Assassin’s Wheels: Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

There was a pause as Agent 48 digested this.

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

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

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

“Then it sounds like a good opportunity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

image6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Er, yeah, yeah, she did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The receptionist went pale.

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

“Are you alright?” Agent 48 asked incredulously.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll and Rock: Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rigged!”

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

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

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

Secretly, I think I agreed with them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concert from Roll and Rock

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

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

“Hi,” I smiled, “What’s your name?”

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

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

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

To Lily,

You are the first person to receive my autograph!

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

Lily Thorpe.

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

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

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

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

The TARDOW: Another Short Story.

Matt steered his wheelchair into the rickety lift that looked as if it couldn’t take the weight of a child in a pram, let alone a fully grown man in a powered wheelchair who was soaked to the skin due to the torrential rain outside. As the lift door jerked closed behind him he pressed the button for the 3rd floor, and was relieved to feel the lift start to move upwards despite the button failing to light up. The walls of the lift scraped and screeched against the walls of the shaft as it made its painfully slow ascent.

Even from inside the lift Matt could hear the thunder storm rumbling away outside, the eye of the storm almost directly overhead. He tried not to think about the fact that he was riding a metal contraption inside a metal box inside a metal lift shaft, telling himself that he was being ridiculous. However, as the lift finally stopped at the third floor and the doors began to open, lightning struck the building. Matt was aware of a blinding flash of light and a searing heat, and then nothing more.

The Lightning Strike from The TARDOW

***

“Oh my God, this is awful.”

“As if he doesn’t have enough to deal with.”

“Poor man.”

“Shhh, he’s coming to.”

Matt was aware of whispering voices coming from all around him. He opened his eyes but it seemed as if lightning had been burned across his eyeballs, for all he could see was an intense, bright light. He turned his head from side to side, trying to gain some idea of where he was as his vision gradually returned. He was lying flat on his back on thin, hard carpet tiles, and was surrounded by smartly dressed men and women.

“Coming through, give us room to see the patient please,” a stern voice came from the stairwell as the doors opened to reveal two paramedics in their dark green uniforms, lugging huge and heavy-looking bags towards Matt. They quickly made their way over to Matt, crouching down beside him and placing their bags alongside his wheelchair, which seemed to be steaming gently.

“Now then Mr, can you tell us your name?” one of the paramedics said as she took a finger-prick blood sample.

“Matt, Matt Mills,” he replied hoarsely.

“And can you tell us what happened?” the other paramedic was recording his blood pressure readings.

“Well, I was in the lift and then I think, maybe, it must have got hit by lightning because there was a bright flash and intense heat, but that’s all I remember,” Matt struggled to make sense of his jumbled thoughts and fully expected to be laughed at for his unlikely theory.

“He still has his wits about him then,” one paramedic said to the other.

“You mean, that’s really what happened?” Matt asked.

“Apparently so,” the paramedic replied.

“You seem to be OK but I’d be happier if we could take you to the hospital and have you checked out by a doctor,” the other paramedic said, lifting supplies back into the bulky bags.

“Sure, my wheelchair-“

“We can’t take it in the ambulance I’m afraid,” one paramedic said as she helped Matt to slowly sit up, “but given that the hospital is just around the corner we’d be happy to walk with you to the A&E department if you want to keep your wheelchair with you.”

“OK, sounds good,” Matt allowed the paramedics to gently manoeuvre him into his wheelchair, which had stopped steaming.

“We’ll have to attend to our business another time,” Matt caught the eye of the person he had been supposed to meet.

“That’s perfectly understandable. I hope you feel better soon.”

Matt switched on his wheelchair, and was somewhat surprised to see that it appeared to be working correctly. Still feeling shaky he decided that his best bet would be to lower the speed and drive carefully, but as soon as he pressed the relevant button the world around him disappeared. Once again he was surrounded by a bright light, where all dimensions in space and time were meaningless. Almost as soon as the light had sprung up it disappeared again, and Matt found himself perched on the foothills of a mountain surrounded by dense forest.

Matt gazed around him in amazement. The trees were so dense that almost no light penetrated through the canopy above him, and the only thing he could see beyond the woodland was the steep mountain-side soaring upwards, illuminated by the suns’ light. What could be seen of the sky was clear, with no signs of a storm in the vicinity, and the air was cleaner and fresher than Matt had ever imagined it could be.

Suddenly a giant feline emerged from the woods to his left, running at full pelt on strong, muscular legs. It looked like some kind of prehistoric tiger. The giant fangs protruding from its mouth seemed to suggest that this was, in fact, a sabre-tooth tiger.

Matt froze in fear as the beast stared back at him, equally bemused. Then, behind the creature came the sound of running footsteps disturbing the ground, and without a second glance in Matts’ direction the tiger bounded away again.

Seconds later a group of dirty, hairy men burst out from the undergrowth. They halted their progress almost immediately in surprise and stared with intense curiosity at the spectacle before them. Matt returned the compliment, gazing at the rough spears they clutched in their grubby hands, and the way they could not quite stand upright. Their unkempt hair was as wild as the look in their eyes. Save for the carefully placed loincloths in the picture books these men looked almost exactly like the cavemen he had read about as a child.

“Where am I?” all Matt could think was that he must somehow have stumbled across a historical re-enactment group, and a very realistic one at that.

“Huh?” one of the men, who seemed to be the leader, grunted.

“Where am I?” Matt repeated, “this façade is very good but I’ve had a difficult day and I simply wish to find my way home.”

“Man,” the leader said.

“Yes, I’m a man,” Matt tried not to sound too exasperated as he considered playing along with their game, “Now can someone please help me out here?”

“Men,” the leader pointed to himself and his companions.

“I know,” Matt said between gritted teeth.

One of the men from the back of the group pushed forward, and knelt down in the dirt by Matt’s wheelchair. He seemed completely entranced by the wheels.

“Ah yes, the invention of the wheel, perhaps the most significant invention of mankind ever,” Matt smiled encouragingly.

“Eel,” the man tried to repeat what Matt said.

“Look, you don’t have to keep acting. Wheels or not, I’m not stupid,” Matt began to grow impatient. Slowly he started to move his wheelchair towards the men. They all leapt backwards suspiciously, except the one knelt by the wheels.

“Eel!” the man proclaimed more excitedly.

A flicker of doubt crossed Matts’ mind.

“Erm, you really don’t know what this is do you? I don’t think you even understand most of what I’m saying,” Matt said. He was met with blank stares.

“Although I think I just helped invent the wheel,” he muttered to himself.

He looked around him to find a suitable path, desperate to try and find a way home. Finally, he picked out a gap between the trees just wide enough to accommodate him and slowly he made his way towards it. Bored with his slow pace and wanting nothing more than to get home, Matt decided to increase his speed setting. Almost immediately, he was once again surrounded by the bright light that he had experienced before.

This time when the light faded, Matt found himself in the middle of a busy street bustling with activity. On each side of him were market stalls laden with products, vendors all shouting over one another amidst the clamour to attract customers. The women wore heavy skirts and dresses in plain, dull colours, with only the skin on their faces and hands showing, their hair wrapped beneath small, lace headdresses and caps. The men behind the market stalls were grubby and unkempt and no men other than vendors could be seen at all. Children ran screeching up and down the street with iron hoops and wooden toys, clattering and yelling all the while. Many were barefoot.

A horse and cart turned onto the street and clattered forwards through the crowd, people stepping out of the way at the very last second. Matt tried to move backwards likewise, but found that his wheels were trapped on the uneven cobbles. The driver of the coach fixed him with an impatient glare as he drew the carriage to a halt, and shouted down to him.

“Make way!” he yelled.

“I’m stuck,” Matt called back, “I’m sorry, but I think I need some help.”

“Just get out of whatever it is you are in,” the man returned, “and move out of my way.”

“I can’t,” Matt replied, “I can’t walk. I’m an, an- invalid.”

Everyone around him stopped what they were doing immediately, and gawped at the scene before them. Matt was aware of a red flush creeping across his face.

“An invalid? Out of bed? Why does your wife or mother not take care of you?”

