Another (untitled) old one…

There have been a few posts of old written pieces from my teenage years, and this is another one. I’ve thankfully been able to recover the long-deleted files from my dinosaur of a laptop, so this may become a frequent occurrence as I go through it and decide which pieces are sharable and which are too terrible, strange or ridiculous. This is a pretty boring one, but it can only be more boring sitting on a hard drive. The last edit was made on 21st September 2010, when I was 15 years old, so there’s no real excuse for the shoddy writing style, but there’s something stopping me from making any changes to it.

There is no title. There is no context. There is no actual plot to it.


Mary tugged her brother’s sleeve, but got no reply. He stared into the distance, motionless and fearful. Mary tugged again, and again, harder this time.

“William?” she repeated. “What is it William? What’s out there?” Her voice sounded shaky and helpless as tears filled her young, innocent eyes and her hand slipped out of its grasp on William’s cuff.

“It’s an aeroplane, Mary,” William managed to squeeze the words between his lips, which were reluctant to make a sound.

“Where’s David, William?” Mary asks again. “Is he at the aeroplane?”

William didn’t listen to his sister’s rambling questions that in all honesty didn’t make any sense.

“Shush, Mary,” William whispered. “Or the aeroplane will come here.”

Mary’s eyes opened wide, but William didn’t notice. Outside the sky was black other than the odd orange glow that flashed every now and then. The city tried to hide from the inevitable, making no sound or light other than the cry of each terrified child, questioning everything with no understanding.

William still stood completely still, silently praying for his brother and parents. He closed his eyes but there was no effect, as the sun would not be able to reach the inside of the walls even if it wasn’t half past one in the morning.

Mary suddenly began to cry noisily and William held her closely. He held his breath and squeezed his eyelids as closely together as they could manage, his whole face becoming distorted and wrinkled. Mary mumbled to herself but nobody could hear her over the noise.

That moment seemed to last forever, William’s face and Mary’s muttering, and the incredible din that didn’t seem to pass.

Mary was scared and confused, not sure what on earth was happening, why it was happening and who made it happen. Images rushed through her head of witches and broomsticks, her innocent mind not allowing her to imagine the outside world.

“I want to see the aeroplane,” Mary called, only just about loud enough to be heard. “Because I want to prove it isn’t a witch.”

She pulled away from William and ran towards the door, her arms out in front of her. When she finally reached the wall she ran her hands along it until she found the door handle. William was calling out to her as loudly as he safely could but Mary ignored him and grasped the handle in her right hand and turning it.

The door creaked open slowly and as it did so, Mary squinted with the light and covered her ears.

“What’s that William? What is it? Is that an aeroplane, too?” Mary shouts over the noise.

William jumped across the space towards the door in a single motion, his arms stretched out forward as far as they could reach.

Mary watched him, suddenly startled. One of her arms was still in the path of the door, and she was well aware of the fact. She removed her hands from her ears and screamed, jumping out of the doorframe just before William’s bodyweight caused the door to crash to a shut.

Mary looked around, almost blinded by the pure white light that flashed around her. Her ears rang; the noise was so loud she couldn’t hear it. Mary seemed to jump before landing face down in the grass, tears soon streaming from her eyes and into the safety of the earth.

The door slammed shut behind her with the impact of the explosion. William turned the handle and pushed on the door but the impact had pushed it further in on itself, the hinges bending in such a way that they were unable to swing freely.

Mary was lying on the floor, shaking with fear. She kept her eyes closed and her hands over her ears, gently humming to herself, hoping the ‘aeroplane’ would just go away. Mary’s long, dark hair covered her head and part of her back, matted into a lot of tiny knots. One of her socks was torn, with a large hole the size of a golf ball on the underside of Mary’s foot. Her other sock was still in tact, hidden under her brown leather shoe.

Suddenly the noise seemed to calm down, and everything lay still. Mary sat up slowly and looked around at the town she had always felt secure in. Streetlamps had fallen over and windows had smashed. The only area that seemed remotely useable was the road in which Mary was now situated.

Mary’s innocent, dark eyes scanned the area rapidly as her immature imagination tried to think up an explanation for such devastation.

In the distance the sun began to rise, casting an orange glow over the city. Mary suddenly felt scared again, but this was a different type of orange glow than before.

Run

Her driving made me hold my breath at the best of times, and this was an entire new level. She was almost laughing as the car swerved around corners of the country roads, heading recklessly into the path of any oncoming vehicles that remained unseen since she turned the lights off, and a stork of a corn plant shot towards me from the other side of the windscreen. The car jolted over the edge of the corn field, the suspension making a worrying sound.

I turned around and peered out of the back window. Blue lights were still flashing, but a bit further away now.

“I think they’ve lost us,” I said, almost hopeful.

“That’s irrelevant,” Jaq growled through gritted teeth, her eyes fixated on the road. “We were stupid. They know who we are; they know this is my car. We’re out of excuses. We’re caught.”

