two flights of stairs between floors on the way down. She had climbed up four flights so far and there had been no exit. There was nothing in this corridor except extinguishing lights. Even the floor beneath her feet was dusty, she left tracks behind her. Nobody had been this way for a long time, not even to clean.

Her breathing was ragged and harsh now. She had to reach the top soon, it was a low rise building. She turned a corner. She had time to see the top of the stairs and the end of the corridor. There was no exit. Then the light went out.

She stopped. She was afraid she would fall down the stairs on the total darkness. She fought panic as she thought through what to do. She would have to go back down the stairs and try to get out again at the corridor where she’d entered the stairwell. If she couldn’t she could go down again from there and try to get out at a lower level.

Her breathing had slowed down now, but it still sounded harsh and loud in the echoing stairwell. Taking firm hold of the handrail she took a slow and faltering step down the stairs. She slid her hand down the handrail and touched something soft and warm.

“You’ve taken the wrong door little girl.” said a wheezing voice.

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Villain

By Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017

I looked around my humble abode, trying to see with fresh eyes; the bookshelf containing an array of well-thumbed reference books with titles such as ‘How to write a better than average, mediocre tale’ and the dining table and chairs supporting my battered laptop. This was my creative office.

It wasn’t an idle inspection, but a critical one. I had to be sure all traces of my previous villain, Evilyn De’ath, were gone. No tell-tale crumpled balls of manuscript lurking in the corners where I had tossed them after our final disagreement. I wanted nothing to taint the mood, for in a few short moments I was to entertain, with the prospect of a new villain coming on board as my prime protagonist.

A delicate cough announced her arrival. I looked up to be captured by huge green eyes, outlined with black kohl and lashes that were too long to be natural. The sensual scents of musk and roses teased my nostrils, and then she smiled, revealing perfect white teeth framed by shockingly scarlet lips. My protagonist didn’t stand a chance.

She sashayed towards me, pale hand outstretched. Her manicured nails matching the shade of her lipstick. I clasped the extended hand with my pudgy, sweaty palm. Hers was cold. Perfect.

“Welcome to my world Madame Villainousa,” I said. Taking in her hour glass figure, poured into a red silk dress and long brunette hair. She was exactly as I’d imagined. “I’m the author. It’s good to meet you in person.”

“Hello Daarrling,” she purred, and air kissed me once on each cheek.

“Please, take a chair.” I motioned towards the table, and moved closer to assist her.

She wrinkled her delicate nose at the visitor chair I offered, glided around the table and slide into my chair. My bottom jaw dropped open. I closed it quickly, before the drool could escape. ‘Fair enough,’ I thought. ‘I wanted a take charge sort of villain.’

“May I offer you a drink?” I asked. “Coffee, something stronger?”

“No thank you Darling. I doubt your budget would run to my tastes.” She smoothed non-existent wrinkles from her skirt and looked me in the eye. “Down to business. Why should I lower myself to take part in your two-a-penny plot?”

I didn’t want to antagonize her before we even began negotiations, but that was insulting.

“Well it can’t be any worse than your last plot, can it? Perhaps you could explain why that was such a dismal failure?”

“Darling, authors write for the villain to fail.” She smiled, showing too much teeth and reminding me of her predatory nature. “It simply isn’t fair. We get a monologue, a few inept toadies and an ego. But no raison d’être or real chance of success.

“If you want me to join you. I want a true motive and an honest chance to succeed. Otherwise, there is no point in playing the game.”

“Forgive me Madame, but I thought this interview was for me to determine your suitability not the other way around.”

“Pish posh.” She dismissed me with a wave of her elegant hand. “Your story NEEDS me. Strong, Beautiful, Resourceful, Clever, Evil. But, why should I agree to take part, only to be doomed to failure simply because of author prejudice.”

“I need a villainess with high ideals. Scruples. Morals. Standards.” I leaned forward onto the table, bracing on my elbows. “Do you think you can pull that off?”

“Obviously, Darling. That’s why I question my involvement. I refuse to stoop to pettiness, or kiciking a puppy to show how evil I am.

“Give me a proper motive and something tangible to gain. I need a heartfelt reason.”

“Madame, what are your guiding principles?”

