creative corner

(working title) 5

Saturday 0700

A surge of acid seared the back of Honey’s throat. Although she sneaked off to a self-defence class on a Thursday, that wasn’t nearly as painful as this unexpected circuit around Beckhill Estate. She had been going between a jog and a sprint for – she checked her phone: 7.35 am. Forty-five minutes? Is that all? She thought, and she took a right down the street before her own. The sun was beginning to rise, and Honey didn’t know what she would find outside her house. She felt weak and (to her great surprise) hungry.

She took another right into an alley between two rows of houses. Locking herself in, she pulled an iron gate behind her and knotted a loose chain around the frame. There were five houses on each side of the narrow alley-path, each with a back yard, bordered by brick walls, and wooden gates to enter. At the bottom of the path, a thorny bush-covered wall completed the box which penned her in.

Honey was panting, but with the chance to catch her breath, she was hesitating. Even in a normal situation, a whiff of meat could make her tummy lurch, but in this enclosed alley space, the stench was overpowering. She was wearing a denim jacket and a pencil skirt that had ridden up to her thigh. Curls of thick black hair were stuck across her face with sweat and – she used her forearm to wipe her head – blood. She bent over, resting her hands on her knees and grimacing as she looked down. Her boyfriend’s throat had spurted a fat stream of shiny red when it was torn open in front of her. In his struggle to throw off his attacker, the sash of blood had painted her from the left side of her face to her right side of her hip, and she could feel it turning crispy.

Her head jerked up as the first body thumped against the iron gate and the chain jangled, then three or four more followed. She cried out. The chain she’d wrapped around the gate rattled loudly with every thrust and the chimes echoed off the alley walls. The arms of stained black and bloody bodies thrashed through the gaps in the gate and their low, gritty groans grew louder as they failed to get any closer. As the chain was being worked loose, she made her way down the alley, frantically pulling down gate handles with one hand, while reaching out for the next, but they were all bolted from the inside. Finally, she pushed on the last gate and it gave way slightly, but it was blocked by something on the other side. 

“Are you kidding me?!” She screamed. Before she could charge into it, the chain fell to the floor, and the iron gate slammed against the brick wall. She looked up to see the grey, mottle-skinned bodies charging though. They weren’t as slow as the movies made out, but they were selfishly voracious, and it made them claw at each other as they rushed forward, slowing their advance.   

“Not today,” she growled, and she smashed her shoulder into the stiff gate. It gave just enough to squeeze through and she squealed as she slid into the gap.  

Honey locked the deadbolt on the inside of gate when she made it through. Thumps and groans came from the other side as her rabid followers caught up to her, but the gate held fast.   

Looking down at the dead man beside her, she saw why it had been so hard to open the gate. He had been seated before Honey barged in, but now he was slumped over to the side. His left arm was missing, and its fleshy stump poked upwards. She paused and stared at him for the moment, wondering what wasn’t right about him. Her eyes focused on the stump where his arm had been; it was black and oily like the wounds on the others. Quickly scanning the garden, she saw a shovel leaning against the shed a few paces away. Without hesitating, she darted forwards to grab it and turned back. She raised it over her head with the blade edge-forwards like an axe just as the dead man sat up. His eyes opened, revealing watery milk-white pools. He turned his opening mouth toward Honey, but she was already bringing the shovel down as hard as she could. It wedged into his skull with a satisfying crack and the shock reverberated through her arms.

“Ughhh,” she shook.   

She tugged on the shovel; satisfied it was wedged in his brain, she let go of the handle, and the dead man slumped back into the position Honey had found him in. She shuddered again before spinning on her heel and marching toward the house.   

creative corner

(working title) 3

Saturday 0330

For the third night in a row, Morgan woke up in his flat with his heart pounding and his skin slick with sweat. A ripple of goosebumps ran through him as he threw off the covers and took his first waking breath. He groaned as he rubbed his chest and read the bedside clock: 03:32. It was the weekend, but it was the first morning of his new job at Meldotech. Deciding he didn’t want to fight his restless thoughts and the dull hum of machinery in the laundrette below, he let out another exasperated groan, kicked his legs and rolled out of bed. He staggered, and before he found the switch for a table lamp on the floor, he banged his knee on the armchair next to his bed and cried out in pain.

