My story ‘Tree Justice’ has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine today!
Category Archives: Flash Fiction
We Need the Money
“Oh Sarah, come in.”
“Sit down, I’ll put a cuppa on.”
Dawn worried about her friend and made the tea quickly. She decided it was time for those American-style cookies, she knew Sarah liked them and probably hadn’t had any for ages.
“Tell me all about it.”
Sarah sniffed, “Well, you know we’ve been having money problems?”
“I thought you might.” Dawn looked at her friend’s gaunt face, and tried to ignore the ragged clothes.
“Well, the thing is. After I lost my job, and then Stephen did too, well we thought we could get by. So I’ve been looking for work. I signed up, but it’s a pittance you get these days, and you have to prove you’re looking. So embarrassing. I had a good job!” She wailed.
“There there love, have a biscuit.”
Sarah had been holding back out of politeness, or fear perhaps. She hoovered up the first cookie, and then the next one.
“So Sarah, what we need to do is find you a proper job again and you’ll be fine.”
“Oh no, it’s too late.”
“It’s Stephen, I think he’s done something drastic.”
A cold weight settled in Dawn’s stomach, she asked, fearing the answer, “What?”
Sarah just sobbed. Dawn, who usually had the patience of a saint was tiring of the tears, changed the subject, and soon had Sarah talking about her little ones. Hours of gossiping later and Sarah had calmed down. Dawn was considering whether to mention Stephen when the doorbell went.
“Who can that be? I’ll be back.”
Opening the door she stared in shock.
He wasn’t dead. But, his face?
“Yes, would you like to come in for a cuppa?”
“I’d love one. Hopefully a Thompsons’, they make the finest cuppa there is.”
“Err, it might be.”
When Sarah saw Stephen she burst into tears again.
“Dawn, have you some Fluffex tissues? They’re absorbent and soft on the skin.”
When she came back Stephen was trying to comfort Sarah. Dawn was over the shock of his face, she’d just not seen anyone have burger and soft drink logos as tattoos before.
“Thanks Dawn, you’re a real friend. Real friends buy American Family cookies.”
“Why are you talking like that?”
“Earning money Dawn. Saving just pennies a day for the best life insurance, from Geneva Life.”
Dawn looked quizzically at Sarah.
“He’s sold out…” More tears.
“He’s a brand bunny?”
“We prefer advertorially confident. Confidence comes from whiter teeth, try new Solar Gum Extra Extra White.”
Sarah gathered herself together, “It’s only for a year, and it pays enough for our expenses. If I get a job then we’ll soon be out of this hole.”
“Every other sentence will be an advert sent to me directly via 5G ear implant. The new Strakia 15S, the phone made for 5G.”
Dawn looked at him with horror and pity, hoping she’d never, ever be that desperate.
My story Tattoo made it to the shortlist of the CreativeWritingMatters WoW! 2014 Short Story Competition, but didn’t place. Which means I can share it here. I wonder what my old maths teacher might say.
“That looks amazing.”
“Thanks, I think it really suits you.”
The girl picked herself off the table, still staring at her arm. The dragon stared back at her, and occasionally flicked its tail.
“How long will it do that for?”
“Well it uses your own muscle power to change the colours in the inks, so as long as you have the tattoo. Guaranteed for life.”
She paid and then carefully put on her jacket, suffering only a brief wince of pain. Georgy watched her, satisfied in another job done well. Things were finally going his way.
There were no bookings for the rest of the day, so he decided to take it off. He deserved a break after all the hard work he’d been putting in.
In the old days he’d have headed straight for the pub, but that wasn’t an option now. He went home and changed into his running gear. A nice run would be great, and then he could maybe get his head down studying for his tattooing degree. There was so much more theory he needed to get properly sorted in his head.
As he ran around the park, marvelling at how much fitter he felt, and just generally enjoying the autumnal air he forgot to focus on the path and nearly knocked an old man over into the pond. He caught him just in time.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Hmph. Well, at least you apologised.”
“Erm, Mr Aster?”
“Yes, I am,” The old man peered closely at him. “Is that Kevin Bailey?”