I glanced at her in shocked silence, then leant back onto the headrest.

“You’re unbelievable,” I muttered under my breath, but I knew she was right. It was just impossible to even try to comprehend the fact that this might be it. This could be the last time I’m in this car with her, it could even the last time I ever see her; the girl who changed my life.

We emerged into the suburbs and Jaq switch the lights back on. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, running her hand through her hair that rippled like water around her fingers. She did a double take then turned her face away again, hardly bearing to look at me.

“Anna, for what it’s worth,” she began.

“No,” I shot back. “Just don’t say anything.”

We carried on in silence, and I treasured every second of her presence, neither of us knowing where we were going. I stared out of the window and the light of streetlamps cast circles around us, digging us a deeper hole with each metre we drove. Jaq slowed down and pulled into a car park, parked the car neatly and got out.

“We’ll try and have this one night,” she sighed defeatedly. “Then we’ll go. We won’t get in any more trouble for twelve more hours, it’s gone too far anyway.”

I nodded in agreement and pulled two cigarettes from the box in my pocket. I put them both between my lips and lit them, the orange glow of the flame illuminating Jaq’s face as well as mine. I passed her one, and slumped down onto the floor, leaning against the car. Jaq slid down next to me, simultaneously taking a long drag of her cigarette. I looked at her intently, and she blew the smoke out from her lungs before turning to face me. Neither of us dared speak, and we sat there in each other’s gaze as time seemed to slow down.

We spent the final five hours that we had granted ourselves wandering aimlessly through towns, detouring through random parks and open spaces. We even went into a play park on the swings at one point, then disappeared into some dense woodland that looked like it wasn’t a common walking place for the public at night, and emerged half an hour later both picking leaves and twigs out of our hair, the pair of us laughing for the first and last time tonight. We tried to make it as enjoyable as possible, it was all we had. 


Now here we are, standing either side of the entrance to our church, 270 Sundays on, puffing away on cigarettes. We’ve already decided that we might as well enjoy them, they feel precious now, but also a representation of how we have our own free will back. Anyway, our lives are already five wasted years shorter. Jaq finishes first and dabs her cigarette out on the floor. She peers in through the curtains over the door. I follow her and we head inside. I don’t know if this church is anything like how we left it, but it looks just as warm. I walk slowly over to the chairs in the middle of the room and sit in the front row. I don’t think anyone other than the vicar and maybe a couple of other people will be around yet, the service isn’t for another few hours – the sun is barely up – but we take the time to reflect, and relish in the fact that it’s our church, we are home and it’s like the good old days, not that cold room we spent hours in while we were inside. Jaq slinks into the chair next to me, looking at the altar with her dark eyes sparkling in the light. I put an arm around her and she rests her head on my shoulder.

“Let’s not talk about the last few years,” she whispers. “Let’s just live as we were before.”

Neither of us have a clue where to go, not many people seem bothered with us any more, especially our families. But the world is out there, and we are out in it, with years ahead of us full of possibilities. 

Yet something feels off.

Maybe it’s the strange relationships we’ve each made and acted on with others over the last few years, knowing that the other was only a few thick walls and clunking doors away or maybe it’s just that even the local world is different to how we left it, I don’t know. Maybe I never will. Maybe we’ll never be the same people we were last time we were here. But I have some cash that I took with me when we went in, and it’ll get us somewhere.

Theft Day

I can still replay it in my mind, the day everything changed. To this day I can recall the chill of the air combined with the fire in Danny’s eyes, and the rush of anxiety we prayed we could supress. As I go about the life I so desperately endeavoured, I wonder whether the overwhelming burning that comes with the memory is that of regret, guilt or pride. In many ways, we succeeded that day. Danny called it Theft Day.

It was summer, one of the hottest I’d ever lived through, when we came up with the idea over a meal limited in nutrition accompanied with watered down lager and leftover juice frozen into blocks. Neither of us usually spoke at home. We rarely had anything to say to each other – after over a decade of living with each other’s company whilst sharing mundane experiences, our list of topics of conversation wore thin. Even the things that perhaps were of interest we didn’t talk about, we pretended they didn’t exist. What went on within our four walls was witnessed by both of us, what went on outside we’d rather ignore. Danny ate his food with some haste, staring at a blank wall with a look of frustration and anger on his face. His mouth moved as if talking while he ate, his expression like none I’d seen before. His fist struck the table with such force that I jumped to my feet, my chair crashing down to the floor behind me.

“Why did you do that?” I gasped, my heart pounding.

“I’ve got it,” Danny muttered, his eyes remaining fixed on the wall. “I’ve finally got it. You trust me don’t you Chris?”

