Horse_Stories 1: Hopelessly lost, a businessman…

Allow me to present my newest short story inspiration challenge. The aim is to find a quote from Horse_ebooks (the notorious twitterbot that was recently revealed to be a real person) and use it as the starting seed for a short story. Now there’s already been Horse_ebooks fanfics but this is slightly different. The rule is simple: the first paragraph from your story must feature the Horse_ebooks tweet in its entirety, preferably near the start of the paragraph. And the rest must be original. I just did my first one, it’s tremendous amounts of fun!

Horse_Stories 1: Hopelessly lost, a businessman…

Hopelessly lost, a businessman stumbles through the city’s suburbs. He wonders how he got here, how on earth he slipped through the cracks to the… other side. The only thing he does know is the time. Nine thirty.

Shadowy bodies file through takeaway doors, congregations returning to their oil-slicked, fatty salvation. Air vents whir. Rubbish crackles underfoot. Everywhere, dank, grimy walls muffling far-off drunken shouts and revelry.

He doesn’t know much about the other side, indeed, he has spent most of his life trying to imagine it doesn’t exist. And yet here he is. He tries to ignore the sickening lump rising in his throat and stumbles on.

He turns into yet another side street. The main roads have all but vanished. From beyond an open door a woman calls out an expletive-laden stream of words, he hopes not in his direction, and he hurries past the doorway splashing yellow light out into the street. It’s been so dark for so long now he can’t bear the narrow, sudden brightness.

Ten thirty.

He comes to a wider space that makes him skirt round the edges, frightened as a shrew. A nightclub. People queuing outside. There’s a taxi rank – oh saviours of lost souls on dark nights! – and he approaches. He cannot find his credit card, he was sure it was here a second ago, and so fumbles in his wallet for small change, anything that will get him somewhere familiar. A good businessman never carries cash on his person.

The taxi driver shakes his head. The small change won’t cut it, not for where the businessman wants to go. And no, he confirms, he won’t work for free.

Jeers from the nightclub crowd. They’re out on the prowl tonight, why can’t he be? He retreats further inside his head, backs away and carries on. It’s gotten very crowded. Almost midnight by now, surely? He doesn’t see the shapes of men as he bumbles into another dark alley, and slams hard into one man’s bulky side. A shout of something colloquial he cannot understand, for his rational senses have deserted him by now. He prays they will not rise to attack and his offerings to a fabricated deity he only placates during times of self-interest are, amazingly, heard. He escapes with only the bruise from initial contact to grace his shoulder.

He checks his watch, for it has to be nearly midnight now. But the watch is not there any longer. He checks his pockets but no, it had definitely been on his wrist. He remembers the men and thumps a fist hard against brick. Bones ill-used to such force protest and he feels another bruise start to well up. Too tired to experience the full intensity of his anger, he instead lets the hand drop and puts one foot in front of the other, edging towards a light somewhere up ahead.

The light is a mirage. He weeps. His tie starts to constrict his throat and he loosens it. His fingers, stiff with drizzle and cold, won’t do as he says. With distinct lack of finesse he tangles the slim strip of fabric, panics, paws at it, then the whole length of it breaks free and curls into a puddle. He feels more hot tears rise and bitterly regards the muddied symbol of his lost status. The great works of man are doomed to end in a mere puddle.

It has been too long standing for his aching feet and when he splashes into his next puddle it is his last, for his feet give up and he falls, face first, into what feels like mud. A torn bit of old newspaper flaps against his cheek.

There is the bong, bong, bong of a distant clock. His real, true deity; time. Get the time right and you make money, after all. He greets the sound of the clock with the warm fervour of one returning to Sunday mass after a hard and troubling week. He cannot see the clock tower but that does not matter now.

His face is still squished against the mud for he has no energy to move. He just waits for salvation. Big Ben bongs to twelve but it doesn’t stop there, it keeps on going, counting hours that don’t exist and he wails as he realises that his god has deserted him.

——–

If you have a Horse_Story of your own I’d love to read it! Link me below!

SNOWPOCALYPSE – DAY 4

I was in a blizzard today in London!

If you were also in a blizzard or had any other form of snow today, then you may wish to enjoy SNOWPOCALYPSE DAY 4!

