Three short steps up, a wooden door slightly ajar and beyond a glimpse of a narrow corridor painted white. Rachel Pritty, doctor, the plaque reads. I ring and enter. The corridor, which extends the length of the building, is deserted. No chairs, no posters, no flowers. Just a series of doors, left and right. Closed. To my left, a waiting room, visible through a glass pane that stretches from floor to ceiling. Several armchairs. White like the walls. Curved plastic and inflexible steel. But no patients to read the magazines. How could there be? The room has no door. 

The secretary’s office comes next, open to all-comers, someone has removed the door. If anyone ever worked there, they must have just stepped out. Beside the computer, the only discordant note in an organised world is a half-drunk coffee. My mouth waters at the smell of it. A single file lies closed on the desk. Reading the inscription upside down, I make out my name. Intrigued, I glance furtively down the corridor, then flip open the file. Inside is a thick wade of paper, all the sheets of which are blank. A shiver races down my spine as I let the file fall closed.

Backing out of the office, I call, “Hallo,” my voice sounding strange, intimidated, fearful even. “Anyone at home?” A watchful silence is all the reply I get. I glance at the ceiling in search of concealed cameras, but find none. I am tempted to try one of the doors. There are more than I first thought. Who knows what I will discover if I dare open one?

“Come in,” a distant voice says, startling me. I spin on my heels trying to guess from which door it came. “I’ve been expecting you.” This time the voice is distinct. A woman. The second door on the right. “Bring your file with you,” she says. I return to the office, grab my file which is still on the desk although the coffee has gone and hasten back into the corridor.

“Hurry up! I haven’t got all day.” Her annoyed tone surprises me. Hardly the way a doctor addresses a patient. I am about to open the door when I realise the voice came not from this room, but from across the corridor. I reach for the handle when the voice says, “Here” from behind a different door. “Here,” It repeats. “Here. Here. Here.” Each time from a different room. Terrified, part of me wants to run. But I refuse to be intimidated.

Steeling myself, I knock at the closest door, push it open and step inside. I am greeted by the words, “Ah. There you are.” I stare, frozen to the spot, my mouth fallen open. Sitting on the desk, one leg casually crossed over the other, a white lab coat slung around her shoulders, is a twelve-year-old girl. She straightens the glasses on her nose and says, “Take a seat.”

A quick glance around the room confirms we are alone, adding to my confusion. “I have an appointment with Dr Pritty,” I stammer as I sink into the armchair.

“Indeed. How can I help?”



No matter which way Mat swung the craft, his pursuers followed, their sirens wailing.

For God’s sake. Stop that racket! 

Why don’t you cease your babbling, mother! Mat shoved the joystick sideways, bouncing the craft off an advertising hoarding before plunging ten floors. 

There! Quick.

You’re nuts. That’s far too narrow. 

Do it!

Holding his breath, he inched the craft into the subterranean parking place, stilled the motor and cut the power. Phew! That was close.

Don’t cry victory too quickly, child

Whatever had he done to merit such a mother? He crouched behind the dashboard hiding his fluorescent prisoner’s garb as the snub-nosed police ship ghosted into view. 

You did well to ditch that tracking bracelet

Now you tell me. We’re lucky I knew what to do. Once the police drifted out of sight, he took a knife to the jumpsuit and cut his way out. Stripped to his boxers, the cold sent goose-bumps shivering over his skin. 

Overalls are stashed under the seat.

He sniffed, his nose wrinkling. You might at least have provided clean ones. He hurried to put them on, pulled a balaclava over his shaven head and donned a mask to ward off the filth. 

Check the damage, boy. But be careful, it’s dangerous.

Dangerous! Where wasn’t dangerous in that world? A stench surged to greet him the moment he unlatched the hatch. The car park was littered with fermenting gunge, a perfect breading ground for a host of poisonous insects. 

Watch out! 

Whirling round, his hand flew to the stunner stuffed in his belt as a slim woman emerged from a tiny craft. Dressed in dark green, she wore a matching beret. 

That’s not a colour the police use. 

