At the moment, I’m working on some not-particularly-short short stories. Beginnings of upcoming stuff:
I guess things really went to shit when I got the powers. I mean, my life wasn’t brilliant or anything, but it was… you know, normal. Get up, brush your teeth, get some water on and scrub stuff, go and work in Burger Buddy and get yelled at, pretend you’re not sleepwalking. So on. I’d stand at the counter and think, huh, maybe there are better things I could be doing with my Physics A level, but it wasn’t fair to take that out on the customers, so I’d paste on a smile and ask if they wanted fries with that. Or gherkins. One time a bloke asked for asparagus on his cheeseburger. I told him that sadly, we didn’t have any handy, but it goes to show that you never can tell with people.
So anyway, it was a velocity kind of day. Wait – I guess that needs explaining. Some days things are slow and I get bored, so I start trying to work out the velocity and force of a flipped burger. I try to do it subtly, though – Stacey’s usually on the grill and she’d think it was a bit creepy if I was staring vacantly at her and not-quite-muttering.
So, it was a velocity kind of day. And I’m wondering if the added mass of a cheese slice would make a burger go faster, or whether it would make it less aerodynamic. While I’m struggling to answer that profound question, something comes up on the news. Something about a leak of some chemical that may or may not be a mutagen. Generally I like to keep half an eye on the science and technology stuff, but I’d gotten absentminded and managed to nearly lean on the grill. I was wondering what that smell was and hoping it wasn’t my frying palm, while Stacey grunted something about plasters and elbowed me out of the way to go through the tool draws. I stared at the neat red lines on my hand and thought that this was probably against some kind of health and safety law.
Looking back on it, I really, really should’ve paid attention to the news.
I saw it and then I dismissed it, just let it float out of my head. I think people do most of the time. There were days I used to watch the news and my hands would be white-knuckled on my knees because there had to be something I could do, but there never was. Least, it seemed that way.
You’ve got to let it go or you just get weighed down by how crap the world can be, you know? Anyhow, I was a little busy nursing my stinging palm and thanking all that was holy I was left-handed. The rest of my shift went by pretty quickly, so I said bye to Stacey and headed out. It was a miserable night, with that kind of wet, cold rain that rattles your teeth and always seems to get down your shirt, no matter how many layers you’re wearing. I thought maybe it’d help cool the burn, but it didn’t, so I shoved my hands in my pockets and started to shuffle home.
And then I heard the squeal of tyres.
I looked up and saw headlights. Rapidly approaching ones, seeming to grow brighter as they sped towards me. And I had two thoughts: Mum and oh, fuck.
Didn’t think much after that. The world went black, then the world was gone.
when the fog rolls in
It’s when the fog rolls in, they’d told Jas. That’s when things get dangerous.
She’d figured they were exaggerating; it was only a nice little place with a few hills, maybe a bit of rain, right? She should’ve remembered that Northerners were more prone to understatement than hyperbole – she was from Wigan, after all.
And then the fog rolled in, and she thought, Oh. Oh, no.
It was fast. There was a little bit of mist maybe over the hill, and then within half an hour, everything was a sea of white. It crawled up slowly – starting in the fields beside her, then behind her, and then she could barely see a thing. She’d got visibility of maybe three feet in front of her, but the rest… well. She couldn’t see tree roots, so trees hung, skeletal in the white. She’d think she saw shadows of hills, but then she’d realise her mind was tricking her and they were just little rises in the land, dips and bumps.
To make things even better, she was now lost. Completely lost. As in, she looked around her and thought, I’m almost certain this is the fifth time I’ve circled round that rock. Tension started to crawl up her spine, making a home somewhere around the back of her neck, and she shivered. The cold was setting in, too, and a dampness seemed to worm its way under her waterproofs and stay there. She rubbed her arms and kept walking, even though the cold felt like it was stiffening her knees. She wondered how long she could keep going before that got really uncomfortable, and the thought bothered her. There were places she could get help, a bus… They might have only been a few yards away, but God, she wouldn’t be able to see it. She needed to map out the land, or… or try and get above the fog.
That was it. She needed a vantage point.
He tried not to sigh, stopping the motion of his mop and turning to look at the person who’d called him. It was Cynthia, his… well. He refused to call her his stepmother. She wasn’t, really: she was just some woman that Dad had married. That didn’t make her his anything, no matter what she thought. He supposed he should be grateful; she’d lifted them out of poverty, given them a fair share of her business. It didn’t make the sting of her presence any better, though – not when she’d done her best to eliminate every trace of the woman that came before her. Just seeing her started off a hollow ache in his chest. It wasn’t quite as bad as the one left by Mum’s death, but it came close.
“Cynthia?” he said. He felt his shoulders tensing, felt the way he curled up and tried to make himself seem small. He didn’t know why, but something about her made him need to.
She didn’t like it. She’d been trying to get him to call her Mum since he was seven. Ten years later, and he’d never done it once. It just didn’t feel right, somehow. That name was for Emily and Caitlin – it wasn’t one he had a right to, and it wasn’t one he ever wanted to use. His mum was six feet under.
Cynthia was a formidable woman, tall and sharp-chinned with a face covered in precision-applied makeup. She had eyes like a hawk’s: distinctive if you liked them, scary if you didn’t. Those eyes were shrewd, calculating as they took in first him leaning on his mop, then the squeaky-clean floors. With a short nod of approval at his work, she looked back to him. “I suppose you’ve heard about the do at your school?”
He wanted to say yes. He wanted to be honest, to say that he wished he had someone to take, but being honest was dangerous around Cynthia. If she saw a weakness she wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
He shrugged. “I guess so?”
Another short nod. Her eyes flittered round the room again before she said to him, “I suppose you’re not going?”
He’d been considering it, but he felt a heavy stone drop into his chest at her words. If Cynthia said something like that, he could be certain he wasn’t going. “I, er, I wasn’t planning on it.” A lie, but that tended to be the safer option, much as he wished things were different.
A smile sneaked onto her face. “Good. I needed someone to look after the cafe while Emily and Caitlin are at this…” She sighed. “…dance. God, you’re not American, I don’t know why the school are embarrassing themselves with this kind of thing. Look, your father and I needed some time to ourselves, so we’ll be heading out on the night. I trust you’ll be fine on your own?”
He nodded, feeling a little like someone had just put a foot on his chest and pushed. He was tempted to ask whether he’d get paid, but he already knew the answer. Cynthia always said “it’s not work if it’s family,” and no work meant no wages, either.
He nodded, wishing he could do something different. Wishing he could just make himself say something, stand up instead of just taking it.
She ruffled his hair, said, “Such a good boy,” and then she was gone, leaving him leaning heavily on his mop and wishing he were anyone, anyone else.