“Ah yes sir, but I call myself Georgy now.”
“Hmph…. Well as we’re not in school any more you should probably call me Tony.”
It felt really odd talking to his old maths teacher like this, but maybe it was fate.
“Ah, thanks, ah, Tony. How are you? Are you still teaching?”
“Retired this year. That’s why I’m spending the day walking round the park. Not much else to do and the wife complains I get under her feet.”
Slightly awkward silence, and then the old man said, “So, what are you doing now? Still avoiding an honest living?”
Georgy’s face reddened. The old man followed hurriedly, “Sorry Kev… Georgy, I didn’t mean to imply you were doing anything illegal. It’s just that you were always one to try and find the easy way.”
“No, no you were right. I used to hang with the wrong crowd. Always convinced working was a mug’s game. We did a few stupid things. But I’m clean now.”
Georgy showed the tattoo of a date on his arm.
“The last time I took any drugs or drank.”
“Nearly a year. That’s great, good work. So what do you do now?”
“I’ve got a real job. I’m a tattoo artist.”
Mr Aster looked a little askance.
“I know what you’re thinking sir, ah Tony, but it’s not just tats for drunk lads or hen nights. I did a chef’s hands yesterday.”
“Oh, why would he want them covered in, er, art.”
“Not art, no not at all, well, not solely art anyway. It’s one of these new smart tattoos, it tells you when you’re hands are completely clean. Let me show you.”
Georgy turned his left hand over and on the back was a small area which looked like a faint spider’s web.
“This is my example tat. So normally it’s almost invisible.” They were still standing next to the duck pond, and so Georgy dipped his hand into it. He pulled it out and the web was bright, almost pulsing fuchsia.
“It tells me that it’s got both bacteria on it, the red, and some dirt, the bluer end, hence fuchsia and there’s a lot which is why it is so bright.”
He then wiped off the tattoo, and it went mostly red.
“Now it’s saying that although it looks clean, there’s still some bacteria on it, and I really should wash it properly.”
“That’s amazing. Didn’t have anything like that when I got my tattoo. What’s it for?”
“The chef is a sushi chef, and is out on display in the middle of the restaurant. Given some of the recent scares he thought it would be a good way of reassuring his customers.”
They lapsed into a more comfortable silence, when Georgy suddenly said, “You have a tattoo?”
Tony smiled, and rolled up his sleeve. On his arm was a heart with a date and initials.
“It’s the date I met my Betty. I was so in love with her. It really hurt. Does it still hurt like the proverbial?”
“A bit. We often put a little local anaesthetic on these days to reduce the pain. It cuts down on the number of people who insist on having their tattoo while drunk.”
“Ha, I think I was perhaps a little worse for wear when I got this one done.”
“Actually Tony I have a tattoo in honour of you.”
“Really?” The old man looked sceptical.
“Yes, I remember you telling me that I had to know my times-tables, that I couldn’t assume I’d always have my phone or other calculating device with me, whereas I’d always have my brain if I cared to use it. So I had this done.”
Georgy rolled up his right arm, and on the inside just near the elbow was a calculator tattoo, the set of buttons and a screen which was showing blank. Georgy then pressed the buttons, and the screen blinked and showed twenty-two.
“That’s simply incredible! How does it work?”
“Yeah it is. I don’t really know. The ink is kind of smart, and forms a mini-computer. All the lines have to be drawn when doing the tattoo, and it just changes the colours to give the result. Just like the chef’s hands.”
“And an old style calculator. I almost take back what I said all those years ago. Except, well, there’s just one thing?”
“What is it?”
“Three times seven is twenty-one….”
Sometimes a line just begs to have a story written about it, and this one was from a previous story. I hope I’ve done it some justice.
Penguins Don’t Need Frying Pans
“I worry about your penguin obsession Dave.”
“I worry about your personal hygiene, but you don’t hear me going on about.”
Sadly I was only half joking, Sebastian really did have a bit of a problem. I idly wondered if there was an elegant solution to the problem, and realised there was: a girl. As I didn’t have one to hand I parked that to one side and went back to trying to remember what state I’d left my experiments in.
