I was a finalist in the PG Wodehouse New Comic Writer Award competition with this story.
Gloop detested the annual reconnaissance trips to Earth. Too much wet stuff falling out of the sky for her liking. However, this particular voyage was a far cry from the usual "strictly covert observation of human behaviour only" affair. No, this time round, it was an emergency rescue mission for possible survivors.
Talk about an accident waiting to happen. Giving human beings unsupervised control of a planet rich in resources, fresh air and opportunities always meant apocalypse would be skulking somewhere in the shadows, ready and waiting to cast its destructive spell. Riots, wars, the politics of hatred, Sunday afternoon under 10's football matches, they'd all played their part in the total destruction of civilisation. And now there was nothing left but charred trees, decaying ruins and a million, trillion shattered bones of former living creatures.
Gloop banked the craft to the left and the deathly wake of apocalypse came into view. A painful chaos of twisted iron girders and blackened granules of stone spread the wings of death amidst a harrowing zoo of battered, rusting motor vehicles. Watching tall over the ice-cold mayhem of silence stood the cracked, crumbling carcasses of concrete and glass, mimicking a sorry parade of dying, weather-worn tombstones in an overgrown, long-forgotten graveyard. This was certainly not how she remembered the once vibrant and bustling city of London.
There came a flush of water. The door to the flight room's toilet cubicle swished open. Glerk, co-pilot, loving husband of Gloop and their home planet's "standing on one leg the longest" champion returned to his seat.
Self-conscious, he jabbed the thumb of one of his eight hands towards the toilet and murmured, 'I'd leave it five twimloids if I were you.' He then asked, 'Are we there yet?'
Gloop rolled her six eyes. Two jaded groans emerged, one from each mouth. If contests existed for poisoning lavatory air and asking dumb questions over and over again, Glerk would win eight hands down.
'According to the ship's scanner,' said Gloop, casting multiple eyes upon a busy radar screen, 'the signs of life we detected should be right about here.'
Gloop circled the locality, searching for a suitable place to land. Once an agreeable spacious area of charred grass had been located, she put the craft down.
They both looked out of the cockpit window.
Glerk then pointed all eight index fingers. 'Over there, look.'
Two humans, one male, one female emerged from the fire-damaged skeleton of a nearby building, waving their arms in the air, eager to get seen, get heard, get away from this horrible place.
'Oh, bother, they're humans,' sighed Gloop. 'I was hoping the only survivor of this ravaged planet would be a cute kitten. I've always fancied owning a pet.'
'They take a lot of looking after,' Glerk hastened to mention.
'No. Humans. Vile creatures.'
'Agreed,' uttered Gloop. 'There's something very creepy about their one pair of hands.'
Glerk nodded. 'Definitely the stuff of nightmares.' He stabbed a sequence of buttons. 'Right, let's get this over and done with. Opening two-way transmission.'
A microphone on a stalk emerged from the control panel. Gloop took charge of it.
'This is Gloop and Glerk from the Trans-Galaxial Scouting Corporation,' she announced to the outside world. 'Please state your names.'
'Funnily enough,' replied the male human, 'I'm Adam and this is Eve.'
Gloop shrugged all eight shoulders. 'What's so funny about that?'
The two humans traded puzzled frowns.
'You know, Adam and Eve,' said the female human. 'Get it? From the good book.'
Gloop was still none the wiser. 'What good book?'
Gloop threw a blink-filled glance at Glerk. Her husband seemed equally bemused. It was clearly a Homo sapiens in-joke.
'Was it ever featured on Richard And Judy's Book Club?' she asked the survivors.
Eve shrugged her one and only set of shoulders. 'I don't think so, no.'
'Well, it can't be that good a book then.'
Eve looked intrigued. 'I didn't know aliens watched human TV.'
'Book Club was the only Earth transmission worth monitoring,' Gloop said. 'The rest of your output was always a bit meh. Oh, apart from Christmas Day episodes of EastEnders.'
Tired of the smalltalk, Adam asked, 'Have you come here to rescue us?'
'Yes. But now we're not so sure if it's the right thing to do.' Gloop indicated to a barren landscape long since dead. 'I mean, look what you've done to the place.'
