50mg

Mental-Health

I’ve typed this sentence a thousand times and then erased it because the words aren’t perfect. I can’t spell. I don’t really understand when to use commas or full stops. I don’t have a wide vocabulary. I think the word ‘thus’ is a fancy word and I try to use it wherever I can. My granny used to read the dictionary. How can such a book be read? I wonder do many people read the dictionary. Just read it from a to z. I might read the dictionary.

My medication has been upped from 25mg to 50mg. I take one a day. A few months ago I went to see my doctor to review where I was with things. I told him, “I feel like the sky. Either my head is cloudy, or else things seem bright and hopeful and I feel warm and fuzzy. Other times it’s a bit in-between.” I said, “I’m like the UK weather. You never know what it’s gonna do, and I never know what my heads gonna do.” My doctor laughed at me like I had made a joke. People do that a lot, they say I’m funny but don’t realise it. I don’t really know what that means.

It’s quite sunny today and I’m feeling partly cloudy with a chance of rain. I set my alarm every day to remind me to take my pill. 08:04am. I set it for that time because that’s when I have my breakfast. My mum freaks out over numbers like that. When the TV volume is on 17, she has to change it to 20. She’s always been obsessive about that kind of thing, so I’ve decided to be the opposite. Uneven numbers are my thing. My mum thinks I’m weird, but I think she’s weird too.

I like to write poems and draw cartoon characters. I’m not very good and people say to me that I should give up, but I’m not doing it for anyone else so I don’t see what’s wrong. My mum sings in the shower and is very out of tune but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t sing does it? I’m not trying to be famous. I wouldn’t like to be famous. I feel quite sorry for famous people. Everyone comments on how they look and what they do. I wouldn’t like people judging me so much; it’s not very nice. I don’t like not nice people.

I walk to school every day and then walk home. I’m not very smart, but I like school. I have to go to extra help classes sometimes, but that’s ok. Some people pick on me and call me the weird or special kid. I usually just ignore it but sometimes it makes me feel sad and I go home and hide under my bed. I usually just lie there and cry. I try not to do that anymore because it makes my mum sad. But it’s better for me to cry than to throw chairs at the bullies- that made my mum even sadder.

My mum is sad quite a lot. She doesn’t like the cuts and scars on my arms and legs. If my sleeve slips up and she sees the lines then she goes all quiet. I know to make my own dinner and do my own washing when that happens. But usually I just go under my bed and count my scars and my pills. When I’m ready to come out I change the volume of the TV to 20 and make sure every picture in the house is even and make sure there is no sign of dirt or dust anywhere and that everything in the house is proportioned just to make my mum happy. I think sometimes she feels cloudy with a few showers but she doesn’t talk about it, so neither do I.

I got home from school today and shouted hello but got no response so I went into the kitchen to get a snack, I felt like prawn cocktail crisps. I walked through the door only to find my Mum slouched at the table with her mouth wide open and her eyes tightly shut. In front of her was a bottle that was half empty, or half full depending on how you like to look at it. The stench of alcohol was strong. My stomach grumbled and I wondered whether I should eat my crisps or wake my Mum up first. I decided I would get the crisps out from the cupboard but wake my Mum up before I ate them. So I reached up to the cupboard and opened it.

My Mum organises everything in the kitchen in a certain way. Sometimes it’s in alphabetical order; sometimes it’s by size. She changes her mind and it’s hard for me to keep up. The crisps were usually on the first shelf, but she had moved them to the third shelf and put them in a box. I could barely touch the box with my fingertips even when I stood on my tippytoes and stretched as far as I could. I managed to move it a millimetre with each touch and eventually I managed to grab hold of it. Pulling it towards me I knocked a tin of beans to the floor. It thumped against the counter denting the tin and landed on the ground with a whack and rolled noisily towards where my Mum was sitting. I stood as still as a statue closing my eyes tightly afraid of the noise I had created. It was enough to wake her up. In a panic I tried to put the box back only to knock more tins down. I whispered ‘No no no’ before my Mum slurred loudly “Look what you’ve done!” I told her I was sorry over and over again backing away as she came closer swinging the half empty or half full bottle of alcohol. “I never wanted you and I STILL don’t want you.” I tried not to cry because I know she doesn’t mean it, she’s just sad. Sometimes when your sad it’s easy to be angry at everyone else and say things you don’t mean. I hope she knows I understand that.

My Mum drinks a lot usually. I think she uses it as her medication. She’s thrown many bottles at me that smash around me and it’s like raining glass. Sometimes I clean it up straight away, sometimes I run and hide under my bed, and sometimes I take a sharp piece of glass and use it to help relieve how I feel. It’s weird that hurting yourself can make you feel better. When I get the urge I try to stop it by drawing red lines on my arm, or snapping an elastic band on my wrist, or I write a poem, or draw a comic strip. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

After today I think my medication dosage will go up. I don’t know what the top dosage is, but it feels like I’m climbing a ladder each time my medication is increased. Not in a making progress kind of way, but in a kind of stepping further away from normality. I’m getting higher up the ladder and I’m afraid of heights and I’m slowly losing sight of life below. I don’t like this ladder. I’m hiding under my bed now, counting my scars and my pills. There’s too many and I’m losing count and if it was my Mum she would freak out over the uneven numbers.

Sometimes I think it would be easier for my Mum if I weren’t here. I’ve written a note many times that I’m going to leave, but usually she’s too drunk to read it and I change my mind and decide to clean up after her and make sure everything is perfectly neat and tidy instead.

Looking at the cupboards in the kitchen I couldn’t understand how my Mum was currently organising everything. I’m too stupid to know. She was sleeping on the sofa but she came into the kitchen and looked a bit rough. She just ignored me and tidied up by herself. The silence hurt. After a while she closed the cupboard door and turned to look at me and simply said, “I love you.” She burst into tears and left the room, I just stood there. I didn’t do anything.

Sitting in my room I wrote my mum a note- ‘Dear Mum, I love you too.’ It was simple and maybe I should have said more but I didn’t want to make her sad if my grammar or spelling or wording was all wrong. I posted the note under her bedroom door and went back to my room and lay under my bed. A few minutes later she came in and I crawled out and stood in front of her. She didn’t say anything and neither did I, she just hugged me tightly and that was it. Sometimes words don’t say as much as a hug.

There will be days that I’ll still hide under my bed, and I’ll sometimes go up the ladder and I’ll sometimes go down, sometimes I’ll be partly cloudy with a chance of rain and other times I’ll be sunshine. Just because you’re happy one day it doesn’t mean you’re cured, and just because you’re sad doesn’t mean you just need a cup of tea to make it better. It’s complicated, we’re complicated, life is complicated and to uncomplicate it I’m going to make things easier for my Mum. She knows I love her, and it’s time for me to go.

Chopsticks

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The piano looked unplayed as it stood lonely in the seating area full to the brim of people eating their falafel wraps, deep fried oreos, and vegan brownies. The keys gleamed in my eyes, and I had a great desire to press down on one of the notes and hear the ringing sound. I wonder is it in tune? I make myself sound like a professional pianist, but I assure you I am no Beethoven. Chopsticks. That’s what I want to play. Chopsticks. That little tune that everyone knows. It’s so simple but so catchy and all I want to do is get off this seat and strike down on the keys. Everyone is enjoying the food and the atmosphere that the market has to offer. I don’t often go to places alone, but I thought I would give it a go this one time. I just really had a craving for the paella here.