For a while there was silence as we walked back to the lab. Beaker was out today, so Julian and I had snuck out for lunch, and a pint or two. During lunch I tried explaining to him my theory about penguins. It hadn’t gone down well. To be honest it never really did.
“Look, sorry. I’m sure you’re right about tool-use being over-rated.”
“I’m sorry too. Though you might want to consider a hair cut…”
I smiled to take the sting out, and it seemed to mollify him.
“So, why do you think penguins will survive longer than we will?”
Was he just humouring me? Perhaps not, I’d try anyway, after all we had a little way yet to walk, and I was still buzzing from the pints of Portly Porpoise. The local brewery had bowed to the fashion of foolish names.
“It’s simple. Humans have become over-dependent on technology. When The Fall comes, we’ll be screwed. The penguins however, well, as long as there are fish, they’ll be fine.”
This was the bit where I usually lost people.
“Yes, The Fall. You know, when civilisation collapses. Plague, a comet, massive earthquakes or alien invasion.”
“Ah yes. The Fall.”
I was used to the knowing smiles. They always thought I was joking.
“Think of it this way. What is required for our society to continue to function normally? Large amounts of power. If that gets impacted in any way, bad things will happen.”
“I see what you mean.”
I’d lost him. Our conversation lapsed and we arrived back at the labs and parted company amicably.
That night I was heading home and as usual took the sky bullet. I mused that this was the heavy tech I was concerned about. Here I was, in a small capsule made from little more than cellulose, being blown along an invisible path by a targeted blast of air. The path was created using some form of projected electric field, and was in effect an airtight tunnel, and the push would send me hurtling along towards my destination.
I’d refused to use them for their first few years. I’d been afraid of what might happen if they went wrong. I now used them all the time; they cut my commute substantially.
The capsule trembled, and then started to fall. It seemed like it was no longer following a pipe.
The power had failed.
As the ground hurtled towards me I thought to myself that penguins wouldn’t have got themselves into this mess.
The capsule trembled, and then I was rocked sideways gently. The backup system had kicked in and a new tube formed around me, carrying me safely home again. As I sailed through the air once more, I reflected on the fact that penguins can’t fly.
This is a flash piece which I wrote while sitting in a hospital.
George and Mary walked into the hospital holding hands. They’d made a momentous decision, they wanted to have children.
“I’m so happy George.”
“So am I dear.”
One could be forgiven for thinking George looked more apprehensive than happy as they approached the reception. Mary had booked so they were quickly whisked off to see the consultant.
“Children, eh? Jolly good show. Just need to ask you a few things…” His questions seemed to last forever, health, education, jobs, he seemed to want to know everything about them. They were too intimidated by his white coat and over-bearing manner to do anything more than reply.
“Right, sounds like everything should be fine. We’ll just need to take some blood. Then the nurse will be with you.”
They were hustled out, Mary still beatific, and George a little green around the gills. He hadn’t realised they’d want his blood. Mary realised her partner was uncomfortable, “Don’t worry George, it’s just a prick.” She giggled, and he felt a bit better.
She was right, it was just a quick needle in the finger. The nurse bustled about them, “Can you believe we used to take almost an armful? We’d have had to wait for several days for the results too.” She shook her head in wonder at modern medicine, and told them they’d have results in thirty minutes.
Then they were asked in to meet the hospital administrator. He was very forbidding, and asked them a lot more questions, mostly about money, but some seemed about politics. They answered meekly, for they had no savings, or politics for that matter. He scowled a little at the latter, but was unperturbed by the former. They were led out with the feeling they’d failed some form of exam.
The waiting room walls were papered with pictures of smiling babies. George started to feel a little claustrophobic, and Mary became worried they might say no.
Their turn to see the head nurse came, and they walked in gripping each other’s hands fiercely.
“You do realise you will need to get married, this clinic will not help you otherwise?”
They nodded, and tried to explain they wanted to get their compatibility tested first, but she waved that away.
“Financially you will be able to provide for two legal children, but we can only allot you one at this point. You might want to consider becoming active in the defence of the state before requesting the second.” She paused to make sure they understood, they nodded.
