Assassin’s Wheels: Another Short Story.

Agent 48 was accustomed to dealing with nervous clients who glanced over their shoulder at the door behind them every few seconds, but the woman sat opposite him now was perfectly calm and hadn’t once looked over her shoulder. She sat up straight with her hands clasped in front of her on the table, her matching skirt and jacket as smooth and faultless as the dark hair wrapped into a neat bun above her neck. Her make-up was minimal and her jewellery plain; she could have passed for a generic business woman from the financial district were it not for the thin, white scar that twisted her mouth into a permanently sarcastic smile.

“My name is Dinah,” she introduced herself in a clipped English accent, “and your impressive work for Lady Mansfield-Hope has been brought to my attention.”

“How do you know-?” Agent 48 interrupted.

“The details are not important,” Dinah raised her hand to silence Agent 48, “but I can tell you that I am the head of a secret organisation that coordinates elitists in your line of work across the globe. Clients come to us and we pass the contract to a suitable agent, keeping you and your clients anonymous to prevent the leakage of information. We take a cut of the money and the rest is given to you when the contract has been fulfilled. Our only restriction is that you do not take on private cases.”

There was a pause as Agent 48 digested this.

“I, we, would like to offer you a position as one of our agents. You can even keep the name; it suits us perfectly,” Dinah waited for a response.

“You’re not bothered about this?” Agent 48 asked incredulously, pointing downwards at his wheelchair.

“Not at all. My understanding is that you can use it to your advantage,” Dinah replied.

“Then it sounds like a good opportunity.”

“Good,” Dinah reached into the smart handbag resting at her feet, and pulled out a small folder which she slid across the desk towards the agent, “This is your first job.”

With this Dinah rose and picked up her bag, turned on her heels, and walked across the office.

“One more thing,” Dinah said suddenly, turning round.

“Yes?” Agent 48 looked up from the folder, still closed, on his desk.

“Your doorman will have to find another job,” she turned to the doorman, “I am sorry, sir.”

“Not a problem,” he replied, “work as a bouncer is easy enough to come by these days.”

Agent 48 nodded, and with that they both left the room, leaving him alone to examine the file. He opened it. His next target was to be the CEO of a large corporation based in central London, and he mused that this was probably at the request of another board member now lined up perfectly to take on the role should some terrible accident befall the current CEO. It was a case he had seen a thousand times before, but Agent 48 was pleased to find that the file was full of useful information that private clients rarely provided him with, such as medical issues, the layout of the building, and what security measures were in place. As he read the information a plan began to form in his head.

***

Agent 48 manoeuvred down the narrow ramp from the train onto the platform, which was easier said than done as the other passengers hurried by the ramp not looking where they were going, with his luggage slumped on his lap. He thanked the porter for bringing the ramp, given that on more than one occasion he had been left stranded on trains, and then set off along the platform. A few passengers were dragging suitcases along behind them, seemingly unaware that they now had a larger turning circle, making the train station something of an obstacle course. Agent 48 was simply glad that he knew Kings Cross so well, given that in the midst of the throng of people moving to and fro he couldn’t see the signs.

He joined the back of the queue for tube tickets in the adjoining St Pancras station, struggling with the narrow, weaving path laid out by the barriers that left little room for error. Despite getting stuck a few times he was grateful to find that the people behind him in the queue were patient with his struggle.

At last he reached the ticket machines and was disappointed to find that the only one lowered for wheelchair users was out of order. He moved to one of the normal machines and was barely able to see what was on the screen, let alone press the buttons. He managed to attract the attention of a nearby staff member, who apologised profusely for the inconvenience and helped him purchase a day ticket.

Ticket tucked into the top pocket of his bag, he set off for the gates allowing access to the tube. Only one was wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, and rather annoyingly it was being blocked while someone with an excessively large suitcase argued with a member of staff over some minor irritation. Agent 48 had to ask several times before he was heard, only to receive a hideous glare from the owner of the suitcase for daring to interrupt. The member of staff looked as if he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.

The next challenge was the lift down to the tube which was crammed full of people with enormous bags, and a few who simply found an escalator too tiresome. On the third attempt Agent 48 managed to snare a space in the lift, which stopped on every single level before he finally reached the line he wanted to take. He moved along the platform through the crowd of waiting people, searching for the raised section of platform that gave him level access to the tube. Seconds after finding it a rush of air blew through the tunnel, followed by the train screeching to a halt. The doors hissed open and Agent 48 waited patiently for people to get off before attempting to enter the carriage. However, a throng of passengers were entering the carriage via the disabled door, despite others being available, and before Agent 48 could board it the doors had closed.

