An Unlikely Wrestler: Yet Another Short Story.

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

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

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

“Pardon?” he asked in disbelief.

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

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

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

“Oh,” was his only response.

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” he said again.

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

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

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

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

“Split the bill?” Chrissie raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell happened here?” he barked.

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

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

“I’m fine,” Chrissie shrugged.

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

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

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

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

“Sorry,” Janice said.

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

***

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

“Good luck,” she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workplace Wheels: Yet Another Short Story.

“Do you work here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Err…sorry?” Zoe was perplexed.

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

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

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

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

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

Zoe maintained a diplomatic silence on this point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is your home décor section?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need for Speed: Yet Another Short Story.

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

Wheels Ahoy: Yet Another Short Story.

“What’s the weather forecast, lad?” the captain said in his gruff voice.

“I’ll just check, cap’n,” the first mate, a young man in his early twenties, replied. He crossed the captains’ spacious cabin, opened the wooden door, and peered up at the mast.

“What be the weather on the horizon, laddie?” the first mate bawled up at the cabin boy who was perched in the crows’ nest, buffeted by the strong winds.

“Looks like there be another storm comin’” came the faint response.

“Another storm comin’ by the look of it, cap’n,” the first mate said as he re-entered the captains’ quarters, receiving an exasperated sigh in response. As if in confirmation of the first mates words, the captain felt the swell of the sea increase beneath him.

“We’ll have to go to port soon, then, I doubt the Rolly Roger can take much more of this.”

“Aye, cap’n,” the first mate said, bending over the map spread over the desk, “the nearest be one days’ good sailin’ away sir.”

“That’d be sailin’ in good weather, lad,” the captain replied, then paused in thought, “I’ll take the helm ‘til the storm hits.”

“Aye aye cap’n.”

The captain moved away from his desk to reveal a specially crafted wooden chair, with two small cart-wheels where the legs would normally have been. It did not look especially comfortable and was even slightly askew, but the captain was accustomed to it and didn’t even seem to mind the frequent splinters all over his hands from contact with the wheels. He turned awkwardly to move around the desk, then headed to the door of the cabin which the first mate held open for him.

“Afternoon men,” the captain roared heartily as he emerged on deck.

“Aye aye cap’n,” came the chorus response.

The captain headed towards the ladder leading up to the helm, stopping in front of two large, impassive men stationed there. Not a word was needed. One man carefully lifted the captain from his wheelchair, and started to ascend the ladder in a balancing act that was uncomfortable to watch, and the other had the equally cumbersome task of carrying the wheelchair. At the top of the ladder the captain was gently set back in his wheelchair. This procedure, unusual as it was, did not attract much attention as the crew of the ship were accustomed to the captains’ condition, just as he was to his wheelchair.

The captain took his place by the wheel, which was set lower than was conventional so that the captain could reach it comfortably. The dark clouds on the horizon were creeping forward, consuming more and more of the clear, summer sky, and the wind was growing noticeably stronger. Overhead seagulls circled in the sky, screeching and occasionally dive-bombing the poor cabin boy who was still not relieved of duty in the crows’ nest.

The captain stretched out his arms so that the back of his hands were visible, his thumbs stretched out at right angles to his fingers. On the left hand a “P” had been tattooed indicating “port”, and on his right an “S” for starboard.

“To port!” he called to his men, who then had the unenviable task of coaxing the old, heavy ship to turn.

Once the ship was set to the right course a flurry of action ensued as the sails were folded away to prevent them from becoming damaged in the storm. Finally the cabin boy was allowed to scramble down the rigging, his bare feet slipping on the ropes. About half way down in the transfer between two adjacent sets of rigging, he slipped and fell, landing with a loud, wet thump on the deck besides the captain.

“Careful laddie,” the captain looked down at the bedraggled boy, “that’s how I ended up in this thing.”

“I’m good, cap’n,” the cabin boy croaked.

The first mate came scurrying up the ladder to the captains’ side.

