The house was quiet as I cranked open the side door and stepped into the kitchen. I held my breath and pulled my blazer sleeves down over my hands. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been mottled with bug bites in months, that I hadn’t turned light headed by noxious fumes for longer – old habits died harder than I liked. The bitter taste of worry flooded my mouth, paralyzing for a moment before I began to reason myself back into the now. This house smelled of linens and vanilla, I could hear the tick of the radiators as the heat crept into the metal. A fresh stack of laundry sat neatly on the side, warmth still lingering in the folds. I took time to touch the citrus fresh surfaces and to bury my face into the laundry, careful not to mess it up but eager to leech off some warmth and homeliness

They are here, still here

I must have been too long in my reassurances for my school bag hadn’t even touched the floor before Sarah bustled in

“Jenny, there you are. I knew I heard the door open. Now in. In, in, in!” And then she was gone,calling to the others that I’d returned. I liked Sarah, I really did. She was always busy, always bright, reminding me of a flower bobbing up and down in a summer breeze. At a push, I’d admit I loved her almost as much as I loved the rest of the Walkers, every single one of my foster family being generous, affectionate souls to the last.

I quelled the last of my worry, reminded myself how obscenely lucky I was, and toed off my shoes. I noticed the first scuffs were beginning to appear at the tips, and promised them some TLC later before following Sarah into the house lest she return to chivvy me on. I threaded down the hall, through the living room, and into the dining room. A long pine table dominated the room, cool winter sunlight streaming down through the skylights. Sarah fluttered an impatient hand at me to slot myself between my foster parents, Jane and Michael. Their son, Paul, stood off to the left, smiling happily at me. They looked beatific and handsome, just as any kid would wish their family to be.

The air in the room felt hot and thick.

“Come here, love,” Jane murmured. Her soft voice, as always was a balm, soothing down the prickles that began to rise as I surveyed this family portrait setup they wanted me to finish. I froze in the threshold, thinking back to the last one I was in. My brother in uniform, ready to leave, Mum grinning as if she did not have sunken eyes and a tremor. And me in the corner, at the wrong end of every bell curve in the book. It was only a split second pause, and I prayed that they didn’t notice as I slid myself into the centre and noticed the A4 brown envelope arranged on the table, the camera that had appeared in Sarah’s hands.

I wasn’t stupid.

I didn’t live in a bubble.

I knew what was happening.

The coil of anxiousness that had lain torpid at the bottom of my stomach began to rise, writhing its way into my throat. I knew they heard the catch of my breath, saw the shake of my hands as I reached for the envelope, cold fingers peeling it open. A sharp flash blinded me as I tugged the document out, but I didn’t need to read it to know I was no longer Jenny Pritchard.

“You’re a Walker now,” Michael said, gently squeezing my shoulder. Another flash blinded me. Distantly I could hear Sarah blathering in the background. How smart I looked in my new uniform, how they should get this framed, maybe they should send a copy to my social worker and my old children’s home. What a happy ending. What a wonderful beginning.

Picture perfect in every way.

I’d always known, on the periphery, that it would come to this. Mum had huffed one too many times, my brother toured in places I would only ever see on the news. But I had really never believed. Had never stopped hoping that one day I’d open the door to him, that my brother with his eyes set on the horizon would follow it all the way round, back to me.

My heart broke and loving arms slid around me, holding me up as I crumbled into dust. I knew kids who would kill for this: a family who loved them, fluffy socks enough for every day of the month, good smells and better food. A chance, a goddamned chance. I had dreamed of it. And now that it was here, I found that it was stained with rage and guilt and grief.

Everything I ever wanted, and I hated it.


Greener Grass

Ed sat on the sofa, staring at his phone and wondering if he could go through with it. Was he overreacting? Were things really so bad? He hesitated, his finger hovering over the bright yellow app icon. