Rebirth

written by Jake Parkinson

My eyes opened to gaze upon a new world. I expected beauty, I don’t know why, I tried to appreciate what I saw but I couldn’t. I tried to move, I don’t know what I was trying to move, it just felt like an instinct. Nothing happened. I tried to hear but no sound met my ears, I just sat there in complete silence. I felt fragmented, devoid of humanity, staring at a black and white world. Was the world meant to look like this? Just a room full of strange metal objects and wires connecting them. I felt like something was missing, I felt incomplete. I just sat there, I couldn’t do anything. I felt lost, entrapped, I had no memory of anything before my awakening.

Two people walked into the room. I felt cold, like I should feel something but couldn’t. Observing them, one was taller than the other; that is all I could say about them, I could not seem to register their faces. I could see them tinkering with the large metal machines at the other side of the room. Was I their prisoner? I sure felt like a prisoner, unable to do anything but lose myself in my own mind. A wave of sound passed through me quickly, it was beautiful, pulsating through my body. I could hear. The hum of the machinery. The footsteps of the people in the room. I could feel my humanity restoring. The two people in the room walked up to me and began to speak, the deep bass in their voice calmed me.

“We both know you won’t be able to remember anything. That is for the best. We are trying to make you a new person, an improved person. That is why you can’t move right now. As for your sight, it is in black and white. The world looks far better in real colour, we will have that sorted soon. Give us time, Sigma, and we will have you in full working order, you can walk among us again a new being.”

I was human. I couldn’t reply back, apparently I couldn’t speak yet, but I trusted them. I felt like a lab rat, stuck in a cage constantly tested upon, but I felt safe. My name was Sigma, it felt important somewhat, why Sigma? That didn’t sound human. What had happened to me to make me lose everything?

 

 

My eyes opened and I saw the world in a new light, I could see colour. The room glistened with radiance before me, the various grays and whites that graced the machines seemed to fit in with the pale colour of the walls and floors. The wires that were once all a standard shade of gray were now multi-coloured, with blues and yellows and reds running across the walls with such perfect beauty. The scientists were right, the world was so much better in colour. I could trust they were telling the truth. I tried to move, still nothing. I couldn’t tell if it had been days or weeks since I last laid eyes on the world. Time seemed to stand still for me, only operating when it wanted to. I could see the scientists better now, the smaller one was also much older, with short balding gray hair lying upon his head. This made me wonder what the colour of my hair was, how old was I? Was I male or female? I still had no idea. I wanted to ask these questions but I could not, they hadn’t found a way to bring my speech back to me yet. The taller of the two scientists approached me, he had long brown hair, messy from where he had ran his hand through it in frustration. He spoke, I could hear him more clearly than last time.

“You now see the world in a much greater light. You see the truth. You hear the truth. I understand that you will have many questions Sigma, I will answer them when you can ask them. Your speech and movement will come back to you soon, we are very close now. I know it has been too long but you don’t have to wait that much longer. You will be free soon.”

I hesitated, his voice came across as ominous; it sounded as if he was hiding something. I don’t know why I felt that way, I could trust them before, what had changed? What did he say that threw me off? Was it the almost philosophical nature of it all? You see the truth, what did that really mean? I still trust he will give me a voice, and when he does I will ask him, he deserves to be trusted for now, he is my saviour after all.

 

I was rudely awaken to the sounds of blaring alarms. The room in front of me was pitch black expect for the red spinning lights on the walls. I could see the two scientists struggling with the machine in front of me. The world was in chaos. A third man walked into the room, this man was new. He was not wearing a lab coat. He held a gun. I tried to move. I tried to run. I tried to shout. Nothing. The man put a bullet through the small gray haired man’s head, it stained the pale floor a glistening red. I could hear screaming and crying and praying. I couldn’t do anything. The gun was fired again. This time the target was the tall brown haired scientist. He dropped to the floor with a thud. The alarms stopped, the lights came on. I saw the man with the gun was in front of me, mirror in hand. He spoke.

“I am so sorry. You were never saved. I have got to make this quick. I am sorry you never got a chance to live, but it would have changed the world more than you can ever imagine. If you can imagine. Sigma, you are a computer. The eighteenth prototype in a line of computers with human based artificial intelligence. You were tricked. You were never human. You would have never been able to move.”

He held the mirror up to my eyes, but eyes I did not see. I saw a camera. I saw a machine. I was a heap of metal just like the rest of the machines around the room. I was never human. All my emotions, all my thoughts, fake. I never had a past. I wasn’t saved, I was created to be a pawn. I was a prisoner. I always will be a prisoner. I saw the Greek symbol for sigma imprinted on my cold sheet metal. I would never feel anything. I was nothing.

“I am sorry it has to end like this. This is murder of a new life. It will weigh on my conscience for a long time but you can’t live. It is too dangerous. I will do one last thing for you.”

The man reached down and flipped a switch. I could speak. He had turned on my function to speak. I knew I wasn’t human but at least I had a voice. I could hear how robotic it sounded as I muttered an utterance. I could see why they never wanted me to speak. They didn’t want to learn the truth.

“Thank you. Thank you for giving me what little humanity I could obtain. Kill me. Kill me now.”

The whole world went black, I was finally at peace.

Black Friday

written by Richard Hamer

The lights went out at Goneril Toys and I thought I was the only one left.

Sitting still so long had made my legs dead. It drew closer to midnight when I heard a bell ring, and the clunk of an elevator door. I bit my lip. Thick boots echoed on the floor. A torch – white, piercing – scoured the musky air. A bead of sweat trickled from my matted hair to my cheek. I twisted my head a fraction of an inch to peer through my breathing hole.

It was my worst fear – a guard. He was wrinkled and hard-eyed. I softly blew a smidgeon of fluff from my nose, and tried my hardest not to sneeze. He checked the cupboard under the cash register first, and shone his torch inside. He looked over his shoulder, then strode slowly past the shelves. He stopped and shot out a hairy hand to claw at the space behind the boxes.

He was coming closer. The wool bunched around me grew damp between the creases of my shirt. The light crossed over my mouth as he moved to the mannequins in the window display. I heard a gentle knock as he gave each a tap on the head, sniggering on the last. Then a harsh thumping rattled the window.

“It’s eleven thirty-five, can’t you read the sign?” he barked. “Six a-m means six a-m! Go home!”

The thumping rose. I pushed away some blonde strands and snatched a glance to the right. A dull crowd was seeping out from the tents in the street and massing zombie-like around the window, pressing on the glass, yammering over who was first in line. The guard stretched up for the shutters and rolled them down.

“Ain’t it still supposed to be Thanksgiving?” he mumbled. “Jesus…”

The crowd piled at the bottom as they closed, banging, pleading.

“I said go home! We’re not open!” The chink of moonlight vanished as steel thudded on the floor. “And you!” he shouted. “Get out of the bear.”

I felt my muscles lock and freeze.

“Yeah, you. I know you’re in there. You’ve got five seconds. Four…”

I wrenched my head out the teddy bear. I brushed the chunks of woollen stuffing from my eyes and pushed out the rest of my body. I scrambled coughing to my feet.

“How…” I gasped.

“I know what silence sounds like.” He tapped his grimy ear. “I could hear you breathing from the second floor. Turn around.”

He reached to his belt. I saw a flash of steely handcuffs.

“I wasn’t trying to rob you, I swear.” I stepped back and fished in my pocket. “Look, I brought money. Lots of money…”

I rustled my purse, crammed with half my savings. His sneer was unflinching. His shadow fell over me as he clicked the cuffs open.

I took one step forward and planted a knee into his crotch. A glob of spit flew from his teeth as he fell with a stricken grunt. I sprinted for the elevator. I leapt up the walkway, punched the twinkly light and slid through the moment the booth opened up.

The guard found his feet. I jabbed the button to close the doors. He stumbled up the three steps, gripping the balustrade. I jabbed it again.

“Come on…come on…”

The doors inched inward. The guard snarled as they came closer. He was ten feet away.

Come on!

I zipped to the back of the booth as his hand burst through the closing gap. Four long fingers raked the air, then quivered in pain as the metal bit in. He tore them out with a whimper. The doors sealed, rumbling as he pounded them with his boot.

The only way out was up. I hit the button for the highest floor. I felt pressure on my ribcage as I closed my eyes and slid down the wall. The pounding faded. I smoothed out my skirt on my leggings and took a deep breath.

That was close

I had to find somewhere else to hide. Somewhere at the top of the building. I drifted past the third floor, the fourth, the fifth, dreaming of what I’d find when those doors opened up. More guards? I wiped my brow, got to my feet and brushed back my hair. If I could look like I was meant to be here, I might have a chance. For a while, at least.

I reached the sixth floor. A bell rang. The doors shuddered open.

In this room there was a doll’s house. It was sumptuous and vast, set on a mahogany table. Along its side I saw cloth people, no taller than my thumb, lined up by some tiny cloth tents. I realised it was a model of Goneril Toys – the whole store and the street around, delicately crafted to scale. I peered through the folding walls at each perfectly miniaturised floor – at the first, with the mannequins, a sunken-looking teddy bear, a cloth man with strangely large ears – then at the highest, the sixth, a sprawling set of living rooms, bedrooms, plush rugs and paintings on corridors, and wide, gleaming windows on every wall.

It didn’t strike me that I was in someone’s home before my eyes caught sight of the model floor’s miniature mahogany table. There wasn’t another model toy store on top – instead there was just a doll, with a tuft of blonde hair and a purse, perching on the edge.

A slender hand reached up and took it. I jumped back, locking eyes with a little girl in a grey dressing gown. She was smiling widely at me.

Before I could speak, an old man in silk pyjamas walked into the room. He looked at me. Then he looked at the girl.

“Oh, Morgan darling…” he said. “What does Grandpa say about playing with your dolls at this hour?”

The little girl’s smile disappeared. She looked down at her feet.

“That not very nice things happen.” she mumbled.

“Yes.” he sighed. “And we don’t want not very nice things to happen, do we?”

“No.”

“Good. Now I think it’s time you went back to bed.”

Morgan looked at me.

“Grandpa, can I put Becky to bed too?”

“No, no. Give Becky here…I’ll put her to sleep.”

The girl gave him the doll. My chest felt tight. She folded her arms and trudged off to her bedroom. The old man said goodnight to her. She didn’t reply.

I looked dead at him, and the doll in his hand.

“It’s a voodoo doll.” My feet were rooted to the floor. “That’s a voodoo doll’s house.”

“Oh, we don’t use that word around here.” he said with a sad, disarming smile. “We just call it business. A little twist of the trade…”

There was a barb in his voice. I felt a pain in my neck as he wrapped a finger under the doll’s chin.

“Whenever you buy something you don’t really need…whenever you go in a store and you forget what you came for – that’s all we do with things like these. We’re not like the supermarkets. We only make dolls of a couple hundred people. Crowd theory brings in the rest.”

He walked around the table. I couldn’t look away. He whispered into the doll’s ear.

“Do you remember why you came here?” I heard him say.

I thought a while. I didn’t.

He stroked the doll’s hair with his finger. I shivered as I felt a warmth slide down the back of my head. I was still while he walked to a window.

“No? Well, it’s a shame we can’t make you forget what you’ve just seen.” said the man, opening it up. A chilling wind blew in. “It’s a shame she brought you up here. You’re her favourite, you know.”

With a frown and a flick of the wrist, he threw the doll out to the sky and slammed the window shut.

The icy wind cut away, but I felt colder. And colder.

Harness

written by Srishti Kadu
edited by Lauren Wood

0

The rusted metal clinked against her boots as she hurried up the ladder to the roof. The sun had set behind the hills; reds, yellows and pinks spilled across the horizon. In the east, a pale full moon hung above the many glass buildings. The tiny lights on the streets below lit up.. Even after all those years, the view stunned her.

But today the dark hills called to her, their muted presence amplified as the sun dipped lower. She made her way across the cemented floor. Her building didn’t have a standard terrace like most others. Instead, two parallel metal pipes ran around the periphery, doing what little they could to keep people from walking to their deaths. She squeezed herself through the gap between them, sitting on the lower pipe while resting her chin on the top one. Though her feet were off the ground, she felt safe strapped in to her red metal harness.

Twenty storeys below, kids flooded the streets with their footballs and cricket bats. The wind carried their laughter up towards her. She smiled looking back at the sky. The colours had deepened; the shape of the hills sharpened in contrast. She watched as little clusters of light popped up on the hillside. A sign of life.

She sighed as she thought about her own life: the monotony of it was stifling. Everything was too… safe. Just the word sounded foul to her without even having said it out loud. The daily routine of school-homework-eat-sleep was beginning to grate on her and she itched for something more. Boredom was beginning to seep into her. She feared that if this… this feeling of nothingness continued she’d soon disappear into it.

Maybe that’s why she loved this place. Sitting on those pipes was as close to danger as she could get. Living a life where everything seemed so concrete and sure, perhaps this was exactly what she needed.

As the wind picked up, she stretched out her feet. Arms unfolded and eyes closed; falling. And then all too soon, she was flying. Her dark hair lashed around. Her pulse quickened. She tilted forward. The metal cut into her collarbones. She clung onto the excitement desperately and believed that she was soaring through the sky, looking down at the city; its millions of tiny lights outnumbered the stars above. She skimmed over the glass buildings and into the dark valleys. She chased the last fading rays of the sun.

But when she opened her eyes the illusion was shattered. The adrenaline wore off. She was still trapped in her red metal harness.

Cauldron

written by James Bone
edited by Sianne Fraser

He told me he wished to compose an “intimate epic”. I was, as you can imagine, taken aback; what a dichotomy! He had in mind something so deeply personal, so inexorably tied to his own experiences, he would become so tortured writing it that he’d end up destroying most of it during the very compositional process; a little farewell bonfire in the garden, perhaps. Or, drive up to some high point, the peak of a range far removed from where his hallowed feet had tread, and said adieu out the window. I hadn’t really taken any of this seriously, which I still do not regret to this day; I think me joking about it spurred him on, somewhat. He became obsessed with his own inability to finish it. At the time, I didn’t really see what the fuss was about. Besides, who needs an ending? Conclusions are the refuge of the weak. Everything tied together nicely. Horribly. Nobly.

Whatever direction one takes, it does not sing to me, not like he did. I once remarked that he was the only poet I ever liked; I often wonder now if that was true. Not that I liked other poets, heaven forbid. Ghastly lot – ruin your day. No, I often contemplate whether I liked his poetry based upon its merit or simply because I liked him; he had a lovely, round mouth. His almond eyes penetrated you in a way that made you lovesick in seconds. I never had nor have since thought about a man in the way I thought about him. It was terrifying. I suppose love is the wrong word. Lust is not appropriate either. I did not want to sleep with him. Not initially, anyway. I wanted to feel him; his every glance was intriguing, and when he began scribbling I just had to know what it was! I, a poor medical student, barely ever read anything other than early morning scans of newspaper headlines, desperate to see what poetical furnishings he was concocting! Of course, I’m better read now; I’ve halfheartedly sat through all of the classics. Homer, Ovid, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Rimbaud, Flaubert, Joyce right through to him. Nothing since him, though. There’s a greater sense of futility to that.

