Ready or Not

Hi all!

As the theme for this month was ‘Running Out of Time’, I set myself the task of writing my piece at 11.30pm, half an hour before the deadline, to literally feel like I’m running out of time.

I won’t edit, I won’t change it, I’m just going to write and see what happens.

It’s taken me two minutes to write this introduction. It’s now 11.32.

And … Go.


Ready or Not

“100, 99, 98, 97 …”

The cupboard under the stairs. It’s not a good choice, but I can’t get to any other room, he’s standing in the doorway. Upstairs would be foolish. What can I do? I can bang on the window but there’s not likely to be anyone walking past at this time of night. And he took my phone.

“86, 85, 84 …”

We used to play ‘Hide and Seek’ as kids. I never thought for a second we’d be playing still as adults. Let alone that it would have taken a dangerous turn like this. ‘Hide and Seek’ is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? My parents said I used to hide behind a curtain, using the logic of ‘if I can’t see you, you can’t see me’. Maybe I should have done that this time. Maybe he would have been so taken aback by my childishness that he’d let me off.

“74, 73, 72 …”

This is the … fifth time, maybe? That we’ve played this game. I say “we”. It’s not a game “we’re” playing. It’s a game he’s playing. Games are supposed to be fun. Nobody is supposed to get hurt.

“69, 68, 67 …”

Jack and I grew up together. People used to say to our parents that they thought we’d get married, that kind of rubbish. And, lo and behold, we did. It’s been seven years now. I can’t believe it. The first three years went so fast, it was all happy and smiley, the usual honeymoon period you get at the start of a marriage. Then it … changed. I can’t put my finger on what it was that changed it. Maybe nothing. Maybe Jack was always like this. Maybe he’d been biding his time. I don’t know.

“57, 56, 55 …”

The cupboard under the stairs is dark. There’s an empty light fixture, missing the bulb that I keep meaning to replace. It’s my fault. I should have fixed it sooner. There’s not much else in here but, weirdly, lots of stuff. There’s not much of worth. Some tools, some bits and pieces – a broken toaster, Jack’s old tennis stuff – and the Christmas decorations. Nothing, really, but enough to make me curl up into the tiniest ball and wait.

“44, 43, 42 …”

I can hear him. He’s getting closer.

“39, 38, 37 …”

My heart is beating in my throat. I try and stay calm; he doesn’t like it when I’m nervous. I try and think of other things. My parents, both dead now. TV shows I like. Music I listen to in the car. When I used to take tap lessons as a kid. My thoughts are everywhere. It’s like a mismatch of randomly firing memories. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.

“25, 24, 23 …”

I should have gone into creative writing, the amount of excuses I’ve come up with over the years. Walking into doors, dropping stuff on my hands and feet, spilling hot water when making tea … The usual. Then the more hardcore stuff. A broken ankle from walking the dog we don’t have and tripping over the lead. A concussion from a minor car accident I wasn’t in. A small stab wound from stage fighting class when another student got a bit too overenthusiastic. It all sounds so ridiculous and made up. They’re obvious lies, aren’t they? Anybody who knew anything about me would tell you that I’ve never done stage fighting in my life, that I’m allergic to dogs and can’t drive. But hospital nurses don’t know any of it.

“12, 11, 10 …”

I can hear the footsteps now. He likes to slow down whenever he approaches my hiding place. Apparently, it “adds to the sense of drama” for him.

“8, 7, 6 …”

He’s outside the door. I can hear the handle rattling. I close my eyes. I wait.

“3, 2, 1 ..”

This is it.

“Hannah? Are you in there?”

A laugh.

“Ready or not, here I come!”


Free WiFi

The day the free WiFi stopped was the day the world descended into turmoil.

I was sitting in my local coffee shop, laptop open in front of me like a pretentious wanker, as normal. Whenever I go to coffee shops and write, I tend not to use the WiFi as it means I *start* researching a salient point for whatever article I’m writing, but end up aimlessly scrolling through quizzes to find out which TV character I am in real life.

I was midway through paragraph four when I happened to overhear the hippy girl at the counter ask a question I was used to hearing daily.

“What’s the WiFi password, please?”

“It’s “soy milk underscore 19’”, replied the anaemic-looking barista, smiling pleasantly as she topped a coffee off with a latte art of Freida Khalo. “The ‘underscore’ is actually the word, underscore. It’s, like, an ironic thing.”


“That’ll be three pounds fifty, please.”

The customer frowned. “But I already paid for my coffee … didn’t I?”

The barista’s smile turned apologetic. “Yes, yes you did. Unfortunately, the three pounds fifty is for the WiFi.”

The customer was stumped. “But … but … the WiFi in here is free! It always has been! That’s why I come here! Every Friday I get a decaf coffee with extra almond milk, then I sit at one of the corner tables upstairs, reading the Guardian online and writing spoken-word poetry. I’ve never paid for WiFi before!”

“I’m so sorry,” replied the barista. “Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes. It’s the government, you see. They’ve introduced a WiFi Tax. All companies must charge for their WiFi from the 12th July onwards. We’re charging the lowest rate we can – £3.50 per hour.”

“WHAT THE FUCK?” screamed the customer, blowing a dreadlock away from her face angrily. “THIS IS BULLSHIT! £3.50 an hour?! So, if I stayed here for my usual three hours, it would cost me …”

“£10.50, yes,” said the barista. “Not forgetting the £4.75 for your single coffee.”

The customer stomped her foot like a petulant, dirty child. “You know what? This is bullshit. BULLSHIT. I’m not staying here for this. Give me my coffee to go. In a paper cup, please. God, think of the environment,” she added as the barista turned away.

When I left the coffee shop later on, article finished, I began to notice the beginnings of an uprising.

Cafe Nero had had its window kicked in.

Costa had a protest going on outside its doors.

Starbucks had a line of policemen outside, barricading themselves behind riot shields as students and hipster dudes tried to fight their way through with Mac books.

It was chaos.

What was next – libraries charging for books? Postmen charging by the letter? London charging by congestion?

The day the free WiFi stopped was the beginning of the end …

New and Exclusive

The assassination of Donald Trump in 2021 wasn’t exactly a surprise to anyone, but it still created waves … in the scientific community, of all places!

After so many years of wondering what exactly was going on behind that yellow hair and a face that looked like it was rubbed in mashed-up Cheetos, Hello! magazine is pleased to finally shed some light on the subject with an exclusive interview with the man behind the curtain (so to speak) … Trump’s brain!

Thanks to scientific advancement we don’t really understand ourselves (years writing about celebrity weddings will do that to you!), a person’s brain can now be separated from their body after death and be investigated to find desperately needed answers to questions ranging from, “who killed you?” to “where did you leave the cheese?”