I nodded slowly, frozen to the spot. That was when we planned Danny’s Theft Day. He had solutions for every problem I threw back at him as I desperately sought a reason why it shouldn’t go ahead, but eventually, we shook on it. I went to bed that night sick with anticipation and a flood of thoughts racing through my mind, bombarding each of my senses with the deepest sense of unexplainable emotion. I knew it could only go one of two ways, and either way, this was my last night in the small room that Danny and I had called home for the last twelve years.

I awoke early to the familiar sound of Danny’s alarm clock, the high-pitched sound ricocheting against the walls and into my ears. Danny still snored, his arm hanging over the front of the sofa with his fingers not quite reaching the pen from which he had adroitly drafted plans and sketches of his fantasy that lay peacefully on the remains of the carpet. Slowly beginning to decipher my thoughts, differentiating between my haunting dreams and unexplainable conscious thoughts of what was to come, I dragged my limp body up from the mattress and over to Danny.

“Wake up, D,” I called, shaking his shoulder. “It’s time”.

Danny groaned and his eyes fluttered open. “Eat first”, he ordered. “We’ll need all the energy we can get. We’re not going to eat again for a long time.”

I looked at the small pile of food that was left in the corner of the room, comprising of some stale bread slices, warm ham and a quarter of a block of cheese, yellow from the heat in the room. Knowing that our finances would forbid us consuming anything more than what lay in that pile for at least another two days, I began to eat. Between the two of us we hungrily devoured the pile of food and the last of the lager that stood in a small bottle. As we ate, the sun began to extend its nimble extremities into the room through the cracks in the board that covered the part of the wall that once contained a glass window.

“It’s getting light outside. Let’s go, brother,” Danny mumbled dryly, his eyes bursting with exhilaration.

I got dressed quickly, pulling the cord in my trousers tightly around my emaciated body while Danny looked over his plans. Once he had memorised each intricate detail, he placed the papers in the ashtray on the table and lit them with a match, the slight flame suddenly becoming a small fire, dancing as it engulfed the pages greedily before gradually dying out, leaving nothing but soft, grey ashes in their place.

When we left our home, the streets were still quiet. The early sunrise was a welcome source of fabricated security, the daylight providing us with the confidence to tackle what may be lurking behind each corner. We ran from the building without looking back, our eyes and hearts fixated on the building that stood pompously over the city with an air of authority that cast a sombre shadow over all that dwelled beneath.

“What are you doing out here so early? One of the chancers, are you?” a gruff voice echoed through an alleyway containing the remnants of a civilised society. “Seen plenty of them – don’t think you’ll get anywhere, you might as well come join me here, it’s actually quite peaceful. You can see the stars sometimes, in the sky at night, and if you hide really well, some days you won’t get caught by anyone at all. I’ll tell you what that is… that’s freedom.”

I peered into the alleyway, just making out a scrawny figure with long grey hair and a white beard. I inched closer, into the shade of the building and looked into the alleyway. The man had a gentle face, dirty with the repercussions of what could have been decades of living in these conditions, but the thing that resonated with me about this man for countless months after meeting him were his eyes, so perfectly blue but also so dark, like nothing I’d ever encountered in another human being. His gaze pierced my skin as if it were burning, a lifetime of deprivation of contact with anyone other than the few rats that belonged to a colony that invaded the corners of every building in the town. His clothes were mouldy and torn, and he had no shoes at all.

“How long have you been living in there?” I dared to ask.

“As long as I can remember, son. I’ve got my wits about me and that’s all I need to get by. That and the help of a lovely little lady, she throws food in here for me, every other day without fail. I’d be dead without her. She creeps out here, from up there,” he gestured to the pretentious building. “She dresses up and everything.”

He paused for a second, his soft face becoming stony and cold. “Hey, you didn’t hear that, alright? I didn’t tell you anything. Now, you and your little friend be on your way, I can see him, lurking over there. Clear off and stay away, I can defend myself against you, against anyone, you’ll see!”

I turned around and saw Danny behind me, staring blankly at the man, hidden away in the shadows cowering from the light of day and the population. “Let’s go, brother,” he commanded.

I left the man and ran away from the alleyway, giving Danny a sideways glance. It was then that I realised how envious I was of that man. The man with the most freedom I’d ever seen on our side of the world living in an alleyway, cowering in the darkness feeding from the perilous kindness of a stranger.

A Private Past

I turned my face to the sun, pausing for a moment to appreciate the warmth of it on my skin, trembling in my attempt to supress the apprehension of not knowing when I would experience the same sensation again. The sound of Joel’s brash laughter darted through my eardrums over the sound of children squealing in the play park, parents chattering over a coffee in the café and dogs barking with the simple joy of a tennis ball being thrown.

I tried not to think about it. As my mother would have said: worrying about tomorrow won’t change it for the better, it’ll only change today for the worse. Sometimes I wish I’d listened to her more, made the choices she knew were best for me. The desperation I had to join the army only panicked her. If she could see me now, sitting in our park in our picnic spot the night before going away for an undecided amount of time, she’d most likely have a stroke all over again.