The year before, Morgan had moved two hundred miles away from London (and his parents) to Manchester. He remembered crying as he drove off in the second-hand MINI he’d been saving for. The shrinking rear-view image of his little sister sobbing into the shoulder of his mother still made his guts twist with guilt. He felt bad for leaving Amy alone with his mum and dad but they treated her so different to him. On a rare occasion that Morgan was in the same room as his parents, he announced his plan to them: 

“Mum. Dad. I’m going to live in Manchester. I got my acceptance letter last week, and I start university there in September doing computer science.” His father looked over the newspaper he was reading and made eye contact long enough to nod in approval, before looking back to the page. “I even have a flat.” 

“Is that right?” His mother asked, and she stood up and turned to the counter to put on the kettle. “So, when do you leave?” She pressed, and he felt his throat tighten.

“In a few weeks,” Morgan held back tears with a gulp, “I just need you to sign a form for the tuition fees. I’ve taken care of living costs.” 

“That won’t be a problem Mo-Mo. Just leave the papers on your Father’s desk and he will make the arrangements,” his mother said with her back to him. Morgan’s dad nodded again, this time without looking up. His mother turned toward the kitchen sink and pretended to clean the already immaculate worktops. As long as he didnt cost them their time, they took no interest him, in the job he made for himself creating and running social media accounts for small business owners, or that his weekly allowance from them remained untouched in his Santander Premier account. Even after buying his car, he was able to cover rent for the first few months he lived in Manchester. It was now the end of January the following year, and although he was doing alright financially, he wanted to get started on a career. The job he was starting at Meldotech came after a grateful bakery-owner had a successful Christmas because of his work. The baker had passed his contact details onto his son who already worked there, and he was offered the job with only a phone-interview.  

Morgan went to the toilet, washed his hands and his face, and then finally he brushed his teeth. It was a routine he only missed when he was sick or hungover. He limped over to the kitchen counter directly opposite the bathroom door, flicked his kettle on and looked around at his shoebox flat. His bedroom at his parent’s house had been bigger. The apartment had come furnished with a small fridge, a gas hob, a new single bed, an armchair, a bookshelf with a missing shelf, a fold-down kitchen table, a single kitchen chair, a mug that said “get ’em before they get you”, a well soiled frying-pan, two forks and a bowl. There were only two rooms: the bathroom and bedroom-kitchen. In his MINI he had clothes, toiletries, two towels, a duvet and sheets, a small flat-pack desk, a lamp, a clothes-horse, a DAB radio, a laptop and stationery. He unpacked it all on his first night. With only one small window above the kitchen sink, the flat was dark and dingy but aside from the frying-pan, the whole place was immaculately clean, and it was his. As he limped over to the armchair with a coffee, he felt the same swell of pride as when he unpacked five months ago. He smirked at the idea of his parents, seeing where he lived. They would lose it, he thought. He was still smiling when he turned on BBC Radio 2 and started reading his Meldotech welcome pack.

The night was giving way to dawn when Morgan heard the first siren. It startled him from a sleepy-doze he’d fallen into. His bedside clock read 07:23. His knee had stiffened from the bang on the armchair, and he faltered as he got up, kicking over his empty coffee cup with his cold, bare toes. After making it over to the kitchen window in a kind of limping-hop, he hovered over the sink and looked down into the street. The street lamps were already switching off, and the sun was causing a golden haze to border the silhouette of small, squished together shops and flats across from his own. It wasn’t the worst view, he thought as he breathed in another smile. 

He heard more sirens and looked down into the street below. Two police cars and a riot van screeched to a stop in a blockade formation facing a part of the street he couldn’t quite see. He dropped into a crouch as an approaching helicopter seemed to stop above his flat and the voice from a megaphone could be heard. “Stay in your homes. Do not open your windows or doors. This is a-”, the booming voice cut off, and a hot glow, followed by a rumble and a roar, came from the direction police were facing. 

creative corner

(working title) 1

Friday 1700

Ted stepped up to the desk of his new job advisor and frowned when she extended her hand, palm up, in a gesture for him to take a seat. His jaw tensed when she didn’t look up, check his name or say hello. As he placed his binder on her desk and himself into a plastic chair, someone brushed close by leaving the smell of beer and sweat around him. He scrunched his nose and clenched his fist. He had showered and shaved before he came out, but the fetid air made him feel like he needed to get another. He felt severely overdressed the minute he walked in; Hugo Boss jeans and an Armani shirt did not feel right in the jobcentre.