Thinking quickly on his feet, or wheels as may be more appropriate, Matt said, “I have no wife and my mother died giving birth to me. I am alone and must care for myself.”

“I think you’ll find that’s what workhouses are for,” the man in the carriage uttered with deep contempt, “now stop interrupting everybody’s business, we have more important things to do than interact with an invalid.”

Matt could feel his blood boiling in his veins.

“I cannot help being an invalid with no wife or mother,” Matt retorted.

“Clearly the Lord has cursed you for some terrible sin, now move!” the man roared.

Matt pulled backwards on the joy stick, feeling the wheels slipping against the damp, muddy cobbles as he desperately tried to move backwards. He twisted around to look over his shoulder and discovered a particularly uneven slab that seemed to be impeding his movement. Given that no one around him was about to help, Matt did the only thing he could think to do. He increased the speed up to full and this time anticipated the white light that surrounded him.

This time when the light cleared Matt found himself on another wide street, with tall buildings of glass and concrete rising up on either side of him, seemingly touching the sky. Along one side of the street, maybe three metres off the ground, was a metal rail, and there seemed to be some sort of bus stop half way along the pavement. As he watched a long, metal cabin with no apparent driver glided around the corner rapidly, hanging from the metal rail. It slowed to a halt by the bus stop and some people clambered off before others got on, and then it moved off again. It was only then that Matt noticed the absence of any other vehicles on the ground, although there was something akin to an aeroplane trail drawn across the sky.

The pavement of the street was smooth and even much to Matts’ delight, and men and women scurried back and forth across the street carrying important-looking briefcases. Their clothes were brightly coloured and it appeared that both men and women paid equal attention to their appearances, with many men sporting overt make-up and glamourous hairstyles alongside their female compatriots. Few children were visible, but Matt suspected that as it appeared to be the middle of the day, most would be at school.

Many of the adults appeared to be talking to themselves until Matt spotted a small device tucked into the left ear of every person that passed him, a glowing image of an apple just visible. The ear pieces were seemingly linked to the watches they wore on their wrists and almost no one appeared to be carrying a phone at all.

Most people completely ignored Matt as they passed him, so wrapped up in their personal business that they seemed almost unaware of the world around them. However, one by one, more and more people noticed his presence. Everyone who looked at him seemed perplexed judging by the double takes, sideways glances, and raised eyebrows that Matt could see. Some avoided going near him at all while others simply walked past without a word.

It took Matt longer than he cared to admit before the idea occurred to him that he was no longer in a past that he had failed to learn of in history but was, in fact, in the future. How far in the future was virtually impossible to tell, there being no signs of newspaper stands in the vicinity.

After much gazing around him, trying to take in and understand his surroundings, a little girl ran up to him and tapped him on the knee.

“Why do you use a wheelchair?” she asked, “My mummy’s a doctor and she says that no one uses wheelchairs any more now that there are medi-frames.”

“Medi-frames?” Matt asked, confused.

The little girl opened her mouth to reply, but a woman who appeared to be her mother came running towards her.

“Marissa!” she said loudly, “You know not to run off like that.” She was all set to continue reprimanding the child until she noticed my presence.

“God, I’ve not seen a wheelchair since I finished my training ten years ago!” she exclaimed.

“Your daughter was telling me that no one uses them anymore, they use something called a medi-frame?” Matt asked.

“Yes, yes,” she replied, “we can treat most diseases nowadays, replace some damaged sections of the nervous system even. But for the few things we cannot treat we make medi-frames. They are specially designed robotic exoskeletons, built exactly to an individual’s parameters, that integrates with their nervous system. Have you not come across them before? I didn’t realise anyone lived like this still.”

Matt decided not to tell the truth, certain that even in this futuristic society, the idea of time travel would seem preposterous.

“I’m not from round here,” he said meekly.

“Well, what is it you suffer from?” she asked.

“Cerebal palsy,” Matt replied.

“Goodness, we’ve all but eradicated the condition by taking extra measures to prevent it occurring in the first place. The few who do suffer from the condition are treated soon after birth, most never experiencing symptoms for their whole life. I’m afraid for the few whose condition still persists, a medi-frame is all we can offer.”

Before Matt could stop himself, he said, “Well, it sounds as if great progress has been made since my time.”

“Your time?” the doctor asked.

Once again Matt was forced to improvise, “Oh, this isn’t a wheelchair, it’s a TARDOW. A Time and Relativity Device on Wheels.”

“There was time travel in the past? There is no record of this,” the doctor frowned.

“Ah, this was a bit of a one-off accident,” Matt explained.

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah, when this baby hits 8 mph, you’re gonna see some serious sh-,” just in time Matt remembered the presence of Marissa.

The doctor frowned slightly and then broke into a grin.

“Considered a great work of cinematic literature nowadays, they study it in school,” she said.

“What year is it?” Matt asked.

“2123,” she replied, “and what year are you from?”

“2018,” Matt returned.

“Ah, the Trumpian era. A troubled time for society if I remember correctly,” she said. Matt couldn’t help but laugh.

“Just a bit. And lovely as this world is I think it’s high time for me to return to the Trumpian era, where I belong,” Matt lined up his wheelchair for a run down the street, unable to resist the temptation to re-enact great cinematic literature for his compatriot. He set off at full speed down the pavement and just as he was about to return the speed to the middle setting, he yelled “8 mph” as loudly as he could. What he couldn’t have known was that his wheels left two trails of fire blazing in his wake.

As Matt had anticipated, when he returned his speed to the middle setting, he was surrounded by the white light. He was relieved to see that, as the light faded, he was sat in the office he had left his own time in, having predicted that since slow speeds sent him to the past and fast speeds to the future, the middle would return him to his own time. The paramedics were collecting their materials and making their way over to the lift, clearly unaware that Matt had ever been away. Everyone else in the office seemed to be losing interest. Aware that nobody would ever believe him if he tried to divulge his ventures, putting it down to some undocumented side effect of being struck by lightning or just putting it down to his disability altogether, he kept his story to himself. The only sign of his adventure was the small grin that was just visible in the upturned corners of his mouth, assumed by those around him to be a muscular spasm.

 

Underestimated: Another Short Story.

It was a cold day in the middle of October and the rain battering the window was loud enough to wake Steve up early. He lay on his back in bed staring at the ceiling, and finally came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep before his alarm rang at 4 pm.

He sat upright and stared at his new uniform that hung on the door of the wardrobe. He wasn’t looking forward to spending the whole night outside a club in thin, scratchy trousers, a polo shirt, and an over-sized, cheaply-made anorak. However, this was his first shift and he needed to make the right impression on the owner of the club, who was extremely dubious about his capabilities as a bouncer. Steve scoffed at this thought; how could the owner of the club possibly know what wheelchair-users were like when they couldn’t even get to the bar?

An hour later he was dressed and waiting inside the reception of his block of flats for the taxi he had booked the day before. He was glad that he had the option of waiting inside somewhere warm and dry as he watched people hurry past laden down with shopping bags, trying to shelter themselves from the foul weather. 15 minutes after his taxi was due to arrive he called the taxi company; if he waited much longer he would be late to work.

“Hi, this is the Fordon Taxi Company, how may we help you?” a receptionist chirruped in a forced, cheerful tone.

“Hi, I booked a disabled taxi yesterday to collect me at 5 pm but I’m still waiting,” Steve replied.

“Who is this, please?”

“Steve Baker.”

“Ah yes, well, we have no disabled taxi’s available at the moment but we will get one out to you as soon as we can,” the receptionist said after a short pause.

“But I booked this in yesterday!” Steve exclaimed.

“All the disabled taxis were already out on jobs. The next one that becomes available will be sent to you,” the receptionist sounded a little less cheerful.

“I’m going to be late for work,” Steve said angrily, “just because it’s a Saturday doesn’t mean everyone is here for a pleasure trip.”

“I’m sorry sir, but as I said all the disabled taxis are currently in use.”

“This is my first shift! If I’m late I doubt it will set a good impression for future shifts,” Steve pleaded.