“Are you alright, Charl?” Joel called over to me. “Don’t worry, man. It’ll fly by, you’ll be home in a few months.”

I nodded slowly, avoiding eye contact. Looking around, I tried to save mental images of this park, the people from all walks of life sharing an open space, children playing and wildlife existing in the shadows, minding its own business. Suburban life is something that is taken for granted, with the majority of people born into it yearning for residence away from the noise of the town, or envisioning a high-powered city life. I craved discipline, the naïve thought of becoming a hero for my country, and once my mother left us, I saw no reason to stay in the town I called home. The day I was accepted, following years of gruelling training that I commenced of my own accord as a teenager, was when I realised what I’d really done. I’d sentenced myself to months, possibly years, of being someone else; someone who is constantly putting on a front to appear strong and collected, despite my inner thoughts.

I looked over at Joel and Marco, lying on the ground with freshly cut grass sticking to their skin in the heat. I sensed their disappointment, knowing that it was my own choices that were responsible for taking my friendship away from them. We smoked a final cigarette together, reminiscing about our days of youth through nostalgic conversation strung with nervous laughter.

Joel went into the shop first, a harsh sense of confidence gleaming through his eyes. Marco and I held back, watching Joel’s distinctive walk as he made his way between the aisles of the shop. I watched nervously, the cold air filtering across my tongue that protruded between my lips. Once Joel gave the signal – a loud, dramatic cough, Marco and I entered the shop. We grabbed one ice pole each from the freezer cabinet, and a Freddo chocolate bar.

“Fifteen pence each, kids,” the shopkeeper mumbled. We paid for our treats and left the shop.

“Here, Joel, I got yours!” I shouted. He thanked me loudly and followed us out.

We ran to the park, sweaty and breathless.

“What did you get?” Marco and I asked hastily.

Joel emptied out a pocket of chocolate bars onto the floor, and all of us tucked in. We got through almost half of them, wrappers piling up on the grass and chocolate smearing around our mouths.

A voice bellowed across the park, making the three of us jump up in alarm.

“You three! Here, now!”

I looked up and saw my mother, with the man from the shop, staring at us with a look of bitter disappointment.

For the next three weeks I earned back from my mother the monetary value of what we had taken through household chores, traipsing back to the corner shop every evening with a 50 pence coin, each day feeling more and more resentful. Mr. Davis would grunt and nod with a frown, taking the coin and sending me on my way with a flick of the wrist. My mother hated stealing. I’d let her down, and no matter what, I would never escape that incident. Even after I’d paid all the money back to the shop, my mother never did cease to mention that day each time I attempted to celebrate my successes. Joel and Marco seldom got a telling off from their parents.

“Shame you never learnt your lesson, eh Charlie,” Marco joked. “If you’d taken your mum’s advice maybe you wouldn’t be leaving us.”

“Mum didn’t want me to live,” I snapped. “I loved her, but she never let me experiment and learn lessons for myself. That’s what I needed to do.”

“You’re not going to be experimenting and learning from mistakes this time,” Joel butted in. “It’s strict, you know. All those uniform clothes, no choice of even what to eat or do in your spare time really. You’ll just be there, all those miles away, with no Wi-Fi.”

“I know, Joel. I’ve done all that training. I’ve worn a uniform, I’ve roughed it and I’ve shared a room with a countless number of people. I’ve polished my boots until I could see myself in them, I’ve run faster and further than I ever knew I could. I can handle myself. I’ve got this. After all, even if I haven’t, please just let me think I have.” I looked away. “I’m trained, and I’m strong. No matter who I end up fighting, I’ll make sure I get it right.”

I saw both Marco and Joel shake their heads, casting each other a sideways glance. Thoughts began rushing through my head, the world around me fading into a blur of memories and ideas of what was to come.

“You’ll have the world thrown at you”, Langfield barked. His distinctive posture appeared familiar, his dark, protruding brow shadowing his eyes from the aura of the single bulb that hung in the room. The way he stood, with a slight stoop, made him a peculiar looking soldier; yet his physical strength was apparent without witnessing him demonstrate it. “This is not a game of gun fights with little green men on your bedroom carpet. This is life and death. This is real. If you’re not sure about it, leave. If you don’t like it, leave. We’re not here to force you to be soldiers. We’re here to teach you to be good soldiers. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir,” I responded in unison with everyone else in that room.

Langfield walked around slowly, eyeing each of us in turn. He stopped in front of me, his face tilted towards the ground, his eyes merely visible from their sunken sockets. “And don’t any of you, ever, try to outsmart me,” he remarked, his gaze fixated on me. “It won’t end well.”

He turned and walked steadily out of the room, in a fashion not dissimilar from that of the men that carried my mother’s coffin to her grave.