“Your results have come through, and are excellent. We will be able to produce a baby which is healthy, and with appropriate support, will become a productive member of society.”
“Did anyone explain what the next steps are?”
“Hmm, I shall have to speak to reception. Anyway, we have your genetic material now. We will feed that into the machine and it will do its work. We will expect you back in nine months.”
I wrote this for a competition which gave a choice of opening lines (the same competition as for this, and the same opening line – I obviously didn’t like the other options). It was for Halloween, but doesn’t really have any connection to pumpkins etc., which is possibly why it didn’t win.
“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
Yeah, thanks Dad for yet another piece of disturbing and ultimately useless advice. If only he’d taken less acid when he was younger. If only he was still here.
“I said, goodbye dear, and have a good day.” His wife had a bemused frown on her face.
“Sorry, love, you too. Knock ‘em dead!”
“Of course, and don’t forget, we’re having the Renquists to dinner tonight.”
Damn, he had forgotten.
“All planned, don’t you worry, I know exactly what I’m cooking.”
She smiled, perhaps a little uncertainly, and then after glancing at her watch rushed out with a passing air kiss.
This was his first day of being an official house husband. His gardening leave was over, not that the garden had seen any of it, and his wife was back at work. He’d looked for another job, but there just wasn’t anything for someone of his age, and qualifications, or lack thereof. The world had changed, tablets, virtual spaces and social presence rooms were all the rage, and he didn’t have a clue what they meant any more.
He shook himself, and decided to take the day by the horns. First step, shopping. Laura had shown him what to do. She’d learnt all the new ways, and when it came to finding a job she’d been beating them off with a stick. Not that he minded really. He was all for feminism really. Anyway, shopping. It was easy, he just needed to get the tablet thingy, click on the Isquibo icon and click go. Then apparently it would all arrive.
There was no Isquibo icon. Or anything else that made any sense. He tapped a few things randomly before giving up. This was just like work, why was nothing named properly anymore? He’d go out to the local supermarket later, they were still around he thought.
The cleanerbot wandered into the room. Made a sort of hello beep and then started vacuuming, or mopping or whatever. He wondered where its brain was. He wondered where his had gone. Trusting the machines was easy for everyone else, they’d not woken up to the new world with a hangover and a fear of rounded icons. Or any icons.
Right, he should load the dishwasher. Except, the dishes were gone. The cleanerbot had already taken them. He couldn’t help himself, the anger began to build. How he hated it. This horrid square box which was making him feel ever more useless. He walked into the living room.
It was spotless. There was really nothing for him to do. He wondered what his dad would say. He decided to go for a walk. As he left the house he could vaguely recall Laura mentioning something about an alarm, but he figured he wouldn’t be gone long.
The trees were lovely in the autumn, and he spent a restful half hour sitting on a bench watching the world go by in the park.
When he got home all was much as he had left it. He checked in to see that the kitchen was now clean. Suddenly there was a loud beep behind him, it was the cleanerbot.
“Go away, stupid thing!”
It followed him into the lounge, and beeped at him again. He had no idea what it wanted. Laura had told him how to check, but it had all seemed so easy, and yet now the concepts had slipped from his mind, like all these technical things did.
There was another, more angry sounding, beep, and the cleanerbot advanced on him again. This was getting a bit worrying. Hadn’t she said there was some kind of pass phrase?
It continued to advance, and he backed away, tripping over the table and falling over. In the process he managed to knock over a vase which smashed. Maybe the cleanerbot would sort that out and stop bothering him.
The bot stopped still. Its front bot opened up and an arm extended, and he relaxed. This was obviously the vacuum. He started to get up when something jabbed into his side and all his muscles spasmed. He fell to the ground, and darkness took him.
His wife arrived back that evening, tired, but excited by her day.
She looked around. The house was absolutely spotless, not a mark or stain to show that anyone was there.
Another piece of flash fiction, entered for a competition for darker stories at Darker Times.
It didn’t win, and if I’m honest I wasn’t totally happy with it. Sometimes the word limit helps, and sometimes it doesn’t, I think this is one where it didn’t.