“If you’re worried about punctuality, you ought to book your taxi to arrive well in advance, sir,” the receptionist had lost all of her false cheeriness.

“I have!” Steve growled, “Why should I have to wake myself up especially early just because you can’t get a pre-booked taxi to me on time?”

“We only have a limited fleet able to accommodate wheelchairs, sir,” the receptionist said.

“Yes and I’ve seen you using them to transport people without wheelchairs on more than one occasion. Anyway if you frequently run out of disabled taxis, perhaps you ought to have more adapted vehicles,” Steve returned sharply.

“That isn’t my decision to make, sir,” for the first time, the receptionist sounded remotely sympathetic.

“Well, when will my taxi be here?” Steve asked a little more calmly.

“We have just sent one to you now, it should be there in about 10 minutes. Bye,” and with that the phone went dead.

A little over 20 minutes later Steve was finally seated in the back of a disabled taxi heading towards work. He had texted his new boss to warn him that he would be a little late due to issues regarding the lack of disabled taxis available. Within minutes he had received a reply telling him to book the taxi in advance the next time. Steve didn’t have the resolve to argue.

He clocked onto his shift in the staff room, which was the only accessible room in the club, about 10 minutes late, and went to join his new colleagues outside in the cold rain. His boss was stood outside with them, a damp cigarette hanging out of his mouth, drooping slightly in the rain.

“I’m sorry I’m late sir,” Steve said.

“Don’t let it happen again,” the boss reported sternly, “Rupal, this is your new colleague, Steve.”

Rupal was a tall, well-built man of Indian decent who was the typical physically imposing bouncer that clubs regularly placed outside their establishments on a Saturday night. His muscular arms were folded across his chest, and his face was unmoving and impassive until he saw the wheelchair.

“You’re the new bouncer?” he raised one eyebrow.

“Yep,” Steve replied.

“But-“

“I’m in a wheelchair,” Steve raised his eyebrows back, daring Rupal to continue questioning his ability to do the job.

“I take it I’m in charge of any physical stuff then,” Rupal tried to change the subject of the conversation. The boss wordlessly threw his cigarette to the ground and let the rain snuff it out before retreating into the warmth of the club.

“Not necessarily,” Steve replied calmly, trying desperately not to roll his eyes, “I’ve had training in kick-boxing and judo, among other things.”

Rupal silently raised his other eyebrow then turned to face the first group of tipsy students who were swaying their way over to the club.

“Tickets, please,” he said. He waited patiently while one of the girls fumbled around in her tiny handbag, finally pulling out a sheath of damp, crumpled paper that vaguely resembled some tickets.

“Can we search your bags please,” Steve interjected before Rupal could take over the whole job.

“Are you a bouncer?” one of the girls asked.

“Yes,” Steve did not want to pander to their assumptions.

“Oh my god, can you, like, beat people up then?” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” Steve said again.

“Not very chatty, are you?” one of the boys in the group observed.

“That’s not part of my job. You can go in,” Steve nodded towards the door, wishing that they would just go inside and quit questioning him as if he were the subject of an interrogation. He was relieved to see the boy shrug nonchalantly and start to move towards the door when one of the girls grabbed his arm.

“Wait a sec, I gotta get a selfie with this guy, no one on Instagram will believe me if not,” she said. Before Steve had the time to react she was leaning awkwardly over him, telling him to smile. Steve gave the smallest, fakest smile he possibly could and then practically pushed them into the club. Rupal said nothing.

“Rupal, if that happens again, and I’m certain it will, please can you reinforce my instructions?” Steve asked politely.

“So you do need my help after all,” Rupal retorted sharply, “Would’ve been easier if you just let me do the talking in the first place.”

“And what would be the point of me being here if I didn’t do my job?”

“What’s the point of you being here in the first place if you didn’t want people to treat you differently?” Rupal returned quickly.

“People ought to get used to seeing disabled people doing normal jobs like everyone else,” Steve said, “More and more of us are doing just that.”

Rupal shrugged and said no more.

As the night progressed, both bouncers getting steadily wetter and colder with the passing time, more and more people arrived at the club. The later into the night it was the drunker these people were, and Steve lost count of the number of selfies he had been unwillingly subjected to. He was beginning to wonder whether Rupal had been right all along when a scuffle broke out between two boys in the queue.

“Cool it, lads,” Steve raised his voice. Both of them turned around, and it took them a second before they realised that they would have to look downwards to be able to make eye-contact with him.

“What the hell? I don’t have to listen to you,” one of them said as soon as he clocked the wheelchair.

“I’m a bouncer for this club so yeah, you do have to listen to me,” Steve said.

“Like you’re a bouncer mate, I’m not gonna fall for it,” the other replied.

Steve internally screamed at Rupal for a little back-up but Rupal remained resolutely by the door of the club, seemingly uninterested in the latest turn of events.

“Lads, if you want to get into the club and not a police car, just wait patiently like everybody else,” Steve turned back towards Rupal.

“And what exactly are you gonna do if we continue our little disagreement?”

“Well you seem to be in agreement in underestimating my ability to do my job,” Steve replied firmly, turning back around.

One of the other boys in the queue quietly asked his companions to calm down, clearly not wanting to spend longer outside in the cold than was absolutely necessary. The larger of the two fighters immediately turned on the boy who said this, delivering a sloppy uppercut to his jaw and causing blood to spurt from his nose. The girls shrieked and tottered away on their ridiculous stilettos as Rupal finally decided to make his way towards the fight.

Steve sighed and made a quick decision. He was going to have to prove his ability to be a bouncer to prove to customers and colleagues alike that the wheelchair was just a wheelchair, and nothing more. He kicked out his right leg firmly and spun the wheelchair round on the spot; the resulting leg sweep knocked the aggressor to the ground where mud and blood mingled on his shirt. Everyone around them, Rupal included, froze in surprise. The boy leapt back on his feet and swung a clumsy punch at Steve, who easily blocked it before countering by grabbing the boys right arm and pinning it behind his back, gently kicking the back of his knees to force him to kneel so that he was at the right height for Steve. Two police officers who were patrolling the local streets were making their way over the road to diffuse the situation.

A Single Kick from Underestimated.

Steve looked around at Rupal and the other customers, plus several bystanders who had stopped to watch the scene playing out before them.

“Do I have to convince any more of you that I’m a capable bouncer?” Steve practically shouted as the police escorted the troublemaker away. He was met with a stunned silence, with a few people even managing to look sorry, “Just as I thought.”

Steve returned to his post next to Rupal, admitting people to the club in a steady flow without any trouble. About half an hour later the boss wandered out of the club and lit another cigarette before looking down at Steve.

“Could you please explain to me why I have the local newspaper on the phone asking me relentless questions about my newest recruit?” he asked sarcastically.

“Err..what?” Steve said as they moved off to one side, leaving Rupal in charge.

“It appears that your little stunt was filmed and uploaded to social media, and now the internet is going crazy over the worlds’ most unusual bouncer,” the boss said, “So the newspaper wants to know everything there is to know about you, including how I came to the decision to employ you. I must say, the public relations benefits would be remarkable if only I could step away from the phone for 5 minutes.”

“You didn’t employ me,” Steve raised one eyebrow, “an agency did and assigned me here.”

“There’s no point splitting hairs at this point,” the boss replied, tapping the ash off of his cigarette which landed on Steve’s lap. Steve impatiently brushed it off.

“But, I’ll give you a significant underhand bonus if you keep quiet about that fact,” the boss said quietly, “because this club is getting some serious marketing thanks to you.”

“I’m not sure-“ Steve began.

“You can end your shift early tonight and I won’t reprimand you about your punctuality this time,” the boss added, “and if you want I’ll give you someone nicer to work with.”

“Tempting as that offer is I was only doing what I’m employed to do. It is nothing to do with me that people underestimate me,” Steve returned.

“I wholeheartedly disagree,” the boss said.

“Boss!” Rupal called from his position by the club door, “There’s a film crew setting up to film us.”

“Ah, no leaving early then, we need this to be filmed for everyone to see. I’ll double that bonus instead,” the boss didn’t wait for an answer as he wandered across to the news team to introduce himself.