“I suggest you go inside before the storm hits, cap’n,” he offered, “I’ll take the helm.”

“I can make my own decisions, lad,” the captain said before turning to the men stationed by the ladder, “First mate on the helm, we all know what happened the last time I got caught up here in a storm.” He eyed the messy patchwork of wooden shingles and nails that covered the hole his old wheelchair had made when it rolled off the deck in a storm. Then began the process of getting both the captain and his wheelchair safely down the ladder, which with the swell now picking up was particularly tricky. Once he was down on the main deck again the captain returned to his cabin, accompanied by the cabin boy to serve some much-needed rum.

The captain relished in the relative warmth of his cabin, a mug full of rum in his hand, watching the stormy sea slap the sides of the ship with increasing ferocity. Slowly the day darkened into night, and the ships’ cook brought a plateful of warm food up to the captain. Sometime after finishing his meal alone in his cabin the captain fell asleep, only to be awoken by his wheelchair sliding backwards until it hit the cabin wall with a substantial impact. As he wearily looked around the room the floor tilted the other way, and the captain rolled across the cabin to the other wall, which he had barely collided with before the motion reversed. Around his wheels, empty rum bottles clinked and clattered as they travelled with him back and forth.

With a tired sigh the captain turned his wheelchair perpendicular to the waves in an attempt to stop the distressing movement, but the force of the waves overturned his wheelchair completely, leaving him in a heap on the floor pummelled by empty rum bottles. Despite the obvious discomfort the captain was tired and drunk enough to return to sleep, and when he awoke once more the worst of the storm had passed.

***

“Land ahoy!” the shout from the crows’ nest was audible from within the cabin as the captain sat himself upright, leaning against his desk. His wheelchair had ended up in the far corner of the office, still overturned. He was about to start the laborious process of crawling over to it when the cabin doors burst open and the first mate thundered into the room.

“Did your parents not teach you to knock?” the captain tried to sound disgruntled, despite being secretly pleased that help had arrived.

“I didn’t have none, cap’n, I was brought up in an orphanage,” the first mate failed to realise the rhetorical nature of the question as he scurried over to the captain, “You alright?”

“Of course I’m fine, lad, I’ve ‘ad worse,” he paused dramatically, “Have I not told you of the time I-“

“Single-handedly fought off the kraken and saved a hundred pirates’ lives, including that of Blackbeard himself, all from a wheelchair? Yes, cap’n, you have, many times,” the first mate replied as he set the wheelchair upright, and pushed it to the captains’ side before gently helping him into it.

“We’ll be dockin’ this afternoon, cap’n,” the first mate said as he left the cabin again.

***

As the Rolly Roger drew into port, the captain was uncomfortably aware of the many staring men and women as he sat at the helm of the ship. The crews of other ships stopped their work briefly to gawp as he drifted past, trying to ignore a thousand eyes staring into what felt like his soul. Once the ship was still and the gangway down the captain was lifted onto the deck once more, and then had to make the precarious journey over, the narrow gangway from ship to shore. Once on the jetty the captain was approached by a man who looked as if the last time he had had any fun had been in a previous life, in which he had also been a slug.

“No wheeled contraptions on the jetty, it damages the wood,” the man pointed at the wheelchair, failing to address the captain appropriately.

“And what would one ‘ave me do?” the captain replied in a mockingly eloquent tone, “levitate?”

A few people tending to a ship on the other side of the jetty sniggered, which only served to annoy the man even more.

“We’re just here to pick up some stuff from the market and we’ll be gone again tomorrow,” the captain said icily, “I have no intention of staying for long.”

“Well someone else will have to do it. Now if you won’t be reasonable I’m sure your captain will. Where is he?” the man snarled back.

“You’re talking to ‘im, you mollycoddled, do-gooding landlubber,” the captain said fiercely.

“I’m not sure your captain would appreciate such humour,” the man replied.

From the deck of the ship the first mate had watched the exchange and finally decided to put the pompous fool in his place.