A square table separated Ted from the woman in front of him. Two and a half grey partitions surrounded her; a full one either side of the desk, and a half at the back, leaving a gap for a doorway. Behind her swivel chair, on a three-drawer filing cabinet, cornered into the half partition, were three stacked letter trays. On those, was a bigger stack of papers crisscrossed this way and that. She kept lifting the top few sheets on the stack, turning around with a huff and shuffling through the sheets on her desk; she would pick them up, look under them and put them down and then turn back toward the stack on the cabinet. Every time she turned back toward her desk, her hip would hit the back of her swivel chair and knock the filing cabinet, causing the paper pile behind her to sway. Ted snapped his mouth shut when, by the third time she did it, he noticed realised he was staring intently at the paper Jenga with his mouth open and his breath bated.

The woman’s glasses were perched on frizzy, pale ginger hair, and she wore a dark green wool suit that hung from her body in the same way her skin seemed to hang over her bones. She had one hand over on her brow as she searched the desk with the other. He noticed there were big sallow circles around her eyes, and at first glance, he thought she was healing from two black eyes before realising it was the natural tone of her skin. The sharp angles of her cheekbones cast shadows down her cheek, and every time her head lifted enough to catch the light, he half expected to see the outline of her teeth through her skin.

After casting back and forth with her head down, huffing and puffing for whatever it was she was looking for, her glasses eventually slid forward and dropped to her nose. She had made some noise which resembled a ‘hurrah’ when, as she readjusted her focus, she saw Ted’s CV was in front of her, on the desk. Ted was already slumped in his chair, but he sank into it a bit further, bringing his hand to his head as he shook it in disbelief. Finally, she sat down without looking up. Her un-plucked eyebrows poked over the brown rims of thick, scratched glasses like a pointy finger in Ted’s face. He was distracted and turned in his seat when he heard a scuffle over near the entrance.

“But maaate, I (hic) need my dole. (hic) You caan’t do this, maaate.” Slurred a little guy in an oversized puffer coat. Releasing him into the exit area was a mountain of a man in an all-black security guard uniform. 

“You cannot drink that in here. Leave.” The security guard’s voice carried around the room, and the whole place fell silent. Everyone except his job advisor, turned toward the scene if they weren’t already looking. The drunk man backed out of the first set of automatic doors onto a disabled ramp.

“A’right, a’right, I don’t want no trouble,” he said, still holding his can of Stella Artois, “I’m going.” 

The outer automatic door swished shut and the security guard, who must’ve been a sentry in a past life, returned to his post beside the door with his bulging arms crossed over his puffed-out chest. The sentry’s hair was cut short to his head, and his eyes were dark but far apart. His furrowed eyebrows seemed to cast shadows over the room. 

Ted took a moment to look around. The jobcentre was an open-plan design, and the cubicle he was at was the last in a row which lined the frosted windows of one side of the floor. It was early January, and he could tell, even though the frosting, that the sun was setting. Two cubicles down, a woman was having a meeting too. She was about thirty years old, wearing fishnets and pink trainers, a denim skirt and a mucky pink coat. She was gnawing her fingernails while her leg bounced frantically under the table. Ted could hear a man’s voice, but from where he was sitting, he couldn’t see who was talking to her. In the centre of the room was a seating area with three rows of chairs; only one man, who could have been anywhere between forty and sixty, sat in the middle of the row closest to him. His puffy red face was creased with a frown as he studied a piece of paper in his hand – Ted guessed it was his CV. He wore a grey suit with a white shirt and no tie. Ted noticed that one leg of the man’s case was severely crinkled, but the other was pressed neatly and, it made him sorry for him. Scanning the rest of the room, he could see to the left of the sentry that there were job boards and a few electronic touch screens for people to look at job adverts, beside a door with an electronic lock. There was a man at one of the touch screens with his back to the room. Opposite the front door was an information counter and another electronically locked door behind that. Ted had noticed there was a woman sat there when he walked in, but couldn’t see her now.

Ted turned back to the woman in the cubicle. Her bony finger, tipped with chipped-off brown nail varnish, tapped against her pursed brown lips and her chin sat somewhere in her neck as she studied the page. Slowly he began to work himself up. The more he watched her eyebrow twitch and point at him, the more he became angry with her. It’s not like he would be here if he felt like he had a choice. The words were lining upon his tongue – he was going to call her out for being rude, for judging him without knowing him, for pointing her pointy eyebrow at him – when she lifted her head and beamed a smile at him.