You think I don’t know. He eyed the woman with distrust and disgust. Why did it have to be a woman? They made him feel so unsure. She appeared unarmed, but with all the implants on the dark web you could never tell. He whipped out his stunner, just in case.

“Looks like you could do with some help,” the woman said, undaunted by the weapon.

She didn’t look like an agent. She didn’t sound like one either. An agent would have had him face down in the muck before he could open his mouth. 

Watch her every move. She’s a slippery one. 

Takes one to recognise one. Mat tightened his finger on the trigger. “I’m fine,” he lied. That the woman sounded sincere had him troubled. Could there be cause for hope?

Don’t let yourself be fooled. 

Who do you take me for? Anyone lurking in those depths was necessarily involved in smuggling, or rape, or murder, or worse. “What do you want?” he asked, not lowering the stunner. 

That’s a stupid question. 

Of course it is. But the person intrigued him. As a woman, she might just be receptive to his cause. 

You wish!

How could you possibly understand? You’re barely a woman, let alone a mother.


Her snarl shook him to the core.

“The safety of you and the child,” the woman replied, her voice soft in comparison.

Child? Told you! She is an agent. 

Damn you. Why are you always right? The faint hope he’d placed in the woman faded fast. 

Do it! Now! 

Mat struggled to resist, but his finger squeezed and he fired. The blast took him by surprise. It flung him backwards against his craft and from inside he heard the cry of a child. 

She mustn’t take the child. 

He would have obeyed, moving to stop her, but a force nailed him to the hull. 

“Sorry,” the woman said, relieving him of the stunner. “We can’t have you hurting the only person who cares.”

Don’t listen to her. She lies. 

Mat wanted to agree, but deep down he wished she did care. Surely someone had to.Immobilised, he watched the women step into the craft. Once she was out of sight, the crying ceased. 

Oh no! She’s slaughtered it. 

“My child!” Mart screamed, panic seizing him. When the woman emerged cradling the infant, he breathed a sigh of relief. 

She’ll still kill it.

It’s you that lies. Leave me alone. Leave the child alone.

“It’s time we had a talk,” the woman said, pausing to stare at Mart, pity in her eyes, before continuing to her own craft.

Stop her! 

“Give me back my child,” Mat pleaded. After all the sacrifices he’d made, it wasn’t fair.

If you weren’t so weak, you’d have stopped her

Blast you, mother! Tears of anger and despair coursed down Mat’s cheeks. He was not weak.  He wasn’t. There were just things you couldn’t do.

The woman reappeared without the child. Mat, or was it his mother, let out an inarticulate cry. 

“Did you really imagine that a fragile boy like you,” the woman said, coming closer, “beset as you are by your mother, could ever raise a child, especially one that is not yours?”

Read the ‘sister’ text, Broken Bonds.

(829 words)

The Journey Home

The Journey Home

The voice of the boy soloist’s rose above the choir, soaring to the heights of the nave, “…with love in your heart as the only song…” The boy glanced from the score to the choirmaster. Caught in the light of candles that lined the choir stalls, his face was aglow, transported by the music, by the sheer joy of singing. “Rise up. Follow me. I will lead you home.”

Shroud in shadow, an old man leant against a pillar, a hand cupped behind his ear to better hear. Bitter-sweet memories washed over him bringing tears to his eyes. He knew that face well. He’d been devoted to just such a boy when he’d been young, an aspiring chorister himself. Not that he’d shone at it. Others had been far more accomplished, even if they’d been beastly to him. But he’d tasted the joy of transcendence, if only briefly. And he experienced it again now through the boy, winging upwards like a bird moved by the song. A shudder shook his wasted body. His hand flew to his chest, pressing against his ribs, worried his heart might burst as a sob caught in his throat. The pressure was stronger than ever. He took a deep breath, willing the pain to ease.

There was a time he could have imagined being that boy, his chest swelling in song, his heart beating fast as his voice caressed the highest notes, so great had been his devotion, but now all that was left was longing and regret, and a faltering heart. What had the boy sung? “I will lead you home.” Yes. Home. That was where he wanted to be. 