“Captain!” he called, “what should I do with this ‘ere plague-ridden, fleabag rat?”

“Just throw ‘im ashore,” the captain called back, trying not to look too smug.

“Oh goodness, captain I do apologise. You must understand, your case is so unusual-“

“Oh I know, lose a leg and everyone thinks you’re a legendary warrior, lose movement in your legs and everyone wonders where your brain got to. Now, are you going to let me pass or not?” the captain interrupted and his adversary stood meekly to one side.

In the village the captain wandered around the cobbled market place, occasionally getting stuck on the uneven ground, sending his men to collect the necessary supplies. At the very edge of the market was a stall that caught the captain’s attention. It was laden down with precious stones of every imaginable shape, size, and colour, some set into jewellery, and some on their own. The vendor behind the stall saw his potential customer and immediately set to work.

“Healing stones, get your healing stones here! Make blind men walk and lame men see – no, hang on, blind men see and lame men walk,” on the last point he looked directly at the captain.

“What do I do?” the captain asked, “Swallow one?”

“No, no, sir. They are charmed with the blessings of healing spirits-“

“Ah it’s a long time since I was on the receiving end of any blessings, I think I’ll pass,” the captain turned away and set off towards the harbour again, his crew following him with all that they had bought.

***

The captain was the last to traverse the gangway. As he started to make his way over the path barely wider than his wheelchair he noticed a beautiful woman dressed in the latest fashions walking along one of the walls overlooking the port, her luscious curls falling almost to her waist. Distracted, it did not take much for his wheelchair to go off course, and before he knew it the captain was plunged into the cold, scummy waters below. Seconds later he was joined by the first mate, who having seen the captains’ fall had dived into the murky waters without a second thought, and he heaved the captain to the surface. As air once again touched the captains’ face he took a great, gasping breath, and then proceeded to cough what little water had entered his lungs back into the ocean. Still coughing and gasping, two crewmen who had returned to the jetty to help the captain heaved him up, where he lay flat on his back soaking the wood beneath him. The first mate dived back into the waters, staying below the surface for almost a minute before resurfacing.

“The wheelchair’s gone,” he said as he pulled himself onto the jetty, “I’ll ‘ave to build a new’un. Take the cap’n aboard while I go in search of materials.”

The two crewmen carried the bedraggled captain onto the ship, leaving a trail of wet wood in his wake. They dragged him to his cabin and placed him on the bed and the cabin boy was instructed to give the captain clean, dry clothes.

By the time the first mate returned from town, having spent all the gold from their past three lootings altogether, the captain was warm and dry if a little shaken. The crew spent the entire afternoon crafting a new wheelchair for the captain, taking until sunset to complete the task. As darkness fell the first mate pushed the new wheelchair into the captains’ cabin.

“There you go, cap’n,” the first mate presented the chair proudly, “We’ve got t’wheels even this time so it won’t be slightly askew.”

“Ah now that’s a welcome relief, thank you,” the captain smiled to the first mate as he was lifted into his new chair, “By the way, as reward for ya work today our next task will be t’seize another ship.”

There was a pause.

“A new ship, cap’n?” the first mate queried.

“Aye I’m promoting you to captain of your own ship, lad,” the captain grinned, showing off a full set of rotten teeth, “The crews’ big enough to divide between two ships.”

It took a minute for the news to sink in, but when it did, a warm grin spread across the first mates’ face. The captain took on a serious tone again.

“We leave at dawn.”

Rob the Roller: Yet Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ready?” Jess called down.

“Ready,” came the reply from below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“Naturally,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born Survivor: Yet Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

“Mum?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And accessible,” I added.

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

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

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

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

“Any more of you?”

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

“No,” Steph answered first.

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

“This bothering you?” I pointed downwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You OK?” she whispered shyly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” she tossed it over to me.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But without my wheelchair-“

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Away in a Wheelchair: A Christmas Story.