The rain lashed down, soaking me in the darkness. I didn’t want to be out here, but the flock hadn’t come in for their feed. That meant they’d gotten out again.
Fortunately I found the hole in the fence quickly. Unfortunately it was into the forest. I’d rushed out without a jacket, and now I was paying the price. Even better, my torch was running low. No wait, now it was out. So now I was in a dark forest, at night, in driving rain, looking for creatures whose colouring ranged from brown to black. Could it get any worse?
The sound chilled my blood. It was off to my right. I called out, “Hazel… Catkin…” The two leaders of the flock would normally come to me, though I’d always felt their names somewhat mis-sold them. Hazel could be a real monster when she wanted to be, and Catkin was worse if anything.
Off to my right again, then answered from the left. If I hadn’t known better I’d have thought they were stalking me. Then what sounded like a cry, followed by several more angry bleats. I ran towards the sound. I heard screaming. The flock had found someone, and were stalking them. I had to do something before it got out of hand. I tried to go faster, but I was no longer on the path and the branches kept whipping my face.
The scream sounded again, and I leapt forward in a panic. I found myself on my back, seeing stars and with blinding pain across my forehead. I must’ve hit a branch. The screaming had stopped and I could hear snuffling. The rain seemed to be easing off.
Had whoever screamed been able to get away? There were a few fences around the wood which the flock wouldn’t be able to get over. Perhaps they’d made it? I got up and headed towards the sounds. I kept telling myself that whoever it was must have got away.
The moon had broken through the clouds, and I could see a clearing ahead. Dark figures seemed to be clustered near the centre of the clearing, and they were making a lot of snuffling sounds. I walked towards them, knowing that as they were pheromone bonded to me they’d just assume I was part of the flock. I gingerly looked over at what they were gathered around. It was the fresh corpse of a small Scottie dog. I gagged a little but was relieved, it could have been much worse..
Then I heard more snuffling at the edge of the clearing. The rest of the flock were there, gathered round a much bigger form. Peering closely I made out a woman’s shape in the moonlight. I gagged. She was obviously beyond help. I slumped to the floor, dazed and not knowing what I would do. I couldn’t help railing at the madness of genetically engineering a cross between Soay sheep and wolves.
I wrote this as an entry for a competition where the theme was ‘A Friend in Need’. It was a bit of fun really, and I enjoyed writing it, even if it didn’t catch the judges’ eyes.
A Friend in Need
By Jason Gibbs
Paul sat fidgeting at the table, wondering when the waiter would come. Laura looked at him and mentally shook her head. He’d be great if he’d just sort himself out.
“Do you love me?”
Paul froze, caught in the headlights of the question. The problem was that he did love Laura, or at least thought he did. It was just that she was, well, demanding.
“Yes! Of course!” Squeaking out the yes didn’t help.
“Oh Paul. I love you too, but when are you going to get serious? How is the job going?”
“You were fired… you quit?”
“No, actually.” He looked a bit abashed, “They promoted me, and asked me to become a permie.”
Laura was shocked. Maybe he was finally growing up, she was worried he’d stay a man child for ever.
“That’s great Paul! We should have something to celebrate!”
Paul kind of thought coming out to a nice French restaurant counted as celebrating, but given the smile on Laura’s face he didn’t want to disappoint her. As she waved the waiter over his phone buzzed. It was Terry, but he didn’t have time to read the message before Laura turned back. She’d been very clear with him that he wasn’t to check his texts, or answer anything other than an emergency, while he was sitting with her. Or she’d storm out. Again.
The waiter came over and Laura ordered some Moet, which he hated. Perhaps there was something he could teach her for a change. He stopped the waiter, and said, “Actually, do you have any Veuve Cliquot?” The waiter nodded his reply and went off to get some.
Laura was impressed, she didn’t realise Paul knew anything about Champagne, or indeed anything that wasn’t in the Urban Dictionary.
Paul’s phoned buzzed again. He managed not to make any sign. Laura was looking particularly beautiful tonight, and he thought he might have properly impressed her for a change. He didn’t reveal he’d learnt about Champagne during a summer serving at weddings.
