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.

Underestimated: Another Short Story.

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is this, please?”

“Steve Baker.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry I’m late sir,” Steve said.

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

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

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

“Yep,” Steve replied.

“But-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Steve said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupal shrugged and said no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image description: a black and white pencil sketch of Steve kicking the back of the trouble-makers knees, knocking him over.k

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not sure-“ Steve began.

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

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

“I wholeheartedly disagree,” the boss said.

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

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

Steve returned to Rupals’ side.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, about that…” Steve began.

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

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

“Quite the joker, I see,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Steve frowned, perplexed.

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

“What?” Steve was completely baffled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clamouring group fell silent.

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

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

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

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

Wheels by Night: A Short Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you need help?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah sh-,” Rusev said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Wheels: A Short Story.

The pub door swung open and a tall, muscular woman entered and looked around the room. Finally her eyes settled on the man she wished to speak to, perched precariously on a bar stool with his wheelchair directly to his right. She marched across the room to him and tapped him lightly on the shoulder causing him to swivel round.

“Captain Wheels?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “want to take a selfie?”

“No. Actually I’d like to speak with you in relative privacy, perhaps in one of those booths?” she pointed to the opposite wall which was lined with tall, secluded booths.

“Oh OK, sure. Give me a minute.” Captain Wheels shifted into his wheelchair, stretched up for the half-drunk pint still on the bar and followed the woman across the room to the booth in the far corner. He manoeuvred himself from his wheelchair, which couldn’t fit in the booth, onto one of the high-backed, cushioned seats.

“My name is Nicola Rage and I’m recruiting people with special abilities to form a team,” Nicola began, “In searching the newspapers for reports of such people I came across several articles discussing your activities, and I decided that you might be exactly what I’m searching for.”

Captain Wheels raised one eyebrow slightly, “And what exactly is this team for?”

“Government intelligence services have found evidence of a criminal organisation that is in ownership of multiple significant threats that have the potential to destroy entire cities. What these threats are is as yet unknown but when those threats present themselves, as appears to be inevitable, we need someone to protect us.”

“And that’s me?”

“Potentially as part of a team of like-minded individuals,” Nicola said calmly, “but first I need to talk to you to discuss what exactly these abilities are without the exaggeration of excitable journalists.” She flipped open a notepad on which were scrawled a handful of questions and before Captain Wheels had the chance to say anything else, she began questioning him.

“How did you obtain your powers?”

“Well personally I don’t especially like recounting that experience-“ Captain Wheels began but was interrupted by Nicola.

“Captain, I realise that asking someone how they obtained their special abilities is a sensitive question but I am not asking this to satisfy my own personal curiosity. I need to hear it from you.”

“7 years ago doctors found a tumour in my brain. A cancerous one. The operation to remove it went wrong, severely limiting my mobility and putting me in a wheelchair, but while I lost control of my own body I gained the ability to control other physical objects. I can move things with my mind, get things to levitate very briefly, and can even influence the actions of those around me to some extent.”

“So you’re telekinetic?” Nicola asked in a matter-of-fact voice, almost sounding bored.

“Yeah, I guess so,” came Captain Wheels’ reply.

“And how do you use these powers?”

“Probably my most frequent job is to move extremely heavy objects if someone is trapped say in a building fire or a collapsed building following an earthquake. I’ve also been able to prevent car accidents and the like and I can move objects to block and trap criminals. allowing them to be caught by the police before they cause any more harm,” Captain Wheels said.

“So you could perhaps trap terrorists allowing them to be apprehended, or move a bomb to a safe distance away from inhabited buildings and businesses. And you could help anyone stuck within the wreckage if we weren’t fast enough,” Nicola proceeded.

“Yes.”

“Could you get them to change their minds about their intentions?”

“It’s possible but not certain, I’m afraid. I may be able to slow them down by making them question their actions, but once an idea is imprinted firmly in someone’s mind I can do very little to change it,” Captain Wheels explained.

Nicola Rage sat back against her seat in thought before continuing.

“Would you be willing to be a member of an elite team, all of whom have their own special abilities, to help reduce the threat to our society on an international scale?” she asked.