I tidied my clothes, bulled my boots and contemplated whether this was really the right choice for me. I thought about my mother, my friends, everyone at home going about their lives without real fear. I thought I knew what fear was before I came here, it’s funny really. The fear I felt being caught stealing a few chocolate bars as a tearaway eight-year-old compared to the fear I felt here based upon the simple fact of whether my shoes were shiny enough. The discipline I’d experienced at home involved making up for wrong choices, not being attacked for them; this was going to take some getting used to. The familiarity of the rank structure, mirroring my experience whilst working for Jad, was an uncomfortable reminder of the past. Langfield’s stooping posture filled me with a dread like none I’d experienced before; the way his eyes seemed to hide from the light, skulking under his brow like a hidden treasury of twisted tales whispering in the shadows, how he stood over others with an air of authority yet an apparent lack of humanity.

“Charl? Charl!”

I blinked harshly and looked at Joel. He laughed at me, joking that if I’m going to survive the next few months I’d need to keep my head screwed on and in focus, that Charlie-Land had to close. My mother was the last person to mention Charlie-Land. Just before she died, while I was sat wondering what I was ever going to do without her, she asked me to leave Charlie-Land for just a minute so she could spend time with me properly. That was the last thing she ever said to me, or to anyone for that matter.

“What’s it like in Charlie-Land?” my mother asked, stroking my hand. “I’d love to see.”

I smiled at her. “It’s a secret,” I whispered. “Only I can ever go there. It’s where I keep all my rememberings.”

My mother laughed lovingly. “Your memories?”

I smiled, my lack of front teeth on full display. “And my wishes. When I’m a soldier, that’s when I’ll stop going to Charlie-Land. Because then I won’t need it any more, I’ll be all happy outside.”

My mother’s eyes stopped dancing for a moment. “You’re not joining the army, Charlie. It’s horrible. Why don’t you do something else instead? You could be a doctor, or a builder, or a teacher, whatever you like.”

“I like the army,” I stated.

My mother continued stroking my hand, her blood red painted fingernails dancing in circles on my palm. “You wouldn’t want to leave me though, would you? Be sent away?”

I pondered for a moment. “I like holidays.”

I took one last look around me, finally settling my gaze on Joel and Marco.

“I’ll see you soon, guys.” I stood up to leave, as did they. Without thinking, I threw myself onto my friends, one arm around each of them, squeezing them tightly. I gulped, holding myself together like I had been trained so well to do, and without looking at their faces again I made off for home for the last time.

I opened the front door to silence, hearing my own footsteps echo along the hallway. I cooked a meal of spaghetti ragu, just as my mother had taught me – a dash of soy sauce to make it rich and a pinch of chilli powder for extra flavour. Eating slowly, I savoured each mouthful, whilst watching an argument unfold between two groups of schoolboys on the television.

After washing up and tidying my home to a mediocre standard, I dragged myself to bed despite the knowledge that the sooner I slept the sooner the following day would creep up on me. I had planned to stay up all night, enjoy each moment of freedom, but I’d lost all motivation and instead I opted for a night of dreams plagued with questionings of how I had ended up where I was. I had worked my days away in retail, putting on an almost-convincing polite smile as customers came in and out, then spent my evenings either helping my mother with her housework and cooking meals, or pushing myself further and further each night in the gym. My mother was content with my nine-to-five job, and I played along, I had a lot to make up to her that even she didn’t know about, and I enjoyed spending the odd spare evening with Joel and Marco. I’d drifted apart from them for a few recent years, while I went through a phase of desperately seeking a solid place in society.

I awoke early from my restless sleep, my heart pounding. I got dressed slowly, creating a final memory of being able to choose my outfit from a wardrobe of my own clothes before my individuality would be stripped away and replaced with generic, uniform garments.

I busied myself with my morning routine for the final time, before throwing on my jacket and walking out to the bus stop. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d caught a bus, but I knew for a fact that there was nowhere I could park my car for this length of time without acquiring a hefty fine. I focused on reciting in my head everything I had taken on board throughout the journey, from the lessons I’d learned on the street to the orders I’d had drilled through my ears throughout my training and my first few weeks working on the local army base.

When I finally arrived, I took a deep breath before taking a step into the next chapter of my life, a chapter in which I would no longer be Charlie Kitchener, but a number with nothing to set me apart from the rest, my individuality stripped back to nothing. As I sat and waited, I wondered whether there was a chance I’d get away with avoiding going anywhere. I’d changed my mind since back then, I’d made the wrong choice. My hands trembled and I closed my eyes, breathing as deeply as I could. My mind muffled out the sounds in the room, with two words resonating around my head. Six months. I did as I was expected to, and maintained my composure like I was trained to. I got in the van and travelled without protest. I accepted my fate and followed all orders. I changed my clothes and smiled as politely as I could muster to my new bunkmates.

“He’s meeting you on the corner of Grove Road,” Jad spat, his gold teeth glistening in the orange glow of the streetlight. “You be quick, it’s for a job tonight.”

I gulped down my anxiety, took the package and began to walk quickly towards Grove Road. I held the package with both hands in the full width pocket of my hoody. This was my last job before I stopped this, I’d been accepted into the army and I needed to focus on that and put all this into my past. Jad had said that once I joined I’d be even better at this job, his last runner had managed to worm his way out of a sentence after he was caught because he blagged something about the knife being for use by the army. He had a lot of contacts, he was lucky, just not clever enough to stay in the shadows – how he went and got himself caught I’ll never understand. I put up my hood, keeping my head down. After my mother died, I stopped caring what happened to me until I received my acceptance letter. That was all that was keeping me going. I dropped the knife to the customer, and took his payment. He grabbed my arm, dragging me into a wooded area, before checking over the implement carefully. It was crafted beautifully, yet soon it was to be tarnished with the acts for which it was produced. Once satisfied, he let me go. I ran back to Jad’s, gave him his money and ran home. I pulled my hoodie and jeans off, put them straight in the washing machine and started a hot wash. I washed my hands and face and brushed my teeth. That was it, my last job. Never again would I do it, the risk was too high. I had a life ahead of me again, I wasn’t prepared to throw it away over that one choice I made all those months ago when I first met Jad. I sat and pondered on my life, up until that moment. I’d always made everything up, except this. I’d just given a dangerous person a dangerous object, and what was more, I knew what was going to happen. As I sat there in my underwear I heard the clunking of the washing machine, slowly removing the evidence of my consultation with the man at Grove Road. My mother would be disappointed. I jumped up, threw on the nearest items of clothing I could find, and ran out into the night. From the conversation I had overheard Jad having on the phone earlier that day, he was involved. I smartened myself up, adjusted my hair a little and threw my hood up as I slunk to the one place I hoped to find that man. I saw a stooping man from a distance the alleyway behind Jad’s, with his back towards me, holding it, showing it off to someone. I ran. As I sprinted past him I snatched it from his hand. He tried to run after me, but I outran him, not stopping to catch my breath until I’d forced it down a grate covering a drain. Just as I went to leave I glanced behind me and saw the man hurtling towards me from around a corner.

I jumped up and fled, the man’s voice bellowing behind me: “Don’t you even try to outsmart me, it won’t end well!”

 I never heard from any of them after that, not Jad and the others, anyone. It was odd, really, given the sort of people they were.

I glanced around at the basic room, the dull bed linen and everyone’s uniformed appearance. There was no place for personality here, nobody’s individual quirks shone out to me, I recognised nobody. I touched my finger where my ring should be, the ring I inherited from my mother. I craved it more than anything I’d ever desired. I wondered what my mother would say to me now that I’d gone against everything she had ever taught me. I’d have worked to make it up if there was a way, or if my remorse was believed.

I was exhausted after my second week on the army base, returning home with the single intention of sleeping and devouring multiple helpings of tea and biscuits. I flung my bags down and filled the kettle, adding a small spoonful of sugar to my favourite mug – I felt as though I’d earned it just this once. The doorbell chimed, followed by a heavy knock on the body of the door.

I opened the door to two uniformed police officers, in the same way that I had when my mother died. Just as it had happened then, the taller police officer spoke.

“Charlotte Kitchener?” he asked politely, exactly as they had then.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Charlotte, at this time you’re under arrest for unlawful marketing of knives as suitable for combat,” he stated.

I froze to the spot. My time with Jad was in the past, I’d ended it and I’d made it up to the community – I’d volunteered for ages to make up for that, I was even. I’d sorted it – nobody got hurt because of me in the end, not after I got that knife back from the man in Grove Road. I managed it, and I escaped him, I was free. I was free of my conscience and of being tied down by Jad.

The police interview was my personal definition of torture. I was upfront and honest about everything, even what I’d done to stop the man in Grove Road, whose face I began to reconstruct in my mind for the first time after months of blocking out my memories of that day. I envisaged his dark, protruding brow shadowing his eyes from the aura of the streetlights. The way he stood, with a slight stoop, made him a peculiar looking civilian; yet his physical strength was apparent without witnessing him demonstrate it.

I suppose I’d always known that the past would catch up to me, deep down. In reality, I struggled to even believe that one could repent and make up for their wrongdoings in a civilised, integral or honest way. The system catches up with everyone, that system being the dark shadows in the streets at night where men such as Langfield lurk, life on the inside, or in my case – both. While for me, the thought of my mother’s disappointment was enough for me to stop and think, for many I now know this isn’t the case. These two types of people cannot easily be distinguished, and even if they could, a jury can only give a simple verdict, with no humanity or individuality included. Six months may go by in the blink of an eye, but the experiences contained within those six months can change a person forever. I hoped, right up until the end, that I would be changed for better, not for worse. If my mother still had any level of respect for me, I hoped I could rely on reversing her favourite saying, and that was what I began to say to myself each morning, in the hope that I could maintain that, along with some level of positivity up for those six months.

Throwback…

Before reading this, please ponder on the fact that this was found on an old laptop that I haven’t used since my early teens. It’s of awful quality, and to be honest the ending doesn’t seem to make an awful lot of sense. It was written with inspiration from a friend, who wrote a few sentences that painted a picture similar to the scene at the beginning of this story.


The snowflakes began to settle on the window frame building up a brilliant white barrier, blocking the view. All that was visible from the window was the falling snowflakes and the navy blue sky, until something else came into view. A boy trudged over the thickly covered ground towards the only streetlight which stood tall and black until at the top a prefect orange glow lit the area, reflecting off the snow and shining onto the boy’s back.

The youth had his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the irregular motion of his legs which were covered only by a thin layer of cotton. On his feet was a pair of large, brown leather boots, laced with a bow just above the boy’s ankle. His trousers had been pushed into the boots to keep the half-frozen water out. His shirt was a shade of light blue, open at the top and wrinkled casually as it sat over his wrists which held his hands in his trouser pockets. Covering his arms was a black jacket which hung loosely open over his sides. The boy’s blond hair was wet with snow and fell heavily around his face.

One could wonder what business was so important that a youth should have to go out in such conditions to complete it, or how far away the boy was from home. Only one person knew the answers to those questions, and that was the boy himself, trudging though the snow.

Suddenly the boy stopped and looked around, and for one moment he looked right at the window where the woman stood. She watched him every day at seven thirty exactly from her front window, once in a while glancing at a photograph that hung on her wall. The photo was of a youth, whose size and shape resembled that of the boy outside. His face was pale and surrounded by blond, straight hair. One couldn’t tell the exact colour of his eyes, for the photo was taken in black and white, but they were clearly pale and cold. 

Sometimes the woman opens her window and calls out, but she never gets a response. This particular day the woman stayed inside, just looking, observing. She sat silently in her window just watching as the boy headed away from the city and into the quieter areas of 1950’s New York.

After the boy had passed her window and was out of sight, the woman went back inside again before sitting with a mug of boiled water and going to bed. This was the last time she would ever look for the youth. That’s what she managed to convince herself.

The woman tugged her boots over her ankles and slung a woolly coat over her shoulders. She shivered as she opened the door, making every bone in her body shudder as if they were rattling together. The woman began to walk down the ice covered sidewalk slowly. As she approached her destination, someone pushed past her the other way without even acknowledging her presence. He walked on purposefully without taking his eyes off his feet. The woman stopped and stared at the young man until she finally plucked up the courage to call out to him. 

“You there!” she shouted. “Young man, excuse me?”

He didn’t even pause, or whip his head around to see who should be craving his attention so nervously. Instead he just plodded on, looking at his feet. His blond hair lay down his cheeks, laden with water from the melted snowflakes.

The woman sighed and turned back; following the route the youth took until she reached her home and went inside. She closed the front door behind her and looked up at the photo on the wall.

As the week went by the woman continued her strict routine, each day watching the boy as he made his way past the church and houses, past the streetlamp and onward towards the river. Each day the woman stared, sometimes glancing at her favourite photograph on the wall, sometimes questioning her better judgement.

As time progressed the weather worsened, but still the youth took time to venture past the woman’s house each day in the snow. Each day his garments got dirtier, weaker and increasingly damp. The soles of his boots wore down day by day due to the uneven ground and adverse conditions that had existed for the best part of two months.

Sometimes the woman would rise to her feet when the boy came into view. She would walk outside to see his face properly, but once she’d managed to set foot outside the building, the damp yet somehow crisp, icy air chilling her through while the wind howled through her door, filling the entrance hall with temporary snowflakes which disappeared once they net the heat of the open fire, the youth would no longer be in close proximity. Instead, the woman would look around, questioning his existence. The only evidence of him ever being in that very street were the footprints that were left after each day the boy embarked on his excursion.

The woman tried to continue her life without thinking about the boy, but it soon became apparent that this was too much of a fantasy. As she entered the shop by the church, the woman stopped in her tracks and stared. She was faced with a piece of paper displaying a photo of a young man. The picture exactly resembled the photo in her home, with the smiling face and piercing eyes. Above the picture was the word ‘MISSING’ in block capitals, written with an ink that was the darkest shade of black. 

Once again, the woman never managed to make any purchases. Instead, images of the young man filled her head as she turned around and made her way back home again.

Some people believe in a lot more than others do. Belief and existence are very different things. One may believe that they are seeing something they know; when in reality they are seeing nothing at all.

The woman sat in her window at the usual time, but didn’t know what to expect. The young man always trudged past her window everyday without fail. She waited and waited but there was no sign of anyone, let alone the young man.