Agent 48 cursed and waited for the next train, fortunately only a couple of minutes away, and managed to snag a place on the carriage. The wheelchair space was occupied by someone’s shopping bags and the owner didn’t appear to be interested in moving them, so Agent 48 simply put on his brakes in the centre of the carriage and clung to the pole. With each start and stop of the tube his wheelchair moved back and forth, even with the brakes firmly in place.

Next came the debacle of changing lines, which required fighting through the crowd to get off one train, into the lift, and then onto the raised platform for the next tube. The inch-wide gap between the platform and the carriage was disconcerting but do-able with a little extra effort. When the robotic voice announced that the next stop would be Canary Wharfe, Agent 48 was quite relieved.

The fresh air was a welcome relief to Agent 48 after the stale, warm atmosphere of the tube. He had no time to enjoy this though, as he needed to make his way to the right office block in time for the board meeting.

***

Getting into the building was easy enough with the flow of personnel through the main doors, but getting up to the board room would prove much more difficult. If he was to pass security safely he would need a disguise.

He glided across the smooth, open floor to the reception desk, which he could just see over to talk to the receptionist.

“Good morning, sir, how can I help you?” she chirped in a falsely cheerful voice.

“Good morning. Could I please speak to the janitor? There is an issue concerning disabled facilities that I wish to discuss with them,” Agent 48 said.

“Of course, sir, I’m sorry for any inconveniences you may have faced. His office is at the end of the left-hand corridor,” the receptionist looked genuinely concerned, which made quite the impact compared to the usual indifferent responses he heard.

“Thank you,” Agent 48 smiled and turned left. The corridor was spotlessly clean, so much so that Agent 48 felt a little guilty at the trails left by his wheels on the floor. When he finally reached the end of the corridor his wheels squeaked as he came to a halt, and then he tapped lightly on the door.

“Come in,” said a gruff, Northern voice.

Agent 48 pushed with all his might against the heavy door, which clearly had not been designed with wheelchair users in mind given the height of the handle. He managed to heave open the door about a foot before the janitor turned round from his desk, and seeing that his visitor was a wheelchair user, pulled the door open for him. Once Agent 48 was in the room, he let the door swing shut behind him.

“So, ‘ow can I ‘elp you?” the janitor asked.

In response, Agent 48 pulled a baseball bat from his bag.

***

Agent 48 opened the door a crack and looked around, but could see no one in the corridor. He pulled on the janitors’ polo shirt and took his keys and I.D card, leaving the unconscious janitor seated with his back to the door. Duct tape covered his mouth, and his shoe laces were tied to the chair legs. His hands were tightly entwined in the straps of Agent 48’s luggage, which was on his knee. Agent 48 scrawled “Do Not Disturb” on one piece of paper and grabbed a mop and bucket from the corner before exiting the room. He pinned the sign on the door, which he also locked behind him, and picked up mop and bucket.

He made his way from the janitors’ office through the main reception area and towards the lift. Two security guards were stationed by the lifts but once Agent 48 showed them the I.D. card, explaining that he had lost weight since the photo was taken, they allowed him to enter the lift. He went all the way to the top floor and set to work mopping the already sparkling floor.

image6

“Alright Bob?” a voice called out as Agent 48 worked. He ignored it.

“Hey, Bob, you deaf or sommat?” Agent 48 realised that he was being spoken to and looked up to see someone in the same polo shirt approaching him.

“Aye, I’m good, you?” Agent 48 did an impeccable Yorkshire accent, developed as a party trick to amuse the middle-classes.

“Aye, not so bad, I s’pose. Me ‘emorrhoids are still giving me trouble though. Hurt like ‘ell when the doctor shoved-“

“Well, I’m sure the doctor knows what they’re doing,” Agent 48 felt queasy.

“Ah well, must be off. The Mrs’ reckons she’s most fertile tonight, so I gotta do my duty and get ‘er pregnant again,” the man walked off, whistling, and Agent 48 went back to mopping. Suddenly the man stopped.

“Bob, there’s sommat different ‘bout you today. Can’t put me finger on it. You done sommat with your hair?”

“Oh, er, yeah, changed conditioner,” Agent 48 looked up.

“Ah, the Mrs managed to get you onto that eco stuff then?”

“Er, yeah, yeah, she did.”

“Nice. Well, I’ll be off,” and with that the man walked away.

It wasn’t long before someone else came along wanting to speak to Bob, this time wondering whether he’d lost weight and on another occasion complimenting his new shoes. Agent 48 began to wonder just how popular Bob really was.