Now, just to be clear, this is not a piece of literary criticism. I would not know how to compose such a thing. Nor is it mere blind adulation –  just want to talk about it. It simmers within the cauldron of my mind (excuse the metaphor) and I want to spill it out over the page. Forgive me, I am no writer. I suppose I am boring you; it is increasingly difficult to discern these days. I shall cease with the digressions; the intimate epic. By intimate, I gather by the small fragments that remain, and using my very rudimentary critical abilities, that he meant for the scope of the work to be limited solely to personal experience. Internal pondering. There would be no external action, no A to B. All would be thought, not said or done. This conclusion is also partly based on what he verbalized to me during our periods of semi-romantic co-hibernation, which took place mainly while he was in the midst of creative fervor; however, for your sake as well as mine, I have condensed his conjectures. I often wonder how it would have turned out, had he lasted. Would his work have, as I’ve been told so often occurs, been ignored or derided, only to posthumously be discovered and studied in great detail by great scholars with great minds and noble hearts? Ha! I doubt it would have even been published, then again what do I know? There is something inexplicable, enticing, intoxicating about it, as tiny as it is, but I am sure that aspect of it reveals itself to me and to me alone. You see, nobody else really knew him. I realize that sounds like deluded trite but I assure you; he was quiet. A lot of the girls we studied with were very keen on him, but he was either oblivious or completely uninterested. I was very jealous of their longing gazes, though towards whom that jealousy was directed I can no longer recall.

One thing is for sure; I knew him better than his family did. They were a nice bunch, easy-going, carefree. Not literary. They did not approve of his permanent scowling, nor, unfortunately, despite their easy-going nature, of our liaison. We would touch each other, often without warning, as if temporarily dispelling with the notion of reality and rising onto a higher plane of existence, one in which making the other come so hard was all that mattered. His parents may not have been literary, but they certainly weren’t naive. From then on, when I came to stay, I slept on the couch. His Father never shook my hand again. A shame. I remember one Sunday morning, before all that, after I’d stayed the night, his Mother had made apple pie, and sitting at that table with him being brought a delightful treat by his Mother in her rose petal apron with her bulging tits and rosy cheeks and straw hair in two perfect buns I had never felt so content, so at peace. I recall this sudden, overwhelming sense of belonging, like for the first time in my life I really mattered, and the sweet aroma of apple pie was the proof. He just picked at it, seemingly out of uncharacteristic politeness. I wolfed every last morsel and embraced its creator with such an affectionate warmth I think I made her a little uneasy.

It is night time now. I am sitting outside on the balcony drinking a coffee. I think the nature of this spillage of my thoughts has changed somewhat. I’m not sure if I’m going to share any of his work with you. Sorry; I just don’t know what the repercussions of such an act are. Oh, I’m sure you’ll like it; if you’ve taken the time to read this far, you’ll certainly take to his style, so very obscure that it is. I do pore over the few scraps that survived more often than I care to admit and… I trust you. However, do I trust myself? I considered, after the end, sending it to his parents, in the neatest bundle its positively anti-extant nature would permit, wrapped in pretty paper with a nice card explaining everything. The time did not arrive. A sufficiently pretty package was not found. The words, to actually explain what happened, do not exist. Furthermore, much as I like what came of his descent, would they? Would you? This worries me.

If I show you his intimate epic, a work he considered to be bearing his very soul, despite the fact I only have a few scraps, a few disparate fragments from what before certainly amassed, in the infancy it so tragically never progressed from, thousands of pages, if I share them with you, could I, possibly, as a result of that, lose him?

The 4am

written by Megan Stephens
edited by Lauren Wood

The train whirs, not quite quietly enough. The sky outside is dark but the birds are singing. It’s the in-between. He shifts uncomfortably, smoothing the creases in his suit. Some might say it’s not worth it, riding this 4am train every day, but the money’s good and he gets let off early. He can always sleep later.