“Hmmn,” She inspected her blood red nails, polished them against her bodice and inspected then again. “I suppose it would be to do not say. If I’m going to kill you, I just do it. I don’t warn you and then tell you how I plan to carry it out, then stall for half a chapter so you can escape or outwit me.”

“I need a rich femme fatale married to an older man. She has been stepped over in her husband’s will. He has left the company to his nephew, but she feels it is hers by right. She will stop at nothing to gain control of the company.

“She will seduce my protagonist, who will fall in love with her. She’ll break his heart. Thereafter, she will twang those broken heart strings and know the very best ways to hurt and outwit him at every turn.”

“Wonderful Darling. Sign me up.”

Lost and Found

by Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017

It was five minutes before 9.00am. Jenny sat behind the lost and found counter and looked at the orderly queue forming. Customer service staff manned the desk every weekday between 9.00am and 5.00pm, but each day the queue was ready and waiting by 8.30 am.

Today the first person in the queue was a little girl. She looked about seven years old. Not that Jenny was a very good judge of ages. She had pigtails and huge blue eyes, rimmed red from tears.

“Hello,” said Jenny, reaching for the first lost property form on the stack before her. “What’s your name?”

“Melanie,” replied the girl.

“What have you lost?”

“Miffy. I can’t find her anywhere.”

The girl’s eyes filled with water until the tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks. Her bottom lip trembled.

“Who’s Miffy? Is she a pet or a toy?”

“She’s my unicorn.”

Jenny looked up from her lost and found form. “A unicorn?”

“A-ha,” Melanie replied. “She has soft white fur, a rainbow coloured spiral horn and pink hooves. Her eyes are blue, like mine.”

“Does she have wings?” Jenny asked.

“Of course not.” Melanie scowled, pouted and put her hands on her hips. “Proper unicorns don’t have wings.”

“How big is she?”

“Twelve hands tall. Not my hands, ‘cos that would make her teeny-weeny, but she’s only pony sized. She gets upset if I say that normally. She’s touchy about her size.”

“When was the last time you saw Miffy?”

“I left her outside the library. She was standing in the cycle rack,” said Melanie. “I was only supposed to return my books, but I saw some new picture books and started looking at them and I forgot all about the time. Miffy must have got bored and wandered off.”

Jenny sighed quietly. Why could she never have straight forward things, like keys or umbrellas, handed in at the desk. Last week, a little boy had lost his dragon. Really, how many places can a dragon hide?

“Where have you looked for Miffy?”

“I checked all around the library building. Then I looked on the park; she likes to eat the roses even though she’s not supposed to. Then I asked at the florist and fruit shops, her favourite places, but nobody’s seen her.”

The tears fell faster.

Jenny leaned forward, over the counter, and caught a few glistening drops to add to her scrying bowl. The tears of an innocent were useful to locate unicorns. She gently swirled the bowl and whispered her incantation.

The surface of the liquid in the scrying bowl became opaque and milky and then reflective and silver, like a mirror. Jenny couldn’t see Miffy of course, only innocents can see unicorns, but she could see where Miffy was standing.

“Miffy is outside a leaf green front door with a gold number 3 on it.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you.” Said Melanie. “She’s gone home.” The little girl skipped away happily.

“Next,” called Jenny.

An elder gentleman with long grey hair, huge bushy eyebrows and the matching moustache and beard stepped up to the counter. Jenny reached for the next form.

“What’s your name please?”

“Mr A. Cadabra.” Replied the gentleman

“How can I help you Sir?”

“I seem to have lost my marbles.”

“Oh dear,” thought Jenny. “Here we go again.”

 

Hooray for Public Transport.

This story was inspired by a writing prompt: Your Tesla has stopped in the wilderness. The last thing you remember is someone hacking into the car’s computer, steering you away from the safety of the city. In the darkness, a light moves towards you…

To receive writing prompts like the one above and the chance to enter their short story competition sign up to https://medium.com/reedsy

You can also read their winning £50 stories there. I have not entered the competition, but I would appreciate your feedback here and if you like the story, your shares. Thanks.

Hooray for Public Transport.

By Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017

The Tesla finally stopped. It simply pulled into a lay by on a B road. I had no idea where here was or how to get home even if I could get out. The route display on the dash had gone haywire for a second, a random scattering of digits and blanks, then a message had appeared:

“Sit back and enjoy the ride, the meeting would’ve been boring anyway.”

The Tesla turned left at the traffic lights but it should have carried straight on. I’d been hacked. I tried switching back to manual control. The switch flipped but nothing happened, the car turned right this time. I wondered where I was being taken and why. I pushed hard on the brake pedal and removed the access fob from the dash. Neither had any effect.

I pulled my phone out of my handbag. It had power but there was no signal. It was being jammed. What was I to do. I couldn’t stop the car or call for help. Why was this happening? The car was driving safely, following the road rules, it was just going the wrong way.

I could feel my heart racing. My palms were sweaty and I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly. I knew it was a panic attack, but I didn’t know how to stop it. I closed my eyes and started taking deep, controlled breaths, counting each one. In took what felt like ages, but was probably only five minutes, for the panic feeling to fade.

I opened my eyes again. I was in an unfamiliar part of town. It was an industrial and warehouse district and it looked a bit run down. My guess was, the car was heading out-of-town. I still didn’t know why I had been targeted.

What meeting had the carjacker meant? Who did they think I was?

The car was approaching a light controlled crossroads, it started to slow as the light turned amber. It would have to stop here. I undid my seat belt. The fasten safety belt light illuminated on the dash and the ping, ping, ping warning bell sounded. Before I could talk myself out of it, I grabbed the door handle, prepared to jump out. The door was locked. I suppose I should have expected that. I couldn’t open the window either.

Another message appeared on the screen:

“Put your seatbelt back on. Safety first.”

It was the only defiance I could muster, so I didn’t. I thought a police car might see me and stop the car.

Another message appeared:

“Seatbelt. Now.”

I didn’t think the Tesla had internal cameras, but the carjacker was connected to my system and could see whether I’d complied. So, I fastened the seatbelt, but sat on it. It felt oddly uncomfortable to travel unrestrained, but nowhere as uncomfortable as being kidnapped by my new car.

My options were limited. I couldn’t stop the car or open the door and I didn’t have anything to break the glass with. I couldn’t make a phone call. But, I had a lipstick in my handbag. I climbed into the back of the car and scrawled, in baby pink lipstick, on the back window:

“HELP! CAR JACKED.”

Next, I clambered back into the front and wrote the same message on the inside of the windscreen. Having done all I could think of, I sat down again. There was nothing I could do then but wait.

Two hours later, I regretted the fact that my car had been fully charged that evening when I started my journey. If I hadn’t charged the battery at work, I would only have got to the city boundary. Instead, I was on a little used country road, at night, a hundred miles from home.

As time has passed and my helplessness becomes apparent, my mood vacillates between terror and anger. Between what do they want with me and how bloody dare they.

The Tesla still had some charge left, but not enough to get me home. I still couldn’t think why anybody would want to carjack me in the first place, or what meeting they’d mentioned. I still can’t open the friggin door. I’ve been sat here now for fifteen minutes. You would have thought my kidnapper would be here to greet me.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve cried. I’m out of clean tissues. I have panda eyes. I’m afraid and I want to go home.

A single light crests the rise behind me, it fills the rear-view mirror and the reflection dazzles me after being in the complete dark for so long. The light slows down and stops behind me. It’s a motorcycle, which explains the single light.

A silhouette appears by my window, a human shaped darkness against the night. A flashlight is turned on and shone in my face. The person steps back suddenly.

My window opens by itself, night air enters the car, cool and refreshing with the scent of hedgerows and rain. There is a field of rapeseed flowers nearby in bloom, I can smell their familiar perfume.

“Who are you?” It’s a male voice. He’s angry and in the hand without a torch I think he holds a gun. Perhaps it would be better to work the afraid rather than the angry.

“Phoebe Simmons.” I reply. My voice is tremulous and I realise I’m close to crying again.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was car-jacked on the way home from work.” Duh! He was pretty stupid if he couldn’t work that one out. Seeing as the window had opened for him, so he was my car-jacker.

“Where’s Montgomery?”

“Who?”

“Don’t play stupid with me girl.” He stepped forward, it was a gun. Oddly, I didn’t care.