Eventually the board room emptied as all the businessmen headed out to lunch, the CEO included, almost all of them greeting Bob as they left. Only one seemed to notice that Agent 48 was not Bob but he said nothing about it. Agent 48 reckoned that must be the one set to benefit from the assassination.

Agent 48 entered the board room where two women were cleaning the floor.

“It’s alright ladies, I’m doing this today,” Agent 48 said.

“Ooh, how kind of you Bob,” the two women barely glanced in his direction as they left.

Agent 48 slipped on a pair of latex gloves and went to the CEO’s chair, slowly unscrewing the back of it with a screw-driver in his pocket. Then he carefully put three narrow hypodermic needles into the cushioned back, ensuring that the needles were exposed on the other side by a few millimetres, and screwed the back of the chair on again. Each syringe was filled wasp venom, which the CEO just so happened to be allergic too. Agent 48 then removed the adrenalin shots the CEO had tucked under his end of the desk and replaced them with replicas containing even more wasp venom.

Agent 48 then left the room and stayed outside, mopping the sparkling floor, waiting for the businessmen to return. The CEO was one of the last to return, and as he passed by Agent 48 deftly took the adrenalin shot from his blazer pocket, switching it with a wasp venom shot. Much as he would have enjoyed staying to watch the show, Agent 48 took the opportunity to leave before chaos broke out. The CEO would only feel a small scratch as he sat down, but within minutes he would be dead.

Agent 48 made his way down in the lift and back towards the janitors’ office just in time to see a swarm of security officers charging towards the stairwell, presumably to aid the CEO. Agent 48 did not have much time.

Quickly he unlocked the janitors’ office, returned the keys, I.D card, polo shirt, and cleaning equipment, and wiped the screwdriver he had used clean.  He pressed the screwdriver into the slowly awakening janitors hand and untied him, grabbed his own bag, and left the office with the sign still on the door.

The receptionist looked far more stressed than she had earlier, but still tried to remain cheerful sounding even as ambulances screeched to a halt outside the building.

“Did you manage to get the problem sorted, sir?” she asked.

“Yes, I did, thank you very much. I had to wait a while to see the janitor, he said he was doing something for the board meeting, but I was in no rush,” Agent 48 replied.

The receptionist went pale.

“Bob. In the board room?” she murmured, “That’s the third person who has told me that Bob was up there a bit ago. My God.”

“Are you alright?” Agent 48 asked incredulously.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. There’s been an incident, a police matter. Don’t worry, it won’t concern you. Have a safe trip,” she said.

Agent 48 thanked her once again and left the building, heading immediately for the tube station, glad that this time he wouldn’t need to queue up for a ticket.

***

Dinah was waiting for Agent 48 in his office when he arrived.

“How did you get in?” he asked, surprised.

“Your doorman gave me his key when he left,” she said levelly.

“Oh,” Agent 48 replied, “Well, what can I help you with?”

“Here’s your wage,“ she pushed a full envelope across the table alongside another file, “and there’s your next job.”

As prim and proper as before she left again, closing the door behind her.

School, Sickness, and Stupidity: Part 2.

Outside of school I had progressed to using a manual wheelchair, and I requested permission to use my wheelchair in school. After three months of arguing that they couldn’t accommodate another wheelchair on top of the few wheelchair users already at the school they relented; I could use my wheelchair on the school premises but was refused assistance to push the wheelchair, and access to the disabled toilets. They claimed this was because the paperwork that would allow them to assign me a care assistant wasn’t in place, despite having initially claimed that this paperwork was not essential to receive support. I had to rely on my peers to push me around school and I became a job that needed doing, losing friends.

As my final GCSE exams approached I requested special conditions to accommodate my illness, such as a scribe and extra time to compensate for the pain I endured when writing quickly. The first set of exams had been and gone before the school even dealt with the paperwork and eventually it was decided that I could have extra time, but not a scribe. I was also refused a room apart from all the other students and this meant that I had to sit in the main hall while the others exams were collected, being called names and having things thrown at me because of my “special treatment”. The incessant chatter of all the students who had finished their exam was so loud I couldn’t concentrate, rendering the extra time almost entirely pointless. By the time I had completed my exams I couldn’t get out of the school fast enough.

It was during that summer break that I attempted suicide.

I relinquished all responsibility for my education, leaving my mum to pick up the pieces. She searched for other schools or colleges where I could sit my A-levels but either their courses were already full, or they weren’t accessible. Left with no choice but to return to the same school mum decided to speak to the head of the post-GCSE team.