Pushing off from the pillar, he glided down the aisle till he stood unseen amid the choir. Shy, he held out a hand to the chorister, fearful he’d be ignored, it wouldn’t be the first time, afraid too that the music would stop. Neither happened. The boy smiled knowingly and stepped forward, leaving his singing self behind, and took the old man’s proffered hand. A shudder of delight shot through the man at that touch, as if holding hands reunited him with his own lost self. 

The boy turned and, without a word, led him not to the altar as he’d expected, but to a tiny door half-concealed amongst the largest pipes of the organ. Beyond the door, the man imagined a chapel or a crypt or maybe even a graveyard. Hope conjured up rolling meadows awash with flowers swaying in the breeze. Above, the sun shone bright in a cloudless sky. Somewhere in the distance a church bell tolled and all around the strains of the choir hung in the air.

Unlocking the door with a key, the boy stepped aside to let the old man through. Despite the invitation, he hesitated on the threshold, frozen by inexplicable fear. He felt the boy’s hands on his back, but the touch was no longer reassuring. Then the boy laughed and gave a shove, catapulting him into the dark and slammed the door on him.

(520 words)

Broken bonds

Broken bonds

Martha raked her face with her fingers, struggling to stem the flow of sweat. No matter which way she swung the craft, she couldn’t shake the pursuit. The constant wailing of sirens was addling her brain. For God’s sake. Stop the racket! In desperation, she shoved the joystick sideways flinging the hovercraft into an alley, narrowly missing an advertising hoarding, then let it plunge ten floors causing her stomach to lurch threateningly towards her mouth. There! She spotted it. A subterranean parking place concealed in the gloom. She let the craft coast into it. Stilling the motor and cutting the power, she took her head in her hands and let out a sigh of relief. 

Don’t cry victory too soon. Her pursuers had got close enough to score several hits, smashing the tail bumper. It would have broken loose were it not for the electric cables that clung to it.  Fluttering behind the craft like a crazed bird, it screamed, ‘Here I am! Look! Here!’

She crouched behind the dashboard, her fluorescent prisoner’s garb a dead giveaway, as a snub-nosed police ship ghosted by. You did well to ditch that tracking bracelet. She’d lost precious minutes sawing it off. For all their search lights probing the gloom and their fancy scanners, the police seemed blind to her presence with the power off and the bracelet gone.

As the patrol drifted away, its powerful rotors kicking up a whirlwind of dust, Martha took a knife to the prison jumpsuit and cut her way out of it. She shivered at the cold on her skin. There are dirty overalls under the seat. Sure enough. There they were. She hurried to put them on, her shoulder aching where the guard had stunned her. Pulling a balaclava over her shaven head, she donned a mask to ward off the dust. Check the damage. The moment she opened the hatch a stench surged up to greet her. Careful. It’s dangerous. One glance at the ground showed her why. The place was littered with years of refuse tossed from the buildings above. The filth would have been bearable were it not for the host of creatures slithering and crawling through it. 

She hadn’t gone three steps when the voice screamed, Watch out! Whirling round, she discovered a tiny craft gliding silently to a halt only yards away. It bore no markings, not even the obligatory ID. Her hand flew to the stunner stuffed in her belt as she sidled inch by inch towards the safety of her craft.

The hatch of the other craft hissed open and a tall woman emerged dressed in a dark green suit with a matching beret askew on her head. That’s not a colour the police use. The woman didn’t seem armed, but with all the implants on sale on the dark web you could never tell. 

“Looks like you could do with some help,” the woman said, her tone surprisingly amiable.

She didn’t look like an agent. She didn’t sound like one either. An agent would have had her on the ground face down in the creeping muck by now. Watch her every move. She’s a slippery one. Martha’s fingers tightened on the stunner. “I’m fine,” she lied, then winced as her bruised shoulder brushed the hatch.

When the woman’s hand moved to her pocket, Martha whipped out her stunner and took aim. 

“Easy does it,” the woman said, raising both hands in the air. “I’ve got a tube of analgesic cream in my pocket.” You must be joking. Martha stared at her in disbelief. “For your shoulder,” the woman clarified.

