An Unlikely Wrestler: Yet Another Short Story.

“So, what do you do for a living?” he asked.

Chrissie looked at the man sitting opposite her dressed in a grey suit, white shirt, and black silk tie. Not one hair was out of place, tucked neatly behind the dark frames of his glasses, and he was displaying his perfect smile. She couldn’t fathom why her best friend had set the two of them up on a date; they couldn’t have been more different if they had come from different planets. She sported smokey eyes and dark lipstick beneath a mass of black curls, her green nose stud complimenting her hazel eyes. Her black dress had lace sleeves, and one small, embroidered red rose on the neckline. Underneath she wore fishnet tights and black biker boots.

“I’m a professional wrestler,” Chrissie said. There was a short pause.

“Pardon?” he asked in disbelief.

“A professional wrestler,” she replied in the same manner-of-fact tone.

“But-,” it took a great effort to restrain from rolling her eyes as the inevitable question was raised.

“Wheelchair or not I can still wrestle,” she replied.

“Oh,” was his only response.

“You?” Chrissie asked, trying to smooth over the awkward tension.

“Finance,” he said. Chrissie couldn’t help thinking that her friend had gone completely mad; why did everyone want to her to settle down and be sensible, or as Chrissie thought of it, be boring?

“So… how do you, you know, wrestle?” he continued to probe further.

“Like a Paralympian in any sport, a few small adaptations,” Chrissie explained.

“Oh,” he said again.

“Look, this has been lovely,” Chrissie began.

“No need to explain,” he interrupted her, “I think our mutual friend might have misjudged the situation.”

“To put it mildly,” Chrissie smirked as her date signalled the waiter to bring the bill.

“Who’s paying?” the waiter asked as he approached the table, card-reader in hand.

“Split the bill?” Chrissie raised an eyebrow.

“Err, you don’t have to, you know –“ he stammered.

“It’s cool,” she said, pulling enough cash to pay for her meal from her handbag and passing it to her date. A few minutes later they were leaving the restaurant together and stopped awkwardly on the pavement, not quite knowing what to say to each other.

“Erm, I can give you a lift in my Mercedes?” he pointed his thumb at a gleaming, silver car parked over a kerb drop.

“Oh no, I’ll get the bus thanks,” Chrissie gave a small wave, and then made her way to the bus stop at the end of the street.

***

“We’ve got some new recruits in this morning, so let’s impress them, eh?” the coach raised his voice so that it echoed around the hall as he addressed the group of wrestlers lounging against the ring, while a smaller group of shy looking goths huddled around the doors.

“Where’s Chrissie?” the coach called, looking around.

“Here,” Chrissie rolled into the gym as he spoke, “sorry I’m late, the bus had a pram on board and she wouldn’t move, so I had to wait for the next one.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” Sharon, one of the other female wrestlers, piped up.

“Yep,” Chrissie’s answer was short and sweet. She looked over at the group of goths in the corner who were blatantly staring at her with their mouths wide open. The coach followed her gaze.

“Didn’t your mother teach you it was rude to stare?” the coach barked at the group, who dragged their eyes away. The coach turned to Chrissie, “I think I know how to start the day.”

“Sure,” Chrissie knew exactly what he meant, as did her colleagues.

David and Jason, the current tag team champions, pulled a ramp up to the ring which was only a foot off the floor for easy access. Chrissie removed the grey hoodie from her tracksuit, revealing her Lycra vest beneath, and pulled her hair into a ponytail. Sharon stepped into the ring as Chrissie rolled up the ramp, grabbed the middle rope, and pulled her upper body into the ring between the ropes. She curled up and performed a neat forward roll into the ring, pulling her wheelchair between the stretched ropes, and flipped herself upright neatly. The new recruits were gathered around the ring, mouths once more open in amazement.

“OK, go,” the coach said as Sharon dropped into a fighting stance, stretching out her arms slowly towards her opponent. Chrissie made as if to hold her hands but diverted to grab Sharon’s leg, sending her plummeting to the mat with a loud bump. Sharon rolled over to keep her shoulders off the mat as the coach went in for the three-count, which would declare Chrissie the winner.

Sharon got to her feet and managed to avoid Chrissie’s leg sweep, instead forcing her opponent into a headlock as she spun around. Unable to wriggle free Chrissie wrapped her arm around Sharon’s waist, and overturned her wheelchair, both of them landing flat on their backs, and both rolling away before the three count could be finished. This time there were gasps of amazement as both women righted themselves.

Without hesitation Sharon ran at Chrissie, at the last minute leaping into a drop kick. The kick did not connect; Sharon sailed over Chrissie’s head, who didn’t even have to duck to avoid the impact. Sharon landing heavily on the mat while Chrissie reversed rapidly into the ropes, bouncing off of them. The momentum propelled her into Sharon as she clambered to her feet, knocking her to the mat once more. She aimed a clumsy blow at Chrissie, who deftly avoided it as she made her way to the corner of the ring.

The newcomers watched in stunned silence as Chrissie hauled herself from her wheelchair until she was seated on the top rope before pushing off with what little strength her legs could muster, performing a neat elbow drop. Her elbow connected with Sharon’s chest and winded her; one three-count later saw Chrissie declared the winner.

The new wrestlers clapped and cheered loudly as Sharon helped Chrissie into her wheelchair before they both exited the ring.

“Nice improvisation, ladies,” the coach said, “but some of those landings need to be cleaner.”

For the rest of the day the new wrestlers spent time in the ring practising basic manoeuvres, most of which involved various ways of crashing into the mat.

Chrissie and her colleagues spent their time working out on the gym equipment and discussing their weekends. She enjoyed the company of her colleagues, who were friendly and fun, and certainly didn’t seem to mind the wheelchair. As they laughed and joked together one ridiculous anecdote led to an even more ridiculous bet, and the suggestion was made that Chrissie had a go on the treadmill.

“What?” she asked in disbelief as they all turned to stare at her.

David disappeared, reappearing with the ramp a moment later, as the group began to chant “do it, do it, do it…” Somewhat begrudgingly Chrissie rolled onto the treadmill and pressed start. At low speeds it was relatively easy to propel her wheelchair as the track moved beneath her, but as Sharon increased the speed (whilst grinning from ear to ear), Chrissie found it harder and harder, particularly as she couldn’t help but laugh along with the rest of the group. Eventually the speed was too much and Chrissie was sent flying backwards across the gym, crashing into a rack of weights behind her and sending them to the ground. Everyone was laughing raucously, Chrissie included, despite lying on her back in the middle of the floor, knowing that her back would be covered in bruises by the end of the day.

Upon hearing the commotion the coach marched into the room, slamming the doors open, and bellowing at them to be quiet.

“What the hell happened here?” he barked.

“I tried to use a treadmill,” Chrissie was grinning from ear to ear as Jason helped her upright.

“And what if you’d been injured?” the coach didn’t seem to see the joke.

“I’m fine,” Chrissie shrugged.

“Well, what if you weren’t? Or if you damaged some equipment? This mess is going to take some clearing up as it is!” clearly the coach was not amused.

“You’re supposed to be setting an example!” he continued angrily, shaking his head.

“Look, it was my idea,” Janice, the current women’s champion, offered quietly.