I sat for a while longer before plucking up the courage to pretend to be a musical genius. I stood in front of the piano and pressed down playing the note C. I felt embarrassed but everyone was too busy chatting to notice. So I did it. I started to play Chopsticks. It was so satisfying that there was a piano just available to play, but not only that, when I started to play someone stood next to me and started to play the high notes of the tune. We were making music together, although naturally not anything fabulous, it was just Chopsticks. Numerous notes together to create a beautiful sound. We laughed over it and then he shook my hand and introduced himself as Mark. This is probably the sweetest way I have ever met someone, through a lonely piano waiting to be played.

He asked for my number and I gave it to him.

Sense of Beauty (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

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I like to listen to the sound of the rain running from the clouds to the concrete. I watch the raindrops race from the top of the window to the bottom, I cheer on a chosen drop to reach the bottom first and watch as it joins with other drops forming into a puddle on the windowsill. I like walking in the darkness of the night as the heavens open the gates and the floods tear through the air, washing away the day. I enjoy listening to the sound of punching letters on a typewriter. I wish I lived in a time when typewriters were invented. I adore the sound of drumming keys on a piano, starting in pianissimo and moving to the more passionate sounds of fortissimo, striking my chest with emotion. I like the sound of silence; I find it soothing and safe. These sounds are like melodies that fill my bones with ambiance. These sounds make me feel harmony, affection, contentment and melancholy all at once. My feelings are ambiguous. I don’t understand myself, and neither do you.

I like the smell of freshly cut grass in early morning spring. I like the smell of petrol. I like the smell of the perfume on her neck, it’s sweet and I can taste it on my tongue like strawberries and cream in the summer. I don’t much appreciate the taste of coffee but I like the smell wafting through the kitchen. I like the smell of clean sheets. These smells are like sonnets that fill my heart with reassurance. These smells make me feel renewed and transformed, yet solitary and alone. My moods are equivocal. I can’t comprehend my own mind, and neither can you.

I like the touch of warm water pouring over my cool, tired and worn out skin after a long day. I love the touch of a big bear hug when I’ve had a hard time and need some support. I like the touch of laughter growing from the core of my being into an exploding sound of joy. I like the touch of the breeze whooshing through my hair. I like the touch of the waves lapping against my toes while my feet slowly sink in the sand. These touches make me feel my own existence; they convince me of my own realness but confuse me on how truly ‘real’ any of us are. If I can feel it, it must be real. But sometimes I have dreams that are so realistic that I can feel. How am I to know what is real and what is not?

I like the taste of liquorish. Most people I know hate it but I like it because it’s sweet yet bitter, and there’s an aftertaste that lasts but it stains my mouth. I like the taste of cherry lip balm on her kisses. I like the taste of freedom when I finish work for the day. I like the taste of mint freshness after cleaning my teeth. These tastes make me feel joyful and alive, yet a little taste always makes me crave more. It’s never enough is it?

I like the sight of a dark ominous sky with rolling clouds. I think its menacing appearance is beautiful. I like the sight of walls covered in graffiti, it’s like a battle of artists trying to get their name visible. I like the sight of weeds growing through the cracks in the pavement; it makes me think nature is fighting back for what we took away. I like the sight of people running away from the pigeons. I like the sight of someone smile by themselves while reading a text on their phone. There’s beauty even in the bad, and there’s bad even in the beauty. What we choose to see is up to us.

I have 5 senses; some people may only have 4 or even 3. Some people might think they even have a sixth sense. There are many things both pleasing and displeasing to my senses, and our opinions based on our senses are subjective. What one person sees as art, another will see it as an eyesore. What one being thinks is a taste sensation, may taste of dirt to someone else. What one person believes feels amazing to them will be horribly uncomfortable for someone different. What one individual thinks sounds pleasant, another will find it to make their ears bleed. What one character finds to be a delightful smell, another might find it to be a disgusting pong. We all experience the world differently and perceive it in dissimilar ways. We live a unique and colourful existence filled with beauty, which some may recognize and others may not. If you asked me to define beauty, I would tell you that it couldn’t be. You ought to define it for yourself. The world itself is the definition of beauty in my mind and whether you agree or not, is up to your own senses. 5 senses. 5 ways to experience the world. 5 ways to discover beauty. Use them.

Love, Conkers, & Falling Leaves (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

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Ali

I get the London Overground to see her. 21 stops to go. Honestly, I’m tired of staring at the orange and brown seats, but now that we’re coming into autumn those colours have become suddenly appealing. It’s that time of year for bobble hats and cable knit jumpers. It’s that time of year for hot drinks like tea, hot chocolate, and pumpkin spice lattes. It’s that time of year when you step outside and breathe in the fresh fragrance of fallen rain in the air. It’s that time of year when you walk along the crimson leaf covered paths, collect conkers, and watch the trees slowly become bare. 14 stops to go. There’s something about the trees shedding their leaf-clothing that makes me think of new beginnings; just as the dead leaves of a tree fall to the ground, so should the negativities of life. The bad ought to become something beautiful, just like the piles of colourful dead leaves that lie freely on the grass. It makes me think of life before and after her. It’s strange how something dead can look so unbelievably stunning. 9 stops to go.

A crowd of rowdy people clamber onto the train at West Hampstead. I can hear every language and see every ethnicity of the world. The competing sounds of people chatting, phones ringing, and loud music lull me into the standard, disruptive, noisy Londoners sleep. 8 stops to go.

My eyes open at Willesden Junction, the place that seems to have nothing else other than a train station. A crowd of people push off the train making us no longer packed in like sardines, until double the amount of people pile on again, pressing their sweaty bodies against me. There are a combination of smells, from the stench of body odour coming off the teenage boy next to me, to the overuse of lynx wafting from the exposed underarm of the man who is stretching to hold on to the bar above me, to the school-kid who is waffling down her reeking greasy takeaway of chicken and chips. 5 stops to go.

The train empties out more people with each stop, leaving those quiet considerate one’s who are simply reading The Metro or staring at their iPhone’s. 2 stops to go. The train passes over the Thames. Alongside the motionless tranquil muddy water, the trees stand tall discarding their auburn leaves, which line the pathways beautifully. 1 stop to go.

Louise

Ali will be here in 1hour and 2minutes. It’s autumn, which is Ali’s favourite season, so I’m going to collect the same amount of conkers as the number of months we’ve been together. 24 months. That’s 2 years. 24 conkers to go.

I walk through the park listening to the sounds of wheels turning, rolling on the ground and hard footsteps thumping against the pavement, as I wonder past the cyclists, rollerbladers and runners. 18 conkers to go. I walk past the dog walkers, footballers, and playing children, taking in the sounds of laughter, the swish of a ball flying through the air, and the joyful barking of happy Spaniels, Labrador’s and Jack Russell’s. 15 conkers to go. I walk past the young and the old, from those in prams to those with walking sticks. I catch conversations about the weather and goo goo gaa gaa baby language. 12 conkers to go. I amble along the concrete paths, the luscious green grass, and the trails through the wood. 8 conkers to go.