However did she know? That the woman sounded sincere troubled Martha. Don’t let yourself be fooled. True. It didn’t compute. Anyone lurking in those depths was necessarily up to no good. Smuggling, trafficking, murder, rape. You name it. “What do you want?” Martha asked, not lowering her stunner. That’s a stupid question. Of course it was, but the woman intrigued her. Maybe, as a woman, she might understand her plight. You wish!

“The safety of you and the child,” she said, her lips curving up in a smile.

Told you! She’s an agent. Martha cursed under her breath. How else could the woman have known? Do it! Now! “You just signed your death warrant,” Martha said, squeezing the trigger. A violent shock flung her backwards against her craft knocking the air from her lungs. She hung there, pinned to the hull, struggling to catch her breath. The noise must have woken the child because it began to cry. So much for the long-lasting sleeping draft. The rogue chemist had lied.

Get ready. She’s coming. Martha struggled to comply, but the force field nailed her to the hull. However did the woman do that? “Sorry,” the woman said, relieving Martha of the stunner but not releasing her. “We can’t have you killing the only person in this dismal pit who cares.”

Lies. All lies. If only it were true.

Leaving Martha immobilised, the women stepped into the craft where she could be heard clambering over the seats. At first the child’s crying got louder then it abruptly ceased. Oh no! She’s killed it. “My child!” Martha screamed, finally finding her voice.

When the woman emerged cradling the infant, Martha was relieved to see it was unhurt. Don’t get your hopes up. 

“It’s not your child to have,” the woman said, pausing a moment to stare at Martha, pity in her eyes, before continuing to her own craft.

Stop her! Rage boiled in Martha as she was forced to watch the woman carry off her child. “Give me back my child,” she pleaded. It’s not fair. Tears coursed down Martha’s cheeks. It had all been in vain.

The woman disappeared into the other craft only to reappear without the child. Martha cried out in despair, struggling to get free. “You’re not well,” the woman said, coming closer. “Surely you know it was never your child. You stole it. Like the three others.”

Read the ‘sister’ text, Broken.

(1’008 words)

A lasting bond

A lasting bond

The tin cans trailing behind the car made such a racket that after several miles on the main road Martine couldn’t stand it any longer. The pandemonium was enough to raise the dead. Letting out an explosive breath that did little to ease her annoyance, she pulled into a lay-by, cut the engine and climbed out. 

The ‘Just Married’ sign had come unhitched from the bumper and had caught in the cans. No wonder it had made such a din. Her colleagues had gleefully decorated the car as tradition demanded. They might have found it hilarious, but she was not amused. It was just another in a series of unfortunate misadventures. 

Dressed in her wedding gown, she had already attracted enough attention. As if to prove her point, a lorry driver coasting past rolled down his window and wolf whistled. She gave him the finger. Not to be outdone, the blast of his retreating horn rang out in reply. 

Couldn’t she just marry her love in peace and savour their short time together? Why did everyone make such a fuss? As if he’d heard her complain, a second lorry driver screeched to a halt along side the car and wound down his window. “You need a hand missy?” 

She contemplated giving him the finger too, but something stayed her hand. He genuinely looked concerned. She hugged herself and said with a sigh, “Na! I’m good.” 

Misinterpreting her sigh, he asked, “Your new husband run off on you?” 

Daft twit! Senseless male humour! Always about themselves. She turned her back on him, hoping he’d go away, hitched up her white dress in a vain attempt to keep it clean and set about untying the cans. Having been dragged along the road, the knots had been strained so tight they resisted her every attempt at undoing them. She swore when one of her nails snagged on a knot and broke. Typical.

“Here. Use my knife,” the driver said, his voice resounding close behind her. She rounded on him, her heart hammering in her chest, and blurted out, “You scared the blinkin’ daylights out of me!”

He raised his hands, as if to placate her, but the unsheathed knife clasped between his fingers gave the gesture a decidedly sinister air. “Sorry, ” he said, hastily folding away the knife. It was then he glanced into the car and spotted Carrie sprawled unconscious in her wedding gown on the back seat. Gasping, his eyes shot from Carrie to her and back again. 