“Hi Ted! Can I call you Ted? My boy is called Theodore too – we call him Teddy – not that I would do that to you though, not quite the place.” She did a little chuckle to herself. “Oh where are my manners, I’m Jennifer, I’m your advisor.” She stretched out over the desk, extending her skeletal hand for a shake. Ted, blinked and stuttered as he sat upright to return the handshake.

“Er, y-yeah sure, call me Ted, everyone does.” He blinked as he released the frail lady’s hand and felt a pang of guilt in his gut.

“Ok Ted, let’s get started. I can see you’ve had a few different jobs here” Jennifer paused, to look back at the CV. Oh here we go, Ted thought, here comes the judgem- “which is a great experience for you. Having tried a bunch of things means maybe we can figure out which bits of those roles you liked the most, and find you something you actually like doing. You’re young, the world is your oyster, right?” She did another big smile.

Ted gawped a little. This was not the usual treatment he had when he signed on; this was the first time anyone looked at his CV for more than a glance, the first time anyone called him Ted, the first time he saw had seen anyone in these cubicles even smile.

“Well I’m with a few agencies, but I haven’t picked anything up for a week or two. I want something secure and regular. I want a career, but I don’t really have any qualifications, only work experience. So I’m here in case you could help me with that?” Ted was half telling the truth, he hadn’t worked for an agency for a few weeks (hardly at all in the last year in fact). Instead, he had been working for Benny Tate; a childhood friend turned drug dealer. The money had been good, but he needed a way out and a normal life. Ted sat forward in his chair to take out a list of courses from his binder to go with the jobs he thought he would enjoy, and slid it across to Jennifer. “I want to learn, I have a driving license so I can get around in Hull, or I can even go across the water for work.”

“Oh you came prepared.” She picked up the list and scanned it, then she picked up a highlighter. “This is great. Not to worry Ted, I am sure we’ll find something.” Ted sat with Jennifer for over forty minutes, looking at jobs and courses around Hull. She asked him questions about the things he liked about himself and what he was good at. It was only as their meeting was coming to a close that Ted noticed how empty it the room had become. The middle-aged man who had been sat at the centre of the floor was now sat at in the cubicle the fidgety woman had been sat at. The sentry was closing windows and checking their locks, while an old man in dark green overalls had appeared in the job board section and was mopping the floor.

“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ted. I’ll see you in two weeks to see how you’re getting on.” Jennifer leaned over to shake Ted’s hand again.

“You too, Jennifer, thank you.” Ted, picked up his binder of advice leaflets, potential courses and job adverts and headed for the door. It didn’t open automatically when he walked up to it, but by the time Ted was looking for him, the sentry was already marching over, keys in hand, to let him out. Ted checked his watch: 17:26. 

“Thanks, mate-“ Ted started. The sentry smiled weakly and turned the key in the door opening the first one. “-bet you get some right states in here, don’t yer?” The sentry made eye contact for a moment, then kept walking. They went into the vestibule, but just as the sentry placed the key in the lock of the second door, he stopped and squinted through the glass. Ted looked too, but between the lighting on the inside and the darkness on the outside, he may as well be have been looking in a mirror. After his meeting with Jennifer, he felt pretty good. The jobcentre was in the middle of town, and it was Friday night. Despite the time of year, on the way to his meeting, he had heard the music and laughter of people inside the pubs he passed. He was dressed up, thinking about having a few drinks and calling – he considered if she was his friend or girlfriend? – Terri, for a few drinks.

“You alright there, mate?” Ted said, startling the sentry. It made Ted jump too, seeing a man so intimidating, jerk. What was he looking at? Ted thought, squinting back out into the darkness. His eyes widened when he saw a black heap in the middle of the road.

“Shit, has someone been hit? We need to get out there, what are you waiting for?” Ted looked around frantically for a button or handle.

“I don’t think he’s been hit. Keep your voice down for a moment.” The sentry continued to stare through the glass.

“Shit man, what can you see that I-” Ted moved closer to the glass, his breath steaming it up as he saw the black mass on the floor was moving up and down. He used the back of his wrist to wipe the foggy patch on the window and that’s when he saw the fishnet legs and pink trainers twitching from beneath the black heap.