If you weren’t lucky enough to have snow, then you may enjoy a brief digression into SNOWPOCALYPSE DAY 4!

DAY 4.

The blizzard hit during the early hours of morning.

By the time it was over, Egbert and friends were up and ready to obtain the various forms of nourishment they had said they would obtain the night previously. The coldness of the dawn made them shiver and groan and Egbert noted how much like zombies they seemed.

Outside there was now another murderous two inches to the snowfall from the previous day.

Cider Sy went down to the pub alone to get the beer drums, leaving Egbert and Jimmy to go and get food. Mistletoe was staying in, filling up the bathtub with fresh water and speed-sewing fleecy draught blockers for the doors.

Out on the streets, the story was much the same as the previous day. Egbert and Jimmy weaved and ducked between and behind things like abandoned cars, lampposts and post boxes to avoid being too obvious. The lamppost thing did not work too well; while Jimmy was just about thin enough to get away with it, Egbert was most certainly not. They had just ducked behind one particular lamppost when a policeman further down the street clocked them.

‘Quick!’ Jimmy grabbed Egbert’s hand and dragged him into the nearest alcove. By pure chance, it was the alcove of a newsagents and they hurried in, cursing the tinkle of the shop door as they did so.

‘How handy,’ Egbert murmured, but it was a moment too soon, for the bobby’s helmet was bobbing up and down outside the window. He was dragged around one of the aisles by Jimmy and they raced to the back of the rather small and cosy shop, squishing themselves into the narrow space below the counter.

The door tinkled again. The policeman had entered.

They waited with bated breath. The sounds of footsteps came closer and closer until soon they could see the policeman’s boot on the other side of the desk.

Egbert balled his hand into a fist, getting ready to attack should he need to, but before it came to that, there was a loud noise and another loud noise. His delayed-onset interpretation soon became Oh god it’s a dog! Oh hey, it attacked the policeman, he’s yelling! He’s going out of the shop! We’re saved!

But no sooner had they scrambled out of their hiding place than the dog had turned its attentions on them.

‘I don’t want to hang around to find out who the owner is, do you?’ said Jimmy.

‘No. Let’s just grab stuff, pay and leave,’ Egbert replied.

Dodging the incessantly barking dog all the while, they took an assortment of things off the shelves, after which Jimmy started heading for the door. She turned to see Egbert dump a load of coins and notes on the counter.

‘So you were really serious about the paying part, eh? Interesting.’ And with a flash of her golden hair she was out the door. Egbert followed her, leaving the dog to bark its angry solo out to the tinned peas and mackerel.

They managed to avoid trouble on the way home, but had to take a somewhat circuitous route to do so, for there was a gang congregating further down the street from Egbert’s house. This route led them further in the direction of Egbert’s office before doubling back and heading home, and he wondered briefly if the other Berts were still holed up in there. What had become of Cuthbert, and his bag of salt?

The whole world had gone crazy. Egbert was glad to get home, and by chance, Jimmy and he arrived at the same time as Cider Sy, who had brought back an armful of scampi fries along with the empty drums.

*

By the time they got inside, they discovered Mistletoe had found an old wind-up radio from her Luddite phase and managed to get radio reception. Only Radio 1 was working, and the news was not quite what they had expected.

It emerged that the Prime Minister had died in the morning snowstorm, caught between Number 10 and the Houses of Parliament. What was once a short walk had ended up a death march, and now the country was leader-less. Well. Unless they still counted the monarchy, who were all still holed up in Buckingham Palace, which they didn’t.

A scuffling sound roused them from their meal. Egbert hoped it was not more trouble headed their way, and no doubt everyone was thinking the same thing, for they all fell silent. The scuffling continued, getting louder and more erratic. Mistletoe hesitantly got up without scraping her chair on the floor, and peered out the window.

‘No way!’

‘What is it?’ Jimmy hurried over to join her. ‘Hah! It’s loads of gritters, look.’

Egbert and Cider Sy joined them.

‘Militant gritters are out in force,’ murmured Cider. ‘Oh, that’s going to make the evening news.’

‘They’re fighting a losing battle,’ said Egbert with a noticeable trace of irony. ‘It’s definitely going to snow again tonight, with the clouds like that. A couple more inches and they won’t be able to overcome the terrible freezing foe.’