Although the rest of Trump’s body is still lying under a steam roller, his head was intact enough to allow scientists to extract the brain and reinstall it in a computer; downloading and uploading it again, if you like. It can then be interrogated.

With Hello! the only magazine being granted this exclusive permission, sit back and prepare yourself for what promises to be a rip-roaring ride through racism, wall-building and, ahem, pussy grabbing


HELLO!:           Hello, Brain. Thanks for spending this time with us. I understand you’re quite the popular person right now?

BRAIN:             Yes, hello. Sorry, excuse me if I get a bit flustered. I’m not used to being in the spotlight without a thick wall of bone surrounding me.

H!:                   I have to say, your accent is not quite what I expected.

B:                     No, well … Nobody’s ever expected to hear a brain speak before, have they? I suppose it would be a shock to anyone to find out that the brain of such a moron to have a Greek accent. But, you know, I was first discovered by the Greeks in 6BC and their accent must have melded with mine … I don’t know, science baffles me.

H!:                   It’s not the only thing that baffles you, is it?

B:                     What do you mean?

H!:                   Apparently, consent is also a confusing subject to you.

B:                     Now, hang on …

H!:                   “Grab them by the pussy.” Does that ring any bells?

B:                     Oh.

H!:                   It’s a very disappoint thing indeed to find out that the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, is in favour of grabbing women by their genital areas. Can you explain yourself?

B:                     Well … It’s fun, isn’t it?

H!:                   Sexually assaulting women?

B:                     Yes, well … Haha … No, I er …

(At this point, the brain’s lawyer makes a “please move on” gesture so we decide to leave that line of questioning to one side for now.)

H!:                   Moving on. Racism. Talk us through it.

B:                     Well … It’s bad, isn’t it? That’s what I’ve heard.

H!:                   That’s what you’ve heard? Are you saying that you don’t know for sure if racism is bad or not?

B:                     Well, I …

H!:                   What have you got against Mexicans?

B:                     A wall. Haha! That was a good joke!

H!:                   Ah yes. The wall. We were going to save this for later but since you’ve brought it up, let’s deal with it now, shall we?

B:                     If you like. I’ve got nothing to hide. Everything I’ve done has been splashed across the worldwide news.

H!:                   We’ll start with an easy one. Why build a wall?

B:                     Because of the immigrants.

H!:                   What immigrants? The people coming into America to make a better life for themselves? The people escaping war and poverty and famine and cruelty, in order to bring their children up in a country free of all that?

B:                     Coming here illegally, I might add.

H!:                   Oh, that’s your problem. They were illegal. They were sneaking into the USA.

B:                     And they shouldn’t! It’s a crime!

H!:                   So is sexual assault, but you claim that was “fun”. Maybe the immigrants were also trying to have “fun”, don’t you think?

B:                     They shouldn’t be here! Mexico is for Mexicans, America is for Americans.

H!:                   Ah. As I thought. It is a racism thing. Not the fact that they’re doing it illegally, more the fact that they’re … foreigners.

B:                     I …

H!:                   Leaving this aside for a hot minute, let me ask you an even more pressing question. In your right mind, did you ever really think that this dumb wall idea could really work?

B:                     Of course.

H!:                   Really?

B:                     Yes.

H!:                   There wasn’t ever an alternative?

B:                     Like what?

H!:                   Let me put this to you. How about a fence?

B:                     A fence?

H!:                   The bi-partisan Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for two layers of chain link and barbed wire fence, along with other measures including sensors and satellite surveillance. In reality, your wall is an expensive and ineffective solution. A fence would cost a tiny fraction of your wall and would be very effective at reducing illegal immigration.

B:                     That’s all well and good, Ms. Home Depot, but building a wall has been a strong talking point for years. In 2006, George Bush signed a bill authorizing the construction of a “fence” along 700 miles of the border with Mexico. Unfortunately, that bill was never funded. In the years since, the U.S. has seen illegal immigration numbers increasing, and the cost to the country growing continuously, as these … individuals consume government benefits without contributing an equal amount of tax revenue. Immigration and illegal immigration have been a topic for as long as this country has been around. Congress passed legislation for border patrol in the 1920s. When the US made drugs illegal it put an emphasis on the southern border. More recently there have been drug wars in Mexico near our border. We need this damn wall!

H!:                   I think you’ve forgotten the magic required to make the wall work. Each immigrant would have to swallow a pill which would erase their ability to think or remember as they surely know how to go over, under, around or straight through a wall. That wall would be a useless monument to American ignorance.

B:                     I feel like you’re not taking this seriously.

H!:                   I’m not taking it seriously! You built a wall and people are still coming into the country. You built detainment centres and people are still coming into the country. You’ve done nothing useful to curb gun crime in schools and, yes, people are still coming into the country. Why the hell were you so focussed on getting a wall in place? Plenty of Republicans voted against it.

B:                     I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.

H!:                   That sounds a little Orwellian …

B:                     I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall …

H!:                   Jesus Christ …

B:                     And I will make Mexico pay for that wall!

H!:                   Ironically, Brain, I feel like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall trying to talk to you.

B:                     Make America great again!


I left the interview in a state of righteous anger. In all my time as a journalist, I’ve never had such an ignoramus in the hot seat. Lou Reed is vile and bullying, Gwyneth Paltrow is haughty, and Madonna refused to answer anything other than questions about Kabbalah. But to be faced with such bare-faced racism and hatred? I’m grateful for the lockable, soundproofed box that is Mr. Trump’s permanent home.



The Taxidermist

Taxidermy had been my thing since I was 23.

I had been leafing through a brochure for a local adult education centre when I saw ‘Beginner’s Taxidermy’ listed as a course. Until that point, my hobbies had been things like creative writing or swimming, so when I saw the taxidermy course advertised, I jumped at the chance to do something different. I can’t tell you why it gripped me so much; I’d always had an interest in animals (although my desire to become a vet had waned as soon as I turned six), and I used to love making the Blue Peter arts projects. Taxidermy seemed like a weird but magical way to put the two together.

We started the course, after the basics, by learning to taxidermy small birds. Sparrows, thrushes, the kind of birds you’d tend to find around any old garden. Our instructor told us that it’s actually easier to learn on bigger animals, like dogs. “Birds tend to be fiddly”, he said. Sadly, not many people wanted their beloved pooch mangled by a novice taxidermist, however, so birds it was!

The taxidermy process itself is really pretty straightforward. Ever wanted to know? Here you go.

First, you need to do the “preparing of the form”. Basically, you make a mould of the animal in question and then fill it with plaster. Step one – done.