“If my powers are useful to you then yes, absolutely,” Captain Wheels said with sincerity.

“Then welcome to the Protection Squad.”

***

Captain Wheels slowly seated himself in his new wheelchair. Instead of the cold, grey lump of metal he was used to this was warm and comfortable, more like an armchair on wheels. Like his old wheelchair it was powered but here the similarities stopped. The batteries had an extra-long life and could be charged using solar power as well as the charger. The control panel was cluttered with a myriad of buttons which Nicola guided him through.

“The top one is for stealth mode. It silences the motors and dims the lights on the control panel, activates the chameleon panels which help you blend into the background just like the ones on your uniform, and switches off the horn so you have no chance of alerting someone to your presence accidentally.

“That one is for the jet pack which will help you levitate your own wheelchair at great heights for longer so you can focus your powers elsewhere. This one here is for the parachute should something go wrong.

“This one is for the gun incorporated into your left arm rest, and will reload automatically from the magazine of bullets under the seat. We’ve added special receptors that can enhance the effects of your telekinesis, allowing you to aim the gun hands-free.

“Obviously all of these things take some power from the battery so should be used carefully, but with these batteries I can’t imagine you’ll have to worry about it too much.”

“Wow,” Captain Wheels said slowly, “just wow.”

Nicola smiled, “I had an inkling that you might like it. Are you ready to meet the other team members?”

Captain Wheels nodded and followed her into the next room. In the centre of the room was an oval-shaped mahogany table with three men and two women in the same uniform already seated around it, as if they were attending the worlds’ most unusual board meeting. Captain Wheels manoeuvred into the space left for him at the table while Nicola took her seat at the end of the table.

“Welcome, all of you,” she said, “you were hand-picked because of your special abilities and together you are the Protection Squad. I advise that you get to know each other quickly; the latest government intelligence suggests that the first threat is imminent and we will need you to defend us. Now if you will excuse me I have a strategy meeting with my superiors to attend, after which you may well be called upon.” She stood up and left.

There was a short, awkward pause before the darker-haired woman introduced herself as Dominique, her power being the ability to shape-shift. The second woman, known only as the Blood Assassin, briefly described the genetic and surgical enhancements she had been subjected to against her will that had turned her into a super-warrior. Doctor Raven described himself as a super-intelligent telepath and Jerry Lightning introduced his ability to run faster than the speed of sound. Finally there was Thoron, affectionately nicknamed for his strength and odd resemblance to the Nordic God of thunder. The last person to introduce himself was Captain Wheels.

“I’m Dave Heyton, otherwise known as Captain Wheels,” he said as all eyes turned to face him, “and I’m telekinetic. My wheelchair also has special stealth settings and a jet pack.”

“So what are you without the wheelchair?” Thoron scoffed.

“A telekinetic, cancer-surviving badass,” Captain Wheels kept a straight face as he said this, while Dominique struggled to supress her smile. Before anything else could be said the door opened and Nicola Rage entered.

“We have a situation,” she said.

***

Tactics were discussed in the helicopter while they headed to their destination, an allegedly disused block of offices in the financial district of London. It had been reported that a gas-emitting bomb was to be hidden there by the criminal organisation shortly before rush hour when it would be set off, releasing poisonous gases that would result in horrific widespread disease, essentially turning people into mindless zombies.

“This weapon is designed to cause mass panic on a national scale as much as it is to harm people,” Nicola Rage said, “if it goes off not only will we have a horrific disease to manage, but the country will be in uproar. The mistrust of governmental departments is bad enough as it is; something like this would push the country into disrepair and self-destruction. And that means that someone new can barge in and take control, because in that situation the public simply want a leader to follow and they won’t give a damn who that will be.

“You will be dropped off here,” Nicola pointed to a location on the map, “and will make your way through this series of back alleys to the office block in question. Raven; we want you on the top floor of the building providing us with information as to the whereabouts of the criminals in the office. Dominique; follow the gang through the building by blending into the environment, providing us with further intel by thinking it for Doctor Raven, and joining in the fighting when we apprehend the gang. Assassin and Thoron; using the intel provided we will guide you through the building until the right moment when you will start your attack. Lightning and Wheels; you will use your speed and levitation powers in combination to quickly transport the bomb to our bomb-disposal team in their secret base in the most remote part of the Scottish highlands. Understood?”