The snow suddenly began to tinkle down again, and the flakes became bigger and faster until soon they could barely see a metre out the window.

‘Wow, well it’s tonight already,’ said Mistletoe, ‘and it’s only lunchtime!’ Egbert groaned.

‘Okay, okay. No weather forecast is perfect!’

As the snow began, there was a deep, ululating hum and they realised the gritters were singing. The sound was haunting, and it carried on and away into the street, whisked away on the blanket wind, merging and lapsing into the now more common sounds of rampant gangs and human chaos.

The whiteout lasted the rest of the day. It blocked the radio signals, it blocked their vision, it stopped everything dead still until all they had left to do that day was eat scampi fries and put on extra pairs of socks. Egbert was afraid, but he tried not to show it. Yet again, he wondered what had become of the other Berts. Cuthbert and his grit –  had he now joined the gritters? He hoped so – there was safety in numbers. The other Berts – it was unlikely that they had reached their homes further South.

What would they all do if the snow did not stop tomorrow?

He supposed the whole escapade was still better than filing claims forms, at least.

 

SNOWPOCALYPSE – DAY 3

The madness continues…

DAY 3.

Egbert awoke on an unfamiliar sofa. He was draped in blankets, jumpers, towels; an assemblage of warm fabrics, and none of them were his. He looked to his left and saw a crop of short golden hair sticking out from a blanket. Oh. Jimmy. The looting. The snow. Of course.

It all seemed unrealistic still, and he had to check that the snow chaos had really happened as opposed to the more realistic and also more disturbing scenario that, filled with grief after his girlfriend had died, he had ended up in a strange girl’s bedroom.
Nope. The snow was a legitimate excuse for his situation, he told himself. And besides, they had not even so much as shaken hands let along touched.

He tiptoed over to her meagre kitchen. Surely it would be okay to raid the tea and coffee making facilities? She shouldn’t mind, especially not if she was woken up to a nice hot brew.

Jimmy woke when the kettle started roaring. Egbert made her a strong coffee and then set to making a milky one for himself, watching the anticyclonic spiral action of the liquid as he stirred in the milk. His mind was still up in the clouds.

There had been more banging and shouting in the night. More groups loitering in the streets outside. It was not really safe, he felt, and Jimmy felt so too.

‘I don’t want to spend another night here alone,’ she said, a kind of pout crossing her lips.

‘Well I don’t want to spend another night here at all,’ he replied.

‘No offence, your flat’s fine, but the location’s not so good. It’s right next to the markets. It’ll be a magnet for trouble.’

A fresh chorus of voices started up on the streets outside. He heard sirens, for the first time since the snow had begun.

‘What’s going on out there?’ Jimmy strained against the window to see.

‘Looks like the police have finally arrived,’ said Egbert. Then his face fell. Policemen were tackling rioters and looters, but it looked like ordinary people were getting drawn into the mess too. It looked too violent for comfort.

Soon came a knock at the door. Egbert dashed over to pick up the pointy umbrella again, and yelled a barrage of angry curses at whoever was doing the knocking.

‘It’s the police,’ came the responding shout.

‘It’s okay, we’re fine. We don’t need any help,’ Egbert replied. Behind him, Jimmy mouthed the words ‘I don’t trust him.’

‘I don’t care. We’re evacuating the building. This is a danger zone. You have to come with us.’

Egbert and Jimmy were silent.

‘Okay, stand back,’ said the policeman. ‘We’re going to break the door down.’

Egbert looked at Jimmy. ‘Is there any other way out of this flat?’

She pointed to the window. ‘Yes. There’s some stairs outside there.’

‘Okay. Let’s do it.’

They scrambled into their coats. She lifted the window and they squeezed out onto the narrow spiral staircase below. It took minutes but felt like aeons. When the door was finally kicked in and the flat entered, they had just reached the bottom of the staircase. It took Egbert a quick recalculation of streets and back alleys, then he pulled her along. ‘We can hide at mine for now.’

She nodded and followed him numbly.

*

‘Oh Eggy, you’re okay!’ Mistletoe gave him a big hug the instant he entered the house. ‘Ooh, who’s this?’