Then comes the tricky bit – the skinning. The skin of the animal needs to be removed as soon as possible after death, but our teacher would come in with bags of dead birds that he’d frozen to make sure they didn’t spoil. Using a sharp knife, you carefully cut a seam up the belly, being particularly careful not to puncture any of the organs or body cavity. Then kind of work the knife evenly along the inside to loosen the skin, while peeling it back with your other hand. We were told to think of it as “taking off the animal’s jacket and trousers”. It’s important to remove as much of the flesh and fat as possible, making sure you don’t tear or rip the skin. The most important thing to remember – for birds, anyhow – is to leave the head intact. For a mammal, our teacher told us, you would remove the head skin the same as the rest of the body but for birds, fish and lizards you’ll need to remove the brain, eyes, and tongue and leave the shape of the head intact for preservation. The physiology of birds means that you can’t (and wouldn’t want to) remove the beak, so you only have to remove the parts that would rot and smell.

And that’s essentially it! You need to rub the skin in a chemical called Borax to keep it preserved and then, finally, you fit it around the mould, smoothing out any lumps or bumps. Then you stitch the seam together as tight and invisibly as possible and voila! One stuffed bird.

I don’t know why I’m going into so much detail about the process. I think I’m just trying to explain the work that goes into it. I know some people think taxidermy is for creeps and weirdos but I’m not one of them. I worked and studied hard at it. I’ve always had the desire to be the best at whatever I’m doing, and taxidermy wasn’t anything different.

I made the natural progression from small birds to bigger birds – owls and things. From there it was an even more natural progression to lizards, then small mammals and, finally, to what I’d been craving since the beginning. Dogs.

I loved dogs. I always had. I’d never had one of my own because I was so busy, so it was an honour to work with and care for other peoples’. Since I’d started taxidermy, I’d had the desire to work with dogs, to be able to give people a physical reminder of their beloved pet and I was finally in a place to do that. I began to work on commission. It had been seven years since I started and I took myself to all the shows and fairs that were possible, to get my work seen. And it worked! People began to take notice of me, and the bespoke requests started arriving via my website.

My first project – as I termed all my work – was a Golden Retriever called Barkley. He’d died of cancer at age 15 and his owners couldn’t imagine their house without Barkley there in some form or other. I accepted the commission and made a beautiful model of Barkley, sitting on his hind legs and begging for a treat. The owners loved it and I loved the rush it gave me, seeing my perfect work on display.

I made it sound like I was being flooded with work, didn’t I? Sadly, the commissions didn’t come in as fast as I wanted them to. I mean, dogs die all the time but the amount of people who want to keep a stuffed version around is severely limited. Most people were happy to just keep a chew toy, or their dog’s favourite ball as a memento. And a taxidermist can’t exactly go around knocking on doors, asking people if their dogs were about to die and if so, can I stuff them? That’s when you become a weirdo.

I started stealing.

Most dogs are quite trusting. Wave a treat under their nose and give them lots of strokes and pats and they’ll do anything for you. The hardest part was putting them down so you can start work, but you get used to it. And I always, always, returned them to the owners once I had finished my work. Strangely, I never got caught. I went for dogs from out of the local area. I was questioned once by police but they had zero evidence to prove anything.

I was enjoying it so much, getting such a rush out of it all, that I never wanted to stop. The progression I’d made, from tiny birds to large mammals, was incredible. I was amazed by my own skill and I wanted people to see it. I wanted to be known and recognised for my art.

And I was.

My final project was Daisy. She was two years old – quite a bit younger than I was used to – and I’d liberated her from a lovely family who lived a couple of streets away. I wasn’t worried. I’d return her as usual once I’d finished.

I went through the entire process as normal, working overnight to get it completed. I’d already got all my equipment and tools lined up, ready to go, so there was no need to freeze Daisy’s body once I’d acquired it. I made the mould and, while it set, I got on with the skinning. Remember what I said about the head? On mammals you skin it exactly the same way as everything else, removing anything that might rot or smell. Finally, pull the skin over the mould and arrange or dress the project as needed.

I took Daisy’s stuffed body back to her house and left her in the garden, in a sandpit that she loved to play in. Then I went home.


I saw the news the same time as everyone else. A missing toddler makes worldwide news. Madeline McCann had been proof of that. But it wasn’t just a missing toddler. The child’s body had been found, stuffed, in her sandpit. The more reputable TV channels and broadsheets didn’t show pictures of my project but inevitably, a few made their way onto the internet.

It took 32 hours for the police to arrest me. I’d been suspicious to them for a while and it didn’t take much of a leap to connect this murder to my unauthorised dog projects of the last few weeks.

I was jailed, of course. Given life imprisonment. Prison is hell, and having people threaten to “cut you up and stuff you like one of your sick projects” every day is getting a bit tiresome.

But the rush of being worldwide news? It’s magical.



When It All Falls Apart

“I need some space.”

Those were the last words Callum said to me before he left. Like the wimp he was, he started to sidle out of the door, not before giving me an extremely patronising kiss on my cheek.

He didn’t get far.

The sound of a man’s head slamming against a solid oak door is quite a pleasing sound. It’s up there somewhere between babies’ laughter and ocean waves. It’s the sort of sound you would happily have as a text message alert tone. If you listen carefully, however, you will realise that what you think is one sound is actually three.

Firstly, there’s the thump itself. It’s a weirdly firm yet mushy noise, like an overripe potato being slammed against a kitchen counter (I worked as a waitress for a time; I hated it). The skull treads a fine line between being firm enough to protect your sensitive brain from injury day in, day out, yet will shatter under one quick bang in the right place. My doorknob provided just that.

After the initial thump comes the bristly whisper of hair brushing against the object in question you’re slamming the poor person into. It’s quick and usually drowned out by the thump, unless you listen out for it, but it’s there. I guarantee.

Finally, there’s the slow drip, drip, drip of blood or some other bodily fluid as it finds its escape from the body by whatever means necessary – ears, nose, mouth. Blood in particular likes to drip slowly and thickly. If the person starts to cry you can add a second dripping noise to your symphony. I’m all for variation.


In my head I saw it all – me grabbing a fistful of Callum’s ridiculous ginger hair, leaping on him like a ninja. Slamming his head into my front door. Once wouldn’t be enough; maybe two or three times, until he stopped giving me useless sentences and just stopped talking altogether.