Steve returned to Rupals’ side.

“Sorry I doubted you bud, but you gotta admit that the wheelchair gives the wrong impression,” he said.

“Because you assumed things about me before I even opened my mouth,” Steve replied, admitting another clan into the club.

Before they could continue their conversation, Steve saw a taxi pulling up outside the club that was adapted for wheelchair users. He silently prayed that this was just another group of drunken students following their social media religiously, but he was horrified to see a wheelchair user make her way out of the taxi. Her outfit was garish and skimpy enough to make it clear what she was doing that night; she would be going clubbing. She flashed a lipstick-stained smile at Steve before joining the back of the queue. Steve started off towards her before Rupal had a chance to say a word.

“Hey,” he said in as polite a tone as possible when he was in ear shot. He was aware of the news cameras turning towards him.

“Hey,” she grinned, “Can’t believe I’ve found another accessible club to visit, all thanks to you!”

“Ah, about that…” Steve began.

“Oh my god, perfect selfie opportunity,” she interrupted him, and Steve begrudgingly subjected himself to the procedure once more.

“Listen, the club isn’t accessible,” Steve blurted out as she put her phone back in her bag. To his surprise she laughed merrily.

“Quite the joker, I see,” she said.

“No, I’m serious,” Steve interjected, “the club itself isn’t accessible, only the staff room is.”

“You’re not kidding, are you?” she sounded disappointed.

“I’m sorry,” Steve replied, “I was assigned here by an agency and had no say in the matter.”

Whilst in conversation, Steve hadn’t realised that the news cameras had moved closer towards him. His last sentence had just been broadcast live on the news channel. The boss’s face was slowly turning red, half out of embarrassment and half out of rage. He fixed Steve with a furious glance but kept his mouth tightly shut.

“What was that? This man didn’t employ you? And the club isn’t even accessible?” a journalist barged in with her microphone, followed by a camera-man doing his best to keep the rain from disrupting the footage.

“Oh, no the club isn’t accessible. But the staff room is,” Steve could see the look on the boss’s face. The reporter turned back to the camera to relay the latest development in the saga as the young woman in the wheelchair turned away. She paused, and then turned back around to face Steve.

“Steve, Steve Baker, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” Steve frowned, perplexed.

“It’s not my fault I couldn’t get a disabled taxi to you on time,” she said.

“What?” Steve was completely baffled.

“I work for the Fordon taxi company,” she explained, before rolling away towards a bank of taxis around the corner.

Steve was left staring after her, flabbergasted, and jumped when his boss tapped him forcefully on the shoulder.

“A word please, in the staff room,” he said firmly.

Steve knew that he was in trouble just from the tone of voice, let alone the infuriated expression etched across his face. Once they were in the staff room the torrent of abuse began.

“I told you to keep that information under wraps, let alone to blurt it out in front of all those cameras! Have you seen the news now? I’m being portrayed as an ableist, closed-minded miser who saw you as an opportunity for free publicity! The news lot are standing outside humiliating me and bad-mouthing my club. You’ve damaged my reputation; you could put me out of business!” the boss yelled.

All Steve had to say in reply was “Good.”

“YOU’RE FIRED!” the boss roared as Steve turned away.

“I figured,” Steve didn’t bother to turn back to face the boss, “I’ll just be assigned to another club and give them some free publicity instead.” With that he left the room.

As Steve left the club a throng of journalists ran over to him, asking him a myriad of questions.

“I no longer work here; the agency will be assigning me elsewhere,” Steve said in reply to them, “But in all of this I must admit I actually have a question for you?”

The clamouring group fell silent.

“Is it a slow news night?” he was met by a sea of blinking, dumb-founded faces.

“Why do you ask that?” one of the reporters ventured.

“Because I don’t see why a wheelchair-bound bouncer is newsworthy. After all, ableism in the work place is illegal; no employer should fail to select someone disabled if they are right for the job simply because they are disabled,” had Steve been holding a microphone he would have dropped it. Steve rolled away from the group of journalists who were shouting questions at his back.

He rounded the corner and was relieved to get away from the bright lights and loud noise. He was finally alone for 30 seconds. Across the street he could see an adapted taxi with its sign lit to indicate that it was available. He looked both ways before crossing the quiet street and was just about to tap on the taxi drivers’ window when the light was switched off and it pulled away, despite the fact that Steve had most certainly been spotted and there was no one but the driver inside. Clearly the taxi driver didn’t fancy getting wet.

Pixelated Wheels: Another Short Story.

The hardest thing about being unemployed, other than the crippling financial pressures and the constant need to fend off a myriad of questions from various family members, is trying to find a way to meaningfully occupy time. As such, video games quickly became my preferred form of escapism. In video games I could run and jump as if my legs were perfectly normal, and the only things I had to fend off were whatever enemies were opposing me. I spent so long immersed in these fictional worlds that it almost seemed to be more real to me than reality itself. Then one day, that was exactly what happened.

I had downloaded a retro game app onto my console and had been playing on it for a few hours when a notification appeared in the corner of my screen saying that my controller needed to be charged. I moved around the coffee table towards the TV, picked up the charging cable, and leant forward to connect the wire to the console. As it slid into the port there was a spark quickly followed by a blue flash of light, and then darkness.

Slowly my eyes became accustomed to the lack of light and I looked around. On either side of me were two tall walls coloured dark blue, seemingly made in solid panels not bricks or wood. I could see a break in the wall a few metres ahead of me on the left and another on the right, and the passage I was in seemed to turn a corner after this junction. The floor was lined with small, white dots in single-file, like the reflective cats-eyes they use on roads.

Before I could take in any more of my surroundings, electronic sounding music filled the air. I recognised it instantly as the iconic Pac-man music and now I realised that my setting was highly reminiscent of the Pac-man maze itself, but I continued to believe this was impossible until a giant, red ghost appeared around the corner ahead of me.

I turned my wheelchair on the spot, my feet scraping along the walls of the narrow corridor, and made sure that my wheelchair was set to the top speed. As I moved along the passage the white dots disappeared as if consumed by Pac-man himself, accompanied by the traditional sound. Turning at right angles was difficult in the wheelchair but I managed to stay just ahead of the red ghost. I had lost count of the number of corners I had fought my way around in an effort to escape my pursuer when a large, brightly shining dot appeared in front of me. I hurried towards it with renewed enthusiasm, followed closely by the red ghost. To my horror the blue ghost appeared ahead of me at the other end of the passage, and started moving towards me. There were no breaks in the wall by which I could escape. Whichever way I turned I would encounter a ghost. My only hope was to reach the giant white spot before either ghost reached me. Wishing that my wheelchair would carry me faster, I glided towards the blue ghost.

The blue ghost was so close that I was sure I could not reach the special dot in time, and I closed my eyes in fear. The music changed. I opened my eyes. Ahead of me a dark blue ghost was moving away from me as fast as it could, and I set off in pursuit. Within a few seconds I had reached him and one touch of my finger burst him like bubble. I turned around and did the same to the ghost behind me, presumably what had been the red one. Then the music returned to normal and this time I was being chased by both the pink and orange ghosts.

I steered down passages still lined with dots, weaving in and out of each passageway in a desperate attempt to collect all the dots. Once again I reached a large, white dot, but this time I did not manage to catch any of the ghosts. I continued on my task and soon I had found all four large dots, and was left to collect the remaining few small ones. With three ghosts hot on my tail I made it to the final dot and everything went black.

I was hopeful that this would be enough to take me away from whatever had happened when I plugged in my controller and back to the comfort of my home, but I was out of luck. I appeared in the same place where I had arrived, the map filled with dots as before. I was trapped.

I was so preoccupied with my pessimistic thoughts that I wasn’t aware of the approaching ghost. It was only as his pink glow illuminated my surroundings that I looked up. I tried to turn away but was stopped by a deep voice.

“Hello,” it said.

I looked around but could not see where the voice was coming from. It took me a moment to realise that the pink ghost had stopped in its tracks and was looking at me.

“Hello?” I uttered back.