Mary sat in the waiting room scrolling through social media, trying to avoid the news as it was nearly always miserable. An old man was coughing loudly in the corner, and on the other side of the room a mother comforted a snivelling child. The receptionist could be heard tapping away at her computer, interrupted only by the phone ringing.

There was a beeping noise and Mary’s name appeared on the large screen mounted on the wall above reception. She clicked off her brakes and manoeuvred her way towards the doctor’s office, knocking on the door in the vain hope that they would open it, but simply hearing a woman’s voice brusquely say “come in” from the other side instead. Mary pushed the door open with her feet while propelling her wheelchair into the room, and positioned herself opposite the doctor.

“What can I do for you today?” the doctor sounded bored.

“Well, it’s just these new pills you’ve put me on,” Mary began, “they’re very effective but they also have side effects.”

“And what would those side effects be?” the doctor pressed.

“Very vivid hallucinations,” Mary tried to sound as self-assured as she could while at the same feeling highly embarrassed.

“How strange, that’s never happened before,” the doctor said as she scanned the prescription on her computer for the list of side effects.

“Yeah, it was…weird,” Mary offered.

“So what did you hallucinate?” the doctor looked back at Mary.

“Well…err…and I promise you it all seemed very real at the time…err…I…um…I met an angel.”

“What?” the doctor said, flummoxed.

“I met an angel,” Mary repeated self-consciously, “and the angel told me that I would soon become pregnant with the child of…oh, this is ridiculous,…of God.”

The doctor barely contained her amusement, a small snicker escaping before she continued.

“Ridiculous indeed, to have children you’d need to be able to have sex,” the doctor quipped.

“Really?” Mary raised an eyebrow, “how did you pass medical school if you don’t think disabled people can have sex?”

The doctor opened her mouth but Mary interrupted, “Don’t even ask how, OK? I lie down. Sheesh.”

The doctor closed her mouth again looking thoughtful.

“There is one way we could settle this matter if it would put your mind at ease,” the doctor recovered her professional demeanour, “You could take a pregnancy test. I have some in my desk, and the disabled toilet is just around the corner.”

“Fine,” Mary took the pregnancy test from the doctor and left the room, returning 5 minutes later.

“May I have another please, I think I did this one wrong?” Mary looked somewhat sheepish.

“Sure,” the doctor handed her another and spent the next 5 minutes filing paperwork while she waited.

Mary returned looking even more sheepish than before, carrying both pregnancy tests on her lap.

“Well?” the doctor inquired.

There was a short pause before Mary replied, “I’m pregnant.”

***

Lounging back on the sofa Mary rested her mug of tea on her swollen belly, trying not to fall asleep. When she heard Joe’s keys turning in the lock she slowly sat herself upright, and waited for the rustling of hats, scarves, and coats being removed before the door into the lounge opened.

“Evening,” Mary said, noticing Joe looked somewhat distressed, “Are you alright?”

“Have you seen the news?” he said.

“You know I never watch the news,” Mary replied.

Joe sighed, “A huge hurricane has been spotted crossing the Atlantic and it’s heading straight for us. It’s due to hit in 24 hours; they’re evacuating the city tonight.”

“Is this what you call a joke?”

“No, Mary, I’m serious. We need to pack our bags and go. Now.”

“But the baby-“

“I know the baby’s due any day now but we’ve got no choice. It’s not safe,” Joe swiftly left the room, and Mary could hearing him dragging the suitcases out of the wardrobe. Awkwardly she shifted from the sofa to the wheelchair, the seatbelt of which had long since given up hope of keeping her safe, and rolled through to the bedroom. Someone would need to direct the packing or they’d end up with enough underpants to sink a ship but no nappies for the baby.

***

The train station was the busiest it had ever been, with all the ticket barriers left open as people streamed in droves towards the trains. As they approached the platform of the nearest train an official walked over to them.

“Have you booked a ramp?” he asked Joe.

“No,” Mary responded coldly.