How mum managed it I don’t know, but when I returned in September I had a carer to push me around school, access to disabled toilets, and was permitted the use of a separate, quiet room for exams. What I do know is that mum had to attend many meetings and sit through many heated discussions. She presented medical evidence from the doctor and the physiotherapist, she showed them how it was physically impossible for me to push myself in the wheelchair, and she spoke with the most senior members of staff at the school to force their hand. I was denied access to hydrotherapy, one of the only medical techniques that genuinely helped me, which was offered to every other disabled student at the school. I was still denied a scribe for exams, but I was too relieved that I wouldn’t have to sit my future exams in a room full of hatred to complain.

We were denied access to transport to get to and from school and since dad was working and mum was sick, we had to rely on local friends to push the wheelchair. I was told that no one at the school was insured to push a wheelchair off the premises and they refused to help us, while still demanding my attendance. One of the teaching assistants noticed my plight and told the administration team not to be so stupid; eventually she took to pushing my wheelchair off the premises, insured or otherwise.

Inside the school some of the carers were excellent. Some were not. I was regularly late for class because carers failed to turn up on time, if at all. Approximately once a week I would be left in the disabled toilet while my carer wandered off to have a break, and I had to sit there until someone noticed me waiting. When I spoke to the head of the care team about this, I was reminded that there was no official paperwork saying I needed support, and therefore all support could be withdrawn quite easily. My silence on the matter henceforth was for fear of what support might be relinquished otherwise.

Since I was studying the sciences, practical work and experiments were inevitable. The school argued that they were not insured to provide support in these cases, and that meant that I was expected to walk around a laboratory doing my own experiments. Fortunately these were not a frequent enough occurrence to cause me major issues, and soon enough my teachers began to provide what support they could while simultaneously keeping an eye on the class.

It was also expected that students stay behind out of school hours for extra study, and those who didn’t were penalised. However care support did not exist outside of official school hours, meaning I was expected to attend extra-curricular activities alone, including on one occasion an assessed chemistry experiment. This resulted in further exhaustion and pain but I could say little to those managing the special needs department out of fear.

Finally I managed to gather the funds to buy a second-hand powered wheelchair, giving me the freedom to travel to and from school myself. I still needed a little help getting around the building, but I was not as heavily dependent on this as before. Given my past experiences I did not ask the school permission to use my powered chair, but simply turned up in it. They couldn’t turn me away without the attendance team tearing them to shreds.

By the time my school days drew to a close I was so sick of the place that I would have given anything to leave. On results day I was so relieved to know that I would be progressing to university that I almost cried. I went and said good bye to the students and members of staff who had helped me, and ignored those who hadn’t.

It is perhaps no surprise why leaving school was one of the best things ever to happen to me.

School, Sickness, and Stupidity: Part 1.

It’s been a while since I left school and I still don’t talk about it much. There’s far too much raw, pent up emotion for me to discuss it coherently, but writing it all down should allow me to give a logical account of my experiences.

My secondary school was situated at the other end of the road I lived on and was just visible from my parent’s bedroom window. It was set on quite a steep hill meaning that one side of the school had an extra level built into the hillside, and it had a central forum where large gatherings and assemblies took place, with all the classrooms built on a loop surrounding this. The school opened just as I transferred to high school meaning it was brand new; the old, dilapidated school it had replaced was being knocked down a few metres away from the shiny, new building.

I was half way through Year 10 (USA 9th Grade) when a virus decided to chow down on the protective tissue surrounding my brain. Given that our GP’s surgery was closed for the day and no other medical aid would physically come to us unless my condition grew significantly worse, we couldn’t get proof that I had, indeed, suffered such a serious illness. Unsurprisingly the school was skeptical as to my plight without the necessary proof, and stipulated that I still sat my GCSE biology exam just one week after first falling ill. The school also stipulated that I wear my uniform, including the stuffy and uncomfortable blazer, but assured my mum that I would be provided with a well ventilated room and access to drinking water.

A couple of days after first falling ill I started to revise as much as I could, which in all honesty wasn’t much. I felt so rotten I don’t think I took much of it in anyway. Come the day of the exam I hauled myself out of bed early, ate a little breakfast, pulled on my uniform, and went to school. I was put in one of the hottest rooms in the building where none of the windows opened, and I wasn’t even allowed to get water from the tap outside. To make matters worse another girl sitting the same exam had also been ill, and therefore was in the same room as me. She turned up extremely late without her uniform and I was made to wait to start the exam until she arrived. All I remember of the paper is wanting to use it as a pillow for my aching head and stumbling out over an hour later wanting nothing more than to be left in peace.

Another week of bed rest later and the attendance team at my school were ringing up constantly, nagging my mum about my absence from school. Over the phone the doctor had advised I take several weeks off to rest following the meningitis, but without the note our case would not be heard. I was pushed back into school on a part-time basis while the attendance team continued to pressure me and my parents until I was back full-time. This included participation is both sports and dance classes despite my mum trying her best to make them see reason.

A couple of months after sitting the exam the results came out. I had obtained a grade B, which I was pretty pleased with under the circumstances. Unfortunately a grade B was below my target grade and as far as the teachers were concerned, this was inadequate. It was quite the fight to prevent being entered for a resit of the exam, and being told that my best efforts under adverse circumstances were worthless did nothing for my self-esteem. I felt like my entire life was falling apart around me into an irreparable mess and nearly everyone was against me. I tried to put it all out of my mind and concentrate on my future exams, keeping my head down and staying out of trouble, but this was harder than I could have imagined.

Shortly after receiving my exam result I was pulled to one side during a gym lesson for a “quick discussion”. What followed was a lengthy and entirely one-sided lecture on how it didn’t matter how academically gifted I was, being physically ill would render it all pointless. She then told me to start running on the treadmill, not walking. Had I been the more confident individual I am today I would have reminded her to have her quick discussion with Steven Hawking and see what his reaction was, but I just nodded mutely and did the bare minimum that would qualify as running to appease her. I think this was the point where I started to truly hate school.

Eventually the summer holidays arrived for which I was grateful. Over the coming weeks I regularly saw the GP, running tests until I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Now backed up with medical evidence I was finally allowed to drop dance and sports, but it took a further six weeks to convince the school that my timetable was still too much for me to cope with. Eventually I was allowed to drop French and I was on a timetable that I could manage while I was so ill. Even so I still had to take some time off school due to illness, made worse by the stress of the constant hounding from the attendance team.

Roll and Rock: Another Short Story.

“You’re here for the auditions?” I was greeted with the standard perplexed expression I was so familiar with.

“What bothers you?” I said sharply, impatient with yet another judgemental face, “The wheels or the tits?” I pushed through the double doors on my own, drum stick bag balanced on my knees, and headed towards the small crowd gathered in front of a stage where they were being addressed by the bands’ lead singer, Josh.

“Welcome to the auditions to become the new drummer for The Avalanche. We’re looking for someone to come on our UK tour with us after Sam quit the band last month, and perhaps to record future music with if all goes well.

“The auditions will work like this; you will be called onto the stage in alphabetical order, where you will be asked to perform snippets of three of our songs, randomly selected by us. If we think you have potential, you will be asked to stay. Those who have potential will perform again after everyone else has left; you will be asked to do a randomly selected song in full.

“Good luck,” Josh stepped off the stage to sit with Danny and Adrienne, the other members of the band.

My surname meant that I would be one of the last to audition, so I sat back and tried to relax as I watched a stream of white men climb onto the stage and drum clumsily along to the backing tracks provided. Only a few were requested to stay behind and I could see the band growing impatient and bored. It was only when my name was called that I realised that I was the only woman to be auditioning, let alone the only wheelchair user.

As expected the stage had steps to ascend. I rolled up to them and looked over at the band, who were mortified. Adrienne stood up.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, “There’s a wheelchair ramp in the store room at the back. We didn’t think to bring it through. I’ll go get it now, and we’re so sorry!” She dashed out of the room and a few minutes later returned with a metal ramp. Josh and Danny fitted it securely to the stage with some difficulty, requiring a little direction from me as the only one with experience using them. They were all apologising profusely, although I could feel the hostile glares I was receiving from the other drummers in the hall. I repeatedly assured them that it was OK and that what mattered to me was that they dealt with the problem.

I rolled up the ramp, moved the drum stool out of my way, and pulled my drum sticks from their bag. Flustered from the flurry of activity I forgot to put my brakes on and the second I started to play the requested song, my wheelchair rolled backwards and off the stage. Now it was my turn to look mortified as I heard footsteps running to my side. Adrienne helped me upright and checked I was alright, and then I returned to the drum kit. This time I made sure the brakes were securely on, trying not to blush as the other drummers sniggered at me.

Certain that I had screwed up the audition so badly as to destroy any chance of being chosen, my nerves disappeared, and I could fully focus on the music. I hit every beat cleanly and crisply and even added my own technical flourishes where I felt they were needed. By the time I had completed my three song excerpts I was almost disappointed that it was over, especially as the band had been gracious enough not to “randomly select” the three easiest songs for me to perform out of misguided sympathy. When Josh requested me to stay behind I was so surprised that I almost fell off the stage a second time.