In reality I did none of that. Of course I didn’t. Who would? I broke down into a blubbering pile of snot and tears. Saliva hung from my mouth as I cried and begged Callum not to leave me. It was a pathetic sight; if he hadn’t wanted to leave before, he would definitely want to now. He meant everything to me; he was the person I’d put all my faith into. I had never suspected he would leave me, had never thought this day would come. I screamed at him – I was sorry for whatever I’d done, that I was fucked up, that I didn’t know what I was doing. Stay. Stay with me. He didn’t say anything back. Just shook his head. Kissed me on the cheek. Left me.

Hours passed. I found a bottle of some whisky in the kitchen cupboard. I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t really care. It was Callum’s and it was expensive. I alternated between drinking it and pouring it down the sink. The empty bottle I smashed against the wall.

The temptation to scream was overwhelming so I gave in and let it take me. It wasn’t like there was an intervention of any kind ready to save me from either the drinking or the screaming. I also knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was going to regret this in the morning; I’d be hungover and with no voice, most probably. My “friends” wouldn’t care. They’d be sympathetic but not too bothered. I’d spent so much time with Callum that I didn’t see them.

Then the questions came.

Was it my fault? Did I make it happen? Had I been so clingy that it had made Callum leave? I’d sworn after the last one that I wouldn’t be like that, that I’d play it cool and be a laidback girlfriend, one who was happy with whatever my boyfriend deigned to give me. Can’t I just change my life so that this didn’t happen again and again? Please?

Sometime around midnight the screaming stopped. The tears didn’t but they were silent. This wasn’t the first time this had happened to me, being left by a man. I’d just thought Callum was different. Such a cliché, I know. But in the end, he did what everyone else had done. Left me.

It didn’t matter that all we’d had was an argument. It didn’t matter that Callum had stormed out, saying, “he needed space.” What mattered was the rain. What mattered was the fact that he still hadn’t got the brakes in his car fixed. What mattered was the impenetrable stone bridge halfway down the A14.

My pleading with him had been non-existent. There was no Callum there to plead with. He’d already gone. One argument, he’d “needed space” and then BANG. No more Callum. I was notified 12 hours later about his death. That cued the whisky, the screaming and the pleading with an invisible ex-boyfriend.

Tell me, what do you do when it all falls apart?


Inspired by ‘When It All Falls Apart’ by The Veronicas



The Strike

No bugger had predicted that the strike would turn so nasty.

It were 1984 and coal mines all over Britain were being closed down. Us men who worked there, we ‘ad no option but to strike if we wanted our jobs back. Coal were our living, weren’t it? We had always known that some people wouldn’t be happy with us – Thatcher, for one – but it needed to be done, didn’t it? The government were closing down the mines left, right and centre and we weren’t the only buggers who refused to let them do the same to ours. It had been Scargill’s idea to strike but we all followed through with it. It were a good idea.

We’d seen it in other places and we did the same in ours, stood there with our placards, some of us arm in arm. We could see the police heading our way but it weren’t such a shock; we’d heard from other mines that the coppers liked to put the frighteners on you by turning up and threatening to arrest you if you didn’t “end the strike peacefully.” Bollocks. We saw ‘em – the violence in their eyes, the way they stood with their shields out and visors down, like they were just gunnin’ for a fight.

What did shock me was the ferocity with which they went after the men. I saw Billy standing there with his dad, both of them with placards that read, ‘Cole Not Dole’ and ‘Save Our Pits’. I’ve known Billy since I were little, we grown up together on Earl Street. We used to play cowboys and Indians, running down the street on our imaginary ‘orses, shootin’ each other with guns made from tree branches. His dad were a lovely man. Billy’s mam had left when Billy were only little, and his dad ‘ad done a brilliant job of raising him. Anyway, now Billy had joined the same pit as me and his dad and we’d go to work together every day. Billy and his dad were standing there, doing nothin’. Yeah, they were shouting at the copper but so were everyone, so you couldn’t pick ‘em out as being troublemakers.  Next thing I knew, some police bastard on an ‘orse rushed up to them and hit Billy’s dad over the head with his baton. He went down like a sack of spuds and Billy tried to get the truncheon off the copper, but the copper was having none of it and he walloped Billy around the shoulder. Billy’s dad would never hurt a fly, he never laid a finger on Billy in ‘is whole life and now he was gettin’ battered for asking to be treated fairly.

Some of the men tried to run away when the coppers came. I don’t blame ‘em. You see a bloke on an ‘orse riding at you with his baton out, ready to swipe at you, you’d run too. Some of ‘em were chased by the police but a few managed to leg it.

The police were apparently on our side. The official line was that they had been ‘mobilised to stop pickets from preventing strike-breakers from working.’ This were crap. They’d been “mobilised” to keep us in order. Our colliery didn’t have many strike-breakers anyway, but the police seemed more concerned with keepin’ us under watch. One of ‘em told us about the pickets at Rossington; they’d tried to trap 11 safety inspectors inside the mines and attacked the police with missiles when they tried to intervene.


Those of us who hadn’t left stood our ground. We weren’t goin’ to be frightened into fleein’. I had Big John on my right and Jamie Wilson on my left. We’d worked at this pit for bloody years and we’d earnt the right to fair wages. We’d definitely earnt the right to keep our bloody jobs at the very least. We left the house at some godforsaken time in the morning, did a day of backbreaking and suffocating work in the mine then went home when it were dark. Even so, despite the shit of the job, we all loved it. Your fellow pitmen were like a family and, like a family, we were gunna pull together now more than ever.

We weren’t stupid. We’d all left school early on but Kevin, our foreman, he left school after his O levels so we called him ‘The Professor’. He said that the strike would be over before we knew it, that we wouldn’t lose our jobs and that Thatcher would see sense before it went much further. But not all of us reckoned that was true. We’d heard about one local lad who’d hung himself when his pit had been closed down. He didn’t have another job to go to and with no qualifications, he wasn’t fit to be anything other than a pitman. He’d left behind his lass and his baby girl, who now had to fend for themselves.

Did Thatcher didn’t know about any of this? She was sitting there in Downing Street, oblivious to the chaos she had caused by deciding to close the mines. It didn’t matter to her; she wasn’t the one who’d be on the dole and scrounging for food if her workplace closed down. She could issue any order she’d like, and the government would have no choice but to follow through with it. She must have read the headlines in the papers, though. She couldn’t be so thick that she didn’t realise what she was doing. I don’t know much about the woman, but you couldn’t be Prime Minister and be completely addled. Apparently, when she became the Prime Minister, the ‘ole country was rotten and needed to be re-organised. Coal used to be one of the backbones of the British economy but now, in 1984, only about 17% of the mines in Britain were still operating. Yet still – still – the government decided to close down the ones that were still working. Hundreds of men were trying to get their jobs back, as well as earn fair wages and benefits like every other bugger in the country. But Thatcher didn’t give a flyin’ fuck about this, did she?

Nobody knew how long the strike would go on for. All we could ‘ope for was that everybody eventually saw sense and we could get back to the lives we knew and loved. We were told to trust the people in charge but it didn’t seem like they knew what they were doing.

I could only ‘ave faith that this would end one day.


Hi, everyone. Thank you all for coming. I know that grandma would be happy to see so many people here. She wouldn’t be too pleased that it was her ten-year funeral anniversary, though. But also, who does a funeral anniversary? My family is really weird. I’m sorry you’ve all been forced to wear your fanciest clothes and eat cheese and pineapple on sticks. Grandma’s food tastes were pretty seventies, I think.

A eulogy. Is it still a eulogy if it’s ten years after the original funeral? Or, now we’re all back together again and I never got to do a speech at the real funeral, is it a new-logy? Sorry. I make jokes when I’m nervous or sad. Bad jokes, as well. I don’t really know how to start this. I don’t know how you sum up someone who you loved so much, and who was loved by others, without being soppy. I’m going to try not to cry but knowing me, that won’t be possible. The whole reason I didn’t do a speech ten years ago is because I was 15 and a lanky mess of snot and tears. Now I’m older but I still cry a lot.

I’m going to pretend instead that grandma is here in the room and direct all this at her, instead of talking about her like she’s actually died. I know she has actually gone but I find it easier this way.

So, grandma. It’s been ten years. I should be over it by now, but you know what? I’m not. I hate it. You shouldn’t have died. Why did you? We didn’t even know you were dying. It was Christmas and we were decorating the tree and then mum got a phone call from you. You said you were at the doctors. I think it was a Saturday and the surgery isn’t open on a Saturday. Lee and I were dropped off at our neighbour’s house while mum and dad came to see you. I don’t remember what happened, but I remember sitting at the telephone at the window. I don’t know why.

You never showed weakness, did you? You didn’t show weakness with anything; at least, that’s what mum always said. That’s why your aneurysm was so out of the blue. You had a headache and then you died. You wouldn’t normally tell anyone you even had a headache unless it was really bad so when you phoned mum, she knew something had happened. Do you remember that time you broke your wrist because one of the dogs pulled too hard on their lead? You didn’t moan about it, you were just annoyed that you couldn’t walk both dogs at once. That was you all over. Business as usual.

I want to say sorry. Sorry for not saying thank you for Sunday lunch two weeks before you died. That was the last time I saw you alive. I was a properly miserable teenager, wasn’t I?! We saw you all the time and you know I hate Sunday lunch. And when we all said goodbye at the end, I wanted you to know how annoyed I was that I’d been dragged to a dinner I hated. I don’t remember if I gave you a hug or not, but I do remember that I didn’t say thank you and I didn’t say that I loved you. I desperately hope that you know that I did love you and I was just being sulky. But what if you died thinking I hated you? I didn’t, I promise I didn’t. But if I could speak to you again, I would tell you this.

You taught me to be myself by letting me be myself and by making my own mistakes. That time at the Skegness dance competition when I didn’t want to warm up and mum said I had to? You said I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to, so I didn’t … and the dance was awful. Mum said, “I told you so”, of course, but you said something about it not mattering. I think after that I always warmed up before any competition. You were a master of reverse psychology.

I remember when you used to come over and babysit us. You introduced me to ‘Dinnerladies’ (and therefore Victoria Wood), ‘Red Dwarf’ and ‘Sharpe’ (you thought Sean Bean was good looking. He is. It’s a shame you never got to see him in ‘Game of Thrones’). While the TV was on you would play with my hair with your long red fingernails. I never told you I hated those nails because why would I? You liked them and while I was a miserable teenager, I wasn’t outright rude to people.

We used to cross-stitch as well. You taught mum how to do it and I was taught by a combination of you and her. I think I made a Winnie the Pooh cross-stitch – one of those little kits that are suitable for children. Mum, on the other hand, spent YEARS making one for you for a birthday or Christmas present. It was a house with different flowers round the outside, all with their names. You used to garden a lot and knew all the Latin names and stuff. You tried to teach me, but I gave up once I realised that pretty flowers don’t grow overnight. That cross-stitch is in our house now. I’m glad she finally got to give it to you for your 60th birthday (I think, I might be getting the dates wrong). That means you got to have it for seven months.

Do you know something else I learned form you? It’s really random but … how to stockpile moisturiser. I mean, I don’t stockpile it, not like you did, but I never go a day without putting it on. I still laugh at the time I opened your bathroom cabinet to find at least ten unopened pink boxes of Oil of Olay. Who does that?! I really hope you were planning on using it as currency in a future world war.

I wish you could have met my boyfriends. You’d have known which ones you liked and you’d have told me. I would always have taken your advice over mum or dad’s because you weren’t my parent! I listen to you. You’re like me, only 45 years older. We even look the same – tall, thin, sticky-out teeth. We both wear glasses and we both like sherry (yet another thing I’ve got from you).

Do you know what happened after you died? We had Kim and Tess, your dogs (I don’t know why I’m reminding you, you know what your own dogs were called) put down. We lived in your house for a bit but eventually mum and dad couldn’t cope with having two boisterous Golden Retrievers around and we took them to the vet to have them put down. The vet put a catheter into their front paws and they went to sleep. There was a drop of blood on the floor by one of the dogs. Bright red. I can remember that more clearly than anything else from that whole time period and that makes me mad. Thinking about the dogs dying makes me cry but I think about you dying and I feel sad. I should be in tears over you, not two dogs. Dogs are great and amazing but they’re not you.

Five months later I went into hospital with suspected meningitis, got diagnosed with a weird genetic condition – which I think I inherited from you, so thanks for that! – came out of hospital, sat my Religious Education GCSE the day after and ended up with a B when I was predicted an A; I’d like to blame the medical stuff but I think I just didn’t revise enough (see, learning from my mistakes!). Five months after that we moved across the city. Mum wanted to escape the area and all the memories. We didn’t have time to grieve.

I just miss you. I miss being able to walk to your house, although I didn’t really appreciate it back then. Apparently a 10-minute walk is too far for a 15-year-old. Sometimes I drive past your house. The people who bought it changed the front door and I don’t like it. It’s like you’re not there anymore. I know you’re not there but it’s weird. I can’t explain it. It’s strange and stupid but I’m really angry that they changed the door. That was your house. Not theirs. Never theirs. I bet they got rid of your “outhouse” toilet too, although I do agree with them if they have. It was cold, full of spiders and in the garage; no one in their right mind would want to pee in it.

I also bet they don’t have a bag of golf balls hanging from a nail in the garage. I still can’t believe none of those golf balls were yours! Did you train the dogs to find and pick up other peoples’ balls when you walked them around the golf course?! It was odd the days you came home without random balls in your pocket. The whole area round by the golf course has changed now. You can’t take that little cut-through onto the course itself. Now the way is blocked by a high fence, a main road and a Colourbank Carpets.

I think I’m going to stop now. I wrote most of this in a little coffee shop in Syston and I remember I needed a wee. I didn’t want to stop writing until I’d got out all the best memories I could, so I was really desperate by the time I went.

I hope this hasn’t made you too sad. If it has I hope you’ve got all your dogs there with you – Kim, Tess and Bonnie. Dogs are brilliant when you’re sad.

Goodbye, grandma. Thank you for being you.

I love you.

Billy the Sperm’s Eggsellent Adventure

It was just another Tuesday lunchtime and Billy the sperm sat dejectedly in a corner, the corners of his mouth turning downwards.  A new mission had been announced and yet once more he’d been beaten to the starting line by bloody Carl. Why was this happening to him? He was a good sperm and a strong swimmer. He was always kind to everybody and would never dream of calling people names or elbowing them in the face, like Carl had done. So why was he always left behind?

Corporal Spunker, leader of the troops, had noticed Billy’s sad expression. Despite his pretence of being the big, bad corporal, he could always tell when a sperm was in trouble or needed a chat. Smoothing his moustache down, he went over to Billy and sat down next to him.

“What’s the matter, young Sperm 147?” he asked, in that abrupt, slightly aggressive manner that all good corporals get taught. “You seem demotivated and I can’t have any of my troops demotivated. That leads to low mobilisation and that leads to medical tests.” Corporal Spunker shivered. “And we all remember the last time that happened.”

Billy sighed. “It’s nothing, Corporal.”

“Nothing? Nothing? You sit there with a face like a soggy biscuit and tell me that it’s nothing? Forgive me for not believing you, Sperm 147.”

“Okay. Well … It’s Carl.”


“Carl … Sorry, Sperm 214. He’s being … Unfriendly.”

“Unfriendly? In what way?”

“Well, Corporal … In an unfriendly way.”

The Corporal huffed. “Look here, Sperm 147. If you want my help then you need to tell me the problem in more details than, ‘he’s being unfriendly’. Is there bullying? Hate crimes? Is Carl withholding something from you?”

Billy jumped dramatically to his feet. “Yes, you know what, that’s exactly it! He’s withholding me from visiting Ovary Island! It was my first time to get to go and he wouldn’t let me!”

Corporal Spunker nodded. He had seen this sort of thing happen before with new recruits. One of them would always demonstrate how he was faster or stronger than the others, with the result being that everyone usually thought that he was a massive dick (no pun intended). Billy wasn’t the first recruit to have an issue here, so it was time to nip this in the bud once and for all.

“Listen, Sperm 147 … Forgive me, what’s your real name?”

“It’s Billy, sir.”

“Billy. Listen, Billy. Let me tell you something that few recruits here ever get told. Ovary Island has a 1 in 100 million success rate for our troops. Don’t let that news get you down; someone has to be that special one, so why can’t it be you? However unlikely you think the odds are, the truth is that Carl is in exactly the same boat. He may think he’s faster and stronger but deep down he knows he’s just like the rest of us. So don’t let yourself get too hurt by what he says or does.

Billy looked at the floor. “That’s easy for you to say, Corporal. I never got to apply for the Valentine’s Day Massacre or the Bonfire Night Bonanza missions to Ovary Island because I was too young. I thought today, the Afternoon Delight mission, would be my first chance. But no. Carl ruined it. I bet you never got to the starting line only to have some stupid bully elbow you in the face and say, ‘not today, Billy the Jizz.’ I knew Carl was mean but that was another level.”

Shaking his head, the Corporal thought carefully about what to say next. Name-calling in the troops was a big no-no. Combine that with elbowing in the face and Sperm 214 was surely on his last warning.

“Right, Sperm 147, I’m going to let you in on a secret that not one of the troops ever gets to hear. Ovary Island is a death mission. So is Tissue Bay and Hand Station. Yes, when the news comes that we’re about to put out, as it were, the troops get excited because finally it’s their chance to see Ovary Island in the flesh! They all want to be part of that crew! But those odds I told you about earlier … the 100 million aren’t just failures. They’re dead failures. They will never return. Their faces will never again shine with the glee that comes when a mission is announced. And we deal with that, myself and the other Corporals. We get through it by hiding the truth. Do you know what would happen if we told the truth? Chaos. Revolts. Mutiny. There’s the odd sperm with a death wish but I don’t fancy facing 99,999999 revolting sperm, do you? Not to mention that the aftermath would feature endless tests and the needless loss of more of our men.”

Billy sat in wonderment, his mouth dropping open. Ovary Island was a death mission? He’d had no idea. Still … Imagine being the one sperm that made it, that 1 in 100 million! Imagine the respect he’d get from everyone. Obviously, he wouldn’t be back at the barracks to appreciate it but just sensing it was going on would be enough.

The Corporal could sense that some incredible thought process was taking place in the young recruit’s head. He knew better than to interrupt. Finally Billy opened his mouth.

“Corporal … I still want to go.”

“You do?”

“I want to try again. I want a second shot at this.”

“Even knowing the odds …”

“Even knowing the odds.” Billy laughed. “Corporal Spunker, you’re right. It’s almost certain death. But like you, said, someone has to be the 1 in 100 million! It might not be me but I’ve got just as much of a chance as anyone else, right?! I want to do it, I want to fight! Tell me, what can I do to make sure that my second go at this at least gets me onto the crew?”

Corporal Spunker held back a smile. This young sperm had more spunk than he initially thought and, God help him, he wanted him to realise his dream. He stood up, faced Billy and put his hands on the recruit’s shoulders.

“Billy. Sperm 147. You have been a brave addition to the team at Ballsack Barracks. It would make me incredibly happy to see you get on the next Ovary Island mission, even if that mission results in de …”

“Death, I know.”

“Don’t interrupt me when I am speech-giving,” snapped the Corporal. “You know I hate it.”

Billy shrugged. “Sorry, Corporal. Carry on, please.”

The Corporal cleared his throat. “On the next mission we have, I will personally place you at the front of the crowd so you have the absolute best chance of reaching the Island first and in one piece. I want you to succeed, Billy, and if that means placing one of my own troops in the isolation block … Well, let’s just pretend you didn’t hear me say that, shall we?”


The next mission to Ovary Island was announced as part of the Saturday Night Sensation later that week. Billy, in his best racing suit and goggles, was at the front of the gaggle of eager, chatty recruits, all naively talking about what they would do when they got to the Island, whether the eggs would be pretty and they would find a suitable mate. Billy shook his head, smiling slightly. This was his second chance and with Carl out of the picture, he was raring to go.

Death or glory. It was time to find out which.


A Brief History of a Fear of Time

Dear Jeremy,

It’s you writing this. Jeremy. How are you? Did you ever find the DVD case for ‘Planet of the Apes’? Remember to check under the washing machine; that was where you found your biography of Ryan Giggs, wasn’t it?

Right. This is a letter from you to you, an idea suggested by Madeline. In case you haven’t noticed, she’s a big fan of the ‘write a letter to yourself’ train of thought. It must be something they learn in counsellor school. Remember when she made you write that letter to your grandma who’s died three years ago, then told you off because it wasn’t emotional enough? It’s not really your fault if the section about the “outhouse toilet” was more funny than sad but whatever, right? (Also, if she makes you read this letter out to her like she did with the last one, DO NOT READ THIS BIT OUT!)
So, yeah. Here goes. My name is Jeremy Swindon and I have chronomentrophobia; an irrational fear of clocks and watches. If you’re thinking that’s completely crazy, let me tell you part two. This developed from a seriously debilitating case of chronophobia; a fear of time passing.
(NOTE TO SELF; it’s a good job I’m not dyslexic.)

Have you ever noticed how often the word ‘time’ comes up in general conversation?

“Have you seen the time?”
“I haven’t had time!”
“Time to go to work.”
“What time is it? It’s Chico time!”

Seriously, count up how often you use the word ‘time’ in one day. It happens more often than you’d think.

How did it all start? Well, that’s a question I ask myself regularly. Most people with chronophobia can trace it back to the death of a relative or a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Fine, fine, that all makes perfect sense. Me, however, with my interminable need to be fucking different … I watched the film ‘Pearl Harbor’ and had a panic attack.

I’m not going to go into the story of the film – this is me trying to write up a “detailed and personal account of my phobias” on the advice of my counsellor, not a review for Total Film – but the basic plot line goes as follows: Kate Beckinsale and Ben Affleck are a couple during the Second World War. Ben’s best friend is Josh Hartnett. Both men are pilots. Ben goes to fight in Europe because he’s a twat, leaving Kate behind in America. Events unfold and she believes he’s been killed so, naturally, she hooks up with Josh and gets pregnant by him. Long story short, Ben returns, discovers the betrayal, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ben and Josh go to fight them off, the Japanese kill Josh and everyone is left distraught.


I watched that film and, rather than get emotionally swept up, my only concern was time. Seriously; this could happen to anyone! You fall in love with someone (or two someones, in this case) and yet they get snatched from you without any preamble or warning. You can’t plan it. You can’t map out the relationship with, “okay, I know you’re going to get shot on Friday around tea time, so if we do the aquarium tomorrow, that leaves us with half a day to recover from Harry’s birthday drinks first …” No. Things just happen. You might be in the best relationship / job / threesome of your life but time is a relentless fucking bastard.

I learnt tricks to get around it. Firstly, I made sure that I never sat facing a clock; I’d always make sure my back was to it. I don’t wear watches. I’ve stuck a little piece of gaffer tape over the top of my phone screen so I can’t see the time and if I have to lock it, I look away so I can’t see the time flash up in big fucking numbers on the screen.
(Oh yeah, that reminds me. My “friend” Rob once made me phone the Speaking Clock; he saved the number in my phone under the name of the pizza delivery place, and then got me to call them and ask for a pizza. The fucking imbecile.)

Madeline used to say, “time’s up!” when we finished a session but I’ve got her to say, “game over” now instead. It makes me feel less … anxious, I guess is the word.

I digress.

I’ve been seeing Madeline for a year now. Originally, as you know, I started seeing her to discuss other stuff but it somehow migrated into talking about Chronos (we decided, to make my fear feel more valid, that I would give it a name. That way it’s more like a supervillain I can destroy). Having a fear of Chronos is a weird thing to talk about and explain so she’s recently hit on the idea of getting me to write a letter to myself, to try and figure out what’s going on in my head and to make sense of it. But it still doesn’t make sense and I HATE IT.

I can remember one thing that started my fear of clocks and watches. I saw this cartoon when I was eight, I think. In it, an alarm clock came to life and started blaring its alarm in the ear of the person in bed and then their brain melted. It can’t just be me; that’s the sort of thing that’s going to shit you up for life.

But it stayed with me. I can’t look at clocks in case they come to life; the relentless ticking and moving of the hands freaks me out. Partly it’s because it’s an inanimate object that’s mysteriously got a part of it still moving, and also because the noise is coming from this object counting down the seconds of your life.
I guess the question now is where do I go from here? To be honest, this letter could go on for another fifteen pages but my hand hurts and just writing all this stuff about time is making me want to smash my fist through glass. No doubt Madeline will hear that and then want to discuss that in more detail.

A brief summary (you know all this anyway but Madeline, look, this is me getting my thoughts in order! Aren’t I the good little patient!). My name is Jeremy Swindon. I am 34. I have chronomentrophobia (an irrational fear of clocks and watches) and chronophobia, a fear of time passing. I don’t know how to deal with either of them, because I can’t escape them. If you’ve got a fear of heights, you just avoid heights. If you’ve got a fear of time, you … I don’t know.

Well, I’ve done. My letter from Jeremy to Jeremy is done. Madeline, what do I do now?

Game over.


It’s a Kind of Magic

The old man was rushed into Princeton Plainsboro emergency room surrounded by a swarm of doctors and nurses. One held up the man’s hand and checked his pulse.

“Pulse 120 over 60 … He’s white as a sheet. Let’s get some blankets on him.”

Another nurse rushed over to check the man’s pupils. Pulling back his eyelid and shining a light, she jumped back with a scream.

“Have you seen his eyes?!”

The staff crowded round for a look and each person thought the same thing; surely eyes like that … eyes that resembled a snake’s … red eyes, with slits for pupils … couldn’t exist on an actual human man, could they?

Trying to ignore this, one nurse started to peel away a bandage that covered the lower half of the man’s face. Unwrapping the last few inches, she gave a sudden scream and fell to the ground in a dead faint.

The old man had no nose.

Looking anywhere but at the scary sight on the examination table, the chief nurse walked backwards to the doors of the ER.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Someone call House.”


Greg House did not appreciate being paged while in the middle of a chess game with James Wilson. True, House was awful at the game and so Wilson always won but House liked to think that he let Wilson win because he had terminal cancer. The game was interrupted by Wilson’s cell phone ringing.

“Hello? … What? … Hold on.” Covering the mouthpiece, Wilson looked suspiciously at House. “It’s Chase. He wants to know if I’m with you.”

House grinned. “I always knew he was into me.”

“He’s got a patient,” Wilson sighed. “An old guy with snake eyes and no nose. You want it?”

House shrugged. “Why would I want it? Chase is the new me. If he wants to be the head of diagnostics, he can deal with the weird crap now.”

“House, come on. Snake eyes? You know Chase can’t handle this. He needs you.”

Playing for time, House picked up his rook and knocked over each of Wilson’s pieces methodically. Finally he threw the rook down and picked up his cane. “Fine. The guy’s from a country with man-eating spiders but he can’t handle one old man.”


In a private room in the ER department, Chase was taking a patient history from the old man in question.

“Sir, do you have any family we can contact?”

The man wheezed. He was clearly not well. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and surprisingly high pitched.

“No. My family are dead.”

Chase was immediately apologetic. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not. They were never any good to me when they were alive,” the old man coughed.

Chase flipped through the notes he had so far. There was one obvious burning question everyone wanted to ask but nobody had had the nerve. He decided to go for it.

“Can I ask what happened to your nose?”

The man coughed again before taking a deep breath. “I was born to a Squib mother and a Muggle father. After being abandoned in a Muggle orphanage, I was visited by Albus Dumbledore who offered me a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Despite being the most powerful wizard in my year, death loomed when I attempted to kill a baby boy. The attempt was unsuccessful and I fled. I tried various times after that but to no avail. The most recent attempt cost me my life … or so they thought.

“It’s surprisingly easy to stop your pulse for long enough to convince people that you’re dead. A tennis ball under the armpit will do the trick. Combine it with a hint of magic and you can stop your pulse indefinitely and yet not die. Perhaps my confidence got the best of me; once you’ve “killed” yourself in front of 600 spectators and waited for them to leave, it’s significantly harder to reenergise yourself from the spell. I stumbled into the Forbidden Forest and a centaur, not realising my identity, magicked me away to here, apparently the best hospital in the world.”

As House limped into the room, Chase got up and walked over to him. “The guy’s delusional. Talking complete rubbish about magic and wizards. Send him to Plastics, get him a new nose and get him out.”

House tutted. “Now, now, young Chase. Where’s our patient care?”

Limping over to the patient, House pulled across a stool and sat down, leaving Chase to gape in astonishment. House flipped through the notes and looked up at the old man.

“So, Noseless, what’s the story? Heroine? Vodka? Premium Russian cigars made from the finest plutonium?”

The old man coughed again. “Excuse me?”

House sighed; clearly this was going to be harder than he thought. “Okay, let’s start with the basics. Can you confirm your name?”


House looked at the notes and shook his head. “Nope. Not what I’ve got here. I’ve got the much more normal Tom Riddle.”

“No. NO.” The man tried his best to scream but it gave out as a hacking cough. “Don’t call me by my Muggle father’s name! I AM VOLDEMORT!”


Back in the diagnostics office, Chase and House sat at the table, House tossing a small orange ball between his hand and his cane. “Right, Kylie Minogue, let’s think things through. Tell me things.”

Frowning, Chase looked at the door. “You know, I’m pretty sure that this is my office … I’m the head of diagnostics, not you … remind me why you’re taking charge of this? You’re not even supposed to be here. The ER team panicked and called you.”

“But let’s be honest, it was only a matter of time before you called me asking for a date anyway. So,” House limped over to his trusty whiteboard, uncapped a pen and started to write. “What do we know about No Nose apart from the fact that’s the cheese slid off his cracker a while ago?”

Chase thought hard. “He’s lonely. The way he talks about his parents … And I get the feeling that he hasn’t had much luck in relationships.”

House nodded, thoughtfully. “So, love. Okay. We can work with that. I mean, you can’t,  Chase, but I can for a second or two. Right. Love. Is that enough to land a person in hospital?”

“We know why he’s here, House. He faked his own death, went too far and ended up in the ER.”

“But why fake your death? He said he’s tried to kill this boy several times before. So aside from calling the cops, what do we have? A man who got into a fight with a much younger foe and faked his own death. What was he embarrassed of? Failing to kill the boy yet again? Anyone would be. Or maybe there was someone else there he wanted to impress and failed to. Maybe this was the one and only time he’d had feelings for someone. Maybe …” He tailed off as a thought struck him. Grabbing his cane from the back of a chair, he limped excitedly from the room.


“Mr Voldemort, finish this song lyric: all you need is …?”

Voldemort coughed. “Love?”

“Correct.” House nodded. “And a bit of trivia for you. What is a battlefield?”

“I believed that would be ‘love is a battlefield’. Please don’t question my knowledge of Pat Benatar, Dr. House. I may be a powerful wizard but I still know a good tune when I hear it. And I know where you’re going with this. I suffer from a lack of love.”

“Not quite,” said House. “You, sir, are in love and haven’t been able to admit it. Who’s the unlucky specimen?”

Voldemort sighed. House crossed his fingers. He hadn’t expected it to be so easy but sometimes it really was horses when you assumed it was zebras.

“Twelve or so years after I first tried to kill that boy, I used my good-looking younger self from the past to draw him to his death through a diary. However, that diary fell into the wrong hands and was picked up by a young, flame-haired temptress called Ginny Weasley. Oh, how I rejoiced! All my plans for the boy’s death went out the window in the face of this new discovery. I enticed Ginny into my Chamber of Secrets, showed her my basilisk – which is not a euphemism, by the way – but my plans were continually thwarted by the boy. And then, in what I thought was going to be the ultimate victory for me, I was hit by the boy’s ‘Avada Kedavra’ curse – a killing curse. It failed to kill me and instead left me unconscious. I came to and realised this so slipped a tennis ball under my armpit, said a ‘Julietus’ spell and feigned my death for rather longer than I should have done. I couldn’t face Ginny’s laughing, her mocking of me now that I’d failed again.”

With that, the man broke into terrible gut-wrenching sobs. House put his hand on Voldemort’s shoulder. Chase, still watching from the door, was agape.

“You see, Tom … I think your love for another human being saved your life. You’re not as bitter as you like to pretend you are. And I should know. Do yourself a favour; admit you’re human. You’ll save yourself more pain in the long run.”

With that, House hauled himself to his feet and limped towards the door. Chase grabbed him just before he left.

“What was that all about? ‘You’re not as biter as you think you are’? ‘Admit you’re human’? House, did you just confess your deep-seated feelings to a patient?”

House winked at him. “Come on, Chase. You should know by now. Everybody lies.”