“Me stupid.” I shouted at him through the open window. Without thinking about it, I try the door handle and it opens. I get out, standing all my 5 feet nothing tall, and stand right in front of this guy with my hands on my hips. My face is about level with his chest. He’s a seriously tall chap. At the time, I was thinking about any of this. I’d been stuck in that car for hours and I wasn’t even the one they wanted. I was recklessly beyond livid. “I’m not the pratt who car-jacked the wrong person.

“Seriously, all that ability to hijack a car and you don’t check who got in it first? What the hell.”

“Where’s James Montgomery?” He said, backing away a little despite the gun.

“How the hell should I know. You’re the moron doing the hijacking.” I yelled, poking him in the chest, “All I know, is I get in my new car to go home and some great steaming pillock carjacks it and brings it here.”

“I’m sorry. As far as we knew, this car still belonged to James Montgomery, a fascist about to finance a bombing campaign.”

“Why the hell are you telling me? I don’t wanna know your misguided exploits. I just want you to give me back control of my car and piss off.”

“Wow. You’re a regular firebrand.”

“The red hair’s natural, it and my temper are courtesy of my mam.” It dawned on me that perhaps provoking the gun-toting pillock was not my most sensible action. My anger deflated like a burst balloon and with it my reckless bravado. “So, what happens now? I’m not who you want and I’m not worth anything in ransom. Are you going to shoot me?”

The motorcycling kidnapper looked at the gun in his hand, as if he’d never seen it before and stepped away. He raised the gun and pointed it squarely at me. “Turn and face the car. Kneel down and put your hands on your head.”

I did as commanded, expecting every moment to hear the gun fire and feel a bullet entering the back of my skull. Then the motorcycle engine roared into life and like that both bike and rider were gone. I waited another minute, counting to sixty slowly inside my head, then got up.

Was it over?

It was so hard to climb back into my traitorous car. I reached inside and pulled my handbag out of the foot well. I walked to the opposite end of the lay by and got out my phone. Signal. Hooray. I could have laughed and cried in equal measure.

Instead, I called the police and told them my story. I don’t know if they believed me of not. But, it was the truth. Another hour later, a police car arrived and a tow truck. The car went one way, good riddance, and I and the officers went the other.

They took me to the station where I made a statement, then they sent me home in a taxi. I didn’t want the car back, I was glad the experience was over. If the car came back from the police, I would sell it.

Public transport for me from now on.

 

 

 

 

Message in a Bottle

By Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017

To me, the best part is catching the first glimpse of the sea. Today was overcast and and windy, making the sea appear gun metal grey.with white breakers in the distance. It was still magical. I was finally here.

I loved everything about holidays by the sea. Memories of childhood holidays and those of early holidays with my own children rose up to greet me. This seaside location was a new one to me, but it had everything I needed. A place to watch the sea. I would only be here for the day.

Whitby inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, immortalising the small town forever in literature as the place where the vampire first came to England. Leading to floods of goths dressed in black alongside the regular seaside tourists of families and OAPs. Alone amongst the holiday throng, I walk through the twisting streets of the town. I have to admit the goth presence makes the tourist shops more varied and interesting. I walk around the ruined Abbey and listen to the quick version of the audio tour. It’s bleak and cold up here, like my soul.

I eat a lunch of open wrapped fish and chips from rhe promenade, watching other people’s children build sandcastles. Then I get back in my car and drive along the coast a little to find a place less popular to suit my mood. I would rather be alone by myself than alone in a crowd.

This was supposed to have been my birthday treat. An August day at the seaside. The two of us walking hand in hand along the sand… Well, never mind, I would enjoy the day without him. The conversation would be easier without him.

The sun has come out and the wind has dropped. I remember summer as always being like this. Leaving my my car parked at the edge of the road, I rolled up my trouser legs and walked out onto the beach and down to the sea. I had to have a paddle to make it a proper trip. This beach was less crowded and there were people walking dogs.

Half an hour would be enough, then I’d go back to Whitby and get ice-cream and drive home again. I could post pictures on Facebook and everybody would be able to see that I hadn’t wasted my birthday. Hadn’t moped at home alone.