She had no wish to explain. It was far too complicated for a bloke like him. Anyway, such a marriage might have been legal, but society was still adjusting and it unnerved some people to the point where they got aggressive. 

“Is she OK?” he asked, genuine concern in his voice. 

She thought of retorting that Carrie had drunk too much and was sleeping it off. That might get rid of him, but it wasn’t sure. And anyway, putting the blame on drink seemed cowardly. Instead she opted for honesty. “No. She’s not.”

“If you are heading for the hospital,” he pointed out, “you’d do well to call an ambulance. They’re equipped for emergencies.”

She shook her head. “No use. We’ve already been to the hospital. Many times.” She remembered the long waits in unfriendly corridors, the gnawing despair punctuated by prayers for a miracle and finally the tense face of the doctor as he broke the bad news. She looked at Carry who’d rolled onto her back in her stupor. For all the blotchy paleness of her skin, there was a faint smile on her lips. Martine couldn’t help softening in response, a ghost of a smile forming on her own lips. “It’s incurable,” she said, forcing herself to look away. “These days she sleeps most of the time. They reckon she has only a few weeks to live.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said, bowing his head as he pulled off his cap and held it in both hands in front of him as if he were already at the funeral. “So you…” he paused as the extent of the story sank in. “… you got married?” His voice quavered as if he were about to cry.

A solitary tear formed in Martine’s eye and trickled down her cheek. She wondered why she bothered. The situation was weird. The lorry driver was a complete stranger, yet he was like a witness. More so than all her friends and colleagues back at the church. She glanced at Carrie who was still smiling in her coma, and said in a whisper, “We wanted a bond that would last.”


The three bears
Photo: Iannis McCluskey

She thrust the golden locks from her eyes, not trusting herself to reply. His question made sense. Why ever would a person risk forcing his way into the cottage, yet steal nothing? It was bitterly cold out. Surely the freshly cooked porridge must have been tempting. Or the warm blankets on their beds. Even when she figured out what must have happened, it still didn’t add up.

The officer pushed aside the untouched bowl of porridge and leaned across the table towards her. “I don’t understand.” He might have spoken softly, but there was a sharp edge to his voice. “You insist someone was here. Yet the door was not forced. Nothing has been taken, nothing spoilt. Why are you so sure someone broke in?”

She refused to be intimidated by his sternness, but hesitated all the same. What she had to say was disturbing and she didn’t know how to express it, especially to a man. “I … er…” She could feel her cheeks heating as she struggled to find her words. 

He leant even closer, so close she almost suffocated in the smell of sweat vying with sickly deodorant.  “Well? Out with it!” Damn the man! Not only did his words insult her, but they trampled the very decency that made their world what it was.

“Let me show you,” she finally managed. Not leaving him time to disagree, she spun round sending her skirts swirling and marched off to her room. He paused on the threshold as she stood aside to let him see. Taboos ran deep. Men didn’t enter an unmarried girl’s room. “There,” she said, indicating the heap of clothes at the foot of her bed.

“What am I supposed to see?” he enquired, his eyes lingering on her underclothes protruding from the muddle of discarded dresses and shifts.

She sighed. Did she really have to spell it out? Was he doing it deliberately? To embarrass her? To belittle her? “I never leave worn clothes lying about, least of all my undergarments.”

“Maybe you were distracted,” he suggested, tearing his eyes from her clothes to gauge her reaction. 

“Never!” she insisted vehemently. “No. The answer lies elsewhere.” The real explanation was so outrageous and unthinkable, she could barely bring herself to say it. “Somebody has been wearing my clothes.”

The above story was written as a response to a suggestion concerning inspiration by Neil Gaiman in his Masterclass.