“And all of you were too stupid to do the sensible thing. Get this mess cleaned up and go home. We start practising for Saturday’s show tomorrow,” the coach turned on his heel and stormed out of the room, back towards the group of goths who now looked down-right terrified.

“Sorry,” Janice said.

“Whatever, he’ll come round,” Chrissie shrugged again and started to pick up the weights.

***

Chrissie could hear the crowd laughing and joking from her hiding place behind the screen. The lights made the stage uncomfortably warm and she was already sweating a little in her black Lycra crop top and leggings, covered in small silver studs. Her hair was piled on top of her head in a high ponytail, and her black nail polish was perfect and unchipped. Janice patted her on the back.

“Good luck,” she whispered.

“And now-“ the commentator began. Chrissie could feel the vibrations of the amplified sound travelling from the floor through her wheelchair, “we have a match for the women’s championship! It’s set for-“ the commentator paused as the crowd roared back “ONE FALL” in unison.

“That’s right, it is. And first up the challenger; she defies all odds, she listens to no one, she is the Wheeled Warrior, she’s Venus!” The crowd erupted as Chrissie rolled onto the stage, her entrance music blasting through the wall of speakers on either side of her. The lights momentarily blinded her as she made her way to the ramp leading down from the stage to the ring. She lined herself up and set off downwards, stretching out to high-five the fans as she glided towards the ring and didn’t realise how close the ring was until it was too late, and she slammed into the side of it.

There was a moment of tension as the crowd fell silent until Chrissie threw back her head and roared with laughter, the audience then following suit. She rolled around the ring, high-fiving more fans, before rolling up the ramp and into the ring as before. The music faded out and the lights dimmed.

“And now the current champion. She’s had one of the longest title runs in the history of the company and faced some of the toughest wrestlers in the world. It’s Delilah the Destroyer!”

Janice walked slowly to the top of the ramp, stopping to unhook the championship belt from around her waist to hold it above her head, making sure the crowd got a good look at the prize on offer. She stepped down the ramp glaring at her opponent, whose eyes never left her. She jumped over the top rope, landing neatly on her feet before handing the belt to the referee who put it on a table beside the ring.

“Ring the bell,” the referee yelled, and so the match began.

Without hesitation Janice ran forward, leaping into a low drop kick which missed Chrissie’s face by millimetres. As Chrissie reflexively pulled back her wheelchair toppled over, but before Janice could take advantage of this she had rolled into a handstand, supporting the weight of both herself and her wheelchair on her muscular arms. Chrissie was near the ropes and leant towards them, her wheelchair bouncing off the ropes. The momentum allowed her to flip the right way up again, Janice only just staying out of range of the wheels.

There was a moment’s pause before Janice landed a neat right hook on Chrissie’s face, which Chrissie responded to with a solid uppercut. They exchanged blows for a few seconds before pulling away from one another, breathing heavily.

Chrissie went into a leg sweep which Janice avoided with ease before dropping into a leg sweep of her own. She managed to force her foot behind the front wheels of Chrissie’s wheelchair, overturning Chrissie so she landed on her back. The referee dropped to his knees by her side to begin the three-count, but Chrissie grabbed hold of the nearby ropes.

“Rope break!” the referee called. Janice stomped in the bratty mannerisms of Delilah the Destroyer, and screeched at him to do his job properly, giving Chrissie time to haul herself upright. Creeping up behind Janice she grabbed hold of her right leg, and Janice crashed to the mat face first. Slowly, Chrissie began to twist the ankle gently, expertly making it look as if she were using all her strength to wrench the tendons and ligaments apart while Janice let out an ear-piercing scream. Suddenly, before Chrissie could react, Janice had grasped the bottom rope and pulled herself from her opponents grip, kicking backwards as she did so.

Chrissie moved towards Janice, who performed an expert roundhouse kick that sent Chrissie flying backwards across the ring. Janice sped after her, pulling Chrissie from her wheelchair. The crowd booed and hissed at the villainous Delilah.

Chrissie was now perched on Janice’s shoulders, facing her, and braced herself for the next move. Seemingly without warning, Janice let her legs give out beneath her, dropping until she was sitting on the mat. Chrissie fell with her, landing with immense force on the mat. She felt the wind leave her chest as the referee dropped to his knees and began to three-count, but managed to lift her right shoulder off of the floor just in time.

Janice stood up and leant over Chrissie, putting as much weight on her opponent as she dared, while the referee once again initiated the three-count. At the last second Chrissie lifted her left shoulder off the floor. Janice leapt backwards as if Chrissie had kicked her forcefully, landing against the ropes on the other side of the ring. Wildly Chrissie looked around and began to crawl towards her wheelchair. Just as it was within her grasp Janice dragged her away, once again trying to push Chrissie’s shoulders onto the mat. Chrissie managed to wriggle away and the crowd went wild.

In mock-disbelief Janice stomped around the ring, screaming insults at the crowd and referee alike, giving Chrissie time to clamber back into her wheelchair. While Janice’s back was turned Chrissie wrapped her arms around her waist, and swung backwards in her wheelchair, pulling Janice over her body and landing back-first on the mat in an elegant suplex.

Janice appeared winded, flailing her arms around wildly as she lay on her back in the centre of the ring, seemingly unaware of where her opponent was. Chrissie took the chance to haul herself onto the top rope before leaping into her elbow drop. Her pointed elbow collided with Janice’s sternum and Chrissie pinned Janice’s shoulders to the floor. The referee skidded onto his knees next to them, getting the best view of Janice’s shoulders as he could. His hand collided with the mat as the crowd chanted “ONE, TWO, THREE!”

Confetti exploded downwards from above, covering the ring and all those within it.  The announcer could barely be heard over the incessant racket of the crowd.

“We have a new champion,” Chrissie strained to hear, “Venus!”

Her entrance music blared out of the speakers and lights flashed wildly as the referee handed Chrissie her championship. Chrissie looked around the room and a face near the back caught her eye. She squinted her eyes for a better look and could barely believe it when she realised that her date was at the back of the crowd. He nodded his acknowledgement and looked as if he had genuinely appreciated the show. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.

Workplace Wheels: Yet Another Short Story.

“Do you work here?”

Zoe was sat in her wheelchair looking up at the shopper, trying not to let her exasperation show through her forced smile. Surely her polo shirt displaying the company logo, and the matching lanyard and I.D badge, were evidence enough of her work status.

“Yes, I do,” she replied in a falsely chirpy tone.

“Oh good, I wasn’t sure you see…” Zoe hated it when customers rambled. She had plenty of tasks requiring her attention before the shop closed for the day and simply wished that the customer would hurry up so that she could continue with them. She didn’t fancy another over-run shift.

“I was wondering if you could tell me where the sportswear is,” the customer finally got to the point.

“It’s on the back wall, sir, women’s on the left and men’s on the right,” somehow Zoe refrained from adding “underneath the huge sign saying SPORTSWEAR”.

“Ah, thank you,” the customer trotted off and Zoe turned back to the task at hand, refolding the pile of jumpers on sale for the third time that day, knowing that before long someone would destroy it again.

Once the jumpers had been folded, Zoe glanced at her watch and was relieved to find it was time for her break. She rolled past the tills and let Sara, her colleague, know that she would be in the staff room. Sara nodded her acknowledgement while continuing to explain to an increasingly angry customer that the voucher they were holding had expired some months ago and therefore wasn’t valid. Zoe didn’t envy her.