A little less than an hour later the band had come to their decision and were addressing me and the other four drummers who had been asked to perform a second time.

“You all did extremely well,” Josh said as he took to the stage once more. I had the feeling that he was simply trying to be nice to the unsuccessful drummers, particularly me.

“However, the decision was unanimous. We all agreed that our new drummer should be Lily Thorpe.”

There was a moment of silence while all of us sat there, stunned. There must have been some mistake. However, before I had the chance to express my disbelief, the four men around me started shouting loudly.

“Rigged!”

“This is ridiculous. You just feel sorry for her!”

“You’re only doing it to improve your social status by being all liberal and inclusive!”

“She couldn’t even get on the stage without your help; how the hell do you think she’ll manage on tour?”

Secretly, I think I agreed with them.

Josh raised his hand and their complaints died down to a murmur.

“Actually, she was the most technically proficient, she was able to insert her own distinctive flair into the music, and she clearly knows our music well. She was also the nicest, which given the amount of time we will spend together over the next few months counts for more than you could imagine,” Adrienne chipped in.

“Precisely,” Josh said, “and even if that wasn’t the case, you’ve all just proved that you’re not the type of people we want to spend time with.”

“You may take your leave,” Danny added firmly.

The others filed out of the room, chuntering unhappily among themselves. As the doors swung shut behind them, a quiet settled over the room.

“Congratulations!” Adrienne said, a big grin lighting up her face.

“Are you sure?” I practically whispered, “You don’t have to do this out of sympathy, you know.”

“We are sure, and this isn’t sympathy,” Josh said, “I’m sorry the others were like that.”

The man who had greeted me at the door now wandered into the room. His eyes settled on me and he frowned slightly.

“No luck then, I take it?” he said. To my great surprise Adrienne marched across the room and punched him on the nose.

“I’ve been waiting all day for the perfect excuse to do that,” she muttered between clenched teeth, then turned to me “I don’t know how you cope.”

“By drumming,” I replied, a small smile spreading across my face, “So, when do I start?”

***

We had filled a minivan with our instruments, wires, and amps, with Josh and Adrienne crushed together in the front while Danny took the wheel. I had bought a ramp for the van, allowing me to park in the back of it surrounded by our equipment. Every time we went over a speed bump the ramp clashed one of the cymbals right next to my head, leaving me with an intense ringing sound in my ear before we had even started.

After a two hour drive we reached our first venue, a community centre that had been converted into a bar and club the year before. We parked up using my disabled parking badge to obtain a nice, wide space. Josh and Danny, now experts at handling the ramp, had me out of the van within a minute and we began unloading our equipment. I carried wires, accessories, and small amps on my knees, relying on the others to carry the larger pieces.

The community centre had been a relatively old building, and although the conversion into a club had made it accessible, the makeshift ramps that had been bought wobbled worryingly every time I traversed them. The doorways were very narrow and I bumped my elbows and knuckles countless times as I propelled myself forwards, an act which had my arms stuck out at odd angles. The backstage corridors were narrow and maze-like and the stage where we were performing had no ramp at all, with the owners of the club having to provide an old sheet of thin plywood at a very steep angle as a poor substitute. With nothing to hold it in place at either end, I had to rely on my bandmates to hold it still while one of them helped push me up the ramp. The disabled toilet was also being used to store cleaning materials, and I had to slalom around mops and brushes.

We had finished setting up, including our sound check, about 15 minutes before the doors were due to open. Now, with nothing to take my mind off the task, I started to grow nervous. This was the first live gig I had had with any band and I knew that as the newest member of The Avalanche I would be subjected to great scrutiny. I had already been the hot topic for discussion on our social media, with everyone wondering whether I had simply been selected out of sympathy. These comments seemed to irritate Adrienne more than me, who had dealt with many sexist comments when she joined The Avalanche as it was. I didn’t mind. I had decided to prove those who doubted my abilities wrong by proving my own capability.

Once the doors had opened one of the first spectators who entered was a wheelchair-bound girl, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, proudly sporting one of our new band t-shirts. She smiled at me broadly, as did the woman with her who I assumed was her mother, and I returned the compliment. Adrienne turned round to speak to me.

“Well, you have one fan already,” she smiled.

The room slowly filled up, and the buzz of anticipation grew with the crowd. Lots of people wanted to get a good look at new drummer, and I blushed slightly. Half an hour after the doors had opened Josh leapt up to his microphone, gave a warm welcome to our spectators, and played the opening chords of our first song on his battered electric guitar. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let myself become immersed in the music. As I opened with my first drum break a round of applause swept through the crowd, some of whom were beginning to accept that I was no sympathy vote.