“You need to book a ramp 24 hours in advance if you want to board the train,” the official continued speaking to Joe.

“Oh I’m sorry,” a tired, grumpy, and very pregnant Mary said, “I’ll just call the Met Office and ask them to delay the hurricane so we can give you a warning in advance that I can’t levitate. This is an emergency evacuation, surely your ableist policies don’t apply now.” Joe placed his hand on Mary’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. She fixed him with a glare colder than Medusa’s own.

“I’m sorry, but we need the notice so that we can ensure that a member of staff with the right insurance is available,” the official wouldn’t budge.

“We’ll find another option,” Joe looked down at Mary before turning and directing her out of the station.

“Now what?” Mary said once outside, the wind already picking up.

Across the road a bus pulled up.

“Bus then, I guess,” Mary started to move towards it.

As she approached the driver opened the doors, and shouted to her, “No room for a wheelchair, love, we’ve got a pram.”

“Then tell the mother to move, it’s a wheelchair space, not a pram space,” Mary stuck her foot in the doorway to prevent the automatic doors from closing.

“Not my job,” the bus driver muttered, even though it legally was.

“I’ll move,” the mother shouted down the bus, clearly more aware of the law than the driver was.

After much fussing with luggage and prams and the uncooperative bus driver, Mary could finally settle in the wheelchair space as they made their way out of the city.

“Where we headed?” she asked Joe.

“Heathrow airport,” a stranger interjected.

“They gonna try and fly in this?” Mary replied incredulously.

“Nah, but they can shelter enough of us in the airport itself, there’s hotels and all that. It’s still gonna get battered by this storm, but the worst of it is meant to be up in Scotland so we’ll cope.”

“Thanks,” Mary said, turning to Joe, “Can you ring round the hotels and make sure they have an accessible room ready for us? I really ought to get a hotel room in this state.”

“Sure,” Joe nodded, looking at the empty bars on his phone, “but there’s no signal. I’ll go to the top deck.” With that Joe shuffled away through the crowd in the vain hope of getting a signal. Mary was suddenly overcome by a wave of exhaustion, and within minutes was fast asleep.

Several hours had passed when Mary woke up suddenly, feeling a small but intense cramp across her abdomen and back. It disappeared almost as soon as it had arrived and Mary thought nothing of it until, as she was drifting back to sleep, it returned.

“Joe,” Mary hissed, “Joseph.” She shook him gently, as having given up on obtaining a phone signal, he had settled on the seat beside her and fallen asleep.

“Hmmm what?” a very drowsy Joe opened his eyes.

“I think I’m in labour,” Mary whispered.

“Huh?”

“I’m giving birth,” Mary hissed.

“Oh, OK,” there was a pause as Joe came to his senses, then, “What? Now? You’re in labour right now?”

“Yes I’m in labour right now,” Mary returned sharply, much louder than she intended.

“We’re only a couple of hours from Heathrow, love,” the bus driver shouted back, “it’d be sooner but this damn traffic is holding us up.”

“I’ll try and hold it then,” she quipped back.

The next two hours were the longest of Mary’s life. The light of dawn illuminated a grey and gloomy sky hanging above a seemingly endless convoy of cars, trucks, and buses. Each pain became a little more intense and were already becoming more frequent. Mary tried not to wake the other passengers up, but wasn’t succeeding. Eventually Heathrow could be seen in the distance, and another half an hour later the bus arrived at its destination.

The driver ensured that Mary was the first off the bus, followed closely by Joe who carried all their luggage while his wife clutched her belly. They pushed through the crowd, quite literally treading on toes and disrupting queues, but no one seemed to mind thanks to the magic of a wheelchair.

“Which hotel did you book?” Mary asked.

“Signals down, I couldn’t get a hold of any of them,” he replied.

“Wonderful,” Mary said.

“Look, I’m sure they’ll be understanding of our situation,” Joe answered, heading towards the nearest one. They pushed past the queue at the reception desk, Joe interrupting another customer mid-speech.