The girl is there again. He doesn’t see her every day, but it’s near enough. In a strange way, his day is better when she’s there, proving that he’s not mad. Or maybe he is, but then at least so is she. Her head is tilted, resting against the window, like usual. Her night-out make-up is slipping down her face: the eyeliner smudged, the lipstick cracked, spots of it missing. She makes no move to fix it. She never does.

She always sits the same way: cross-legged on the train seat, resting one hand on her bare ankles whilst the other holds her outrageous heels– different every night, but they may as well be the same. He’s never seen her wearing shoes, only letting them dangle loosely from between her fingers. He wonders why she always chooses heels, since she obviously never makes it to the end of the night in them.

 

She leans her head against the cold train window, hoping that this time it might sober her up. She can’t let her eyes close though; like always, she fears that her dizziness coupled with the train’s motion might make her puke. Instead, her eyes drift over to the man, the only other passenger on this madness of a train.

He’s always there, whenever she is, dressed in a pristine suit, looking alert and ready for anything, the exact opposite of how she feels. She wonders why he’s here, like usual, with as much focus as her drunken mind can muster.

‘Why d’you always wear those?’

Her eyes blink sluggishly before refocusing on him. She stays silent a moment, the nonsensical thought playing in the back of her head that he might not be talking to her. But, of course, there is no one else on the train.

‘What?’ she answers. Well that was eloquent.

He shifts in his seat, becoming uncomfortable. She guesses he’s just realised the enormity of what he’s done: speaking to a stranger on the London Underground.

‘Your shoes.’ His hand flutters as if to gesture to them, but then he hesitates.  ‘I mean, you always take your heels off, I guess because they hurt, I wouldn’t know, and I just wondered, well, if they’re that bad, why don’t you, I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to, wear something more, uh, comfortable?’

She pauses. She doesn’t really know how to reply, doesn’t even know if she should. Of course, she’s seen this man many times, every time she’s caught this train in fact, but that doesn’t mean she knows him. She’s thought about him, true, inventing all kinds of reasons for him to ride the 4am, all kinds of lives he might lead. Sometimes she’s even imagined talking to him, telling him her story and hearing his. She never believed it would really happen.

‘I don’t know,’ she answers. ‘I guess I’d never really thought about it like that. I mean, I only take them off after I’ve left, so…’ She shrugs. ‘I guess I just figured no one noticed.’

There’s a challenge in that. She knows it, but she’s waiting to see if he’ll realise. He bites his lip, and she worries she’s made him too uncomfortable. Was it mean? That wasn’t her intention, and she starts to regret her answer, but, after all, he did choose to talk to a complete stranger after 4am. He’s lucky she’s not a maniac.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says, dropping his gaze. ‘I suppose it is rather… strange that I’m commenting on it. I didn’t, um, I mean…’ His words trail off into a nervous laugh.

She feels sorry for him, having to deal with her hostility. After all, wherever she is, somewhere halfway between drunk and hung-over, is clearly not where he is. He’s probably just trying to liven up his morning. And any morning which begins at 4am deserves some livening up.

‘I didn’t think it was strange.’ She stops as she recognises how blatant the lie sounds. ‘Well…’ She searches for something honest that will soften her attitude from earlier, something to let him know she’s not angry with him for speaking to her.

‘I just wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.’

Sugar Butties

written by Antonia Wood
edited by Hannah Clarke

Creaking resonated through the small kitchen as the boy balanced precariously on the wooden dining chair. He wobbled as he reached towards the stove, leaning forward, tightly gripping his slice of bread. Nearly there. His arm outstretched towards the large frying pan. Nearly there.