The Concert from Roll and Rock

We played for over an hour before taking a break while a stand-up comedian took to the stage for his half-time show. As I reached the disabled bathroom the young girl I had spotted before the show opened the door and rolled outwards. When she saw me I thought she was going to leap straight out of her wheelchair.

“Oh my god, mum, it’s Lily!” she looked up at her mum who was stood behind her.

“Hi,” I smiled, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Lily too,” she grinned enthusiastically, “and I want to play the drums like you!”

“Nice name and nice choice,” I laughed, “Do you want to be the first person to receive my autograph?”

Her mum rummaged around in her handbag for a notepad and pen, and then I wrote my message.

To Lily,

You are the first person to receive my autograph!

A piece of advice; don’t let those who doubt you stop you from doing what you want to do,

Lily Thorpe.

She grinned and bellowed an enthusiastic thank you before heading back into the club with her mum, chatting excitedly the whole time.

I was grateful for a drink and a rest with Josh, Adrienne, and Danny in the green room before returning to the stage half an hour later for an even longer set. We got an excellent reception from the crowd and by the end of the gig I was too exhilarated to be tired. Slowly the crowd dispersed, a few stopping to speak to us and get our autographs or a selfie. I lost count of the people who told me I was a great drummer, very deserving of my place in the band, but the best encounter of the night remained the young girl that I had inspired. It felt good to set a good example for people like her to follow.

The van was loaded up again, myself included, and then we headed off to our motel around the corner. The van was locked securely in the garage and we all filed into reception looking sweaty and dishevelled. The receptionist did not appear to be phased and provided us with the keys to our rooms. I was sharing with Adrienne, who was able to hold open doors for me as I used all my strength to push myself along the thick carpet.

I was tired beyond belief and in desperate need of a shower, and my ears were still ringing loudly, but despite all this and a hard, lumpy mattress I managed to sleep the whole night through. The next morning I got up, washed and dressed, and by 10 am we were ready to set off and do it all over again.

The Many Theories of M.E.

Despite the recent surge of developments in medical research surrounding the condition, the internet is rife with a myriad of pseudo-scientific theories from non-medical experts describing what causes the condition, how it can be prevented, and how it can be cured. These theories are often demeaning to sufferers of M.E (a.k.a. CFS), claiming that we simply don’t look after our bodies or that it is nothing but a cry for attention. They also tend to support the claim that M.E is not a real disease, reinforcing the negative stigma surrounding what I can assure you is a very real illness.

There is, however, one redeeming feature of these theories; they can be down-right hilarious.

One I hear a lot from people who know that I have a first class honours degree in nutrition is that my illness is the result of multiple nutrient deficiencies, and could be cured by using over-the-counter nutrient supplements. Considering my knowledge of the subject, my ability to tailor my diet to my needs, and to recognise the symptoms of nutrient deficiencies in myself and others, this theory denies all logic. Similarly, if I needed nutrient supplements, the doctor would prescribe them. The only noticeable effects of the store-bought nutrient supplements in the absence of a deficiency is the excess nutrients excreted (meaning the expense quite literally gets flushed down the toilet) and sometimes the onset of nutrient-overdose. Which can have quite serious and permanent effects, such as death.

This is far from the only ridiculous theory I hear. One commonly encountered by M.E sufferers across the world is the idea that we simply need to exercise more. Our “laziness” has led to us being so unfit that this becomes symptomatic. This of course does not apply to all the other unfit people on the planet who suffer no symptoms at all when resting, or walking to the bathroom. I have been told time and time again that my symptoms result from muscle wastage, despite the fact that while I do have much weaker muscle tone than average, you can still see some muscle definition across my whole body. I am told to push through the “pain barrier” but I can assure you that the pain barrier does not exist for M.E sufferers, and the pain simply gets worse the longer you remain active for.

I have also been told to get pregnant. The logic behind this one is as follows; after undergoing nine months of growing a miniature parasite inside your body, which takes a great deal of energy, and then squeezing the thing out like trying skinny jeans on while being in denial about your clothes size (we’ve all been there), the maternal instinct of holding the baby would override the tiredness signals from my brain. Now I don’t know about you but my personal encounters with new parents show a distinct trend of utter exhaustion from the lack of sleep and constant nappy changing, plus the energy requirements for mothers who choose to breastfeed are substantial. This is all without mentioning the fact that attempting to cure a disease is entirely the wrong reason to have a baby (I know a lot of women suffering from endometriosis hear the “just get pregnant” theory a lot too).