I look for shells as I walk, but I can’t find any whole ones to add to my box of memories. There are various lumps of of sea weed, some green some brown, but the sand is mostly clear. Except for the litter. Some wastes of space had left the remains of their picnic on the beach.

Sighing, I pull a carrier bag from my pocket and pick up the crips packets, tin cans and cling film. The food will decompose, but this sort of waste doesn’t. My mum taught me better.

“Leave nothing but foot prints to show you were here.”she said. I can hear her in my head as I picklup the last of it and look around to make sure nothing has blown away. I’ve finally reached the shingle line.

“Ouch.” I say “ow, ow ow.” As I cross it to the smooth wet strip closest to the sea. There are lolly sticks floating in the surf. They join the rubbish I’ve already collected. It saddens me that I don’t miss him, I just don’t want to be alone. I thought by now my life would be sorted. I hadn’t wanted a lot, just a home and a lover. I had a place to live, but a home has always needed people for me.

The sea water washes over my feet taking my breath with how cold it is. Then the wave receeds. I stand there and look out to sea. The weather has changed the character of the water. It’s blue now and glints in the sun. The warmth and sun lift my spirits and I watch the seagulls soar over the sea and the white horses chase the waves with a silly smile on my lips. Again and again the waves lap over my feet, covering more and reaching higher with each return.

Something bumps my ankle, washed in with the tide. I look down. It’s a pop bottle. More rubbish. I bend down to add it to my growing collection. Eco Birthday Babe, that’s me. The next wave is bigger than the ones before, bent over as I was this one drenched me. I get a face full and wet hair.

Laughing at myself I head for my car. Most of the dog walkers have already left. I spent longer here than intended, it’s quite late in the day. So I pass on the ice-cream and head for home. Over all, it’s been a good birthday and I have cards to open at home and a fresh cream vanilla slice is waiting in my fridge.

There’s not a litter bin close to my car, so I stuff the rubbish bag in the passenger footwell and head home. Home can perhaps be where the cake is, and even better I don’t have to share. The thought brings a smile to my greedy, chubby cheeks and I drive home happy, singing along to my favourite music on the car sterio. No music compromises either.

I reach home as the last of the suns rays glint from my windows, my hanging baskets look gorgeous, all pink petunias and cascading lobelia. There are a few cards waiting for retrieval, delivered by my postman.

I Tear them open, my mum, my besties and my siblings all accounted for. It’s nice to know people think of you even when you’re not in sight all the time. I need to schedule another trip. As I’m arranging the cards I think to myself, “I’ll call mum after cake to make sure she is available.”

The rubbish I’ve collected is mostly recylable, so I split it into my recycling boxes. Whoever dumped the bottle took the time to screw the cap back on first. So, I remove it. The cap and bottle are different plastics. Inside is a piece of folded paper. There’s writing on it. A real message in a bottle.

“If you’re reading this, I guess it actually worked.

I’m just a regular guy. Nothing special, but I thought I had my life together you know. Job, home, kids, partner. Then it changes in the blink of an eye. She dropped me for my own best mate. I’ve lost everybody in one go. It’s the same as grief, but worse than them dying in some ways, because they chose to hurt me and leave me.

So I’m walking along the Whitby sands, getting my head together. How do I start again from here? My life was all mapped out. How do I start again? I don’t even know how to meet people anymore.

If you’re reading this I hope you are happy. Ireally do. I hope that somebody out there has their shit together and everything worked out for them, so I can believe in happy endings.

If not, don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Give me a call guy or girl and we can have a few beers or coffees and set the world to rights.

Give me a call. Are there happy endings or shall we get a beer?

Kevin.”

I’m not an impetuous person, and I didn’t know this Kevin. He could be a total jerk but…

My mobile was in my hand and I’d dialed the number without realising I’d reached that decision.

The phone rung three times, I was about to hang up when a man answered it. “Hello.”

“Hello. Is this Kevin?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“I’m Michelle. You don’t know me.” I paused, the blush of embarassment had risen up my face so hot you could fry eggs on my cheeks “I found your bottle. On Whitby beach.”

“Bloody hell!”

“This is really stupid. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Bye.” I ended the call.