Zoe went to the back of the shop and turned left to a white door with the words “STAFF ONLY” printed in bold, black letters across it.

“You can’t go in there, love!” a customer piped up, “it’s for staff only.”

“I can read, thank you,” Zoe’s patience was wearing thin and she only just managed to remain civil.

“Well, why are you trying to go in?” the customer continued, the obvious conclusion eluding him entirely.

“Because I am staff, sir,” Zoe entered the four digit code into the pad by the door, waited for a click, and then pushed the door open. She rolled through into the small, dingy room that somehow equated to a staff room and let the door swing shut behind her, dulling the incessant sound of the music on the shop floor. Considering the vast size of the shop floor, she wondered why the staff couldn’t have been allocated just a little more room.

She went to the small fridge balanced on the rickety table beside a toaster and a microwave, and pulled out a water bottle which she drained in record time. The she was heading back out into the shop to find the disabled toilet, as the staff toilets lacked wheelchair facilities.

Zoe was well practised at avoiding customers with a series of complex manoeuvres while she was on her breaks, and had no trouble avoiding any responsibilities as she moved across the shop floor. The route was somewhat indirect, but it would take far longer to use a direct route flooded with customers.

When she got to the disabled toilet she was hardly surprised to find the door locked, with a red icon showing beneath the handle. She stopped, put her brakes on and waited patiently, aware of her break wasting away. Several minutes later a woman strode out of the disabled cubicle dragging a basket of shopping behind her. Although Zoe suspected that the woman was in no way disabled, she remained quiet. She had once landed herself in hot water by challenging someone who, as it transpired, had a hidden disability that was unfortunately indistinguishable from lazy able-bodied people who just wanted to take a dump in peace.

Once Zoe had been to the toilet it was time for her to get back to work. Her first task was to attend to the stack of jumpers which had just been knocked over by a curious toddler.

“Excuse me, love, do you work here?” as Zoe finished restacking the jumpers a customer tapped her on the shoulder.

“Yes, I do,” Zoe could feel her cheeks aching from the constant smiling as she also tried not to roll her eyes.

“Could you direct me to the home décor section please?”

“Err…sorry?” Zoe was perplexed.

“The home décor section. You know, cushions, candles, that sort of thing,” the customer seemed to think that she was stupid.

“We don’t sell those things sir, this is a clothes shop,” Zoe kept a calm, reassuring tone.

“What do you mean you don’t sell those things? I bought a cushion cover in here just last year,” the customer was beginning to sound frustrated.

“Perhaps you’re confusing us with one of our branches in the department store down the road?” Zoe suggested.

“No I’m not confusing you with a department store. What do you take me for, an imbecile?”

Zoe maintained a diplomatic silence on this point.

“I’m sorry sir, we’ve never sold those things in here. Perhaps it would be best to visit our other branch anyway?” Zoe tried to placate the increasingly angry customer as other customers were now beginning to take interest.

“This is ridiculous. I come in here with perfectly good money to spend and this is how I’m treated. Perhaps your manager might know the layout of the shop,” the man stormed off towards the tills, pushing past the queueing customers getting ready to pay and bellowing in Sara’s face.

“I want to speak the manager, now,” he interrupted Sara as she was handing change over to her customer.

“I’ll call him onto the shop floor,” Sara pressed a button on a bleeper hooked onto her belt, “next please.”

A few minutes later Amjad appeared on the shop floor, and made a beeline for the man stood in the corner, scowling and muttering to himself. Zoe positioned herself by the adjacent clothes rack in order to eaves drop.

“Are you the manager?” the man barked. Amjad nodded.

“Where is your home décor section?”

“I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have one. Perhaps you ought to try our branch in the nearby department store?” Amjad replied in an even, emotionless tone.

“Is this supposed to be a joke?” the man practically exploded, “that lass in the wheelchair said exactly the same thing.”

“Probably because that’s the truth,” Amjad had to sympathise with Zoe, everyone seemed to assume that they were both stupid. Meanwhile, Zoe was having a hard time wiping the self-satsified smirk off of her face.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Amjad asked politely.

“Pfft, I hardly think so, given that your stock is so poor. I won’t be coming back here again, that’s for sure,” and with that the man stomped off, almost pulling the shop door off of it’s hinges as he left. He didn’t hear the manager mutter “good riddance” under his breath.

“Well, if you don’t need anything else, I’m going to go back upstairs to carry on with the endless paperwork,” Amjad smiled at Zoe and Sara, “Call me down if you need me again.”

“Will do,” Sara chirruped from behind the till where she was still serving a string of customers.

Zoe turned her attention to some price tags that needed amending for a sale that would start the next day, but almost as soon as she had picked up the roll of stickers she needed, a customer tapped her on the shoulder before querying whether she was a member of staff.

“I was hoping you would be able to reach something down from the top shelf for me,” the elderly woman asking the question was practically bent double over her walking stick.

“Oh OK, you might want to speak with Sara for that one, I doubt I could reach from down here either,” Zoe replied, waving to attract Sara’s attention.

“Can’t you just stand up and get it?” the old woman queried impatiently.

“I’m not exactly tall even if I do manage to stand up,” Zoe smiled back, trying to turn the situation into a joke.

“Oh,” the women seemed somewhat surprised as Sara crossed the shop floor having dealt with the last customer in the queue.

“What do you want reaching down?” Sara chipped in, disrupting the awkward silence. Together with the elderly woman she walked to the shelf in question, and stretched up to reach the pile of jumpers on the top. She lifted them down and allowed the elderly woman to peruse them until she decided that they were no longer of interest to her, and she wandered off to look at something else. Sara tried not to appear too exasperated as she battled to return the stack of jumpers to their place.

As the end of the working day drew nearer the shop grew busier again, particularly with teenagers who had nothing to do and nowhere else to go after school. Sara was kept behind the till for almost the whole afternoon while Zoe made sure the shop floor was as it should be, and Amjad occasionally made a brief appearance in between filing paperwork. By the time 6 pm came around Zoe was exhausted, and was looking forward to a meal and a hot shower.

Zoe was turning the sign in the door from “open” to “closed” when the door was pushed open by a customer.

“I’m not too late, am I?” he said eagerly, not waiting for a response before pushing into the shop.

Zoe rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the new customer.

“I just need something for the wife, it’s our anniversary and I totally forgot,” he made a beeline for the scarves, selecting one from the middle of the rack and sending several scarves to the ground in the process.

“Oops,” he said before hurrying over to the till.

Once the man had bought the scarf he left the shop, and Zoe closed the door firmly behind him, making sure the sign stated that the shop was closed. Amjad trotted downstairs to let them know that he was leaving, offering no help at all with the closing time chores. After waving their polite goodbyes to Amjad, they set to cleaning the store, Sara running the hoover over the horrible, nylon carpet tiles, and Zoe placing stock back on the shelves. Scarves were hung neatly on hooks and the stack of jumpers was straightened out once again. Labels for the sales were stuck on the last few items. Finally, they pulled the shutter down together and locked the door, turning the lights out as they headed out of the back door by the staff room.

“See you tomorrow then,” Sara said as she buttoned up her coat against the chilly breeze.

“Yeah, see you tomorrow,” Zoe replied, before parking herself beneath the bus shelter outside the shop. She was stressed and tired as she waited for the bus, and could think of nothing besides a warm shower to soothe her aching muscles.