The most ridiculous theory of them all, however, is that I am possessed by a demon and need to be exorcised. I doubt this one needs to be explained and I have nothing more to say about this one other than “what the F is wrong with some people?”.

So please, medical research is a serious career path and these people know what they’re talking about. Listen to them!

M.E Awareness Week Question and Answer Vlog.

Transcript:

Hi guys,

It’s the big day in M.E Awareness Week and, as promised, I am going to publish a video of me answering your questions about living with the disease. So without further ado; we have a question from Bre-Am (I apologise so badly if I’ve pronounced that wrong).

Bre-Am has asked me if I appreciate it when people offer me help or if they’re only doing it to show off to others.

I think if someone sees me struggling, I can’t open a door, I can’t reach something, or they just think I might need some help, and they come and ask, it’s always appreciated. Now, I might say to them “yes, actually, I would appreciate some help,” at this point, or I might say to them “no, thank you, I’m OK.”

It’s OK to say no, and it’s OK to want to be independent. If you ask someone disabled if they want help and they say no, that is OK. Just say “OK, no worries, I’m here if you need anything,” and walk away; there’s no shame in that.

Obviously asking for help I am never going to take offence to; someone’s trying to be nice, and if I say I want help and they do help, then that’s brilliant. The important thing is to always ask first.

Now, my personal experience is that I’ve not had many people do this to show off to others. Very occasionally you’ll get a charity representative in a middle of a shopping centre who might try and be seen to be inclusive with the disabled person, to be seen as a better charity representative.

Other than that, very few people do it to show off; the biggest problem is actually someone asking if I need help and continuing even after saying no, or just barging in without asking in the first place. It’s my personal space, it’s my equipment; the wheelchair is an extension of my body; do not push yourselves on me unless I ask for help.

But, you know, the offer is always appreciated.

And then we have a question from Sophie, who has been a friend for a long time after we met on forum for people with CFS. She has asked me how my experience of CFS compares to that of others.

I think there are some central aspects to this disease which, like every person with this disease on the planet, I have experienced. That is things like the fatigue, pain, headaches, dizziness, itchy eyes, and poor short term memory and concentration. I think also that the general disbelief in the condition that I have encountered is pretty universal.

But, my experience does differ in things like I went to a GP who believed in CFS and I was diagnosed within 12 months of becoming ill, and I got access to painkillers, physiotherapy, and counselling. That is really, really good; some doctors don’t believe in the condition and refuse to have anything to do with it and they won’t diagnose or treat it at all, and people end up going from GP to GP. So I was very lucky in that respect.

I think CFS varies in severity; some people are house bound or bed bound, and for them the wheelchair to go outside in would be useless. They don’t have the energy to even do that. For me, the powered wheelchair has enabled me to be independent, get an education, get a job, and live a relatively normal life, and again I’m very lucky in that respect.

And I think the other big thing that separates people with this illness is actually experiences with social services, and this particularly applies to children.

When I was a teenager someone anonymously reported my parents to social services, claiming that they were using me as a sort of disability benefit fraud, that they were forcing me to be in a wheelchair for the attention and financial support. Social services barely looked into it before dropping the case; they said it was ridiculous, but that mark is still against my parents name and they’ve never been allowed to defend themselves. That is still quite a sore point for us because on their record there is a complaint against my parents that will always be there, however wrong and invalid that complaint is.

Some people never experience that, and they never experience how devastating and how heart-breaking that is; to be the child in that situation, to be the one who is getting their parents into trouble for being sick. It’s awful.

But, again, I’m quite lucky. There are people who get separated from their families and put into institutions, and other cases that go to court; these are not rare, I know people who have been through this.

If you see the Millions Missing movement on social media, particularly Twitter, that’s what it’s all about. It’s talking about the people who get removed from their families because people don’t believe in their illness and think that their parents are psychologically abusing them. So there’s a big movement at the minute to get CFS recognised as an actual illness, and to stop social services marching in and pulling families apart, which only tends to make the illness worse, and it’s sheer madness.

Now that’s it for all the questions I’ve had about living with CFS, and I’m going to take it that my blog is so good and so well-explained, that no one has any more questions about the disease. I hope these answers have been good, but if you have any more questions feel free to ask; I’m happy to message or make another video.

So, please, please, please keep a lookout for tomorrow’s blog post, which is all about the ridiculous theories people have about M.E, what causes it, and how to treat it. It is hilarious.

Also, don’t forget, do donate. 25% of this week’s donations are going to the M.E Association, so not only do you support my writing career, but also a charity who support people like me.

So please, please, please; donate, like, subscribe.

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