Everyone nodded and soon the helipad where they were to land came into view. Instead of waiting for the lift to arrive to carry him down to ground level, which was taking far too long, Captain Wheels decided to use the jet-pack and go down the stairs, which proved trickier to control than he had anticipated. Quite how the scorch-marks left behind him would be explained to the cleaning staff he didn’t know.

Once they were on the street they moved swiftly through the back alleys until they arrived at the office block. As expected there was no evidence of activity yet, so they slipped into the building unnoticed. Doctor Raven checked with his telepathic powers that the building was indeed empty and then set off for the top floor. Dominique disguised herself as a small spider spinning a web in the corner, ready to follow the criminals when they arrived. The rest tucked themselves in the dark underneath the stairs, activated their chameleon suits, and waited for further instructions to be fed to them through their ear pieces.

A short later their earpieces crackled into life and Nicola Rage’s disembodied voice confirmed sighting of the gang headed towards the office disguised as delivery men, driving an unmarked white van. About two minutes after this Doctor Raven said he could detect ten people, all men, approaching in a white van. While nine of the men were highly anxious that some sort of suspicious activity was going on, only one seemed to actually know what was being delivered. Doctor Raven tracked the men as they entered the building; two stayed on the ground floor, two outside the first floor, and two more stayed outside the door into the second floor while the remaining four entered the offices. Dominique was completely unnoticed as she scuttled into the office underneath the closed door.

At this point Blood Assassin crept out from beneath the stairs and stealthily made her way towards the two men in the reception area. Silently, she knocked them both unconscious simultaneously and gently placed their bodies on the floor. When she returned she clambered onto Lightnings’ back and in a flash she was up the stairs, having knocked out both sets of guards. Captain Wheels and Thoron could now make their way up to the second floor, where they grouped together.

Doctor Raven said that the package containing the bomb had been put down, and that the three men who didn’t know what was in it were making their way back towards the stair well. Everyone pressed themselves back against the wall on each side of the door, something Captain Wheels found particularly difficult, blending into the dull grey walls almost perfectly. The three men left the second floor in silence, and once the door had closed behind them Blood Assassin knocked them all unconscious, propping them up against the wall.

As they were about to enter the office to apprehend the one remaining man, Nicola Rage reported that a helicopter was progressing towards them. Once Doctor Raven found the relevant vehicle he said that there were four men in the helicopter, all in the know. They were planning to kill all the other men involved in the operation, acting as security until the bomb went off, when they would succumb to the disease just like the man already in the building. Thinking quickly Nicola ordered them to enter the room and apprehend the one man there, telling Lightning and Captain Wheels to remove the bomb while only one man was present, leaving the rest to fight the approaching criminals.

Captain Wheels deactivated stealth mode and violently kicked the door open, which promptly swung back and slammed his legs. Thoron leant across him and pushed the door so hard the hinges snapped. Dominque transformed into her human form, blocking the doors on the other side of the room. The criminal screamed that he was under attack into his own walkie-talkie before firing his gun at his attackers. Only two bullets had been fired before Blood Assassin had disarmed him, both of which missed their target, at which point Captain Wheels levitated the bomb towards himself. Thoron kept the enemy in place while the two women headed up the building to deal with the helicopter that had just landed, and Captain Wheels was propelled out of the building at super speed by Lightning.

Once outside Captain Wheels activated his jet pack, flying close to the buildings so that Lightning could run along them, continuing to push the wheelchair at speed. Within seconds they were out of the city, running along buildings and hilltops, flying in between, and in only a couple of minutes they were approaching the bomb disposal unit. Travelling at such a speed through the cold, wet Scottish highlands was not the most enjoyable experience nor was it good for slick hair styles, but both men were far more concerned with the bomb than they were about their own discomfort. It was only as they landed, soaked to the skin, that they even noticed just how cold they were. The bomb disposal team took the bomb from them as soon as they had landed and almost immediately Captain Wheels and Lightning embarked on the return trip.