As always the bus was late and was crammed with passengers. The bus-driver, who Zoe could only assume had had a long and stressful day much like herself, barely covered his frustration at having to leave his comfortable booth to put the ramp out for her, but he did so without complaint as she showed him her bus pass. She barely had time to squeeze between passengers into the wheelchair space before the bus set off, from which she gazed out of the window at the world passing by outside.

Need for Speed: Yet Another Short Story.

“Place your bets!”
The betting shop overlooking the start line was packed full of people, all of them shouting and waving slips of paper in the air, vying for the bookie’s attention. Those who weren’t in the betting shop were pressed up against the metal barriers on either side of the track, calling out the names of their favourite drivers. A few people had brought umbrellas and were huddled beneath them, but the majority of the crowd were content to expose themselves to the drizzling rain in order to get the best view possible.
The lights above the track started to flash, and engines began to rev. The lights moved from red to amber, to green, and as one the racers moved off the starting line, tires screeching and throwing water in all directions. The roar of the crowd was lost among the chorus of engines, and the racers weaved around each other, all of them trying to claim the lead.
Dan contented himself to sit behind the other racers, planning to make his move later on. The first corner was a sharp right, and already one competitor had skidded off the track and into the tire barrier. Unable to carry on, that meant there was one less opponent to chase down.
At the next corner, Dan glided slowly down the inside of one competitor, and then moved across the front of the other; he was now in 6th place. The driver in 5th place pulled across the front of him, blocking his path and throwing water upwards. Dan’s visor was completely obscured by rain, and he skidded onto the muddy gravel at the apex of the corner. His tires lost all of their grip, and he was sent flying across the track and into a barrier on the other side. He collided with the barrier with unimaginable force, and was thrown sideways, landing face-first on the gravel. The crowd gasped in horror as Dan skidded to a halt, and a group of officials burst through the barrier, hurtling to his aid.
Slowly and tentatively, Dan allowed two medics to sit him upright. Thanks to his helmet all of the damage appeared to be superficial, but the same could not be said for his wheelchair.
***
Dan was bored. While his injuries had indeed proved to be superficial, he still had another week before he was medically cleared to compete again. However, within the week the racing season would be over, leaving him with several months to fill before even the training stages would re-open. Normally this period was something of a holiday for him, with the rest of the year being filled with a relentless stream of training and competitions, but he had already been out of action for two months.
He sighed heavily, his eyes drifting away from the TV screen displaying some mind-numbing daytime chat show, settling upon his new wheelchair in the corner. It probably wouldn’t do much over 50 mph without some serious adaptations, and his finances were already tight without the money he usually received from his races he had missed.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, and slowly, without any semblance of enthusiasm, he pulled it out. He was surprised to see the face of his manager flashing on the screen, who hadn’t been in contact since the doctors’ verdict.
“Hello?” Dan answered.
“Ah, Danny boy, how you doin’?” the manager didn’t stop to hear the answer, “I’ve got a job for you.”
“A job?” said Dan, confused.
“Off the books, mind,” the manager said, “but the pay’s good. The money would cover spicing up your new ride with plenty to spare.”
“I’m listening,” Dan said cautiously.
“I have a friend who uses a wheelchair, right-“
“Are you trying to set me up?” Dan sounded exasperated.
“No, but don’t rule it out, buddy,” his manager replied, “and she needs a getaway driver.”
“A getaway driver?” Dan repeated.
“Well, someone who can be in and out real quick. She’ll do the donkey-work, but she needs someone to get away with the reward pronto while she fends off the police.”
“Woah, woah, woah, are you asking me to get involved with a criminal?” Dan half believed that this was his managers’ idea of a joke.
“If all goes to plan there’ll be no way you could be implicated, and you’ll get a big cut of the reward. We’re talking over £100,000 here,” the manager was not joking.
“But-“ Dan began.
“You wanna race again next season or what?” his manager barked impatiently.
“Well, yeah, but-“
“Then this is your chance,” the manager said, “meet me round the back of the warehouses on Sandy Lane at 8 pm sharp.”
“Tonight?” Dan asked, glancing at the clock on the wall.
“Aye, tonight,” the manager hung up.
Dan let his phone fall onto the sofa next to him, staring blankly at the wall, deep in thought. He made a decision.
***
It was 8.05 pm when Dan’s manager sauntered around the corner, cigarette protruding from his mouth at an awkward angle, seemingly without a care in the world. He looked around to check that the coast was clear; he had half expected Dan to give the police a tip-off, and that the police were waiting in the shadows for an incriminating remark.
“Alright, Danny boy?” he called loudly, trying not to let his voice sound as uneasy as he felt, “Care for a walk?”
Dan glared at him.
“Bad choice of words,” his manager said without apologising, “C’mon, let’s go.”
Dan kept pace with his manager, staying resolutely on his left side, away from the cigarette.
“Her name’s Susie,” his manager began, “and she got into this business a small while back when her PIP payments were revoked.”
Dan remained silent, knowing that his manager hated awkward silences.
“We’re meeting her by the ATM on General Street.”
Dan nodded, but said nothing.
Ten minutes later they turned onto General Street, and could see a young woman in a powered wheelchair sat by the special ATM that was lowered for wheelchair access. She didn’t acknowledge them until they were close enough to hear her speak quietly to them.
“You don’t need to say a word,” she said to Dan, “just keep your mouth shut, and get the hell out with the money. I’ll meet you at the rendezvous on Sandy Lane.”
Dan noticed that his manager had disappeared.
“The less witnesses, the better,” she explained.
“I think I recognise you,” Dan was looking at her through narrowed eyes.
“Probably from the front pages of the newspapers when I tried to rob a bank when my PIP was revoked.”
“Probably,” Dan said, “Weren’t there three of you?”
“Sam and Dave got busted for another job that went south a while back, they’re still in jail. But don’t worry, that’s the only time I’ve come close to being caught since being released from prison. We’re here,” Susie took a sudden turn into an alleyway between two banks.
Susie continued round the back of the banks, keeping close to the wall to remain obscure on the CCTV cameras mounted on the corner. She stopped in front of an old door with chipped paint revealing the dirty wood underneath, a stark contrast to the gleaming front entrance that was the epitome of modern capitalism. Pulling two bobby pins from her hair, she began to wiggle them inside the lock until a quiet but satisfying click was heard. Carefully, she pulled the door open to reveal a dark corridor. There was no sign of life.
“Wait here,” she whispered before disappearing inside.
The following minutes were uncomfortably tense. Every sound made Dan jump as he grew increasingly uneasy. Suddenly the alarm inside the bank erupted, screeching deafeningly, and Susie came flying out of the door. She threw a heavy bag onto Dan’s knee but didn’t say a word before turning in the opposite direction. Dan whipped around and shot around the corner, bursting out onto the street as sirens became audible in the distance. He drove quickly along the pavements, desperate to crank up the speed but also knowing that it would only draw attention to himself.
He took an indirect route, twisting and turning down back streets and alleyways, keeping away from the main roads which police cars were hurtling down in the opposite direction. By the time he turned onto Sandy Lane, he felt sure than Susie couldn’t possibly have escaped. As he drove to the back of the disused warehouses, he was surprised to see her sat there, waiting for him.
“How-?” Dan began.
“The less you know, the better,” Susie replied with a wicked grin, “Did anyone see you?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Dan replied.
“Good. You’re manager will receive a payment from an anonymous sponsor in a couple of days.” Susie took the bag from his lap, turned around, and was gone.
***
Just as promised, Dan had access to £125,000 within the week, and immediately went with his manager to their favourite engineer. There was a queue by the reception desk which the manager skipped entirely, much to Dan’s embarrassment. The receptionist opened his mouth to protest when the manager slammed down a huge wad of cash on the desk.
“We need to see Liv,” he barked, “There’s more where that came from.”
“Right away,” the flustered receptionist ushered them through, painfully aware of the discontented grumbling from the queue, including one man complaining about the special treatment of wheelchair users.
“Liv!” the receptionist called.
A tall brunette wearing oil-smeared overalls stood up from her workbench at the side of the room, and came towards them, smiling.
“Hey,” she said, “I heard about the accident, are you OK?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dan replied, “but my wheelchair wasn’t. Let’s just say my replacement isn’t exactly up to much either.”
“Ah,” she walked around him, examining the chair.
“Well, that’s going to take a lot of work,” she tilted her head to one side as she assessed the situation, “I’ll need to drop the suspension, add a spoiler, and tune up the engine for a start. I may well need to replace all the tires too, and swap out some of the frame for lighter materials. And then there’s the safety measures to consider. It’s gonna cost a pretty penny, I’m afraid.”
“Money ain’t no problem,” the manager casually dropped the bag full of cash at her feet.
“When can you have it done by?” the manager asked a startled Liv.
“Two weeks,” she recovered beautifully, “Courtesy wheelchairs are on the left.”
As she led them over to the bank of courtesy chairs, she chatted idly with Dan.
“Did you hear about that bank robbery that happened the other day?” she asked.
It was Dan’s turn to look surprised, “Err, yeah, yeah, I did now you mention it.”
“They reckon it were that lass again, what was she called, Shannon-“
“Susie,” Dan interrupted.
“Yeah, that’s her,” Liv continued.
“Now…” Liv talked Dan through his choices of courtesy chair.
***
It was a bright, clear day with a cold breeze as Dan sat, engine quietly humming beneath him, on the starting line. As always the bookies was full, and the crowd at the side of the track were suitably excited. The lights flashed and changed colour, and the race began.
Before the first corner was reached Dan had moved into 4th position, taking great pride in the looks of shock as his wheelchair glided past at tremendous speed. He threw the chair into a graceful drift as they rounded the corner, then overtook the next wheelchair to claim 3rd place. His wheels gripped the tarmac firmly as he thundered along the track, eyeing up the apex of the next corner. As he approached 2nd place, he could only wonder what exactly Liv had done to his wheelchair; he was convinced that she could work miracles.
The racer in first place had a large lead, but that lead was decreasing steadily as Dan hurtled forwards. It wasn’t until he was right behind his adversary that he noticed who it was. He might have only seen her under darkness, but that wicked smile that she flashed at him as she glanced over her shoulder was unmistakable. It was Susie.