A Frustrating French Exam


I hurry down the long corridor, passing door after door. I’m late. A French exam awaits me, but I can’t find the right room. I quicken my pace. Most doors are unnumbered. Those that still bear numbers have been tampered with. Numbers have been turned upside down or half ripped off with other numbers scrawled in their place. I’m reluctant to disturb the classes within, but I have no choice. Peering into one room, I ask, “Excuse me, where’s the French room?” The occupants turn and stare coldly. A boy at the back whispers, “Three doors down.” Uncertain, I push open that door to find the exam already underway. The few students present are clustered at the front of the class. I take a seat at the back. Any French exam will be a pushover, I tell myself, confident. I speak and write French fluently. I pull the pencil case from my bag and select a black crayon. It’s not very sharp, but it will do. The teacher is talking. When I finally pay attention, I realise she is dictating the questions and has already reached number six. Indignant at the unfairness of it, I scribble the answer. The blank sheet I am to use for the test is dark grey, making my writing difficult to decipher. What’s more, the teacher is talking so quietly that I can barely hear what she says. Am I going deaf? I shift closer to the blackboard, missing two further questions as I do. With growing frustration I scribble the next answer and begin making a note in French at the foot of the page, complaining bitterly about the absurdity of the situation. Engrossed in what I am writing, I miss several more questions. Enough! I get to my feet, noisily pushing back my chair and tear the paper in half, then in half again, much to the alarm of the other pupils who cross arms over their answer sheet to protect them. “I’ve had enough of this nonsense,” I tell the teacher in French, well aware that by doing so I’m demonstrating how good my French is. “You can’t hold exams in these conditions.” Now it’s the woman teacher’s turn to look alarmed. “Please don’t tell the headmaster,” she pleads in broken French. I storm out muttering curses in French.

The hedgehog at the end of the line

Blood red and ink black

“Whoops!” The man gave up prising a lump of wax from his ear and pointed a crooked finger at the page. “There’s a hedgehog at the end of the line.”

“You what?” Bloody fool never could talk straight. She scratched her upper lip. Sweat always made her moustache itch. “You’re bonkers.” 

The tabby stretched and meowed as if to say, “Yeah.” Always did side with her.

“Look. The blighter’s smudged the ink.” He spat out a string of swear words. Being a wordsmith had its advantages. “I spent ages cutting that together.”

“I don’t see no blinkin’ hedgehog.” She squinted at the page, pulling the metal-rimmed spectacles from her nose and rubbing the glass furiously with a snot rag. She sighed. “You bin at that bottle again?”

The blindness of it. After so many years. She still didn’t see. “The only bottles I’ve got are full of ink.” Irritated, he stretched out a hand to brush the thing from the page, smearing ink as he did. “Ouch!” He snatched his hand back dripping blood and sucked his finger. “Spiky brute!”

The woman shook out the snot rag and knotted it in a bow around his finger. “Only you could draw blood from a text.”

Startled, he stared from his trussed up finger to his work. Blood red and ink black mingled in growing disarray. “It’s in tatters.” He screwed up the page. “The scraps I painstakingly pasted together have come undone and all the cleverness has run through the cracks.”

“Scraps of worthless crap, if you ask me.” She strained to her feet, her joints cracking, and ducked the kettle in a bucket of water. The cat jumped to safety. It hated all that wetness. Dumped on the hob, the kettle hissed angrily.

“What do you know about the stuff that makes a story a story?” He tossed the scrunched ball of paper at the cat. It missed and landed in the bucket. Droplets showered the animal which spluttered in indignation. Did they do it deliberately?

“You and your pot of glue and your washed-up scraps.” She scooped up the cat and petted it. “You call that a story? There’s more glue than story.”

He jumped to his feet and strode to the bucket. Fishing out the soggy lump of paper, he shook it out and tried but failed to unfold it. Shoving the pink and grey mess under her nose, he spat, “That’s a story!”

She got to her feet, sending the cat flying, and pummelled the man’s chest. The thud of her angry fists accompanied the kettle whistling violently to the boil. A final thrust sent him reeling. The clump of paper flew from his hand, arced over his head and landed with a squelch on the seat of his chair. Off balance, he tottered backwards his arms flailing till his legs met the chair and his rear plonked down heavily. He let out a piercing scream and leapt to his feet grasping his backside.

