Assassin’s Wheels: Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

There was a pause as Agent 48 digested this.

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

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

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

“Then it sounds like a good opportunity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

image6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Er, yeah, yeah, she did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The receptionist went pale.

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

“Are you alright?” Agent 48 asked incredulously.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll and Rock: Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rigged!”

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

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

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

Secretly, I think I agreed with them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concert from Roll and Rock

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

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

“Hi,” I smiled, “What’s your name?”

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

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

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

To Lily,

You are the first person to receive my autograph!

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

Lily Thorpe.

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

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

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

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

The TARDOW: Another Short Story.

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

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

The Lightning Strike from The TARDOW

***

“Oh my God, this is awful.”

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

“Poor man.”

“Shhh, he’s coming to.”

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

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

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

“Matt, Matt Mills,” he replied hoarsely.

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

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

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

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

“Apparently so,” the paramedic replied.

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

“Sure, my wheelchair-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Man,” the leader said.

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

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

“I know,” Matt said between gritted teeth.

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

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

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

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

“Eel!” the man proclaimed more excitedly.

A flicker of doubt crossed Matts’ mind.

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

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

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

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

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

“Make way!” he yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt could feel his blood boiling in his veins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Medi-frames?” Matt asked, confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cerebal palsy,” Matt replied.

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

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

“Your time?” the doctor asked.

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

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

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

“Oh,” she said.

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

The doctor frowned slightly, and then broke into a grin.

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

“What year is it?” Matt asked.

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

“2018,” Matt returned.

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

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

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