Rob the Roller: Yet Another Short Story.

The sound of van doors slamming signified Rob’s arrival. The builders leant casually against the fence, taking great swigs of tea as Rob glided across the muddy yard towards them.

“Morning Rob,” Tyler, one of the builders who was forever receiving comments about how apt his name was for his profession, said as he handed Rob a steaming cup of tea as supplied by the owners of the plot of land they were working on.

“Morning lads,” Rob accepted his tea with a nod as he addressed the team; “What’s the situation today?”

“We ought to get the concrete foundation laid while it’s still dry,” Jess, the only woman in the group, answered.

“And someone needs to check the deliveries,” Seb piped up.

“Right, well, I’ll get that delivery sorted while you prepare to lay the concrete,” Rob looked around the group who all nodded. Draining the last of his drink, Rob got to work.

Checking the delivery and recording all the items in the inventory and finance records was a long, arduous, and particularly boring task, but laying concrete from a wheelchair was even worse. Rob sat in the shelter of a tarpaulin sheet stretched over the corner of the yard they were working in, feeling drops of water fall from the edge of the sheet onto his head and trickle down his back. Occasionally a member of the team would bring him another drink, for which he was grateful as the hours dragged slowly by.

He had almost completed the whole process when his pencil snapped, and to his dismay Rob found all of his pockets devoid of any pencils. Rob sighed loudly, turned around, and started to roll back across the yard.

“Rob!” hearing someone shout his name, Rob looked up suddenly.

“The concrete, it’s still wet,” Jess yelled.

“You’ve laid it already?” Rob said, surprised. He felt his wheels sink slowly into something, the resistance against them increasing as he tried to propel himself forward, “Great.”

Seb and Tyler came running towards Rob, and started to pull him backwards onto dry land. After a few minutes of heaving, straining, sweating, and swearing they managed to pull him to safety. Rob looked down at his wheels covered in grey slime, which he ineffectively tried to brush off.

“It’ll be easier to get off when it’s dry,” Jess came towards the men with a tray of fresh drinks.

“Thanks Jess,” Rob said dejectedly, inspecting the damage done by his carelessness. Four tire tracks cut harshly in the otherwise perfectly smooth concrete, two narrow and close together from his front wheels, and two larger and wider apart at the back. Lining each track was a small pile of wet concrete that had been pushed aside, and even the patterns from the tires had been imprinted into the concrete. Alongside the tracks were two large sets of footsteps, in many cases elongated as the men slipped and slid in their efforts to rescue Rob.

“Don’t worry, we can fix this,” Seb put his hand on Robs’ shoulder, seeing the miserable expression on his face.

“Any of you lot got a pencil I can borrow?” Rob asked after a short while.

“Sure,” Tyler passed a pencil to Rob, who returned to complete the inventory, leaving the others smooth over the damaged concrete to the best of their abilities and fill in the holes. By the end of the day the inventory was complete, the materials had been sorted carefully depending on what materials would be needed first, and the holes in the concrete were barely perceptible. They all left the building site a little earlier than their usual time, leaving the concrete undisturbed to set overnight.

***

Rob was the first of the team on site the next morning, and the site that met his eyes made him curse violently and vehemently.

“Damn that stupid bird,” he yelled, in between other, less repeatable statements. In the concrete the tracks of a single bird hopping across the yard could be seen, going all the way from one corner to the other.

Next to arrive was Jess, then Seb, and then Tyler.

“What’s on the cards today?” Rob said as he swigged his usual cup of tea.

“Fill in those holes,” Tyler pointed out the obvious, looking at the concrete.

“And then it’s time for bricks and mortar,” Seb said.

Half an hour later the birds footsteps had been filled in, and together they were building the walls of the garage. The four of them carefully laid the bricks by hand, smoothing down the mortar that held them together. The banter between them was light and friendly, with Jess supplying music via an old, beat-up radio with an extension cable leading into the landowners house. Slowly the wall grew to one foot high, then two feet, and by the end of the day it was three feet high.

The next day Rob could no longer reach the top of the wall to add more bricks, so spent his time as a human wheelbarrow, fetching a load of bricks across on his knees and handing them up to the rest of the team. His thighs soon bore the bruises of this task.

The following day, Jess, Seb, and Tyler all needed to use stepladders to continue their work, until finally the wall was a staggering 7 feet tall.