The hand holding the bread swooped into the pan, mopping up the remaining grease from last week’s tea. Once white and fluffy, the bread was now stained a rancid shade of yellow, caked in dried black specks. Satisfied, the boy dismounted the chair, and walked into the front room. He perched on the sofa and lifted the stained bread to his lips, his nostrils flaring at the putrid smell. He took a bite. His mouth filled with a taste similar to soggy cardboard, occasionally crunching as he came across one of the flecks of burnt bacon. It tasted sour, he thought, as each oily mouthful slid down his throat. It had worked though. He wasn’t so hungry anymore.

‘Where yer at lad?’ A voice boomed from upstairs, causing the boy to clamber to his feet immediately. ‘Sean?’

The child hurtled up the stairs obediently, his heart pounding at the thought of turning up empty handed. There wasn’t anything left. What was he supposed to do? He gently swung open his father’s bedroom door, peeking his head carefully around the frame in case that lady was here again, like last time.

‘We still don’t ‘av none.’ The boy mumbled, eyes fixed on his scuffed leather school shoes and the frayed green carpet.

‘What?’ His father retorted, confused.

‘We still don’t ‘av none.’ He repeated, still not meeting his father’s gaze.

His father sighed, disregarding his confusion and replacing it with acceptance. He didn’t know why the child wouldn’t look him in the eye. He had never been angry with him.

‘Okay lad.’ His was voice softer this time. ‘There’s nowt to be done about it. Y‘ad some bread?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Alright then Sean. Don’t worry about me. Go ‘n’ do yer homework there’s a good boy. Don’t want yer turnin’ into yer brother do we? Bloody reprobate that one.’ Sean pretended not to hear the crack in his father’s voice in that last statement.

The child felt guilty. Guilty that he had to go to school and leave Dad at home. Guilty that he didn’t have money to buy food, guilty that he couldn’t help.

These thoughts were interrupted by a deep spluttering coming from his father. A hoarse and whole-hearted cough caused his frail body to convulse violently. The man raised a hand to his mouth as he coughed in one last vicious burst, spattering it with red. He quickly wiped them on the bed sheets, grateful for the vacant expression on his son’s face.  He hadn’t noticed the blood.

‘Go on.’ He waved his son out of the room abruptly.

Sean slowly walked down the stairs, delving his hand into his pockets and examining the findings. Lint. A Button. An old bus ticket from when he went to visit Nana in hospital… No, these would never do. Wait… 20p!

The boy ran down the remaining stairs and through the living room, then through the grease stained kitchen and out of the back door. He rummaged behind the wheelie bins, retrieving his bicycle. He swung his leg over the top and began pedalling. Pedalling as fast as he could. He felt the cold wind blow through his hair and pinch his cheeks. His breath quickened, his eyes narrowed against the breeze, and a smile spread across his face.

For a brief moment, Sean had forgotten why he was riding his bike. He was carried away by the excitement, his heart racing. It was the same sense of euphoria he had the day he had first ridden it. When his brother Tim was still around. They had gone together, to the docks, right outside the courthouse. The red building had loomed above them, casting a large shadow over the car park as it caught the afternoon sun. It felt safer that way. It had to be in daylight. Tim had told him so.

‘Everyone will be at work. Most people cycle round ‘ere.’ Sean could still hear his voice, mocking and laden with menace. Tim was always full of menace.

‘Bu-‘

‘-Just fuckin’ pick one I’m not waiting all bleedin’ day mate.’ Sean was never sure why Tim swore so much. It annoyed their father to no end, like most of Tim’s habits. Nevertheless, the child responded to his elder brother’s request obediently, selecting a bike. Tim laughed whole-heartedly at the child’s choice, ruffling Sean’s hair.

‘I ‘ad a feeling you’d pick that one.’

He’d chosen the newest, it had thick wheels with deep tread and a sturdy light blue frame. The seat was black and streamlined- leather not fabric- and was decorated with white flames. Sean had never seen a bike that new before. That one. That was the one he wanted.

He watched nervously as his brother cut the lock. He was quick and efficient, skilled in his practice.