“Don’t run away,” the ghost said.

“I’ve not done any running away in a long while, mate,” the ironic sentiment came out of my mouth automatically. The ghosts’ expression was extremely difficult to read, but it seemed to be upset by my sarcasm.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude,” I added.

“We just want to be your friend,” the pink ghost blurted out, “Pac-man always runs away too and sometimes he eats us, but we just want to be friends.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I uttered nervously as the other three ghosts came to join their companion.

“Why are you scared of us?” the blue one added.

“Well I play a game where the instant you touch me, I die,” I replied.

“Is that why Pac-man is scared of us too?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“But we don’t want to kill you,” the orange ghost chipped in.

“I understand that now,” I replied.

“Why do you have wheels?” the red one blurted out.

“You can’t just ask that, Blinky!” the pink one retorted.

“No, no, it’s OK. I can’t walk so this wheelchair carries me around,” I tried to reassure them that I didn’t mind at all; I was as curious about them as they were about me. Without thinking it through I reached out to give them a handshake and introduce myself, but the second I touched the pink ghost everything started to fade.

“Oh no, our new friend!” one of the ghosts shouted. It was the last thing I heard before being smothered by darkness once again.

I was no longer in the Pac-man maze. I was beneath a lime green arch, and ahead of me I could see some kind of gun moving back and forth in a line, firing white bullets into the black sky. I could hear music, electronic like in Pac-man, gradually getting faster. It was instantly recognisable; I was in Space Invaders.

Cautiously I moved out from beneath the shield and looked up, expecting to see the classic grid of pixelated aliens waddling across the sky. However, what I saw bore almost no resemblance to the aliens I was familiar with and it took me longer than I would care to admit to realise that the white lines, lengthening and shortening in time with the music, were how the aliens looked from beneath.

As I gazed upwards a horrifying realisation crossed my mind. Being directly underneath the aliens meant I was in the perfect position to have a bomb dropped on my head. Upon realising this fact I immediately moved back underneath the shield, only to see the gun on the ground moving towards me at a fast pace. There was no way for it to get past me and it barrelled into me, pushing me out into the open while it sheltered in relative safety. Almost immediately I heard a faint whistle crescendo into a scream and I felt a wave of electrical static wash over me. Instinctively I raised my arms to protect my head and screwed my eyes shut tightly. I couldn’t hear a sound.

I looked up as a warm light illuminated my new surroundings. I was in a large room with metal gangways spread across it all the way up to the ceiling. A bank of computers was tucked into one corner but like everything else in the room they appeared to be damaged. There were shards of broken metal littering the floor and everything was covered in a strange, orange dust.

In the far corner of the room was a glowing, red orb, balanced on a strange, lumpy mass. I started to make my way towards it and heard something crunch beneath my wheels. I looked down to see a decaying, dismembered hand, with scaly skin clung to the brittle bones. It took a momentous effort not to vomit at the horrifying sight. This was no retro game; the graphics were too good.

Suddenly I heard an angry roar from behind the glowing orb and the ground shook beneath me. A huge creature lumbered into my line of sight, at least 10 feet tall, it’s thick skin barely able to contain the bulging muscles beneath. It moved towards me with surprising speed for something so large but I could see nowhere to hide.

I heard movement behind me before a stream of purple bubbles of energy rushed over my head and within seconds the giant monster was dead. I turned around, and from the shadows someone in a battered, armoured spacesuit emerged.

The Monster Dies from Pixelated Wheels..jpg

“Jesus, I didn’t think there was anyone else down here. What the hell were you doing facing off with that monster without even a chainsaw?” a voice came from inside the suit.

“Are we on Mars? Sourcing renewable energy? Like in Doom?” I asked.

“We’re on Saturn, and this is a research plant into the afterlife, not energy. More like a nature reserve gone wrong,” the voice replied. I was too scared to smile.

“Listen, I’ll get you up to see Professor Hollister and he can sort you out, but we ain’t going nowhere until I’ve dealt with that nest,” a gun was waved in the direction of the orb, “because this area is on lockdown until I’ve done just that.”

The person inside the suit seemed to be looking around the room.

“I’m not gonna be able to get you to high ground; I’m strong but I ain’t lifting that wheelchair anytime soon. Right, shelter under those steps. I’ll build a barricade around you and take this.”

A bulky machine gun and boxes of ammunition were placed on my knees.

“Anything gets too close, shoot it. I’ll hear and get to you as fast as I can. Anything big gets close, there’s the mini-rockets. Got it?”

I nodded mutely and backed into the corner beneath the stairs while a barricade was built around me. After a few minutes my new companion disappeared and I heard a loud screeching noise as the nest was destroyed. Almost immediately the room was filled with demons of all shapes and sizes. Some were not much bigger than the average human and some dwarfed the first monster. They all seemed far more interested in my companion and I could hear bullets flying around the room as demons fell. On the odd occasion I caught sight of my new friend, who seemed well practiced at handling guns and was an excellent fighter.

I was so distracted with watching the fight that I hadn’t noticed one of the smaller demons running straight towards me, ugly teeth bared in a hideous grin. Reflexively I squeezed the trigger and the gun jumped around in my hands, so much so that it was impossible for me to maintain my grip on i, and to my horror it fell to the floor beside me. I ducked down desperate to reach the gun, but as usual the side panels of my wheelchair prevented me from bending down far enough to reach the ground. I could brush the gun with my fingertips but no more. My legs were tucked behind the barricade so tightly that I couldn’t even kick the gun around to where I could reach it.

There was a loud bang as a shotgun was fired, and I was splattered with the blood of the demon who had tried to attack me. The room had gone quiet.

“Done,” my companion said as if the task were a minor inconvenience. The barricade was moved and I was given a pistol in place of the machine gun, “This way.”

We headed down metal passageways littered with bodies and broken weapons, the artificial atmosphere howling down the damaged air vents. We moved as quickly and as quietly as we could although the electric whine of my wheelchair seemed to echo around the corridors at an unbearable volume. Finally we reached a lift.

“Glad this place is accessible,” I said, awkwardly trying to make polite conversation.

“Considering some crazy scientist woman let a load of those demons escape and run riot around here, I suppose so,” came the reply. We remained in silence until reaching our destination; the office of Professor Hollister.

The professor was tall and gangly with wire framed glasses perched on a thin nose, and what little hair he had left was plastered to his skull. Both of his arms appeared to have been amputated from the elbow down but the false replacements seemed to move just like normal hands, leaving him able to do things normally.

He seemed surprised to see my friend at his office and even more so to have a companion in addition, as far as I could tell from his expressionless face. He ushered us towards his desk, closing the door firmly behind him. My companion pulled the chair in front of his desk to one side and sat down, allowing me to pull up next to them. They put down their weapons, reached up, and removed their helmet.

Brunette curls tumbled around a pale, thin face, with eyes so dark they appeared to be almost black. The surprise at seeing a woman within the suit must have shown on my face, because she tutted and rolled her eyes.

“Now, I believe you owe me an explanation,” Professor Hollister sat down, robotic fingers clasped before him on the desk.

I took my time to explain what had happened in great detail and I wasn’t interrupted once. When I had finished Professor Hollister sat back in thought.

“So, are you suggesting that we are a video game like the others you mentioned?”

“I, well, I thought perhaps that this resembled a game I have on my console called Doom, but the details are all different. So, I guess I don’t really know,” I had to restrain myself from adding sir.

“Hmm, how interesting. This isn’t a recognisable game but we are certainly not from the same world.”

“Not really,” I responded.

“Now, getting hit by this pink ghost or an alien “bomb” caused you to transition between games?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“If gently touching the ghost only took you to another retro game but getting hit by the aliens caused you to transition to an entirely different genre, maybe the harder you are hit the further you travel.”

“I suppose that would be logical,” I did not like the sound of where this was going.

“So maybe if you were hit really, really hard, you’d return to your home,” Professor Hollister seemed very pleased with himself for suggesting this solution.

“Maybe,” I said.

The professor stood up suddenly and opened a cupboard behind his desk. Inside was a huge chunk of gleaming metal, with pipes and wires twisting around each other in intricate patterns.