As they arrived at the office block they were informed by Doctor Raven that the fighting was already over. Dominque and Blood Assassin had rapidly disarmed the men from the helicopter and he himself had hacked into the still-working security system to lock the doors of the room they were in once the women had escaped. A police squad were on their way to pick up all the men, and in the meantime the Protection Squad were to wait on the roof of the building for further orders, bar Thoron who was still occupied detaining the apparent mastermind behind the scheme.

From the roof the Protection Squad had a reasonable view of the police arriving in vans and dragging out the unconscious men, before finally putting the rest of the men into high-security vans with the aid of Thoron. As this progressed a crowd gathered and soon extra police had to be called in for crowd control. Soon enough the police were escorting their prisoners to the nearest station and the Protection Squad worked their way down the building to meet the enthusiastic people outside, who were particularly interested in Captain Wheels’ chair. Camera’s flashed and journalist yelled questions at the top of their lungs, all trying to find out what exactly had happened. Nicola Rage reminded them not to say a word as she sent a van to pick them up.

The following morning all of the newspapers headlines were as predictable as a B-movie science fiction film; all of them were desperate to know just who the Protection Squad were. Captain Wheels smiled at the photograph plastered across every front page; only the very top of his head could be seen as he sat beside his standing compatriots. He didn’t have long to relax however, before Nicola Rage called upon him again.

Wheels of Fortune: A Short Story.

As soon as I arrived home I rang my mum, who I knew would be waiting my call. She answered almost immediately.

“Hi mum,” I said.

“Hey sweetie, how did it go?” mum never did like small talk.

“Not well,” I replied, “They turned down the appeal; I’ll only get the lower rate of mobility payments and nothing at all for care costs. According to the doctor in charge of my case I could choose to use crutches to move around and a manual wheelchair on bad days.”

“That’s ridiculous,” mum exclaimed, “You did explain that you can’t walk very far on crutches and that you can’t push yourself any distance in a wheelchair, yes?”

“Of course, mum. They just said I would have to have someone to push a wheelchair on bad days.”

“But they haven’t given you any money for care,” mum sounded as exasperated as I felt.

“Apparently it should be such a rare event that I can simply rely on friends and family.”

“How utterly ridiculous. If they had to live with a disability-“

“I know, mum, I know,” I interrupted her before a long rant ensued.

“So now what?” she asked.

“Well I can no longer afford payments on my powered wheelchair, so they’ll be coming to collect that in less than a month.”

“Can you try and push for a pay rise?”

“Mum, without a wheelchair how am I even supposed to get to work, let alone get a pay rise? There’s no chance of me being physically able to walk around the office on crutches all day and my colleagues have work of their own to do; they can’t be my carers.”

“Oh Susie, I wish your father and I could help you out, I really do, but he’s still hunting for a job and his redundancy pay has run out.”

“That’s OK,” I said. There was a short pause, before I asked, “Any ideas as to what I should do?”

“Short of robbing a bank, Susie, I don’t know.”

***

Dave was driving an adapted mini-van hired especially for the occasion with Sam sat beside him. I was sat in my wheelchair in the back, with the wheelchair steadied on the floor by series of straps more convoluted than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We pulled up outside the bank and Dave craned his neck round to face me.

“You don’t need to do this, you know,” he said, “I’ll do it.”

“Are you saying that because I have boobs or wheels?” I retaliated.

“Fine, fine, it’s your money. Got your mask?” he asked.

“I’m in a wheelchair,” I said levelly, “that’s a pretty damn obvious clue towards my identity.”

Dave looked horrified but Sam was grinning from ear-to-ear, his balaclava pushed back to look like a normal hat.

“Everyone knows that wheelchair users are invisible,” he pitched in.

“Yep,” I agreed.

Dave rolled his eyes and climbed out of the drivers’ seat. He opened the back door, put out the ramp, and released my wheelchair. I reversed down the ramp with ease, a practiced manoeuvre I was very used to.

“I’ll be here when you get back,” Dave leant casually against the open boot of the car and crossed his arms, clearly not happy about my lack of a mask.

Sam and I moved towards the platform lift provided for wheelchair users to traverse the flight of steps into the bank. A piece of paper with the words “Out of Order” was pinned to it, waving in the breeze. Clearly the lift had been out of order for some time as the paper was dirty, crumpled, and damp.