The woman sighed and stood up. She began to turn away from the window but she suddenly seemed to change her mind and jumped back again, pressing her face against the window with her hands cupped around her eyes. She blinked over and over but the man now making his way towards the river didn’t disappear. He stopped under the street lamp and looked in her direction. He was dressed up in a waistcoat and cravat, wearing a splendid jacket over it with tails. On his head sat a top hat and his shoes were a beautiful polished black leather. He had blond, straight hair and cold, empty pale eyes. His face looked around the age of thirty, but it was hard to tell. He seemed to look right past her and into her house, around her home. He appeared to be frozen. The woman jumped up and ran to the front door. She opened it hurriedly, but the man was gone as soon as the cold air managed to send a chill through the woman.

The woman looked around before closing her door and running into another room. She began to sort through a pile of boxes, eventually picking one up and opening it. The contents were dust-laden and dirty, but the woman was unfazed. Instead she seemed desperate, frantically searching through the box until finally retrieving a photo album. She flicked through the pages with a bony finger until finally stopping. She stared at the photograph in disbelief. What she was looking at would confuse any witness.

Smiling out from the black and white page were two people.  A bride and bridegroom. The date was written in messy handwriting at the bottom of the photograph, ‘January 27th, 1913.’

The woman looked at the picture of herself enviously. She envied herself, for now she was cold and lonely. She envied the fact that in the past she was able to communicate to her husband.

The next day the woman waited in her window once again, and dead on time the man continued to plod along the street. He was no longer dressed up, as he only wore some pale trousers and a scruffy navy blue shirt. His shoes were worn and tattered and his feet were numb with cold. His hair was shorter and from a distance invisible, because of the shade of blond.

The woman stared, unable to take her vision off the man, for today he walked with a woman. She looked only a year or two younger than him, and wore a black skirt with a lime green coat over it. On her feet was a pair of black boots, and a woolly hat covered most of her head. Her lips were cherry red and her cheeks were rosy. Her eyes were dark and mysterious, a similar shade of brown to her hair, which just managed to reach her waist, which had a thick brown belt around it.

The two of them were engrossed in deep conversation until someone took the chance to end everything so suddenly. The woman who walked with the man was the woman in the photograph the old lady looked at so enviously.

The woman in the window screamed inside her head. She wanted to scream at the couple, tell them to run away and hide somewhere, go back the other way but something was stopping her. She tried to move to open the window but she was frozen to the spot.

It was the day after we were married when my husband and I were walking along an icy street while I wore my favourite lime green coat. That was the last day I ever saw my husband.

The woman in the window had always managed to block that day out of her mind. Until the day she witnessed it with her own eyes from her window, from inside her home, her sanctuary.

The man and woman continued to walk over the ice. The woman in the window stared helplessly as everything appeared to happen in slow motion. First there was a noise. The loudest noise anyone on the street had ever heard. Then the man fell backwards onto the floor, his back breaking as soon as he hit the ice. The young woman screamed and tried to catch him, but it was too late. She looked at him and screamed for help, not knowing what to do. 

After it happened I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what to do. All I could do was scream for help, until a lovely old woman cane to our aid. I don’t know where she went after that. One minute she was helping us, the next…

The woman in the window finally realised who that old lady was, and ran outside. The couple were still there. She hurried over to them and spoke softly to the young woman.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.”

Sometimes it’s better to lie, even when you know the truth, just to keep people happy and quiet. But sometimes they find out you’re lying before you have a chance to finish whatever it was you needed to lie about in the first place.

The older woman looked over the man with no particular purpose other than making the young woman believe that maybe there was a chance the man would survive such a well-aimed gunshot wound.

The older woman looked at the younger one nervously, but she just stared back blankly. The man still had his eyes open, and as the older woman looked into them, she could see her reflection. In the other eye she could see the young woman’s reflection. Suddenly the man seemed to become cross-eyed and the two reflections merged together, until the old woman’s reflection disappeared inside the body of the young woman.

The young woman looked around. Nobody was there other than a lone man, wearing all black other than a pair of bright white shoes that blended with the snowy ground.

The lady stood up and faced him, trembling slightly.

She stared into the barrel of the gun that killed her husband and said firmly:

“You can shoot me, but I won’t die.” Two voices seemed to come out of her single mouth. The voice of the lady and the voice of the old woman.

“Baloney,” the man growled, pulling the trigger without a second thought.

The lady fell backwards onto the ground and the man walked away, dropping the gun onto the ice as he did so.

The young lady stood up and looked at where she had landed. The body of the older woman lay still on the ice.

The lady closed her husband’s eyes for the last time and walked over the road into her house. The photograph stared at her as she went and sat in her window.

To see her husband again she would have to wait fifty years, and that’s what she did.

Fifty years later, she awoke in her bed. Looking in the mirror, she had aged exactly as she would have done if she was alive.

She waited and waited seven thirty every day, when she watched his youthful self walk past her window.

She watched the boy every day, taking note of how old he was and whether he looked joyous of dismal. She knew that one day, when she saw her very own self for the first time; she would have to take on responsibility to save herself from having to live alone.