'This isn't our doing,' stressed a worried Adam.
Gloop scoffed. 'So you're saying there was no World War 3, huh? I beg to differ. I saw it all unfold with my own six eyes.'
'Yes, but we didn't play a part in it. We're not politicians or soldiers. I was an accountant and Eve worked in a supermarket, mostly laughing at people trying in vain to conquer the self-service checkouts.'
Gloop said, 'You need to see it from our POV. We have a new planet already lined up for you, but how do we know you won't totally trash it?'
'Gloop, please,' Eve begged. 'Humanity made some really stupid mistakes. All we're asking for is a chance to learn from them.'
For the longest time, Gloop and Glerk deliberated, ponder, ponder, ponder. Should they, shouldn't they, should they, shouldn't they? A decision was eventually made. Adam and Eve would be saved.
'You do realise, don't you?' Glerk uttered privately to his wife as the survivors boarded the craft. 'These humans breed like flies.'
'What they choose to get up to in the privacy of their newly-adopted planet is their own business.'
'Yes, but they'll end up destroying the damn thing. Just like they did with this one. And the one before that. And the one before that.'
Gloop posted a reassuring smile. 'Oh, don't you worry, Glerk. Human apocalypse only occurs every few thousand years. We'll both be dead and gone by then.'
Getting it, Glerk sported two grins. 'Ah, yes, which means it'll no longer be our problem.'
Twenty years was a long time to be away. But now her husband Derek was coming home.
The man in question had always promised to take Angela on the trip of a lifetime. Finally, he'd wrenched himself away from a comfy sofa to arrange it. However, it wasn't exactly the trip of a lifetime. It was the trip of his lifetime. Namely, a long overdue return to the small rural town he'd left behind two decades ago.
'I think you'll like the place,' Derek uttered as he navigated the exit lane, waving goodbye to the noise and the rage of the motorway. 'Very serene and oldy-worldy.'
'So it's nothing like London then,' Angela quipped with a wink.
Derek smiled. 'Compared to the city, it's another country.'
For his sweetheart's enjoyment, he was all set to present a nostalgic tour down memory lane of his favourite personal locations.
'Think of these places as windows into my childhood, youth and early adulthood,' Derek explained, his excited eyes glimmering with the flickering candlelight of anticipation. 'You've always wanted to know what I got up to in my younger days. This is your chance to find out.'
'Looking forward to it,' responded Angela.
The reason why Derek had bid farewell to his hometown all those years ago was simple. The man was approaching twenty with nothing to show for his life, so when a friend offered him a lucrative career opportunity in London, he jumped at the chance. Angela met him five years later and whirlwind romance ensued. Within another few months, they were married, and the rest was history.
They checked into a quaint timber-framed inn which had welcomed weary travellers since the year dot. The room was agreeable, although they'd been advised to duck when retiring to bed, so as not to bang their heads on the low wooden beams which stretched out across the ancient ceiling. After unpacking, they decided to head downstairs for a bite to eat. This was where Derek let Angela in on a niggling grievance.
'This bar area has changed beyond recognition,' he grumbled. 'Back in the day, this used to be a quiet and traditional inn. Now look at it.' He pointed at the bar. 'Trendy wines and multi-coloured vodka drinks. Oh, and once upon a time, a man could hear himself think while he supped his pint.' He indicated to the shuddering speakers placed strategically around the room. 'Now we're deafened by awful modern music blasting out at a trillion decibels.'
Angela giggled. 'Oh, Derek. Stop moaning. We're here to enjoy ourselves.'
'Well, you know what I'm like, Angela. I'm no lover of change.'
Fed and watered, the couple climbed into their car and Derek's grand tour of his early life began.
'Our first port of call,' uttered an eager husband as he turned into a side street, 'is my old primary school, a picturesque Victorian building with...'
Angela frowned at his sudden halt of speech. 'What's the matter?'
Wide-eyed, Derek stopped the car and stepped out. 'What have they done to this place?'
Angela alighted from the vehicle. Her husband stared aghast at an empty shell of brickwork. A huge sign told the world this abandoned school was unsafe and therefore marked for demolition.