“Right,” I said to Sam, “the actual disabled entrance is round the side.”

“Sure,” Sam replied.

I traversed up the narrow ramp which had a tight hair-pin bend half-way up, and hit the button for the automatic door to open. As usual the mechanism wasn’t switched on.

“I’ll get it,” Sam heaved the door open which, due to the rather pointless automation, was incredibly heavy and cumbersome.

Once inside the bank we joined the back of the queue and slowly we moved towards the cashiers’ desk. Aside from getting caught in the tightly weaving line set out by flimsy barriers, this was uneventful and even boring. After what seemed like an eternity we reached the head of the queue.

“Next,” a bored assistant said in a monotonous voice, “How can I help?”

“This is a stick-up,” I said to the marble panels lining the front of a desk so high I would have needed a periscope to see over it.

“Pardon me but I can’t hear you,” the assistant said.

“This is a stick-up,” I said loudly. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned towards me, a stunned silence sweeping the room. I was used to being a spectacle so this did not perturb me. Sam turned to face the crowd, his balaclava obscuring his face and pulled the most realistic-looking toy gun we could find out of his back pocket.

“I need £6,000 in cash in this bag now,” I said, “and nobody gets run over.” I gave the bag to Sam who put it on the counter for me.

“Very funny,” the assistant didn’t laugh, “now what are you really here for.”

“Gimme the money!” I shouted in my most gangster voice.

It dawned on the assistant that we weren’t actually joking and she must have hit the emergency button underneath the desk. Red lights started flashing as the alarm screamed and the doors locked themselves. Everyone started running around like madmen, trying to cram themselves into the offices lining the walls of the bank for safety.

“The money, in the bag, now!” Sam yelled, turning to face the assistant and pointing the toy gun at her.

“That is not real,” she said.

“Wanna risk a bet?” Sam levelled it at her head.

“Yeah I would be since the armed response team will have real guns to shoot you with on the off-chance that yours is real,” she retorted, “so I suggest you put it down and take a comfy seat until the police arrive.”

“C’mon Sam, let’s just go,” I was disappointed but I knew when I was beaten.

I put my wheelchair on the highest speed setting and rushed towards the disabled exit. Since the automatic mechanism wasn’t switched on the door hadn’t locked. I hurled myself through the door and down the ramp and headed towards the car, only to find another car parked over the space where the pavement levelled with the road. I could see that Dave was already arguing with him.

“I’ll only be here a minute, what’s the rush?” the driver was saying, dangling his cigarette out of the window and dropping ash onto the road.

“Move or I scratch your precious car,” I said from the pavement. The driver saw Sam behind me, toy gun in hand, and looked as if he had had an accident that didn’t involve cars.

“OK, alright man, chill,” the driver reversed his car the two feet necessary and I hurried towards our mini-van.

The ramp was already down so I could drive straight into the vehicle but then began the complicated business of strapping the chair to the floor. It was a full minute before this was complete and as Dave pushed the ramp in behind me, three police cars screeched around the corner. Almost before they had stopped moving the officers were out of their cars and running towards us and were quickly joined by a van-load of officers with viciously barking dogs.

“Stop right there!” an officer yelled.

“The armed response team is only minutes away so I suggest you cooperate,” he continued, “Now let the hostage go and nobody gets hurt.”

It took me a second to realise that by “hostage” they meant me. As this sunk in Sam threw his head back and laughed loudly, sending the dogs into a burst of loud barking and growling. The officer who had spoken looked stunned.

“She ain’t no hostage,” our cashier hurried down the steps towards us, almost stumbling in her ridiculous heels as she did so, “She’s one of the robbers.”

The officer opened his mouth to speak but she told him that it was her who had sounded the alarm before he could ask how she was involved.

“I have no doubt that they were using this poor woman as some kind of protection, almost like a human shield,” the officer raised one eyebrow and glanced over at me.

“She was one of the robbers alright,” customers were now filing slowly out of the bank, and among them was the middle-aged man who spoke. A few officers were occupying themselves by stopping them from leaving the scene as they were all valuable witnesses.