“You’re going to shoot her with the Humongo Gun?” the woman in the suit said in disbelief.

“No,” the professor said, “You’re going to do it.” He held out the gun towards her. Slowly, with obvious reluctance, she took the weapon from him.

“What if it doesn’t work?” she asked.

“Then he’ll be stuck with us in this demon compound for the rest of her life. Even being dead is better than that,” Professor Hollister almost seemed to have no concept of the finality of death, “It’s the only chance he has.”

The woman walked behind the desk and levelled the gun at me. I could see down the barrel of the gun into a seemingly endless abyss.

“I truly hope this works,” she said. Before I had a chance to respond or even to think about what was happening, the trigger was pulled. A bolt of bright, white energy flew towards me at an enormous speed, hurling itself into my chest with the force of a tsunami, overturning my wheelchair. When the residual image of the bright light had cleared from my eyes I realised that I was lying on my back in front of the TV, with my controller on the floor next to me. There were no dark blue corridors, lime green arches, or strange glowing orbs. I was home.

I sat up slowly and with great effort I righted my wheelchair. Once I had hauled myself back into it I grabbed my phone from the table to check my notifications. I noticed something about video games on my news feed and with curiosity I clicked it.

“Retro games app recalled due to copyright issues over content; blocked on all major consoles,” screamed the headline. I couldn’t help thinking that there were more important issues that the app should be recalled for but I doubted I would be believed. I decided it didn’t matter; I was home and the app wasn’t in use any more.

That was when I heard a noise from my kitchen. I glided down the corridor and poked my head around the door frame, only to find a demon trying to climb into the snacks cupboard.

Wheelchairs Are Forever: A Short Story.

“Carol, I need you to file these papers for me by tonight,” Don Evans dumped a large stack of paper in the middle of his personal assistants’ desk, disrupting the paperwork she was already in the process of dealing with. Carol waited until he had marched out of her office, if the small box-room barely able to contain the desk could be called that, and slammed the door without a single pleasantry before sighing and muttering an unpleasant comment about her boss. She glanced up at the clock and seeing the time, resigned herself to another unpaid late night at the office.

As she set to work filing the papers she reminisced about how different her job was to how she had imagined it would be when she started working for MI5. She had honestly believed that her work would take her across the globe, meeting new people and encountering new cultures, with the odd spell of action in between. Yet here she was, stuck in a tiny, over-heated office, filing paperwork and reporting her findings to her superiors at MI5, and guarding the various bugs installed around the office. She couldn’t decide whether this assignment was passed to her because she was a woman, or because she used a wheelchair.

The evening dragged on and Carol watched as the offices around her slowly emptied. As always Don Evans was one of the first to leave; Carol had never seen him stay late under any circumstances, even by just a few seconds. Lights were turned off and chairs were pushed under desks, but Carol remained dutifully in her place, focussed on the task at hand.

By the time Carol came to the final piece of paperwork in need of filing she was so tired and hungry that she could barely concentrate, so much so that she almost missed the importance of the letter she held in her hands. As she was placing it in a folder she noticed the initials printed across the bottom of the last page. I.C.P. They were the initials of an as yet unknown drug lord who MI5 had suspected Don Evans of having an involvement with, but had no evidence up to that point to confirm this.

Carol looked around but no one was nearby, and she leant back in her chair to read the letter. It was utter gibberish. The words were not strung together in coherent sentences, and many were spelt incorrectly. Clearly this was some kind of code.

She placed the letter on her lap with some additional papers and left her office, heading towards the scanner. The bulky machine was sat atop a desk and from the wheelchair it was impossible to see or reach the buttons to operate it. She put the papers down on the desk and hauled herself shakily to her feet, leaning against the desk for support. Carol scanned in all the papers she had brought from her office and switched off the machine. As she went to sit down in her chair, she somehow managed to trip over the footplate and ended up sprawled across the floor, while the now disordered papers fluttered to the ground beside her. She cursed loudly as she sat up, and visibly jumped when the doors to the office slammed open behind her. A security guard came running across the room to her, and for one terrible minute Carol thought he knew that she was a spy.

“Oh god love, I saw your fall on camera, are you alright?” the security guard crouched down to her level, puffing slightly as this was clearly the first exercise he had done in a while.

“I’m fine,” Carol said, trying not to sound audibly relieved, “I’m sorry I’m such a klutz.” She began to gather up the fallen papers as surreptitiously as she could, and before she could protest the guard started to do the same. She wasn’t able to reach the all-important letter in time and the guard remarked on it’s nonsensical nature.

“What the heck are you doing with this?” he asked, perplexed.

“Sending it to my boss so he can see it immediately and inform me on how to proceed,” Carol said calmly, hoping to maintain her cover as the feeble personal assistant.

“Oh,” the guard sounded unconvinced.

“May I have some help getting back into my chair?” Carol asked. She knew full well that she could manage it herself, but was desperate to change topics.

With much huffing and puffing, the security guard lifted Carol back into her wheelchair and handed her the messy stack of papers while asking for the thousandth time whether she needed any medical attention. After politely but firmly declining the offer, Carol returned to her office and closed the door behind her, relieved that the ordeal was over. As soon as she had downloaded all the scans onto her high security data drive and had finally completed filing all the papers away, Carol left the office.

Carol waited in the torrential rain for a disabled taxi and when one finally arrived that could accommodate her wheelchair, she had to endure a further five minutes out in the open while the inexperienced driver figured out how to load the wheelchair into his cab. She bore the predictable comments about working late, the terrible whether, and how exactly she came to be in a wheelchair with an air of indifference, impatient to reach her destination.

Eventually the taxi pulled up to the address she had given, and once again began the merry dance of getting the wheelchair back out of the car. Once she had paid him his fare and received her change, the taxi driver refusing to accept a tip from a disabled woman, she watched him drive around the corner before setting off for the inconspicuous building two streets away. No one was on the street to watch her enter the building and only the bored-looking security guard saw her.

She swiftly made her way up to her real office, relishing in the rare joy of an empty lift, and set to retrieving the data from her data drive on her computer. Within ten minutes she had obtained the necessary data and sent it as an encrypted file to her superiors. Then, as discreetly as she had arrived, she left again.

***

Carols’ alarm clock woke her up as always at 6 am. Tired, having had very little sleep after a late night at work, Carol wanted nothing more than to pull the duvet over her head and go back to sleep, but she knew that this was no longer an option now that she needed to see her superiors before appearing as normal as Don Evans’ assistant.

As she left her apartment she was glad to see that the rain had stopped, although the heavy clouds seemed to suggest that more was on the way. The moment she got through the door of the secret MI5 office she was whisked up to the director’s office, where she found all of her superiors waiting for her, perusing the evidence she had provided.

“Well Holly, I must say I’m suitably impressed,” the director said as she entered the crowded room, inwardly cursing himself for addressing an agent so casually in front of a large group of staff.

“Thank you sir,” she said calmly, wondering to herself why he would be so impressed when she had been merely doing her job. If anything she had been expecting to be reprimanded for not having provided evidence sooner, but then she remembered that the wheelchair excused her from the standards applied to other employees.

“This evidence is being decoded as we speak and soon we should have more intel to work with. Once we have the contents of the letter we will be able to decide what course of action we need to take, and then we will contact you. For the time being I need you to remain as Carol Holmes to keep up appearances if nothing else. Is that understood, Ms Steadman?”

“Yes sir,” Holly replied.

“Dismissed,” the director said.

Since she could hardly turn on her heels as was customary for the director Holly had to content herself with swiftly turning her wheelchair around on the spot, a difficult trick which had taken a lot of practice, and many mishaps, to perfect.

Half an hour later Holly entered Don Evans’ office to resume the role of Carol, and tried not to show her surprise when she saw the security guard from the night before in conversation Don. She quickly rolled through his spacious office into her own, and began the complicated business of closing the door and parking her wheelchair at her desk in the confined space she had been given. She was aware that their conversation had stopped abruptly when she entered and could feel both pairs of eyes on her back, leaving her in little doubt about the topic of conversation. Remaining calm, careful to maintain her charade as a simple assistant, she set to working on some more paperwork from the day before. She had only settled into the task for five minutes at the very most when her door opened and Don asked her to come through to his office.