‘Name’s Jimmy,’ said Jimmy proudly. ‘I hope you don’t mind if I camp out here for a while? Police broke into my flat and stuff.’

Mistletoe nodded. ‘Wow. Yeah, sure. We have a spare room here and everything. Our last housemate moved out a while back. Is that cool?’

Jimmy nodded, smiled, and a bond of friendship formed between them. Then Mistletoe turned her attention back to Egbert.
‘So, where were you all night?’

‘I had to stay at Jimmy’s,’ he said. ‘We got followed by this gang. It’s murder out there.’

Cider Sy picked that moment to walk in.

‘Murder? Oh yeah, sure. All fifteen centimetres of it.’

‘Quit your snowcasm, Egbert almost died!’ Mistletoe said.

‘Really?’ Cider Sy raised an eyebrow.

‘No, that’s an exaggeration. I almost lost my footing a number of times, though.’ Egbert sighed and automatically ate the crisps Mistletoe passed him.

They got Jimmy settled in to the spare room, then they set to making dinner. The power cut out halfway through so they had to settle for a half-cooked pasta dish, for once thanking their lucky stars that Mistletoe had requested it be veggie food. They ate in the living room, dimly lit by candlelight, and tried to use the remaining battery on their mobiles to gain access to the news.

It was hard to find and maintain a connection. In the end, they managed to ascertain three things. One – that the Mayor of London had shut himself up inside his home and was refusing to come out. Two – that the Royal family had done the same thing. And three – that according to the Prime Minister, this snow situation was ‘unprecedented’ and had led to the mobilisation of all police forces across the country. And that was it, before all connections cut out. The age old question of whether Android phones did internet better than iPhones became obsolete as neither would operate with any degree of efficacy.

‘Well, Cider Sy announced, ‘England seems incapable of handling the two feet of snow it has been dealt, so it’s come to this.’ They waited expectantly. ‘We need some kind of plan,’ he finished.

‘Like what?’ asked Egbert.

‘Like, some way of getting food and drink and that until this is over.’

‘What kind of drink, eh?’ said Mistletoe. ‘You know your pub’s just down the road.’

Egbert groaned. ‘I have visions of spending the rest of this snow fiasco camped out there like a stereotypical British apocalyptic comedy film.’

Cider ignored him. ‘Oh I don’t need a plan for booze. That’s sorted. But – looking at the contents of the kitchen – I fear there is only so much Pot Noodle I can take.’

‘Good point,’ said Mistletoe.

‘The streets will be crawling with cops and robbers,’ Egbert began, and was promptly interrupted by Jimmy.

‘Bet you’ve been itching to say that!’

‘ – so anyway we should get out early, find some shop and if it’s empty, we leave money on the counter and take what we need.’

‘Fair enough,’ said Cider. ‘I was going to say I can just get stuff from work but I guess there’s only so much pork scratchings and scampi fries I can take too.’

Soon they were all in agreement. The following morning would be an early one. They would try to beat the crowds to the shops, and would fill the bath with fresh water in case it were to run out. Cider would pick up some spare drums from work so they could melt water from snow, if it came to it. A plan. Everything would be okay.

Later that night, Egbert reflected. He had not even told anyone about Marcy yet. There would be time enough for that, he was sure. For now things were too hectic, and he did not want to upset anyone.

 

:::READ ON FOR DAY THE FOURTH:::

SNOWPOCALYPSE – DAY 1

A story inspired by the insane twitter ramblings of spoof account @DMReporter, and of course, the dramatic-yet-totally-undramatic snow. The forecast for the story includes inclement weather, characters with quite silly names, and a light smattering of meteorological stuffs.

DAY 1.

Egbert looked at the weather report. He blinked. He looked at it again. Indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, it was going to snow that afternoon. There was no mistaking that menacing Siberian high pressure zone moving in.

He had graduated from Oxford ten years ago with a degree in atmospheric geophysics, and sadly had lost out on a top-notch research position at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre to a fellow student a tiny bit better than him. And things got worse after that – his parents made him move out, and he went to London – because it seemed like ‘the thing to do’ at the time.