“Are you?” the officer gaped at me. I figured there wasn’t much point lying as every witness would testify otherwise, so I told the truth.

“Arrest them all,” he ordered his subordinates. Quickly Dave and Sam were cuffed and placed in the back of separate police cars while being given the usual spiel about having the right to remain silent. However, I presented a problem; none of their own vehicles were accessible. Even when the armed response team came screeching around the corner a minute later, there were no facilities capable of transporting me in my wheelchair. Thinking on his feet the officer ordered that I was cuffed, and that a couple of officers drove our van to the police station.

The ride back to the police station took no longer than five minutes as we followed the cars containing Sam and Dave, but upon arriving at our destination my case presented yet more problems. It took ten minutes for the police officers to figure out how to release my wheelchair from all the safety measures, and then they realised that while cuffed driving my wheelchair would be rather difficult.  They tried to push my wheelchair, but it wasn’t designed to be pushed by others and it was extremely heavy. Eventually they had to settle for my slow and shaky driving as they escorted me into the police station.

The reception desk in the police station was as high as the one in the bank and yet again I found myself taking to a wall, wishing I had a periscope. After signing in I was escorted to a holding cell down a corridor so narrow it was virtually impossible to fit the wheelchair through. What the people already in a cell must have thought when they heard an electronic whine combined with the scraping of metal on whitewashed walls I do not know. The door of the cell was too small to allow the wheelchair through, and so I had to hobble over to the bench on the far side of the cell bracing the walls, and my wheelchair was taken somewhere where I was told it would be safe. Once the door had been slammed shut, I was amused to hear the sounds of the policemen struggling to drive my wheelchair to said safe place.

That evening mum and dad came to see me just as I was swallowing the last of something that barely qualified as food. Dad looked bemused and a little concerned but mum had a face like thunder.

“They’re releasing you on bail until the trial comes round since you didn’t actually hurt anyone or steal any money,” dad said calmly, “but only if you live with us until then with a curfew, and if you go out alone you’ll be arrested again. Count yourself lucky that this is some kind of wheelchair perk.”

“Oh and surprisingly enough, you’ve been fired. So now you really are out of money,” mum snapped.

I heard the barrage of whining and scraping that signified the re-appearance of my wheelchair and an hour later I was lying on a flimsy camp-bed in my parents’ cluttered lounge, trying to get to sleep while being licked by their dog Ringo.

***

The day before the trial I sat on the kitchen floor and scrubbed my wheelchair clean; they do say that appearance is everything in court. I picked out a matching dress and jacket combination, and made sure that my leather boots had been polished. Outside a group of photographers and journalists lounged on my parents’ garden fence which was scuffed and dented thanks to all their attention over the past months, much to my mothers’ dismay. I was actually grateful for their media coverage as my motives soon came to light and public pressure had forced the reinstatement of my disability benefits, allowing me to keep my wheelchair. It seemed that even after my little escapade, most people felt sorry for me because of my wheels.

For most of the introductory speeches at the start of the trial I remained lost in my own thoughts rather than listening to what was being said, all the while trying to maintain the appearance of being riveted for the benefit of the jury. The state-provided defense lawyer had advised all three of us to plead guilty to charges of attempted robbery, since there was an overwhelming amount of evidence in the form of witnesses and security camera footage against us.

Once Sam and Dave had been called, pleaded guilty, and been sentenced to a short stint in jail followed by many hours of community service I went to take my place opposite the witness stand. There was, however, one minor inconvenience. Despite the excessive media attention having taken great pains to emphasise my disability, turning me into the victim of the piece, between me and the microphone where I would confess my guilt there was a step. When the press saw my plight, uproar ensued as photographers leant dangerously far over banisters to take pictures of the court stupid enough not to provide accessible facilities.

The following day while lounging in my prison cell I was given a newspaper by a guard who had finished reading it. On the front page was a birds-eye view photograph of me seated in my wheelchair looking at the step in the court room. The focus of the article was not the fact that I had attempted to rob a bank but the fact that blatant discrimination still existed in a court of law. The scathing headline summed it up perfectly; “COURT NEEDS TO STEP-UP THEIR GAME.”