Carol immediately complied with his request, placing herself on the opposing side of the desk to her boss after she had moved a chair out of the way. She was nervous and could feel herself instinctively tensing up, but desperately tried to remain calm, in appearance at least.

“That security guard tells me you were scanning some of my papers last night, including a nonsensical letter that he suspects is encrypted. Is this true?”

Aware that there was security camera footage of her doing so making any attempted denial futile, Carol confirmed this.

“I had not, as I recall, asked you to scan any paperwork last night.”

“No sir,” Carol practically whispered, her heart hammering against her rib cage.

“Then it won’t surprise you that when security called me last night after you had gone home to tell me of your actions, I asked them to thoroughly search your office. This morning, it has been reported to me that there was a bug in your office. Did you know that there was a bug in your office?” Don raised one eyebrow.

“No sir,” Carol replied, trying to look suitably appalled.

“So, the bug in your office has nothing to do with your suspicious actions last night?”

“No sir.”

“Then I’m sure you will be happy to explain your actions to me.”

“Yes sir,” Carol said, “I noticed the encoded letter and grew suspicious that someone was perhaps trying to harm you, kill you even, and that this letter was a warning from an unwilling accomplice. I wanted to study it further after filing it last night, so I scanned it in and sent it to my home computer. I scanned in the other things so as not to arouse undue concern.”

“Why did you not pass it on to security if you thought I may have been in danger?”

“I was shocked, sir, and a bit scared. I guess I panicked.”

“Well, Carol, it pains me to say this because not only are you an excellent assistant, you are also perfectly likeable, but I have no option other than to suspend you indefinitely. I expect your office cleared by the end of the day, and you will need to have your home computer inspected and cleansed of any the data concerned in this matter. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir,” Carol said for what felt like the fiftieth time that morning. In less than an hour all trace of her, bar the wheelchair ruts on the cheap carpet, had been removed from the office. Her home computer was inspected that afternoon and when nothing was found, she simply said that she had taken it upon herself to remove the data already. The two security officers sent to her home also had a quick inspection of her apartment, conscious not to overstep the mark in terms of privacy rights, and she was grateful that MI5 had had the initiative to provide Carol with a false degree certificate to hang on the wall as confirmation of her identity.

She waited a couple of hours after they left before heading into the MI5 office, and was admitted to see the director straight away.

“Come in, take a seat,” as soon as the words had left his mouth the director realised his mistake, and was greatly relieved when Holly simply laughed.

“I know I was supposed to wait for you to get in contact but-“

“There is no need to worry, I was just about to call you in anyway because I wanted to tell you personally how impressed I have been with your performance. Finding that letter was one thing, but the way you handled this mornings’ situation without letting them access the copied letter was exemplary,” the director smiled kindly. Holly was grateful that at least the director was pleasant to work for.

“The letter has been cracked and has confirmed our suspicions. Now that we have hard evidence of his affiliation with I.C.P. he will be arrested promptly,” the director said.

“But won’t that alert I.C.P. that we’re onto him?” Holly asked.

“Unfortunately you being caught has done that already, but we have a few leads from the letter itself.”

“So, what is it exactly that you now need me for?”

“For the arrest,” the director said levelly.

“The arrest?” Holly asked incredulously.

“Yes, the bit where they put handcuffs on him and throw his sorry butthole in jail,” the director grinned cheekily, “It will shake the staff in the office up to see their former colleague involved in his arrest, and may prompt other members of staff to give us any relevant information. Besides, Don Evans’ arrest is going to be huge; the press are going to be all over it. I think the public ought to see the central role played by someone with a disability in catching a criminal like Don Evans.”

Holly smiled, “I didn’t realise you took such an interest in the representation of disability in the media, sir.”

“My wife has cerebral palsy. I think she would divorce me if I wasn’t a bit of an activist every now and then.”

“Well then, count me in for Dons’ arrest,” Holly laughed, “I can’t wait to see his smug face.”

***

It was nearing the end of the working day and rush hour traffic was beginning to accumulate when the MI5 vehicles screeched to a halt outside Evans & Co., and at least fifteen agents headed into the building. Holly had a slower, more conspicuous decent to the road via a noisy lift, and had time to observe the growing interest of the commuters around them. The pavement was already filling up with the press, who had been given an “anonymous” tip-off about the arrest, and Holly had a little difficulty weaving through the tangle of wires and camera tripods as she went to the door of the building. She waited just inside the doorway and within a minute had the pleasure of watching Don Evans being escorted down the stairs in handcuffs. She mused that this was the only time she had ever seen him use the stairs.

Don was trying to keep his face to the floor in a futile attempt to mask his identity, but when he glimpsed “Carol” out of the corner of his eye he stopped in his tracks and looked up.

“Hello Don,” she said lightly, as if they had merely bumped into each other in a pleasant coffee shop.

“Carol?”

“Holly Steadman, MI5,” she said, extending a hand as a formal greeting before feigning an apology for wanting the shake the hand of a man in handcuffs.

“But, but-“ Don spluttered, “But you’re just a PA. A PA in a wheelchair.”

“Actually I was an undercover MI5 agent, but thanks to you I’m sure I’ll be receiving a promotion soon,” Holly smiled brightly, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”

With that Don was pushed out onto the street, where the press hounded him like a pack of hungry hyenas as he was loaded into a van and the doors were slammed shut behind him.

***

The next day, on the way to her new office as captain of a squad of MI5 agents, Holly picked up a newspaper. The front page had a large photo of a surprised Don Evans being pushed into a van, and behind him a woman in a wheelchair could be seen smiling brightly. For the most part the article described the evidence against Evans and how he was arrested, but Holly was intensely pleased to find that in the very last paragraph, the promotion of disabled agent Holly Steadman was mentioned as an example and inspiration for other disabled people. She decided that she would cut out and keep that article to remind herself every time someone doubted her ability to do a task simply because she was disabled and not for a genuine reason, that she had proved the doubters wrong once before.

Wheels by Night: A Short Story.

The setting sun cast a blood red glow around the room, awakening Rusev. Slowly he pushed away his coffin lid and sat upright, watching the last of the light fade into darkness. He reached out to where he had parked his wheelchair the night before, only to find that having left the brakes off it rolled away from his grasp. Rusev sighed, he was never at his best in an evening, and crawled inelegantly out of his coffin towards his wheelchair. Once he was seated in his chair he wheeled across to the fridge and helped himself to leftovers from the night before. He wiped his mouth a habit he had developed since he could no longer rely on mirrors to determine if he had smears of blood around his lips, and then pulled his cloak off the sofa. As he draped the thick fabric around his shoulders it got caught on one of his wheels, and he had to struggle for several minutes to free it. He sighed when he saw yet another tear in the cloak that would need stitching up but that would have to wait. He needed to restock his fridge.

Rusev exited his apartment, locking the door behind him before heading towards the lift. The gothic castles of Transylvania, appealing as they were to any vampire, were not renowned for their accessibility. The closest Rusev had been able to emulate was to live in an apartment block in the shadow of a ruined castle on a hilltop in the centre of England. As he waited for the lift arrive he watched a bat flit past the window, intent on catching the myriad of insects that appeared just after sunset.

When the lift finally arrived the doors scraped open to reveal that it was packed with the large family from the floor above, presumably heading home after a day at the castle. Those that acknowledged Rusev smiled apologetically making no attempt to accommodate him, and Rusev resigned himself to another wait.

Eventually Rusev made it out on to the street and rolled along the uneven pavements, trying to avoid both potholes and people. To make matters more difficult he was travelling up a rather steep slope, and soon his arms burned with lactic acid. He was heading towards the castle which had a dense cluster of trees outside of the walls surrounding the gardens, the perfect place to wait for unsuspecting passers-by, able to see anyone approaching from a great distance due to his keen night-vision. Admittedly the soft soil and partially exposed tree roots made navigating this region particularly difficult, but Rusev had practised such manoeuvres for almost seventy years.