Angela cuddled him. 'I'm so sorry.'
Picking himself up, onwards and upwards, Derek took his wife to the town's playing field, a setting which had meant a great deal to his younger self, where he'd played as a child and later loitered with his friends as a teenager. To his dismay, the playground was gone, making way for a housing estate. Another disappointing knockback.
As the day went on, Angela's husband discovered countless other locations important to his personal heritage which had lost their battle with the developers. The town of yesteryear he remembered so fondly was today barely recognisable.
'Where next?' Angela asked.
'I'll take you to the pub where I enjoyed my first ever pint as an adult.'
Once more, Derek was alarmed to discover he was one step behind. His favourite public house as a young man was now a Chinese restaurant.
'What can I say?' Angela said. 'I guess it's what they call progress.'
'This is not progress!' her husband whined in despair. 'This is the blatant destruction of cherished memories!' Derek then sought to calm down. 'I'm sorry, dear. Seeing all these terrible changes has upset me.'
Tactfully, Angela suggested, 'Maybe it's time we stopped off somewhere for a break.'
Derek's face lit up. 'I know just the place. A lovely traditional tea room, just off the High Street.'
Yet again, Team Change had scored an all-out victory. The tea room had long-since closed its doors, replaced instead by a trendy coffee shop.
'I don't even know what any of these words mean,' moaned Derek, attempting in vain to decipher the establishment's menu of exotic drinks. 'All I want is a normal coffee. Is that really too much to ask?'
A tad more erudite in the art of ordering modern beverages, Angela asked for a cappuccino for her and a latte for him.
'I'm sorry, Angela,' Derek sighed as they both sat down at a free table. 'This nostalgic tour hasn't quite turned out as planned.'
'Oh, don't be so daft, love. I'm having a wonderful time.'
'This is so depressing,' her husband added. 'It's as if all my formative years have been wiped off the face of the earth. I guess I'll just have to learn to accept the hard truth. Everything changes.'
'Not everything,' claimed Angela with a warm smile. 'Even after all this time, we still both love each other just as much as we did when we first met.'
Cheering up, Derek nodded. 'Oh, yes, I certainly agree with that.'
'So you see, my darling Derek, we may live in ever-evolving times, but some things will always stay the same.'
'I adore you, Angela.' Derek bent forward and awarded his wife a loving kiss. 'I wouldn't change you for the world.'
A Professional Hider
Picture the scene. Me. Male. Eleven years of age. Fully clothed. Standing in a bath. Yes, that's right. A bath. Empty, by the way, just so you know. Cowering behind the shower curtain which completely cloaked the tub. Wide-eyed. Silent. Back pressed firmly against the tiled wall. All alone in the communal bathroom of a Blackpool guesthouse.
That's what I always did as a child, you see, when faced with danger. Hide. You could say I was a professional hider.
Then, a sound. The turning of a doorknob. Uh oh. Did I not lock the door upon my arrival? No. I hadn't. In my frantic haste, I'd foolishly overlooked the obvious.
I heard the door open. Followed by unhurried, shuffling footsteps. I was a goner for sure. The hunter had sought out his quarry. Any second now, the curtain would swish across, revealing the driest bather in the whole of human history. That is, aside from the oily film of perspiration forming across my brow.
And waited some more.
What was he doing? Prolonging my agony? The cad.
I couldn't help myself. Curiosity got the better of me. Yes, I know it kills cats, but I'd never much cared for felines. I needed to know what was happening. So I peeked round the side of the curtain.
I soon wished I hadn't.
It wasn't my nemesis after all. To my horror, not four feet away, sat an elderly woman.
On the lavatory.
I recoiled, returning my eyes, my face, my everything behind the safety of the curtain. Oh, flibberdy-doodahs! What if I was discovered? I'd be branded a Peeping Tom. Argh! Hard evidence was stacking up against me. I was a young boy hidden behind a shower curtain while some old granny relieved herself of afternoon tea. I could hardly say, 'It's not how it looks.'
I had to face facts.
I was doomed.