When they’d first started going out she’d seemed quite happy with his jokes, and she never seemed bothered when he went out with his mates. He’d spent time with her friends, who all seemed nice enough. He’d even tried to set up Carol with Terry. That had been a disaster though, and it felt like that had been the turning point. From then on Laura had been pushing him, get a proper job, don’t drink so much, had he ever seen a gym, on and on. The problem was, he did really want to be with her, he just wasn’t ready for all this responsibility. The money from the job helped though.
After the starter she went to the toilet. He’d had a dozen texts by this point, and he now read them. They were all from Terry. The first one was just ‘Help!’, they got worse and worse from there. He was in big trouble, real trouble and he needed Paul. Desperately. Paul was certain it was to do with those gangsters Terry had been doing a deal with. Clearly it had gone bad. Damn. How was he going to explain this to Laura?
He tried. Her mouth slipped from a luminescent smile to a frown before ending flat and angry.
How could he? She just didn’t understand him. She’d tried to tell him that Terry was bad news, so many times. This was it.
“Paul, if you leave now, then we’re over. Don’t ever bother me again.”
He had no choice. He left eighty quid on the table, grabbed his jacket and headed out without another word. After all, what could he say? He wasn’t going to abandon his mates.
He jumped into his motor and sped home, hoping he’d be in time. Terry called, and his car automatically answered.
“Mate, I’m on my way.”
There was a grunt of relief.
“I thought you were leaving me hanging! Look, I can hold them off for a few more minutes but..”
There was the sound of gunshots.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Back of the warehouses, behind the Fedex office.”
Paul screeched up to his house.
“I’ll get tooled up and be right there.”
Paul ran into the house, and dived into the games room. He jumped into his control chair, with the keyboard on one side and the controller on the other, and hit un-pause. The speakers squawked, and the logo of East End Wars came up on the screen, along with a Ray Winstone quote he no longer noticed. His character already had a load of weapons ready, he just needed to dump them in the Jag and get going. He had to hurry, his friend was in real need.
I’ve been trying to explore different ways of telling stories. This was my first attempt as using coffee ordering. The aim was to write a 500 word piece of flash fiction just in coffee orders. I’m relatively happy with it, and might well come back to the technique.
By Jason Gibbs
“Can I have a tall, by which I mean medium, skinny: you see not only am I trying to lose weight, but also it turns out I’m slightly lactose intolerant, and actually since I started having skinny I have far fewer stomach cramps, though in all honesty I’d prefer it if you had goats milk, decaf: a few years ago I gave up caffeine for a couple of weeks as a test to see what it did, and I had two weeks of headaches and feeling like I had a fever so I haven’t touched the stuff since, in fact I think I’ve been caffeine free for over three years now, except once when someone accidentally gave me a cup and my heart started racing and I started feeling paranoid, really, it was horrible, never again, it’s evil I tell you, latte: yes I know it’s a weird Americanised version of an Italian drink which is only really had at breakfast in Italy and even then is considered more for kids, it has milk in it after all, but I like it, though I’m starting to wonder if I should have a white Americano, because I think it’s the espresso I like and not the milk, and what with the intolerance thing, and the lack of goat’s milk, I wonder if that would be more sensible, but in all honesty I’ve ordered this so many times I’m not sure I could really change.”
“Yes, could I have a grande: what we used to call large, it’s for my boss who’s too damn lazy to buy his own coffee and thinks he’s a big man, both in size and organisationally so should have a big coffee, soya: after he heard about my lactose intolerance he had his checked and it was apparently much worse, so he has soya even though it churns his stomach, mocha: because he can’t admit he doesn’t actually like coffee, with an extra shot: as he thinks that makes him seem more macho, or possibly because he heard his boss get an extra shot once and thinks it’ll help in his campaign to get to the top. Oh, and also extra hot: I’m not sure he knows what this means, but he asks for it, in a kind of, look at me I’m hot aren’t I kind of way, and his secretary rolls her eyes.”
“Cream on the mocha?”