Then there came an office job where he sold insurance to people who didn’t need it in order to fund a marriage that didn’t last. It had been two years since the divorce and while his home address had changed, he was still stuck in the insurance rut. Looking at the weather reports was now his only reprieve from a life of inadvertent monotony, and sometimes this wistful mood caught him completely by surprise.

He only realised he was staring blankly at the screen when someone tapped his shoulder. He jerked upright and aimlessly hit some keys in a sort of automatic attempt to convince himself and whoever had interrupted him that he was indeed still working.

‘Egbert! What’s up, my man?’

No cause for alarm. It was only Norbert.

‘Looking at – what is that, a weather report?’ Norbert’s thick eyebrows raised in a disapproving fashion.

‘Yeah. It’s going to snow this afternoon.’

‘Oh yeah?’ Norbert looked out of the window. ‘Doesn’t really look like it to me.’

Egbert tried not to sigh. ‘Just because you can see the sun right now doesn’t mean it’s not going to be bad later. There’s a cold front moving in from the North, and the high pressure zone…’

It was no use. Norbert’s face had glazed over.

‘Whatever, dude,’ he said. He turned to leave, almost bumping into Albert, who in turn narrowly missed a collision with the pointless decorative cheeseplant in the corridor.

‘Eggy!’ Albert hailed him in that faux-friendly way he always did. Egbert mumbled ‘Hello’ back to him, and pretended to carry on working. He could hear his colleagues behind him, chattering now about the snow with no small amount of mirth.

There were a lot of Berts in that particular office. Nobody knew why. Some people theorised that they just seemed to gravitate to the building, like fine particles of iron filings to a massive magnet. On his floor, there was himself, and Norbert and Albert, who unfortunately took the coincidence as a sign to be overly familiar with each other. There was also a Cuthbert on the fourth floor, but they had never spoken. The last thing Egbert wanted to do was expand the Bert circle.

The news of snow soon started to broadcast on the BBC channel in the staff canteen. A grave-faced news reporter talked of the Met Office’s warning, and told people what in Egbert’s mind was just a reiteration of common sense. Wrap up warm before you go out. Wear sensible shoes. Don’t slip.

‘Maybe ol’ Eggy’s right,’ joked Albert.

Norbert laughed. ‘Wouldn’t bet on it.’

*

Evening fell. The snow did not.

‘You idiot,’ his girlfriend Marcy said. He had called her not five minutes ago whilst walking towards the tube station, and already she was on the defensive. She was not happy, primarily because he was trying to convince her not to come down from Birmingham. He had been scared about snow, and ice, and her driving in it. She had taken it the wrong way.

‘Marcy, I’m just trying to be sensible about this. Someone’s got to believe me about the bad weather, and I’d like it to be you of all people.’

‘Oh for goodness’ sake,’ said Marcy, ice cold tones cutting their way into his mind as sharp as the wind trying to cut its way through his jacket. ‘It’s not snowing like you said, and we haven’t seen each other for two weeks, and I’ve still got to go to London anyway for that conference! It just… It just feels like you’re trying to get rid of me!’

‘No, no, Marcy, that’s not it at all!’ But Egbert was not going to get out of this easily. Emotion was winning over logic; and a lot of it was his own emotion. He could not deal well with other peoples’ anger. ‘I don’t want to get rid of you. I want to keep you safe…’ His words did not come out in the voice he intended. He ended up sounding horribly condescending and yet highly squeaky at the same time.

‘Safe? God, Egbert, I can take care of myself, you know.’

He managed to somehow string out the awkward conversation against his own will until he reached the station. Marcy exploded in a final torrent of words.

‘I don’t care, Egbert. I’m coming down whether you like it or not. I’ll leave first thing tomorrow. And that’s final!’

She hung up.

Egbert spent the rest of his commute in a glum mood. He picked up a copy of the Mail on the way. He didn’t pay for it – as if! – but rather picked it up from its discarded perch on an empty tube seat.

‘SNOWPOCALYPSE’, proclaimed the headline theatrically. Egbert sighed. What a load of tosh. Yes, it was going to snow, he knew that much. But this kind of reaction? It was either total disbelief or imaginative over-belief that seemed to plague everyone else but him.

He skimmed through the rest of the article.