Spinning in fury, he raised a clenched fist, expecting to see the cat’s smug smile. Instead, rolled up in a ball, its grin well hidden, sat the hedgehog.

The above flash fiction was inspired by a passing comment from EmJay Holmes during a workshop at the Geneva Writers’ Group.

A War on Dots and Dashes

 Above, A war on dots and dashes read by the author. You can follow the reading below.

A war on dots and dashes

Furious, she scored a diagonal through the page in blood-red ink. When would they learn? Spelling and punctuation mattered. Two out of ten. The mark fell like a death sentence but she had no regrets. She picked up the next composition. “There not their,” she muttered, circling the offending word in red. “Not there,” her parrot echoed. She glared at it, then squinted at the pupil’s name. He was one of the worst. Spelling awry. Punctuation amok. Sentences a shambles. Construction chaotic. Did he do it deliberately? Was there some perverse pleasure to be had in making her blood boil? “Weight!” You’d have thought it was a swear word, the way she spat it out. “Not wait!” she added. “Wait!” the parrot swore. She shook her fist at the bird but it just stared back, unperturbed.

A toffee could have written better English. Now there was an appealing idea. She unwrapped one of the harder sort and, tossing the paper on her desk, stuffed the sweet in her mouth. She read on, chewing with such vigour her jaws ached. If she’d had her way the youth would have been expelled long ago. Were not where she scrawled in red. The subsequent sentence was so drawn out and convoluted it had her gasping for air. “Breathe for God’s sake,” she spluttered. “God’s sake,” the parrot intoned. Such cryptic remarks were wasted on these dimwits. Exactly. Waste, not waist. The page was redder than a battlefield. All dead words and red gashes. She shut her eyes and ran a hand across her brow. Her skin was clammy, a migraine coming on.

In comparison, her feet were cold and wet. Wet? Her eyes flew open to discover she was standing barefoot in a pool of pitch black water. Perplexed, she dipped a cautious finger in the viscous liquid and sniffed. She knew that smell. That was no water. It was Indian ink. She stared in horror at her soot-black feet then flung herself sideways, only just clearing the puddle. Her trajectory left a dirty smear across the smooth white surface. She landed with a jolt, her stained feet skidding sideways, sending her skating along a straight path. It was not wet. To her relief. But black and slippery. Reaching the end, she swung violently to the right along another path akin to the line atop a ‘T’, only to halt on the verge of an immense ‘O’ where she fell flat on her face.

She sat trying to scrub ink from her hands to no effect. Giving up in disgust she scrambled to her feet. The moment she was upright, the nib of a giant fountain pen danced a red circle around her, knocking her legs from under her. She squealed as she tumbled into yet another puddle. Rolling free, she crawled out on all fours. Ink dripped from her hair and trailed from her clothes tracing a rogue path through otherwise neat forms. Hearing an ominous whoosh, she glanced up to see the nib plunging straight at her. She dived to the side as the tip scratched the soft surface where she had squatted only seconds before, splattering her red.

The nib rose, no doubt readying to strike again. Ignoring the black forms crisscrossing beneath her feet, she wove her way, darting left and right at random, her breath catching in gasps in her throat. Again and again, the nib struck, although ink was the only thing that hit her. The blows became ever more frenetic until the nib drove down with such force it buckled and impaled itself only inches from her. Red ink flooded from its broken tip forming an ever-growing pool. Scouring splotches of red from her eyes and face with blackened fingers, she scampered away, careening across the blotchy surface till it abruptly ran out. She had reached the edge of the page and the end of her luck. The notebook slammed shut.

The shock of that thunderous demise and the unending darkness that fell, like a final full stop that wouldn’t swerve from its resolve, undid her. She burst into tears, her whole being wracked by uncontrollable sobs. The fathomless grief jolted her back to the present and she cracked open blurry eyes. Tears rolled down her cheeks and fell on the disconsolate composition, mingling black and red in an incomprehensible muddle. All sense had been washed from it. There was no way she could piece it back together. Nothing of the wayward story had stuck in her mind. For all her strident complaints, she hadn’t really read it. A renewed wave of remorse rolled over her and bore her away.