I didn’t have time to put my phone down before it rang. I looked at the caller display. It was the number I’d just dialled. Kevin. It would be rude not to answer. After all, I called him first.

“Hello.” I said

“Michelle?”he asked.

“Yes.”

“You called, so answer the question at least.”

“The question?”

“Are there happy endings?” He asked.

“There are no endings really. Not until we die. Just lots of middle and sometimes new beginnings.”

“So how about that beer?”he asked.

“Er…”

“Or a coffee if you prefer?”

“I don’t even know where you are?”

“We could meet in Whitby. Are you on holiday there?”

“No, I only went for a day trip.”

“Could you get back there? Next weekend?”

I was silent for a long second. The distance wasn’t an issue, but did I want to meet Kevin.

“There’s a coffee shop next to the Abbey.” He said

“OK.” I said. Then I smiled to myself for my daftness. Who knew what might happen. “I can get there for about 11.00.”

The end

Impossible Choice

This story was written in response to a writing prompt, around an impossible choice.

Impossible Choice

BY SHARON BRADY-SMTH © 2017

There wasn’t much left from the insurance after Jim’s funeral expenses and paying off their debts. £5,000, but this was Marie’s last real chance, as she wasn’t likely to win the lottery. It had been one of their dreams to take the twins to Disneyworld before they got too old to really appreciate it. The girls were ten already and they looked at her with eyes that were too old and too serious in such young faces. Their precious childhood marred by grief and death.

Marie had the choice of saving the money for a rainy day or taking the girls by herself and building new memories. It seemed like the right choice moving forwards. She booked for their eleventh birthday present.

“Girls, who is your favourite Disney character?”

Lisa looked up from her book. “Belle,” she said, and looked down again. No prompting required but the one word answer Marie had come to expect from her oldest girl. Marie felt honoured that Lisa had bothered to answer at all.

“What about you Jane?”

Jane shrugged her shoulders, “Dunno. They just stupid fairy tales.”

“What’s wrong with fairy tales?” Marie asked, giving the girl a hug that she shrugged off.

“Everybody but the baddie lives happily ever after. In real life that doesn’t happen.”

Marie sighed. She hated to admit Jane had a point but at the minute she wasn’t up to believing in happy ever after either. Lisa surprised her by interjected her thoughts into the conversation. Something that rarely happened now.

“You’re wrong.” Lisa said

“Am not.” Jane shouted. “It’s all stupid princesses falling in love with stupid princes and living happy every after.”

“Disney is happy ever after death,” Lisa yelled back. Straight into her sister’s face. “Mufasa died, murdered by his own brother but Simba lived. Ana’s and Elsa’s parents died and so did Tarzan’s. Even the baby gorilla died to give Tarzan a home.”

Marie stared at her daughter. Surely no ten-year-old should even formulate that sort of thought, let alone articulate it that way. This was not the conversation she had envisioned, telling her girls about a once in a lifetime trip, but she needed to stop the fight that was brewing. Defeated that her attempts to engage her girls had failed, and blown up in her face at the same time, she began to wish she hadn’t bothered.

“So, neither of you is a Disney fan then? That’s a shame seeing as we’re supposed to be going to Disneyworld next week.”

Both girls froze mid shout and looked at her. Identical expressions of surprise imposed upon virtually identical faces. The huge eyes and rounded mouths almost comical.

“I still have time to cancel the flights if you really don’t want to go,” Marie said.

“There’s more to Disneyworld than films. There are rides too.” Jane said.

“There’s more than Disney in Florida too.”

“Would Universal Studios appeal more?” Marie asked, wondering if the girls would notice if she crossed her fingers for luck.

“Harry Potter?” they both asked together.

“If you’d prefer.”

Finally, the shrieks and yells were the ones Marie had hoped for.

The week until the holiday passed in a blur. Now that Marie wasn’t trying to keep the holiday secret, the girls got involved in packing their own cases, buying their dollars for spending money, planning itineraries and behaving like normal excited children.

This would be their first flight. For previous holidays the family had gone by Eurostar or ferry. The seats were in a row of three, in the centre of the plane. Marie decided to sit in the middle seat to keep the inflight fights to a minimum. ‘If only Jim were here, life would be much easier.’ She thought, they could have had window seats and a girl each, but if Jim were here they wouldn’t have been going to Florida anyway. Marie would have been far happier to have Jim at home and never take a holiday again.