Next came the flat, plywood panels that were the ceiling of the garage, punched into place with a nail gun and hiding the ugly steel rafters that would support the garage roof. This was covered in tarpaulin while some scaffolding was set up around the garage. At one end of the scaffolding was a strange system of pulleys, one end splitting into four chains each bearing their own hook, and the other end with a sack of bricks wedged into a tractor tyre tied to it. The family who lived in the house were perplexed, but were too British to inquire about this. They were to get their answer the following morning.

As always the morning discussion of the tasks to do that day took place over the cups of tea, and then they set to work. The family watched from behind semi-closed curtains as Rob approached the pulley system, and Tyler helped him hook the chains securely to various anchor points on his wheelchair. Seb and Jess clambered up the scaffolding to the top, stopping by the brick-filled tyre which they hauled onto its side.

“Ready?” Jess called down.

“Ready,” came the reply from below.

“1… 2… 3,” Jess counted slowly as Seb and herself rolled the wheel towards the edge of the scaffolding simultaneously. The wheel reached the edge of the wooden platform, teetered for a second, and then plunged towards the ground. The rope uncoiled, stretching out until taut, and then sent Rob soaring upwards towards Seb and Jess, who caught his wheelchair and pulled it safely onto the platform before unhooking his wheelchair from the pulley. Inside the house the family watched in amazement.

Tyler untied the tyre from the pulley system as the team formed a human factory line. Tyler put heavy roof tiles in a sturdy bucket which was hauled up the scaffolding by Jess and Rob using the pulley system. They unloaded the bucket onto the platform, and Seb began to lay each tile along the roof, one by one. The empty bucket was returned to Tyler and refilled, repeating the process until all the tiles were safely by the roof.

Tyler hopped up the scaffolding to join the team as they all set to laying the tiles. Once they had gone too high for Rob to reach, he took to carrying the tiles to the rest of the team while they built the roof. Working together in a swift manner as they had done so many times before, they completed the roof in a surprisingly quick time. It was at this point that it started to rain.

The rain was torrential, beating down on the team with extraordinary force. Rob’s lap was soaked within minutes, and Jess’s hair clung to her face and neck. Tyler scrambled down the scaffolding, slipping once or twice, but reached the bottom unharmed. He removed the bricks from the centre of the tyre, re-attached the tyre to the end of the rope, and waited for the others’ signal. On the scaffolding above Seb and Jess were fumbling with the hooks on Rob’s wheelchair, barely able to see as the water streamed down their faces. After a few minutes their faces appeared over the edge of the platform, Seb giving a thumbs up to Tyler below.

Rob was pushed gently over the edge, Tyler gripping the wet tyre to the best of his abilities. Slowly and carefully the team started to lower Rob to the ground, Tyler gripping the tyre with all his might as he clambered back up the scaffolding slowly. However, keeping his grip on the tyre in the downpour was akin to fighting a losing battle, and almost inevitably the tyre slipped through his fingers. Rob felt the ground disappear from beneath him, his stomach turning with the sudden motion as he fell. He braced for impact, scrunching his eyes shut.

His wheelchair halted mere inches above the ground, swinging slowly back and forth on the end of the pulley. Rob slowly relaxed his tense muscles and opened his eyes. He looked up.

“It’s jammed!” Seb called down, “the pulley’s jammed!”

The family from the house came rushing out into the storm, concerned about Rob.

“Are you OK?” the mother asked, her hair already soaked.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Rob tried to sound as dignified as someone could in his situation.

“Do you need some oil?” the father called up to the rest of the team who were trying to release the pulley.

“I think there’s some in the van,” Jess climbed down, keys in hand.

“I’ll get it,” one of the children, a boy of about 10 or 11 piped up, running over to the van which Jess opened for him. A minute later he was back with a large can of oil.

“Thanks kid,” Jess handed the oil up to Seb.

“Best step back,” Tyler said as he descended. He and Jess stood either side of the wheelchair, holding two of the chains that secured Robs’ wheelchair each. Seb oiled the pulley system, making a mess due to the low visibility in the rain. Tyler and Jess braced themselves to suddenly take the weight of the wheelchair. They felt the pulley give, but were able to gently lower Rob to the ground without a severe impact.

Rob uttered a quiet thanks, embarrassed that the family had seen the whole affair.

“Right, folks,” Seb said as he hopped down from the scaffolding, “We’ll be back next week to add the final touches, and then we’ll be done.”

“Good to hear,” the mother said politely, “let’s hope this rain stops.”

***

The following Monday was dry but over-cast as Rob rolled into work. Leant against the fences surrounding the house was a large garage door, complete with tracks that would need attaching to the ceiling. As he inspected them, Jess came out of the house carrying the inevitable cup of tea.

“Morning Rob, how you feeling?” she asked cheerfully. Rob had always marvelled at her ability to cope with mornings.

“Okay, thanks, bit bruised,” he replied.

“Naturally,” she said.

An hour later the team were busy fitting the tracks for the garage door. They were very fiddly and Seb had already cut his finger once, the plaster barely sticking to the wound. With much stretching and swearing the tracks were eventually in place. Rob went to get the garage door, which he dragged along behind him making a loud, grating sound. The door was a lot easier to get into place than the tracks had been, and within the hour it was ready to be tested.

Rob turned the key in the lock to check it worked, then took hold of the handle and heaved the door upwards. It swung outwards, moving along the tracks. As the door approached a 45° angle, the mechanism that would pull the door the rest of the way activated. Caught by surprise at the strength and speed of this mechanism, Rob didn’t let go in time, and ended up hanging mid-air holding on to the door which was now parallel to the floor.

“Err…guys?” Rob said, his arms already beginning to ache, “I’d say the auto-help mechanism works.”

In response he heard barely muffled laughter behind him, until Jess flung her head back and let out a huge roar of laughter. This set off Seb and Tyler, and even Rob himself began to chuckle as he clung on in desperation. His arms were burning with lactic acid now, and he could feel his fingers slipping slowly.

“Guys, seriously, this is funny but I need a hand here,” Rob said.

Still laughing, Tyler and Seb grabbed hold of either side of the wheelchair, while Jess placed her hands on his back to stop him over-turning.

“3… 2… 1… okay, let go Rob,” Seb instructed. Slowly Rob uncurled his fingers, until his entire weight was balanced precariously on his colleagues. Between them they managed to set the wheelchair on the ground gently, before bursting with laughter once more. Rob couldn’t help but join them as once again the concerned family came hurrying out of the house.

“Minor height issue,” Rob said in response to their puzzled expressions.

“We’re done, just need to clear up the tools,” Seb said as he struggled to control his laughter.

“Cool, well, you’ll have the payment within the week,” the father extended his hand for a hand-shake.

Slowly the tools were packed away and the yard swept. Finally, with everything loaded into their respective vans, Rob rolled down his window.

“Alright folks, you know our number should you have any problems,” he called to the family. They stood on the steps and waved as the team drove off, until they turned a corner and were no longer visible.

“Let’s call it a day, folks,” Rob said into his hands-free mobile set that he mainly used to talk to the team while driving, “Early start tomorrow. That Victorian villa won’t renovate itself…”

Born Survivor: Yet Another Short Story.