‘Snow expected to hit…. Up to two centimetres in places… Lorries with grit have been called into action… many rail line already suspended… school called off…’

The tube rattled on to King’s Cross. Egbert alighted, then plodded past the interesting, busy, cultured zone into the back streets where his shared terrace house lay. Above, night had truly set in, and the cloudy sky reflected the light pollution of London with a bright red glow. Night was always tainted red in London.

Inside, Egbert was deeply troubled. The sky was getting heavier, but the snow was late. What on earth was causing it to move so slowly? In his mind, visions of slow-moving anticyclones blocking up huge tracts of land whirled into place and delicate chaos spiralled out from it like ants scattering before the thud of an elephant’s foot. It was scary.

The silly headlines must have been getting to him, he decided. He trudged up the stairs to home, assuring himself it would all be fine.

Indoors, Mistletoe was doing a tarot reading for Cider Sy in the living room. Mistletoe was a big hippy, in the new-school way. No tie-dye but plenty of foresty looking chic clothing and chunky crystal necklaces. She was an artist, and her room in the massive four-roomed terraced house was half-bedroom, half-art studio. As a result, she hardly left the house.

Cider Sy on the other hand, whose real name was Simon and just so happened to have a passion for various types of alcoholic beverage – was always in and out of the house. He worked in a traditional pub a few streets away that sold real ale.

‘So apparently I’m going to meet the girl of my dreams, yeah?’ he said flatly.

‘No, it means you’re going to get a great opportunity and the changes you make at this crucial stage can attract people to your loving core,’ Mistletoe corrected him. Cider Sy stood up and smiled wanly.

‘Well, Psychic Sally, I’ve got food waiting for me in the oven, so you’d better move on to your next customer.’ And he winked at Egbert.

‘You want yours done?’ Mistletoe asked hopefully.

‘Nope,’ Egbert said firmly.

‘Apparently it’s going to snow tonight,’ said Cider, to his complete surprise. He got the feeling Cider was not really bothered, however; he was too busy focussing on the chicken drumsticks he was fishing out the oven. ‘Yeah, heard it on the news. Apparently some minister or somebody’s annoyed because they haven’t budgeted enough grit. Dear god, man, not enough grit!’ His funny pronouncements made Mistletoe laugh.

Egbert hung around making his dinner and ended up lounging in the living room with his housemates, watching reruns of Big Brother, commenting and wondering on what it would be like to be trapped in a house with a bunch of people – who would crack first, who would fight who et cetera. They had just determined that Egbert would likely go insane by the end of the first week, and that Cider would win because of his total ambivalence to the rest of humankind, when something completely interrupted them.

There was a sudden flash of blue light that scoured its way across the living room – nobody reacted at first, it was too much like the blue glare of a police siren. But the loud bang that followed made them all stand to attention. It was a humongous crashing noise, a single deep burst, like a whale hitting a steel ship, or something like that.

‘Oh my god, that sounds like a plane crash,’ said Mistletoe.

They ran to the kitchen and opened the back door. From their rather impressive vista across the empty car park, flat warehouses and single storey buildings they saw a huge storm cloud gathering. It was hanging low to the ground, across Central London. The bang had in fact been a thunderclap, and it came again in that single, definite, powerful vibration, preceded by an intense flash of ball lightning, the likes of which he had never seen before, only read about in textbooks.

And the ground was covered in snow. It was a shock to him at first, until Mistletoe said rather dramatically ‘Wow, that’s like, so much snow!’ and he became aware that one centimetre was really not that much at all.

The thundersnow-storm was a bad omen, though. Now the snow was falling thick and fast. It was going to get much, much worse.

But Marcy was still in Birmingham, and the spiral arm of the weather front would not reach her until after morning, he was sure of it. She would be safe.

‘Come on guys, let’s go in before we freeze to death,’ said Cider. Egbert agreed, and followed him in just as the snowflakes started to work themselves into a real blizzard-like frenzy.

The cold was the awful penetrating kind that slaughtered the effect of pithy electric heaters such as the ones at his flat. He fell asleep wearing three pairs of socks and a hoodie beneath the covers. And that was that. He was in no way prepared for the tumultuous events that were to follow…

TO BE CONTINUED

 

:::READ ON FOR DAY TWO:::