Rusev had to wait an unusually long time before a pair of drunken teenagers stumbled into the woodlands, hoping for a little privacy. He had to prevent himself from tutting and contented himself with thinking “kids these days”. The pair stumbled to the ground, using their coats as a mattress on this chilly evening. Rusev tried to make his move but to his horror realised that he had been waiting so long for someone to arrive that his wheels had sunk into the ground, and he was completely stuck. The commotion as he tried to free himself was enough to alert the teenagers of his presence, who quickly pulled on their half-removed clothes and headed in his direction carrying fallen branches to defend themselves.

“Oh deary me,” Rusev said in the most stereotypically English voice he could, “I’m afraid I’m stuck. I could do with a little assistance if you please.”

The teenagers were momentarily stunned, then dropped their branches, horrified at the thought of beating up a disabled man.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry,” one slurred, “I thought you were like, a pervert, or something.”

“No, no, deary me, no,” Rusev continued, “an ecologist. Not the best choice of career for a wheelchair user, admittedly.”

“So you’re doing some kind of study?” the other teen asked.

“Yes, I’m studying wildlife in managed woodlands close to urban areas at night. You’re not the first people I’ve scared doing this,” Rusev replied.

“Do you need help?”

“Ah, yes, if that isn’t too much bother.”

It took perhaps ten minutes of pushing and pulling, which was difficult to coordinate given the state of the teenagers, before Rusev was finally free.

“Thank you, ladies,” he said, spinning around and heading in the opposite direction, stopping to inspect a particularly interesting tree root along the way.

Rusev found another convenient hiding spot where the ground was firmer so he could avoid any further embarrassments. He was becoming increasingly hungry but he had no choice other than to wait before a late-night dog-walker appeared. This was perfect. The man was clearly tired so would make for an easy catch, and the dog could be used to lure the man into the woods. In fact, the dog had already picked up his sent and was tugging at the leash, eager to explore the woodland. As they approached Rusev snapped a twig and the dog went into a frenzy, dragging its’ owner into the woods. At the right moment Rusev made his move, tripping the man up using his wheels and then hauling him onto his lap in order to reach the jugular.

He took a deep drink and then filled an empty bottle to put in his fridge for later, but was careful not to kill the man. Instead he made a small incision on his little finger, which was scarred from repeatedly doing just that, and wiped his own blood over the wound in the mans’ neck. He watched the bite mark heal, disappearing completely, and let the man fall to the floor unconscious. After reaching down to give the dog a quick pet, he placed a garlic clove in the mans’ hand and rolled away. The man would wake up within ten minutes unable to remember a thing, merely feeling a little light-headed. He would have an inexplicable and intense craving for garlic, and just one small bite of the clove would rid him of vampirism.

Rusev still had another empty bottle to fill, and desired a second, fresh drink, which was when the blood was at it’s best. Now that it was late at night his best bet would be to wait in the shadows of an old oak tree outside the local pub, which he had never seen the inside of due to the step in the doorway.

It took Rusev longer than he had anticipated to reach the shelter of the oak tree, as he had to take long detours on three separate occasions due to the lowered kerbs being blocked by badly parked cars and a set of roadworks. Once he had made it he waited again, his dark cloak camouflaging him in the shadows, and he was grateful when his patience paid off. Three middle-aged men, all talking loudly about a recent football match, wandered out of the pub straight towards Rusev. Half way across the car park two of the men peeled off towards the bus stop while the third one continued in the same direction. Rusev rolled back, careful to remain hidden, and pulled a cigarette from a pocket within his cloak despite the fact that he couldn’t stand the smoke.

“You got a light, mate?” Rusev said as the man walked past.

“Christ, man, you can’t go round scarin’ people like that,” the man tried to recover from the shock.

“Sorry pal, I didn’t mean to scare you that bad,” Rusev replied, “Serious though, ‘ave you got a light?”

“Yeah, yeah, lemme gerrit out me pocket.”

As the man tugged his cigarette lighter out of the inside pocket of his well-worn jacket, Rusev noticed his two compatriots boarding a bus. He held out his hand for the lighter, intentionally fumbling and dropping it as it was passed to him.

“Ah sh-,” Rusev said.

“I got it,” the man bent down, his neck now level with Rusev’s mouth. Rusev made his move and soon he was feeling content, with two full bottles of blood ready to go in his fridge. He healed the mans’ wound and left him a garlic clove, tucked the bottled blood inside his cloak, and set off for home.

Going back down the sloped streets was, if anything, harder than climbing up them. The wheels constantly strained beneath his hands wanting to go faster, and it took most of his strength not to lose control. He was concentrating so hard on not speeding down the hill like an uncontrollable rollercoaster that he didn’t see the gaping pothole in the pavement. Before he had even realised what was going on, his wheels entered the pothole and he was flung forwards. His seatbelt kept him in the chair, but couldn’t stop Rusev’s head clashing hard with his left wheel.

Shaken but not hurt, Rusev slowly sat upright. Nothing appeared to be broken and he could see no obvious injuries. He was, however, perplexed to hear a soft hissing side on his left. Puzzled he looked around, but could see nothing that could be the source of the noise. Shrugging it off as a strange aftereffect of the pothole Rusev tried to move off, but found that where before his wheelchair was like an eager cheetah, now it was more akin to a sluggish elephant. He looked down to inspect the cause of the problem and found to his dismay that his left tire had punctured when his fangs collided with it, complete with a small blood stain surrounding the hole in the rubber.

The wheelchair wasn’t impossible to move, but it took great strength to maintain even the slowest of paces. It now leaned to the left and was inclined to head in that direction; steering it was nigh on impossible. Rusev was just grateful that he had eaten before the tire had punctured, frustrating as it was.

It took him over an hour of slow grunting and sweating along dark and empty streets before he reached his apartment building, by which time the earliest signs of the summer sun were already apparent. As he pushed through the shiny glass doors of the ugly, modern building, the sun began to appear. Hurriedly Rusev pressed the lift button, and cursed it for being so slow. Again and again he pressed it, finding what shelter he could under his cloak. When the lift did arrive it contained a toned man in running gear, with a large sports bag by his side. Rusev couldn’t help but think that if someone was willing to get up at a ridiculous hour to go for a run surely they could manage the stairs, but said nothing.

The man bent to pick up his bag, looking a little curiously at the pale wheelchair user who appeared to be cowering from the sun. As he lifted his bag one of the seams split, and a mess of clothes and sport equipment tumbled out. He smiled apologetically to Rusev, who he had concluded was simply suffering from a particularly terrible hangover, and slowly gathered his things together. Each second felt like a year to Rusev as his skin tingled and then burned under the fierce light of the sun. Even wrapped in his cloak he could feel his skin roasting, and knew he would have some lovely blisters for the next week or so.

Once the man had gathered all his things and exited the lift the doors began to close, and Rusev had to stick his arm between the doors to stop them closing completely. As quickly as he could, which wasn’t at any great speed at all, he pulled into the lift, relieved to have a brief respite from the sun. There were no interruptions as he ascended to his floor, but the progress along the corridor to his flat was hampered by both the flat tire and his burning skin. His trembling hands could barely fit the key in the lock and he struggled to pick up the newspaper from the day before left outside his door by the one neighbour he ever spoke to. He swung the door open and entered his apartment, cursing the fact that he hadn’t put up the new set of blackout curtains yet leaving him once again exposed to sunlight.

He didn’t bother putting the brakes on the wheelchair or taking off his cloak but instead practically fell into his coffin, hauling on the lid after him and relishing in the welcoming darkness. He was perusing the pages of his paper when he remembered that the bottles of blood were still in his pocket, and not in the fridge. Cursing vehemently with every cell in his body Rusev threw the lid off of his coffin, crawled to the fridge and put the bottles inside, before returning to his coffin. His hands and wrists had black scorch-marks etched across them and he had no doubt that his face would too. In one last monumental effort, he clambered inside and replaced the lid of the coffin, and was asleep before he had even picked up his newspaper.