I was at home when I encountered my first victim of the sickness. My mum had come back from work early saying that she didn’t feel very well and was going to go to bed for a little while. A couple of hours later she shuffled out of her bedroom and came into the living room, where I was watching the news.

“Have you seen this?” I asked without looking at her, turning the volume up, “There’s some kind of disease going round; it looks really bad.”

When my mum made no effort to respond I turned to look at her. Her skin had taken on a pale, jaundiced hue, and her eyes were vacant between puffed up eyelids. She was drooling slightly from the corner of her mouth and her hair was falling over her face.

“OK mum, very funny,” I laughed. There was a short pause.

“Mum?”

I glanced back towards the TV where they were showing pictures of those who were already sick, and advising people to distance themselves from any victims. My mum wasn’t faking it.

I hauled myself shakily from the sofa to my wheelchair and left the room as fast as I could, slamming the door behind me. While I scrambled for my coat and shoes I could hear her rattling the door handle. I grabbed my bag and quickly checked that my wallet, phone, and keys were inside before bolting out of the door to our flat and locking it behind me.

I looked down the corridor towards the lifts, and saw the old lady from the flat next to ours shambling away from me. She had dementia and no one ever visited her bar the nurses, so I decided to guide her back to her flat where she could remain safe until the sickness could be quarantined.

“Mrs Owen?” I called. There was no answer. I approached her and tapped her gently on the hand.

“Best stay indoors right now, Mrs Owen, there’s trouble outside,” I said calmly.

She turned around slowly. She was drooling from both corners of the mouth and her eyes appeared to be oozing some strange, pus-filled tears. I dropped her hand immediately and made towards the lifts as fast as I could, hammering the button repeatedly as I waited for its arrival, all the while watching Mrs Owen head towards me. The lift arrived just in time; the doors closed as Mrs Owen made to step into the lift, crushing the toes on her right foot with a sickening sound. Somehow I managed to stop myself from being sick, and I pulled my phone out of my bag.

“Steph?” I said, relieved when my friend answered my call, “My mum’s sick, I need somewhere to go.”

“My entire family bar me is down with whatever the hell this is, I was just about to head over to your place,” she replied.

“We’re gonna need somewhere to hide out for a while. Somewhere secure,” I was pressing the phone to my ear with my shoulder in order to give me two hands to push my wheelchair.

“What about the gym?” I asked after thinking, gazing down the empty street. I had never seen it so quiet; if tumbleweed had at that moment drifted past I wouldn’t have been surprised.

“Food, water, showers, and decent security. Sounds like a good place to start,” Steph replied.

“And accessible,” I added.

“See you there,” she replied, and then hung up.

I turned left towards the main road where there was a deficit of traffic. I didn’t have to wait for the traffic lights to be able to cross safely, and I couldn’t help wondering where everybody was. It was hard to believe that everyone had been affected.

As I approached the gym it started to rain lightly, and I regretted not bringing a blanket to keep me dry. I could see Steph already making her way across the gym car-park and I called out to her. That was my first mistake. As soon as the first syllable had left my mouth a group of sick adults came rushing out of the nearby houses, attracted by my shout. They were moving faster than either my mum or Mrs Owen had been able to.

I pushed myself as rapidly as I could, and when I got to the car-park I glanced back over my shoulder. That was my second mistake. I should have kept moving; I felt a sharp jolt as one of the sick ones sank his teeth into my wheel. There was a sharp popping sound and then a gentle hiss as the tire began to slowly deflate. I looked up to see Steph hurtling towards me, and I reached out. She grabbed my hands and pulled me forwards out of the throng of sick adults, and then pushed me as fast as possible all the way into the gym. We slammed the doors shut behind us, sliding the security bolts into place.

“Any more of you?”

We jumped, and turned around. Leaning against the reception desk was a young woman in skinny jeans and a leather jacket, her short hair scraped back into a ponytail.

“No,” Steph answered first.

“OK, let’s go and meet the others and discuss what to do. You were sensible enough to come to the gym so I’m sure you’ll be able to pull your weight,” she stared straight at me as she spoke.

“This bothering you?” I pointed downwards.

“Right now it’s survival of the fittest, and you don’t look the fittest to me,” she replied casually.

“She’s an expert archer,” Steph blurted out angrily, “She’ll be a valuable part of whatever team you’re building.”

The woman raised an eyebrow slightly before turning away, and led us into the café overlooking the swimming pool.

“I’m Ruby,” the woman said, “and this is Vicky and Zelia.” She indicated to two more women of about her age sat by one of the vending machines. Both of them looked up, and their respective gazes settled on my wheelchair.

“I’m Jo,” I said, “and this is my friend, Steph.” We all gathered around the one table.

“Right,” Ruby said, “we’re gonna need to be organised if we wanna get outta this. You’re friend said something about being good at archery.”

“Err, yeah, I guess so,” I said as they all looked at me, “I spend a lot of time on the archery range, it’s one of the few sports disability doesn’t affect that much.”

“Cool. And what about you?” Ruby turned to Steph, “Any special talents?”

“I’m an apprentice electrical engineer,” Steph said.

“Wow, full of surprises,” Ruby replied, “There’s an old radio in the basement; do you reckon that you get that working for us? And modify the vending machines to get food out without spending any money?”

“Sure, it’s certainly worth a shot,” Steph said.

“OK. Well, Vicky and me do kickboxing, so we’re good for on-the-ground defence, and Zelia is our resident genius,” one of the women, small, with a dark pixie cut framing her face, blushed, “so she can do rations and medical stuff, and modify equipment.”

“So here’s the plan,” Ruby continued, “Zelia and Steph will put barricades in place on all the doors bar the back entrance and sort out the radio and stuff. Vicky and me will fashion some melee weapons out of gym equipment and patrol the car-park, keeping it clear of the zombie-things. Jo, you’re gonna select a bow and get all the arrows you can, and get to the roof where you can see what’s going on. We’ll reconvene here in an hour. Understood?”

We all nodded and set off for our various tasks. I took the lift, which was fortunately still working, down to the archery range. I selected my favourite bow; a lightweight, long range piece, with enough tension to fire arrows at tremendous speed. I went around all the store cupboards collecting every arrow I could, amounting to about 100 in total. My only problem was that the arrows weren’t designed to be used as weapons, and probably wouldn’t do that much damage if I tried to shoot someone. I looked around the room for ideas, a fruitless search that sent me into the rest of the basement where I bumped into Zelia.

“You OK?” she whispered shyly.

“Yeah,” I replied, “it’s just that these arrows aren’t going to do much good as weapons.”

Zelia looked around the corridor and reached out to touch one of the roughly whitewashed walls.

“You could probably sharpen some against this wall, but it might take a while,” she said thoughtfully. There was a short pause.

“Hang on,” she added, “there’s some bandages and alcoholic hygiene solution in the medical kits. If you soak the bandages in the alcohol and then wrap them around the arrow-heads, you could make fire arrows. Ruby has a lighter.”

“Good idea,” I nodded, “where can I find a medical kit?”

“There’s one in the café we were in,” Zelia replied.

I headed back towards the lift and pressed the button. As I did all the lights in the corridor dimmed, flickered, and went out.

“Powers’ down,” I heard Steph say from somewhere to my right. A couple of seconds later, a phone torch cast a white light down the corridor. I pressed the lift button again but nothing happened.