I pick a tree that looks climbable, with plenty of footholds and strong branches to support me. I climb up higher and higher to the tops of the tree, pulling off conkers as the leaves fall around me. I’m being showered in sunset colours that are vibrant and vivacious and I smile thinking of Ali. 1 conker to go.

I walk back through the park towards the station to meet Ali. I haven’t got long and I need to find 1 more conker. I search around numerous trees, observing the bark patterns and the roots peeking through the dirt, but the conker’s I find are either too ripe or slightly rotted. I trace my surroundings with my eyes, noting the pleasing colours before I lock onto the perfect shape- the final conker to give to my Ali. 0 conkers to go.

Ali

She meets me from the train wrapped up in her thick woollen scarf, burgundy hat and khaki coloured coat. She smiles and pulls out a handful of conkers from her pocket, handing me one she informs me she picked it especially for me; it was shaped like a heart. Smiling back at her I thanked her, told her I loved her and then kissed her forehead softly. 24 Conkers and 0 stops to go.

Mr Meal Deal 4 (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

 

It’s midnight on a Friday night and I’ve just left work. Going through the park taking it as a short cut is never a good idea, but I’m good at making bad decisions and tonight’s no different, so through the park I go. I can hear the rowdy drunk teens in the distance. I pick my pace up to a brisk walk and keep my head down as I walk past the teens standing around a bench, glugging down their buckfast and strongbow.

 

“Hey, you. You got a light?” a young lad shouted. I felt my lighter in my pocket, hesitated and then turned to lend it to him.

“Cheers love”, he said while offering me a fag. I declined.

He lit up his cigarette, took a drag and then asked, “So you single sweetheart?”

“Not for you I’m not”, I replied.

The group gave a loud ooohhhh and then sniggered.

“Alight alright cheeky. Playing hard to get I see. Come on, I know you want it.” He winked and took another drag of his cigarette.

I held out my hand unimpressed, “Can I have my lighter back?” He looked at me in disbelief, as if I was turning down the god of male models. If only he could recognise that he was nothing more than a skinny, spotty teen, honestly he was nothing more than an arrogant prick. He held out the lighter for me to take it, but pulled it away as I went to grab it. He did this teasing trick a few times while everyone laughed.

“I’m just muckin’ round, here take it.”

This time I took the lighter in my hand, but he grabbed my wrist as I did so, pulling me against his gaunt body, his breath had an overpowering stench of alcohol and he pressed his mouth hard against mine and forced his tongue down my throat. The group cheered and hooted as he did so. I used all my strength to pull away and bit his lip causing him to loosen his grip. He touched his bloody lip and said, “I told you y’ wanted it sweetheart.” He winked again while I ran off tearfully. He threw my lighter at me “There’s your fuckin’ lighter you greasy haired slut. You might wanna have a wash, you smell like you’ve been rollin’ around in chips.” The youths laughed and continued slugging down their alcohol.

 

I guess going through the park wasn’t such a good idea late on a Friday night. I soon make it home safe opening the door to the dark stairwell, the fluorescent lights flicker on from my movement and I climb up 5 floors to get to my flat. I open the door to hear my rowdy flatmate has people round tonight. She comes in to the hallway plastered in make up with a revealing dress on and a cocktail umbrella stuck in her hair. “Wheeyheeeeyyy look who’s home!” She gives me a huge hug and leaves her lipstick stain on my cheek. She’s always so affectionate after a few drinks.

“How was work hun?” she asks while examining my chipped nail varnish on my fingernails.

“Usual” I replied.

“Come and have a drink”

“I’ve been working all day I just wanna go to bed to be honest.”

“Aw come on there’s loads of cute guys” she laughed in her usual over-the-top cackle.

 

I eventually give in to my charming housemate and go into the living room to be greeted my girls dressed up to the nines, and boys who have clearly bathed in aftershave and spent way to much time applying gel to their hair. I spend most of the evening listening to the girls discussing the boys, and who’s handsome, or has the best abs, or who’s the most gentlemanly, while the boys discuss the girls and who has the best rack. My ass gets smacked a few too many times, it’s bad enough in a club but it’s even more annoying in your own home. It’s ridiculous how many parties, clubs, pubs, and any form of social event revolves around men ‘pulling’ women. Since when were they entitled to us? It’s impossible to politely tell them we’re not interested. They see it as a challenge and keep flirting and trying to touch us. I usually give up and have to say I’m a lesbian or have a boyfriend. Saying I’m a lesbian sometimes backfires and they’re asking for threesomes or details about how lesbians have sex, and the fact that they even ask that question shows how limited their knowledge is of sex. For fucks sake they act like animals on instinct rather than rational thinking human’s. The boyfriend thing works best, they seem to respect other men far more than our lack of interest or female partner. I’m stuck asking the same question as every other straight female, where the fuck have all the good men gone? I’m sick of the men who jeer, and I dislike the way I’m treated when I show no interest in having sex with them.

 

I open another cheap warm beer and sit in the corner by myself as people either play drinking games, practically have sex with one another, or dance around “sexily”. I’m so bored and so tired and I have to get up for another day at work tomorrow and the last thing I want is to be imprisoned in my own home. A tall longhaired guy comes and sits next to me and looks at me for a while. Oh here we go another creep. “You smell like chips.”

I smile sarcastically, “Thanks”. I take a sip of my drink.

“I’m sorry that was a sucky opening.” He puts his hand out to shake mine, I know better than to shake it thinking back to the guy in the park. He pulls his hand away. “I’m sorry. Honestly I wasn’t trying to be insulting. I know you work in Chip’s Chips, don’t you recognise me?”

I observe the guys face to see if I know him, but I shake my head.

“I guess I’m just not a memorable guy eh!”

“Sorry” I take another drink.

“I get the meal deal 4 every week. I say to myself that I should try something different, I stare at the menu thinking I will but still manage to choose the same thing every time. It’s funny how we do that isn’t it?”

I say nothing.

“So were you working tonight?”

“Listen let’s just skip the small talk. I’m not going to have sex with you. I’m covered in grease, my hair is a mess, I have no make up on, I’m still in my uniform, I stink of chips, I’m wearing flat unattractive dyke shoes, I’m tired and I’m just not interested. I’ll tell you I have a boyfriend and then you’ll leave and try someone else who has there tits and ass hanging out, because apparently that’s an invite for you to fuck them since they’re “clearly asking for it”.”

The guy looks at me in disbelief.

“Yes I’m a woman with an opinion, deal with it.”

I get up and go to my room and lock the door. I’ve had enough.

 

My alarm blares at 6am. I’ve barely slept and I wake up smelling of chips and beer. Heading to the bathroom, someone is sleeping in the bathtub, the entire flat is covered in bottles, leftover takeaway food, and passed out guests. I turn the shower on which gets the guy out of the bathtub quick enough. “What the fuck are you doing!” he yells as I shut the door in his face. What a great start to the day. Breakfast isn’t any better; some hilarious individual has apparently decided to throw all the cereal across the kitchen. I make a cup of coffee only for my flatmate to take it out of my hand when she walks into the kitchen,

“oh thanks hun”.

As if I fucking made it for her.

“It was a great party eh?”

“Yeah, yeah really great.” I roll my eyes.

“Do you fancy going to spoons for a fryup?”

“I’m going to work. I’ll see you later.”

“Ah shit one hun.”

 

I arrive at work with bags under my eyes and ready to zone out and get the day over and done with. Fish supper, cheeseburger and a diet coke, meal deal 5, cheesy chip, the endless orders circle my brain. It hits 5 o’clock and a few workers from down the road enter and order their dinner.

“Meal deal 4” one of them says.

“What dip would you like with that?” I ask

“Sweet Chilli with a side of are you pretending you don’t know who I am?”

I look at the guy and realise it’s the same bloke from last night. “Sorry I didn’t notice.”

“I guess I’ll just have to be ok with you not noticing me.”

“What drink do you want with your meal?”

“You know not all guys are as bad as you think.”

“Enough of them are. Now what drink?”

“Come on you can’t just put all men in a box.”

“What drink?”

“Am I a bad guy?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know you.”

“So you know not all guys are bad then?”

“I didn’t say they were. I said enough of them are.”

“How about a drink after work?”

“I’m not interested. What drink would you like with your meal?”

“Don’t be a prude, come on give a guy a chance.”

“I’m a lesbian, I have a boyfriend, I actually have a cock sorry. Which would make you leave me alone? Now are you going to tell me what drink you want or am I going to have to ask you to leave, my boss is in the back shall I get him?”

“On what grounds do you have for throwing me out?”

 

Just then my boss comes out to see what all the commotion is.

“Are y’ alright love?”

“This man is harassing me.”

My boss looks apprehensive and eyes Mr Meal Deal 4.

“I’m hardly harassing you” defending himself, “I’m just tryna ask you out like any normal person would do.”

My boss laughs then says, “Awk love the guy’s probably just persistent stop being so uptight. Let the fella take you out on a date and give over.” He walks away leaving Mr Meal Deal 4 and me alone.

“See he agrees with me.”

“I have turned you down repeatedly, therefore you are harassing me.”

“Come on, I’ve worked hard here stop playing hard to get.”

“I have said no, now fuck off.”

“Now now that’s no way to speak to a paying customer. Give us a coke with that please love.”

He takes his meal and leaves.

 

Sunday is a better day because the chip shop is closed and thankfully the sun is out so I go to the park to sit by a tree and read my book. Another bad decision on my part because who knew that being by yourself in a park invites so much male interest. It’s impossible not to be harassed in this world.

 

Monday doesn’t improve because it’s back to work, and once it hits 5 o’clock Mr Meal Deal 4 is back.

“Hello love, meal deal 4 please and a kiss on the cheek if you don’t mind.”

I get his order ready ignoring his attempts once again.

 

I finish work and walk through the park thinking it would be safer on a Monday night. Another expert bad decision on my part. Low and behold Mr Meal Deal 4 is sat on same bench the teens had been gathered around at the weekend. He sneers at me as I try to ignore him and walk on, but he follows me and links my arm tightly. I’m unable to pull away.

“I told you I was persistent love. Now how about that drink?”

“Get off me.”

“Still playing hard to get like you’re a good girl?”

Mr Meal Deal 4 leads me underneath a large tree. It’s like a hut. A hidden area full of beer cans and cigarette stubs. He pushes me against the trunk roughly. I tell him to leave me alone and get off me. I keep saying no over and over again as he holds my waste in his large animal like hands, he licks his lips like an instinctual creature and eyeballs my body as he opens the buttons on my shirt slowly. Tears stream down my face and my voice cracks so I can’t scream anymore. He removes my shirt completely and takes his belt off and unbuttons his jeans. His warm hands feel my skin; he grabs my breasts and gropes them like a piece of meat. He undoes my bra and sucks on my nipples and my neck and kisses my lips but I refuse to kiss back, so he bites my bottom lip causing it to bleed. He turns me around abruptly pushing my head against the tree and pulls my trousers and pants down. He bends me over and inserts his manliness into me. It’s painful and I whimper as he thrusts hard in and out of me causing me to bleed. He eventually stops and finishes himself leaving his remains on my back. He turns me around and kisses me again and wipes away my tears.

“Why are you crying?”

I can barely utter a sound. “rape”

“You can’t accuse me of that. You always give me more chips than anyone else does, you were clearly interested in me come on. I ask you out and you pretend you’re not interested, but I wasn’t gonna let you friendzone me or play hard to get for too long.”

 

And that was that. The guy genuinely couldn’t believe I wasn’t interested in him, he had to prove that he was entitled to me simply because I gave him a few more chips than anyone else who works at the shop. Maybe I should learn not to walk through the park and be careful because you never know who’s going to harass or abuse or rape you. But why does it have to be about me preventing myself of being raped? Why aren’t men taught not to rape instead? It’s not fair. Mr Meal Deal 4 will go home and his Dad will say ‘good on y’ son’ and his mates will ask for all the details about the sex positions and what not, and then there’s me the slut who had sex with some bloke in a park. I’ll be a whore and a slag and he’ll be a hero and a stud. What a shit world we live in. I hope the friendzone ideology dies. I hope patriarchy dies. I hope that I die and wake up in a new world of hope and freedom away from this world full of Mr Meal Deal 4’s.

The Time-Checkers (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

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She strolled slowly along the bustling city streets without a care in the world. She stood out as if she were a tree of auburn, planted against lonely bare branched saplings. These bare saplings sped along swinging with each long stride their brief cases, coffee cups, and arms, which every now and then were held at 90-degree angles by the time-checkers. Tall grey buildings, grey skies, grey suits, grey pavements and grey faces, enveloped her. She was a multitude of colours living in a colourless world. She was a cartoon in a black and white silent film. She was a soul in a soulless universe.

Her name was Susan. She didn’t detest the time-checkers, she merely disliked that they didn’t question anything. Susan questioned everything. Why are we bound by pieces of paper with numbers on them? Why are we bound by the circular faces with digits on them? Why are we bound in a boundless world? Susan soon learnt that freedom is a concept that is widely misunderstood. People only think they want to be free, but the reality is they don’t. Freedom is fear and correspondingly fear is freedom. But Susan embraced the fear in freedom.

Standing still in the middle of the road Susan closed her eyes and let the sounds of the city fade into a dull echo. She smiled and breathed in the polluted air, ignoring the tooting horns and screams of those she was inconveniencing.

“I’m gonna be late to work now you imbecile!”

“Hurry up and move woman!”

“What are you doing you idiot! I’m trying to drive here!”

Susan mulled over what the people had yelled, considering such questions of why the world was in such a rush. Coming off the main high street she began ambling past the concrete boxes commonly considered to be households, except Susan felt unconvinced that such constructions were really homes. She turned left down a narrow alleyway, stopping at a rusted grating to lift it up before submerging underground. She placed the grating back in its rightful place with a loud clank which reiterated off the walls below. Clambering down the ladder she reached the bottom, landing in a puddle with a splash. Observing the dimly lit surroundings, Susan started to make her way through the dark, dank, long-winding tunnels silently.

Approaching a corroded metal door placed at the end of one of the tunnels, Susan pulled the handle and wrenched the hefty door open to reveal another doorway to the left and an insecure timeworn lift in front of her. She shut the door and stepped inside the lift pressing the faded LG button. The lift took her further underground, creaking the whole way to the bottom. She perceived mumbling noises, which became clearer the further down the lift went. Reaching the bottom the lift jerked a little, before the doors squeaked open revealing a fine-looking colourful pathway of curtains, blankets, mats, cardboard, old newspapers and items of clothing.

After having roamed the blackened tunnels, Susan let her eyes adjust to the brightness of the firelight posts that illuminated the secret city that lay before her. Hurrying towards Susan was a barefoot elderly man with white wispy hair, holding a tree branch as a walking stick with a few leaves sprouting out the top, and dressed in a long piece of vibrant material worn like a poncho. Greeting Susan he held her hands in his, beaming at her with his watery eyes and rosy cheeks. He spoke with genuine delight, “So lovely to see you my dear.”

The secret city was a place designated as the nonconformist headquarters. Those who didn’t want to be governed by time and money came here for freedom, but that often meant giving up luxury and ease since with freedom came sacrifice. Living by the rules of the powerful is a safe existence, and as much as Susan believed that rules were necessary in society, she was very much against the unspoken rules that existed in her world- How to dress, how to speak, how to act, how to be a woman, how to be a man, how to be successful or how to be intelligent.

What is intelligence anyway? She thought. Are those famous reality show stars intelligent? Those who are remembered as drinking a bit too much alcohol and running around unclothed swearing loudly, can they be deemed as intelligent? She pondered these questions and concluded that although these individuals were frequently idolised, most people would say that such Z list celebrities were idiots and probably couldn’t even name the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Susan had a different opinion though, for she didn’t question their intelligence based on what they knew about chemistry, history or maths. She considered intelligence to cover so much more than the subjects taught in educational institutions. Is intelligence measured by knowledge? She considered. Or is it measured by grades printed on a piece or paper? Or is it measured by memory? Or is it measured by success?

Susan assumed that if intelligence was measured by success then such celebrities were indeed intelligent, since they used their senselessness to entertain the senseless viewers sitting inside their concrete boxes staring at the transmitted images through their screens while eating out of plastic pots filled with artificial foods. These reality stars used their stupidity to gain fame, money and a career in the entertainment industry. The individuals achieved what they set out to do making them successful, and thus could be considered intelligent. Still, Susan found it quite difficult to remove the standard definition of intelligence when she remembered the reality stars she had seen on one of the screens above the ground a few weeks ago.

She couldn’t remove the constructed view of intelligence that conjured up images of a scientist in a lab or a philosopher reading books. Of course books were hard to come by nowadays since everything was digitally produced, but Susan still thought of them in her imaginings of intelligence, especially considering the world appeared to become ironically stupider with advancements in technology. She hated reading off screens anyway, it felt so unnatural, and she couldn’t help but appreciate the sound of the pages turning in a real book.

The secret city was one of the few places that placed value in printed books, whether they were pages filled with fictional stories of other planets, or academic and theoretical studies, or Bible’s. It didn’t matter, they wanted to collect as many books as possible and store them and distribute them for those who were interested amongst them. Although the city didn’t want to end up crammed with material things, books were still something to be protected and cherished.

The elderly man who had greeted Susan was the child of the secret city founders and he was referred to as chief. The secret city still held that leaders and policies were important to run a satisfactory society; indeed they knew they couldn’t build a perfect society in an imperfect world, they understood utopia was an impossibility, especially with the existing differing views of what a perfect society would look like. What they did aim to have though, was a place in which opinions could be expressed without the worry of political correctness. They wanted a place in which talents could be used to help others, everything could be shared, and reusing and recycling could be the norm. A well-known piece of writing of the secret city was recited daily to remind them of their apparent freedom:

Clocks and coins won’t control my days,

I’ll live my life in a different way,

I don’t panic when the hand strikes 9,

I’ll get things done in my own time.

Paper notes have no hold over me,

For I share what I have fairly

You see,

I refuse to reside with you greedy folk,

Those time-checkers I must revoke.

I’ll move underground if I must,

I’ll live amongst the dark and the dust,

I’ll miss the sun, the sand, the sea,

Though they’re polluted by you and by me.

We banish the structures of society.

We eliminate the norms of humanity.

Secret city we believe in liberty.

Freedom we seek,

Freedom we have,

Freedom we maintain,

Clocks and coins won’t control my days,

I’ll live my life in a different way.

Susan recognised that the secret city supposed they had obtained freedom, but she thought otherwise and she wanted to discuss her views further. The chief brought Susan to a long lopsided table made out of oak, pine, and yew. Sitting along the uneven benches were numerous people engaged in friendly conversation dressed in abnormal clothing. When they saw Susan they looked at her in wonderment, while talking excitedly amongst themselves. The chief introduced his teenage daughter Steve, who appeared to be wearing a robe made out of crisp packets, which bizarrely would have probably been viewed as fashionable in the eyes of the society above the ground. Steve had met Susan before but she was merely a child at the time, though she still had a strong memory of her.

Steve hugged Susan and asked, “What’s it like?” while pointing upwards. The chief interrupted “Oh Steve she’s only just arrived, give her a chance to settle down before you bombard her with questions.” Turning to Susan, “Now why don’t you sit down and we’ll get you a drink my dear.” He smiled as Susan sat down and brought over a hand carved wooden cup filled with murky water. Susan thanked him and turned to answer Steve’s question, “Do you know what the colour grey looks like Steve?” She nodded in response and Susan replied “Never mind 50 shades of grey, imagine thousands of different variations of the colour grey, and that’s pretty much what above the ground looks like.” Steve was astonished, but was soon distracted by visible marks on Susan’s arm.

Looking down at her arm Susan gazed at the huge scar forever engraved into her skin. She explained to Steve that above the ground individuals have metal chips placed beneath their skin when they are born. These chips require software updates every so often, and during one of the update processes Susan took a blade to her skin and dug into her wrist pulling the chip along with it’s wires out, cutting away a significant amount of skin and bone. She couldn’t go to the hospital because they would only replace the chip, so she took the risk of not going and managed to survive. Steve was in awe of Susan and how brave she was living above the ground, and wanted to know more about the grey planet and the purpose of the chip, but the chief had some things to say himself.

The chief looked concerned at Susan and spoke softly saying, “You know I worry about you my dear. Your return underground makes me think of the parable of the prodigal son.” Susan replied, “You found an English Bible?” The chief chuckled and answered, “Yes my dear, finally we found one. I can’t quite decide if it’s profound or ridiculous, but it’s an insightful read all the same. Anyhow, tell me will you be staying for good this time?” Susan mused for a moment before asking the chief to walk with her.

Strolling by the homes of mud huts, old train carriages and wooden tents, workers were out delivering produce to the occupants, some children were playing with their handmade table tennis set, while others were reading books or providing music with hand built instruments. Susan began, “Chief, when you plant a seed, you place it underground and that’s where it begins to grow. Likewise the secret city is like a seed beneath the earth, waiting to be watered so as to grow through the surface blooming into a beautiful flower of colour brightening up an otherwise dull world.” The chief contemplated what Susan was saying.

She continued, “The time-checkers would destroy the secret city if they knew about it. They want us in dreary suits, rushing along the lifeless streets, spending our days gazing at screens in an office, before hurrying home and doing the same thing there. They want us to be up at a certain time, they want us to spend money on things that should be free. They want us to buy into things we don’t need. They don’t want freedom.” The chief looked confused, “But surely everyone wants to be free my dear? It’s only natural.” Susan replied, “Do you know that some people still think that sexual relationships between the same gender is unnatural? Do you know that wearing a dress is only regarded as natural for a girl? Do you know that there are buildings dedicated to selling food containing artificial substances wrapped in manufactured packaging?” The chief appeared to be somewhat in shock at what he was hearing, but there was also something odd about his expression. Susan thought of how he hadn’t been above the ground since he was a child, he had probably long forgotten what the place was like and much of what she was saying was likely to be new to him.

Susan resumed, “The look on your face is evidence that my return underground was necessary. You talk about how unsafe and unnatural it is up there, yet you barely know anything about the place. You tell me I should stay underground and be free, but is that truly freedom? I don’t think it is chief. You see freedom is choice and independence. It is free will. It is refusing to be restricted to living in a tunnel in a fake society that is afraid of the world. You can’t hate the world above because without it you wouldn’t survive. You can’t grow food down here without sunlight, so you rely on workers who venture above, and even then they don’t go much further into the world than a few meters to grow crops or collect materials. You’re allowed to be afraid, I’m afraid. But I’m afraid and I’m living. I am part of the defiance; I live above the ground liberally knowing that at any point the time-checkers could report me and have technology implanted into my brain making me like the rest of the zombies staring at their screens, but I refuse to hide. I’ve returned underground to educate and recruit individuals into the defiance. I refuse to let the clocks and coins control me. Isn’t this what your ancestors wanted too? The secret city has remained a tree that refuses to flourish beyond the surface of the soil. The roots are there, they just need to develop and rise above and prosper.”

The chief reflected on what Susan said and responded, “You’ve given me a lot to think about Susan. I’ve lived underground longer than I ever lived above it, this life for many of us is all we know. People are inspired by the adventurous life you lead, but to them they are merely stories not an existence they could lead too. How can you expect us to live out in the open as part of the defiance? The time-checkers are notorious for brain configuration constructions on rebels like us, I know that much. Is freedom giving up our hiding place and letting it be taken away from us permanently? The world isn’t ready for true freedom Susan.” Susan asked, “So you admit that this society isn’t free?” he retorted, “My dear you and I both know the truth about that. Freedom is impossible, we will always be restricted by something.” Susan looked critically at the chief and he exclaimed, “Don’t be surprised Susan. I’m far more intelligent than you would have believed. I may be an old man stuck underground but I know that this society is mine, I own it, and they do as I say when I say it. I’m the clock of this society. The people will provide food for me and I don’t even have to pay for it. They will build me a house and I don’t need a mortgage. As long as I spout lies about how their lives aren’t controlled, they believe it. You could even say that I am the god of the underground. I’m smart my dear.”

Susan was flabbergasted by the chief’s immoral and malicious disposition realising that she was completely right in questioning the world and everything in it. Just because the majority deems something as good or as right or as normal, doesn’t mean that it is, but Susan had never felt so alone in her interpretations of society. The chief and his society were simply camouflaged time-checkers. She wanted to scream at the world telling them to take their rose-tinted glasses off, she wanted them to be cured of their blindness and see things the way she did, she wanted to open their minds and get them to think for themselves. She was frustrated at how the world was, but she alone couldn’t change it. She was overwhelmed.

The chief stopped and looked at Susan, “You belong here my dear. Don’t think I’m going to let you run around up there any longer.” Susan uttered, “I don’t belong anywhere. You can’t stop me from leaving”. The chief smirked threateningly and simply said, “I beg to differ my dear.” Just then noises of clattering resonated around the secret city. The sounds came from above the ground, which worried the residents below. Knowledge of the secret city was extremely limited to those above the ground, but no security precautions were ever taken to stop people from getting in and out. The belief was that security teams and systems would only draw more attention to the secret city and consequently make its discovery by time-checkers more likely. If the secret city was exposed it would soon be abolished. The people below would subsequently become time-checkers making them controlled citizens of the world above. The chief too wanted to avoid this because he too would become just another nobody of the world above, rather than his role as god of the underground that he relished.

Susan marched away from the chief and back to the long table that seated the majority of the underground people. They all appeared panicked believing the time-checkers were coming for them to remove their illusory freedom. Most of them had heard plenty about what the time-checkers were like, believing them to be despicable, evil, nasty villains, so naturally they were terrified of the loud noises coming from above. Steve came towards Susan and whispered, “Can you protect us?” Susan answered, “Steve I can’t even protect myself from the constraints that humanity itself has built. I had hope for the potential freedom of this society, true freedom, but your father has made it apparent that acquiring it is doubtful regardless of whether we live above or below the ground.”

Numerous people gathered around Susan with optimistic looks as if she was their knight in shining armour. Feeling pressured to make them feel safe and answer their many questions she stood on the table and addressed the crowd. “Everyone listen up, I’m not your saviour, and I don’t have the answers to everything. I’m merely a human being who probably has more questions than answers too. I’m sorry to inform you all, but each of you has been living a lie. Some of you were born down here, some of you, like me, came from above in search of an alternative life, and many of you had parents who were founders of the secret city. The secret city intended to be a society of people who cared about one another and the environment. It was supposed to be about equality. It was supposed to be a place where we didn’t have to be time-checkers worrying about finances. It was about forgetting the alarm clocks, the bills and the paychecks. It was about freedom. Do you really believe you are free? Have you ever questioned your leader? The Chief is not the man you think he is. He is a fraud, and if you want to be free from his fakery and the world itself then you have the daunting task of thinking for yourself.”

The crowd murmured as Susan spoke, stunned at the confrontations that had been expressed. Emotions were high and the crowd of people had mixed feelings. Susan was a sort of celebrity to them, who only came by every few years telling stories of the world above, which fascinated the simple folk of the underground. Susan was a thoughtful character who contemplated many things about life, and now was the time for her to articulate her judgements to the underground society who she cared for deeply.

Steve was in awe of Susan and very much looked up to her, even when she was condemning her father. As she got older Steve had become increasingly questioning of the life she led, and seemed to think similarly to the way Susan did. She had never been above the ground, but dreamed of it frequently regardless of the horror stories she had been told about the world of grey. Her suspicions of her father grew when a few years ago after having spoke with Susan she decided to pay more attention to the rhyme the secret city recited each day. She deliberated the meaning of the clocks and coins rhyme and attempted to instil meaning in it again. It’s so easy to repeat things over and over and for them to lose their connotations and significance, and so Steve wanted to be sure that the poem written by the founders of the secret city would remain meaningful all through time.

The reverberating clatters became progressively louder adding to the panic of the people. Now was the time the society below wished they had put in place security precautions, for there was only one way in and one way out of the underground, making them trapped in their own prison. At that moment a gushing noise was heard. Susan paused and listened before following the noise towards the entrance of the secret city. Steve followed her asking “Don’t you have some form of technology built in to you that could help?” Susan shook her head, “I removed everything. I’m not a robot. I never wanted a credit card on my fingertips, or a map on my palm. I didn’t want to be tracked, timed and watched constantly. I went to a conference once and they spoke so enthusiastically of the chip updates and how they could drastically improve our lives, it was hard not to fall for the eloquent speech.” Approaching the lift Susan pressed the button to summon it and tried to pry the doors open with no luck. She placed her ear against the door and could hear mutters echoing through the lift shaft as well as rattling and spurting sounds. Susan couldn’t work out what she was hearing. Steve asked her, “So you’re anti-technology?” While Susan continued to try to work out what was going on she responded, “Not necessarily, I think it has its place.”

Suddenly a loud jangling noise was coming towards them from inside the lift shaft. Susan stepped back worried just before a loud bang shook the city. The lift had landed. Staring at the doors waiting to see what would be behind them Susan and Steve were both feeling anxious. The banging continued echoing throughout the secret city, ending with a deafening silence of anticipation from the people. The seconds felt like hours to Susan, and evidently Steve couldn’t really put a time limit of how long the wait felt, for such definitions were non-existent underground. At that moment a grey substance began to seep through the cracks in the lift doors. Steve shrieked, “They’ve brought the grey to us!” Susan told Steve not to worry and grabbed a branch lying in a pile of wood beside them. She attempted to open the lift doors with it, groaning using all her strength to force them open. Eventually after some time the doors loosened to reveal what was inside which caused a serious look of alarm on Susan’s face.

The chief had made his way in the direction of Susan and Steve, cheerful and amused at the events. The lift doors had opened to reveal cement that had purposefully been poured into it, with the intention of preventing anyone from leaving the secret city. The chief had used his power to do exactly what the secret city didn’t want- to remove free will and choice. As soon as the cement hardened, it would block off Susan’s only way to freedom, and she more than anyone didn’t want to be held captive underground in yet another corrupt society.

Why is it always about power and glory? Susan thought. Why do we let ourselves fall for the evocative words of crooks in suits? This world is no place for me, I wish for nothing more than trees and fields of green. She was saddened by humanity rather than angry, and she looked at the chief tearfully. Steve on the other hand couldn’t quite understand what the grey paste was, she wondered had the grey world above simply melted. As soon as Susan explained what cement was Steve was full of rage and stormed towards her father, shouting at him while punching her fists into his chest. “Why would you do this? You’re taking away our freedom of choice! You’re killing us!” she yelled. The chief remained uncommunicative until his daughter had calmed down. “I do everything in the interests of us. Do you really think we would survive up there? We would be living off minimal money from my pension, barely surviving and constantly having to rush to and fro. That’s no life for an old man. This is the easy way.” Steve sobbed, “You’re a coward.”

Susan had frantically begun to shovel out the cement with her hands to stop it from becoming a solid block of concrete inside the lift, but the chief informed her that it was no use, “I have men above who will be filling the whole shaft with cement my dear, I’m not stupid. The lift was just an initial illustration of my plans.” Covered in grey Susan began to give up hope wondering how she would ever escape from the secret city.

Calling a meeting the chief gathered his society around him waiting for everyone to hush before he spoke. After a moments silence, “My parents brought me to this city when I was just a boy. I’ve spent most of my years here as your leader. A while ago I made my way above the ground to see a doctor, I didn’t want to use any medical staff of the secret city because I believed that I was seriously ill. My doctor did in fact inform me that this was true. I have a terminal disease and was given a certain amount of time to live. I wanted this city to have more homes, more produce and more workers, so I’ve allowed our society to become ruled by time. I’ve been consulting with people above the ground. You may not know such meanings of ‘tomorrow’ or ‘In 2 hours’, but you have been completely oblivious that I’ve managed to get you to do things to a time limit. When I was diagnosed with this terminal illness I realised that time did matter. Why do we waste time sitting around when we could be building a bigger and better city and manufacturing new materials and products? Our ancestors may have wanted a society that wasn’t restricted by time, but didn’t they realise that life is short?”

Susan enquired, “If you realised the importance of time, then why didn’t you become a time-checker amongst other time-checkers?” The chief responded explaining the underground society was his home and he sincerely loved the people. “Why would I want to leave? This is all I know.” He revealed. Susan asked a further question, “How do you intend to build a bigger and better city without the help of the world above?” the chief appearing confused said, “What do you mean?” Susan was astonished by the chiefs stupidity, “Surely with the emphasis you place on the importance of education, you have an understanding of why you need sunlight, why you need plants, why you need people? Without the world above you won’t survive. If you’ve blocked the only entrance then I ask you again, how do you intend on building a bigger and better city?” The chief replied, “Once again Susan you’re trying to insult my intelligence. I can prove to you that my plan has been successful for I have built a secret way in and out of the city. Don’t bother trying to find it because you won’t. Do you really think I would be stupid enough to block the only route?” This final point quietened Susan for she had underestimated the chief’s intelligence on many occasions already.

Unexpectedly a man and woman appeared in the secret city striding towards the crowd of people. These people weren’t natives and Susan recognised the individuals in suits as time-checkers. The most dedicated time-checkers are involved in capturing those who defy the rules. They ensure that such delinquent’s soon become fanatical when it comes to the numbers on clocks and the numbers in bank accounts. The chief was perplexed by the commotion of the crowd but once he turned around to see the time-checkers he was soon enlightened. He looked horrified when they took him by the arm saying, “Mr George Phillips, we are apprehending you for the crimes against clocks and coins under number 56 of the time-checker’s act. You have lived in open defiance of the law and you and your people will be reprimanded for misconduct.” He argued, “I trusted you! You promised me! You promised me!”

In that instant Susan noticed the dry cement on the time-checker’s shoes. The chief had clearly hired them to do his dirty work without questioning their trustworthiness. Susan thought that surely the chief should have known that extreme time-checkers were highly disloyal individuals, very skilled in persuasive language. How could he let himself be tricked so easily? Maybe his greed for power and desire for bigger and better things had blinded him from such questions of who to trust. The chief’s stupidity had shone through after all. His plan was unsuccessful.

That day the time-checkers managed to take away the secret city and all the individuals in it, bar two people. While the crowd had been in a fright over the arrival of the time-checkers Steve had sneakily taken Susan away from everyone. Susan didn’t know where she was being brought to, but she questioned Steve the whole journey. Eventually arriving at a hut with a train carriage door as an entrance, wooden body and numerous materials, Steve ushered Susan inside. There was a small bed, table and a stool made out of different tree woods. Charcoal drawings hung on the walls and piles of used sweet wrappers and packaging were placed in the corner. This was Steve’s hut. Steve lifted her bed aside to uncover a trap door beneath it. Opening it Susan looked down at what appeared to be nothing more than a black hole. Steve stepped outside taking two pieces of wood that lay at the doorway and rubbed them together speedily to produce fire, and taking a long branch she lit the end of it to use it as a torch. Going back inside she illuminated the black hole to reveal a wooden stepladder leading to a tunnel even further underground. Beginning to climb the ladder she gestured to Susan to follow her. “The ladder isn’t quite secure, some of the wood is rotted so be careful.” Steve warned.

Steve and Susan made their way down the ladder successfully and began crawling through the tight tunnel that smelt strongly of earth. Steve explained, “I began constructing this tunnel after you left the last time you visited. I’ve put planks of wood along the walls to make it secure. I mistrusted my father so thought it would be a good idea to have another way in and out of the city, but little did I know my father had built his own secret passageway too.” Steve led Susan through the tunnel, which was a long straight journey in one direction. They travelled through the tunnel for hours, before they reached the far end of the secret city. At this point the passageway turned back on itself and began to move steeply upwards leading eventually to the top of the lift shaft.

While they were climbing upwards their surroundings began to shake, the time-checkers were filling the secret city in blocking it off forever. Little bits of earth fell with each rumble making Susan and Steve travel faster. If they didn’t make it to the top they would be buried alive. Just then a colossal shudder brought down part of the tunnel behind Susan and Steve causing them to cough on the dust from the earth that had fallen in. The visibility was extremely poor and both tasted the soil on their tongues making them wretch, but they couldn’t stop now, and had to resume climbing whilst the tunnel continued to collapse behind them.

Soil was stuck to their sweaty skin but they had almost made it to the top. Steve pulled away the pile of wood that obstructed the metal door, opened it stepping inside to where the lift and door to the subway was located. Suddenly another immense roar shook the tunnel almost burying Susan. Steve frantically tried to grab her hand which peeped up from under the earth, pulling her to the surface and through the door. Both sat on the concrete floor out of breath covered in dirt, perspiration and freedom.

Voicing how she felt Steve said, “I’m afraid Susan. Life was easy underground; we did what we were supposed to do and just got on with it. I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a member of the defiance.” Susan replied, “You can’t have freedom without fear, but life without fear would be boring. I live my life in the way that I want, no matter how challenging and frustrating it may be. It’s risky and it’s difficult to maintain, but I refuse to be condemned by the time-checkers, I know how to survive without being just another numbered individual counting minutes and currency. I can teach you how to survive as part of the defiance and learn to just be. They’re afraid of people like me, of people who aren’t constrained them.”

After their terrific getaway Susan and Steve spent their days living in fear, but they too were living as free individuals who had broken the chains that society tried to tie them down with. Susan often thought of the chief and how he had been corrupted by his desire for power, but she also understood his views of death and illness in relation to time. He didn’t want to waste time so he became a time-checker. Susan vowed to be a sort of semi-time-checker who made the most of the time she had, but she still ensured to do her best to avoid the rush of life that had become the norm. Susan thought of time and money as precious, but warned against such things becoming gods of the people. She simply wanted everyone to forget the numbers and learn to live just by being, even if it was just for a moment.

On one sunny day Susan and Steve were watching the world go by, and Susan gave Steve a gift. Opening the gift Steve found an expensive vintage watch inside. She looked at Susan confused, but Susan explained, “in the words of William Faulkner-I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.”

Graveyard Shift (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

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Hi. I’m Shauna, and I am dead. You know that saying about counting sheep before you sleep? Well that’s kind of my existence. I count numbers to pass the time. 1 coffin, 2 coffins, 3 coffins …15 coffins …250 coffins …1500 coffins …670,999 coffins. Death isn’t quite as peaceful as people think it is; there are no bright lights, fluffy clouds, or angels in white robes. I guess it’s peaceful in that I don’t actually feel anything, so there’s no physical pain anymore. You could dig me up, set me on fire and I wouldn’t feel a thing. Strangely though, I kind of miss the pain. It made me feel, real. But I guess there’s no point in feeling ‘real’ considering I’m just a slab of rotting flesh in a coffin. All that is left of me is a lifeless body with a mind full of rattling thoughts. The brain is a remarkable part of the body, the things we humans think about is extraordinary. Imagine what it would be like to be inside the brain of a murderer, or a rapist, or a genius, or of someone who is in a coma. I bet you have had thoughts that you would never tell anyone. I bet you have even worried yourself over the things that run through your head. We’re all a little bit messed up I think.

I have eternity to think, which is quite horrifying really. It’s like being held captive by my own mind. I mostly think of love, which is quite typical for most girls of my age. I’m 17. Well I was 17 when I died; today is my death-day so I guess it’s my first birthday as a corpse. Happy death-day to me!

It’s hard to define what true love is. We grow up watching rom-coms, listening to love songs and reading sonnets, and we use such fabricated nonsense to construct our expectations and opinions of love. Relationships end, engagements are cancelled and marriages turn to divorce. Sometimes though, true love prevails and a couple can stay together for a lifetime and their love is beautiful. I had a boyfriend when I died. I wouldn’t say that our love was beautiful though. His coffin is next to mine.

I glamorized him so much that the blades he dug into my body looked like cupids arrows, but now I can see the sharp, silver edge as clear as ever. I hate him because I loved him. I hate myself because I loved him. But I no longer do love him, so there’s nothing protecting him from me removing those very blades and pressing them into his outer shell and watching him suffer like I did. Here we both lie with our scars and empty hearts and crowded minds. Heaven and Hell may not be physical places, but I am sure we are both in Hell in our heads. I hope, like me, that he spends eternity thinking of when our loved one’s stumbled upon our limp bodies. I hope, like me, that he realises that the numbness and mental pain will never leave. I hope, like me, that he is screaming inside his head trying to escape but going insane over the impossibility. I hope, like me, that he counts up to numbers that he never even knew existed. Counting and counting and counting, forevermore.

I think of my existence as like an eternal graveyard shift. It’s quiet, it’s dark and there’s rarely anyone around. Sometimes someone might visit, but the earth above me is like a barrier making his or her words nothing more than a murmur. My mind is dark and foggy. It’s like night-time without the moon and the stars. It’s like an omnipresent ocean without the shore. It’s like a never-ending nightmare that I can’t evade.

My name is Shauna and when I was 17 my boyfriend murdered me and then killed himself. I relive it in my head daily. Forget the tragic love stories that romanticise such things, for there is nothing glamorous or beautiful about our love story. He believed release from anguish was in death, and my own messed up mind fell for that too. Now we are merely corpses in the ground, but we were dead long before we were buried. The ache we both felt inside led us not only to destroy ourselves, but each other. We were empty before death and remain empty now after death. Beneath the soil we are void. 1 coffin, 2 coffins, 3 coffins, 4 coffins, 5 coffins, 6 coffins, 7 coffins, 8 coffins, 9 coffins, 10 coffins, 11 coffins, 12 coffins, 13 coffins, 14 coffins, 15 coffins, 16 coffins, 17 coffins, 18 coffins, 19 coffins, 20 coffins…