The family holiday in Blackpool had seemed a good idea at the time. A pleasant little guesthouse situated a few streets from the sea. Who could possibly ask for more?
My brother and I (oh, by the way, he was a year younger) didn't relish the idea of hanging out with Mum and Dad every evening in a dead and dreary guesthouse bar. The prospect of sitting in silence, bored out of our skulls, while the old man supped his oh so adventurous half of brown ale and Mum polished off yet another whatever-she-was-having didn't exactly float the proverbial cross-channel ferry. Therefore, we figured we'd seek our own company.
We were fortunate enough to stumble across two fellow bored children. Brothers, just like us. Same age, give or take a few months. There was a severe lack of excitement in the guesthouse, so we ventured outside, heading in the direction of the seafront. Two minutes walk at the most, according to the brochure. Our pockets boasted ample spare change. Losing the lot in the slot machines sounded like fun.
One of the boys discovered a coat hanger, alone and unloved on the roadside. How it came to be there was a complete mystery. He picked it up and jokingly inserted it in the back of his collar, just as it would be used to suspend the garment in a wardrobe.
And then came the gag. 'Don't you ever get the feeling you've forgotten something?'
Oh, how we laughed.
The passing twenty-something thug, built like a brick WC (with token peroxide dollybird in tow) didn't share our sense of humour.
'What did you call me?' he growled.
We all froze, wide-eyed and mute. Think rabbits to headlights.
'I said, what did you call me?' He was a most persistent character.
A daunting predicament, yes, but one with a straightforward solution. Explain we weren't actually talking about him. Ah, but things are never quite that simple when you're a quartet of ten and eleven year olds.
So what did we do?
We legged it.
And guess what?
He chased us.
During the somewhat rapid return to the guesthouse, I'm sure we broke several world sprinting records. Only, we didn't stop to pick up the medals. The four of us barged through the entrance and scurried in all directions. I decided to take the stairs. Up I raced, flight after flight, never once tiring of my pace. Until I reached that communal bathroom.
And hid behind the shower curtain.
Where I now stood in agonised silence, waiting for a pensioner to quit paying her dues to the porcelain.
However, I soon began to realise that the quandary I faced was not as grim as first predicted. Surely this was better than being bludgeoned to death by a fist-happy psycho with an aversion towards coat hanger quips. All I had to do was keep quiet. And not cough. Nor sneeze. Nor Heaven forbid, make embarrassing noises in the posterior department. The old girl would be done in a moment. A quick tinkle and a flush, that's all. Then she'd leave. And I'd be home and dry. Simple.
So I waited for the tinkle.
All I heard was a grunt. And then a loud plop.
Oh, no! Disaster. There I stood, forced to listen to somebody five hundred times my age taking a number two. This was the stuff of nightmares. I closed my eyes, covered both ears with clammy palms and waited for what seemed like a million years.
Then came a flush. Yay! Just a few more seconds and she'd be on her merry way.
Her eventual departure was met by a weighty sigh of relief. Yes! I'd gotten away with it. Beaming brightly, I swished the curtain aside and stepped out of the bath a free man.
On several occasions during that week, I caught sight of the old lady. Each time, she would throw me a rather odd look.
Which begs the question.
Did she know?
I hope not. For her sake as well as mine.
Other books featuring my writing...
I'm a contributing writer in this book. Main writers are John Lloyd and Jon Canter.
Sequel to The Meaning Of Liff, this is a new comical dictionary of things there should be words for, but aren't, using odd place names as the words.
Example: Clavering (vb.) Pretending to text when alone and feeling vulnerable in public.
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Buy from Amazon
Stories For Homes|
A world-class anthology of short stories inspired by the word 'home.' This collection features, including myself, known and emerging writers contributing everything from flash fiction to extended short stories. All monies raised from sales of this book go directly to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.
Edited by Sally Swingewood & Debi Alper
Buy from Amazon
Twisted Tales 2013: Flash Fiction with a Twist|
This collection of twisted short stories (one of which is mine) investigates the thin line between the good in us all, and the lurking evil. Some of the stories seek the motivation, others deliberately take an opposing view, but all will surprise you with their perspective.
Publisher: Raging Aardvark Publishing
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