“There’s a hand crank for the lift upstairs behind a panel in the café, for emergencies. But we’re gonna need to lever open the doors,” Zelia impressed me with her quick thinking.

“Yo, I made a crowbar of sorts out of one of the cross-trainers. Best use for ‘em,” Ruby’s voice came from somewhere behind Steph. She sauntered towards me as if she hadn’t a care in the world, swinging a metal bar casually by her side. I moved to one side and let her crank open the doors, albeit slowly with a lot of heaving and sweating.

“I’ll go do all the other floors,” Ruby swaggered off the way she had come.

“I’ll go sort out the crank,” Zelia said reassuringly, “don’t worry, we’ll get you sorted out in no time.”

I thanked them and 10 minutes later I was sat in the café wrapping bandages around arrow-heads, and dipping them in alcohol solution.

***

The radio crackled and fuzzed as Steph delicately fiddled with the settings. Out of the unintelligible white noise came the occasional fragment of what sounded like a man’s voice, but we couldn’t make out any words. Suddenly, a clear string of words seemingly erupted from the speakers.

“…can hear this…military operation…rescue all citizens trapped by the plague who are not sick…signal us using this bandwidth…tell us…location…will aid…” the crackling noise overwhelmed the last of the words.

“I think it’s a repeating message,” Steph said, still tinkering among the mass of wires in the radio, “if I can just…there.” She sat back proudly as the message came pouring out of the speakers loud and clear.

“To anyone who can hear this, a military operation to rescue all citizens trapped by the plague who are not sick is in place. Signal using this bandwidth,” a small string of numbers followed, “and tell us your location. We will aid you as soon as we can… To anyone who-“

“Can you send them that signal?” I turned to Steph.

“Yes,” she returned, “but I may need a little time.”

“Take whatever you need,” Vicky spoke for the first time.

“In the meantime, here is my daily ration plan,” Zelia pushed forward a piece of paper covered in pencil scribblings, “the food here could last us for two weeks, after which point we would need to go out and look for more. The most important thing for now is to stop anyone sick from getting in.”

“Well, sounds like we have a job to do,” Ruby looked across at Vicky and myself. We both nodded, and I set off for the lifts.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” I said, stopping just before I entered the lift, “I need your lighter, Ruby. These are fire arrows.”

“Sure,” she tossed it over to me.

“Cheers,” I said as I positioned myself in the lift, and Zelia started turning the crank.

The trip to the roof was slow and dark and when I finally opened the door to the rooftop terrace, the sun was beginning to set. I moved to the edge of the terrace overlooking the carpark and put on my brakes. Below I could see Ruby and Vicky doing a circuit of the grounds, warding off the few sick people that still lingered there. A small group had gathered in one corner and as the two women set to work, they failed to see another small group walking towards them from the opposite corner.

I plucked an arrow from the sports bag slung over the back of my wheelchair and pulled Ruby’s lighter from my pocket. Once I had set the arrow alight, I didn’t have much time to aim before firing it, for risk of setting my bow or even myself on fire. I pulled back the bow and exhaled, then released the arrow. Had it been a video game, I’d have probably unlocked an achievement for hitting three people with one arrow. This being an unfortunate reality I had to make-do with watching the other sick people reel back in fear, before turning and shuffling off in the other direction. Ruby and Vicky dealt with the rest.

It was getting too dark to see properly so I called down to Vicky and Ruby to let me down in the lift when they got back inside. As I waited in the lift I pulled my phone out of my pocket but the battery had run out, leaving me staring at the blank screen.

***

It was three days before we managed to signal the military and tell them our location. There were so many people trying to reach them that the bandwidth was flooded with messages and they couldn’t possibly receive them all at once.

Each morning started with a cereal bar and bottle of orange juice for breakfast, and then I would go up to the roof armed with my bow and arrows, and with lunch rations by my side. I stayed on the roof until sunset, firing arrows at any troublesome groups. I burned through arrows, no pun intended, at an alarming rate as the group of sick people grew larger and larger each day, getting closer and closer to the gym. Occasionally Vicky or Ruby would wander around the car-park, clearing away any waifs and strays, but for most of the day they rested as they guarded the gym overnight.

Steph maintained any barricades and melee weapons that happened to get damaged, retrieving what arrows she could as well, and Zelia assigned rations and treated any injuries. It was actually quite dull compared to all the books, movies, and TV series dedicated to Earth-destroying diseases, and all of us felt particularly trapped.

It was approximately midday on the fourth day when I heard the sound of whirring helicopter blades in the distance. A minute or so later a helicopter appeared on the horizon, and within 10 minutes it was hovering over the gym. The others having heard the commotion came hurrying up to the roof as a soldier was hoisted down to us.

“We’ll hoist you up one by one,” he shouted to us as he landed on the roof. Ruby practically leapt into the man’s arms.

It was then that I noticed my wheelchair was slowly being blown backwards by the helicopter, creeping towards the edge of the roof. Safe in the knowledge that my brakes and the low wall around the rooftop should keep me safe I started to laugh, the first time I had laughed since the outbreak. Steph started to laugh with me, as did Vicky and Zelia, and I think I saw a small smile flash across the face of the soldier too as he ascended towards the helicopter with Ruby. None of us noticed that one of my brakes wasn’t on until it was too late.

I was gaining speed as I was blown towards the edge and when I hit the wall, I was going just fast enough to tip the wheelchair backwards. Suddenly I found myself precariously balanced over a three-story drop onto the tarmac below, where a group of sick adults had gathered to watch the spectacle. I screamed as I felt the wheelchair tipping further and further.

Steph grabbed my hand and Zelia the other, pulling me back onto the roof, but as soon as they had set me down I was rolling towards the edge of the roof again.

“Undo your seatbelt,” the soldier, who had returned to the roof for the next of us, shouted.

“But without my wheelchair-“

“We can get you another at the base,” he yelled. I hesitated.

Zelia dived towards me and yanked loose the seatbelt that was across my lap, pulling me onto the roof at the same time. I looked up to see my wheelchair go flying off the roof, clattering to the ground below. Needless to say I was the next to be hoisted into the helicopter.

***

When we arrived at the military base a new wheelchair was waiting for me. We were examined by a medical team in a quarantined area before being allowed to mingle with the other survivors, of whom there were surprisingly many. We were based there for a month while a nation-wide military operation administered treatment to all those affected by the disease. Finally, after a weeks’ quarantine period to ensure that the disease would not make a reappearance, we were allowed to return home.

It would take a long time before the country was running normally again; many people remained missing, presumed dead, for months or even years. Even 60 years on some people were never found, my mother among them.

Steph went on to complete her apprenticeship and set up her own business, despite being a single mother of two. Ruby pursued a career in the police force, which had always surprised and amused me, and Vicky joined the army. Zelia returned to her job as a junior doctor and worked in various hospitals throughout her career.

As for myself, I moved in with Steph’s family for a few months until I could support myself, and then I continued to spend a great deal of time on the archery range. After all, being a gold medallist at three Paralympics in a row is no mean feat.

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.

Image description: a black and white pencil sketch of Agent 48, disguised as a janitor, mopping the floor. He's sat next to a wet floor sign, and the falling stick man on the sign happens to be in a wheelchair.

“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.

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.

Image description: a black and white pencil sketch of Lily behind the drum kit.

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.