“My wife needs an accessible room and she needs one now, she’s in labour,” the words fell out in a rush.

“All our accessible rooms are already full sir, but we do have some other rooms available,” the receptionist replied calmly.

“Will it fit a wheelchair?” he asked.

“No, I said all our accessible rooms are already full, sir-“

“Then you’re no help to us,” Joe hastily turned on his heel and headed to the next hotel, followed by Mary.

He repeated the process only to get the same response, and went from hotel to hotel to hotel, all of them informing him that accessible rooms were apparently rarer than an endangered species. Even seeing Mary’s increasing distress as labour progressed didn’t help. Utterly exhausted, afraid, and in pain, Mary broke down in tears in the midst of the airport.

“I don’t want to have my baby with everyone looking at me,” she stuttered between tears. Joe also began to cry, frustrated by the unwillingness to help others in need displayed by everyone they had come across.

“I know, I know, but I don’t know how to fix this,” he replied.

A woman wearing an air hostess uniform approached them, her heels audibly clicking on the tiles despite the noise in the airport.

“There is somewhere private you can go,” she said, “if you need it.”

“Yes, yes, please, anything,” Mary wiped the tears mingled with sweat from her face.

“This way, and I will fetch a doctor once you’re settled,” the air hostess guided them through what seemed like miles of crowded airport, stopping every few minutes as a contraction took hold of Mary. Finally, the air hostess opened the door of the room she had in mind. It was a disabled toilet, although in fairness there was an adult-sized changing table attached to one wall, which the air hostess was already pulling down.

“I know it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing,” she said.

“What’s your name?” Joe asked, receiving a steely glare from Mary.

“Star,” she replied, before dashing off to find a doctor.

Slowly and carefully, Joe helped Mary climb on the table, putting a bag beneath her head as a pillow. A few minutes later there was a tap on the door and a doctor appeared, followed by a nurse, both in bloodied scrubs having clearly been put to work at least once already. Mary couldn’t have cared less, simply being relieved to have a private place to give birth, albeit a humble bathroom. Another contraction detonated through her body, causing Mary to grit her teeth in an effort not to scream.

***

Two hours later an exhausted and sweat-covered Mary was handed her little boy, who’s first cry could be heard from outside of the room. Mary’s head flopped back onto her pillow as she held her little boy, tears of relief now adorning her cheeks as Joe kissed her forehead gently. Time passed at an unknown pace until a knock was heard on the door. Mary cast Joe a puzzled glance as he crossed the room. He answered to find three boys stood outside, one holding a pile of clean, fluffy towels, one holding some bottles of water, and the other holding a tiny baby-gro.

“We thought these might help,” the boy holding the towels offered, “these are spares in the staff laundry room.”

“And these were from the pharmacy,” the boy with the water added.

“And this was my first baby-gro which my mum kept as a memento, but she said you can have it now,” the third added.

“Wow, boys, this is wonderful. Your mothers must be very proud of you,” Joe accepted each of the gifts and added them to the pile of luggage in the corner of the room, except for the baby-gro. Instead he gently lifted the baby from Mary’s arms where the nurse had left him after his first bath. He stirred slightly in his sleep as Joe gently unravelled the many towels from the baby, before dressing him even more carefully in the baby-gro, which fit perfectly.

“Can we see the baby?” One of the boys said expectantly, as they were waiting by the door.

“Of course,” Joe said.

Mary watched, smiling, as Joe carefully set the baby down in her wheelchair before going back to open the door properly. The boys stumbled in excitedly and rushed to the side of the wheelchair, where they spoke only in loud whispers.

“What’s his name?” one of the boys asked.

From the changing table where she still lay, tired but content to watch the world go by, Mary replied.

“Joshua,” she said.

THE END.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s Christmas special which was inspired by some ideas put forward by fans of Diary of a Disabled Person. I certainly enjoyed writing it.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and I will be back next week with the New Year special.

Until then, Merry Christmas!