“Yes, obviously, the guy isn’t actually lactose intolerant, and he hates the soya, so he always says yes to the cream and then pretends he only has a bit. They used to ask about sugar too, but I don’t think even they would agree to add the seven teaspoons he has to have to stomach the stuff. I suggested he have tea once and he nearly ripped my head off.”
“A tall, skinny, decaf latte and an extra hot grande soya mocha with an extra shot? Can I have your name?”
This one was written for a competition which set the opening line, and had a 750 word limit. I actually wrote an entirely different entry for the competition.
I like this version, though an early draft had R.O.U.S.es which were vetoed. Unfortunately it feels too much like the intro to a story to be a proper piece of flash fiction on it’s own. I may come back to it and finish the story…
By Jason Gibbs
“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
Father had always been a well of great advice. I’m not sure that was the best for my first day at boarding school, but his heart was in the right place. Brain too, probably.
Another favourite was, “Penguins don’t need frying pans.” If I’m honest I still don’t know what he meant, probably something jolly healthy like: eat raw fish. Or possibly: technology isn’t always required. Though he probably just liked how it scanned.
Of course the advice I should have given him was, “If you’ve just shot a large cat, don’t put your head in its mouth for a triumphal shot until you’re absolutely certain it’s properly dead.” Not snappy I realise, but might have meant he’d have seen me graduate.
The years since hadn’t been kind. But that piece of advice, while unhelpful at boarding school, had become surprisingly useful in the last few years.
“Jenkins! Are you day dreaming again?”
“No sir, sorry sir. Just remembering advice from my father.”
“Jolly good chap, pity about that whole lion thing.”
“Yes yes. Get to work boy. Sewers don’t clean themselves. Take Jones with you.”
I nearly groaned. Jones was such a despicable lick-spittle. If I wanted to stop for a toke or two he’d be off tattling before I’d taken the first draw. Also, more seriously, he didn’t understand the job.
Like my father I was a hunter. Admittedly I was hunting in the sewers of our great capital, and not out in one of the colonies.
Jones arrived, cockily throwing his hat on the peg.
I nodded to him. We were rarely on speaking terms. He went to get his orders, and came back with his grin quite removed. It would have been satisfying if I didn’t have to spend the next few days with him.
“Now Jones, we’re going out to the far reaches first. Rumours of rat activity.”
“Spencer, we work in the sewers, there are rats everywhere.”
“Dammit man, this is the kind of activity we investigate!”
He rolled his eyes.
We were well kitted out. Leather armour, including steel toecaps and heavy gloves. Jones had the flame thrower, and I had the flechette gun. It fired lots of tiny ice needles, which meant it was much less likely to cause damage to the walls, and the needles rarely penetrated leather. They’d pass through skin and fur easily though.
We set out, and I tried to be civil to Jones.
“How long have you been here Jones?”
“Four extremely boring weeks. Look, love to chat, but my brother sent me this great podcast which I need to listen too.”
With that he plugged in, and the only sound in the tunnels was our footsteps.
After hours of walking, and a couple of silent rest stops, we started to approach the area where the rat activity had been seen. I looked around for any clues. Jones carried on regardless, even after I tapped him and indicated we were approaching the danger area. He’d never seen real rats.
I noticed slash marks on the wall. Often the bigger rats would mark the walls of their territory. We’d had a scientist studying them, he thought there might be a rudimentary language contained within them. I hadn’t seen him for a while.
A screech made me stop. The worrying thing was that it was from behind. I tapped Jones again, and tried to indicate that he needed to get the flamethrower ready. He ignored me and kept walking.
A few steps on he stopped and then started to scrabble back. Clearly he’d seen the rats. It’s always a shock the first time.
He backed towards me and started the flamethrower up.
I aimed up the tunnel as the creatures came round the corner. There were hundreds of them, their eyes sparkling in our torchlight. We must have found one of the bigger nests.
Jones opened up with the flamethrower, and the smell of burned rat filled the tunnel. My job was more technical; I picked off rats which escaped around the edge of the flame. I liked to think I’d inherited my father’s marksmanship as I killed them. Each rat was stupid, but the swarm had intelligence and if enough got round they’d be all over us, so I made sure to focus on the task. My father would have been proud of me.