The flight out was long, tiring and uneventful. Direct from London to Sanford, it was the dearest route, but the shortest. There was no chance of their luggage getting lost between planes, delayed flights on second legs or missed connections. Everything had been organised for ease. They even had a transfer organised from the airport, so Marie didn’t have to drive or find the hotel. She would pay a lot extra for transport if it meant she didn’t have to drive.

She never wanted to get behand the wheel of another car. She still had nightmares about the last time. The dreams and memories competing for the cause of her sleep deprivation. Time slowing, and impact, and spinning and spinning, like a waltzer out of control, before the last stop. The horn sounding and the airbags inflating, trapping them in place and hiding everything from view. Hiding the truth. The blood on the side window and Jim…

The girls had been at school, she had never been so grateful that they weren’t with her. It hadn’t been her fault. A drunk driver had hit the passenger side of the car, where she normally sat, but she had never replaced the car and never driven since. The thought of driving made her palms sweat and her heart beat speed up, in a bad way.

Thankfully, her parents had kept the girls for the month she had been in hospital, visiting with them every day. It had been so hard for them all. Even when she left hospital, they had been forced to move in with her parents, because she couldn’t cope on her own. Her parents had refused to come on the trip, saying they need to be alone as a family for a while. Marie had been afraid, but she was grateful now.

The hotel was midway between Disney and Universal. It was a budget range but it was clean and comfortable enough for a few weeks. They unpacked and slept. Then they hit Universal, and shopping malls, and water parks and Disney and themed evening entertainment, until all three were exhausted with sore feet and whirling heads.

The day came to soon for the family to return home. This interlude of hope and happiness after so much grief and turmoil had raised all their spirits. Conversation at times was almost natural and silences prompted by tiredness rather than being awkward. Marie finally felt that her grief would fade enough to allow her to function as a real mother again one day, and she saw glimpses of the people her children had been peeking out at her between sad times.

The flight home from the USA was normally shorter and bumpier than the flight out thanks to the tail wind. It was a night flight. The three of them watched the inflight safety demonstration. Marie and the girls reclined their seats and tried to sleep as best they could in the cramped seats.

Marie dreamed of the car crash again. The spinning and falling and screaming. Then she realised she wasn’t dreaming. The plane was falling. Nose pointed downwards, pushing her back into her seat. The oxygen masks dropped from the panels above her head but she didn’t have time to pull the mask towards her before the Captain, she assumed, said on the announcement system “Brace Brace.”

She looked to both sides, into the terrified eyes of her daughters and said, “It will be OK.” She hoped she wasn’t lying.

The three of them braced against the seat in front and screamed as the plane crashed down. It hit the water and bounced. The water coming over halfway up the window before receding again. Miraculously, they were not seriously hurt. They pulled their lifejackets from under the seats and on over their heads, then made their way along the aisle with the other passengers towards the exits. Some passengers were screaming and others, stupidly trying to gather their belongings from the overhead compartments.

The air stewardesses were shouting leave your things and get out of the plane. Somebody must have opened the doors, or the plane was breaking apart, because cold water started to flow down the aisle. They made the exit on the wing and out into the cold dark night. Marie was terrified of being separated from her girls in the sea, but they slid down the chute and hands grabbed them. Other passengers were already in the water and forming rings to keep everybody together.

When everybody was out of the plane, the chutes came off. They were life rafts and those who could climbed on board. Hands reached down towards them.

“We’ve space for one more.”

Once space and two daughters. It was an impossible choice. How can a mother chose between her children? In a practical way of course. She didn’t think about it, just pushed the one closest to the reaching hands, helping her onboard.

Then she looked at the child she had damned with her actions. She wanted to apologise, but Lisa just nodded. Jane leaned out over the edge of the raft and grabbed her sisters hand just as a swell raised the raft high above them, wrenching the sisters apart and half drowning the ones left in the water.

The waves swept Marie away from the plane and the raft and Lisa still in the water. She was never found. Her last thoughts were wishes that her children would survive, and hopes that neither of them would hate her for her choice.