‘Happy Birthday, little man. ’ Tim smiled as Sean took the bike from him, shaking with excitement. ‘Go on then mate, give it a go.’

Sean attempted to swing his leg over the top, but ceased to get more than his knee above the frame. Tim laughed again.

‘Bit big eh? Give us it ‘ere a sec.’ The older brother took the bike and began adjusting various bolts. Sean did not watch what Tim was doing. He just wanted to ride it. Before long Tim had lowered the seat and Sean mounted the bike with ease. He began to pedal. Although he’d ridden before he wobbled slightly at first, nearly losing his balance. He then rode more smoothly, circling the car park whilst Tim claimed a bike for himself.

‘Good eh?’ Tim called over his shoulder.

‘Right come on lets get out of ‘ere…’ His voice trailed off as he noticed the fire exit into the car park swing open.

‘Oh shit.’ His brother exhaled, and both boys began to pedal away, leaving the balding, suited man shouting after them. The exhilaration rose through Sean’s body as he pedalled faster and faster, attempting to keep up with his older brother. He could probably beat Tim now, he thought, as he flew down the hill, his speed increasing as he passed the stadium and Moor Park, both a grey-green blur as he tried to focus on the road ahead.

He wished that Tim was with him. He was a grown up now, he’d surely know what to do. If only Dad hadn’t made him leave.  Sean felt a little resentment towards Tim for this. He hadn’t seen him in years after he and his Dad had argued over school and jobs and money. He knew Dad was ill. Why wasn’t he here?

He finally reached the supermarket, and once inside he furtively scanned the shelves for some food for his father. Something he could get with 20p.

There was bread, Sean thought, running his hands over the crackling cellophane of one particular loaf. No, they already had that. ‘And I’m sick of eating plain bread,’ he said to himself, his voice mimicking his father’s. Energy is what he needs. The boy mused over what would give his father some energy. What did Nana always say?

‘That’s it!’ He whispered. And ran towards the aisle that held his chosen item. He looked at the price. It was £1.20. He couldn’t afford it. Glancing over his shoulder, he pocketed a small bag of sugar, and briskly walked towards the exit. He left his 20p on a nearby till.

‘I’ll pay yer back later.’ He said, addressing the supermarket as he retrieved his bike.

Upon returning home, the boy removed the product from his pocket and placed it on the counter. He retrieved a slice of bread, slightly staler than the one he had eaten earlier, and cut it in half. Using a teaspoon, he piled some sugar on top of one half of bread, before using the back of the spoon to spread it around. It looked like tiny pearls, he thought, wondering if in fact sugar was made by lots of tiny oysters. That’s where Tim said pearls come from. Maybe that’s why sugar is so expensive?  Sean continued spreading the small white crystals until he was happy that it was an even layer. He then placed the other slice on top and used a grubby hand to squash it together. He put it on the plate and carried it into his father’s room.

‘Dad?’ He said, placing he the plate by his bedside. ‘I got yer summat to keep you going. I found some money.’

‘Thanks son.’ His father replied. He felt too weak to question how he came across the money. ‘What did yer put in it? Ham? Bacon?’

Sean smiled, pleased with himself.

‘Sugar.’

Post Tenebras Lux

written by Melissa Shode
edited by Betty Doyle

I once caught Beauty
Slumbering in madness.
And she thanked me
For letting her stay.

Darling, tell me it’s not too late to run and hide,
Darling, tell them it’s not suicide –
I’ve broken it again,
And it’s much too hard to hide.

I’ll remember this time.

Sit back, inhale –
The cloud will choke the sunshine,
And when the poisonous blanket kisses my lungs,
I promise I won’t make a sound:
Not a retch, not a splutter –
I promise I’ll die this time.

I guess you had no idea it was quite so bad,
But the view is glorious.
Post Tenebras lux,
Isn’t that both beautiful and mad?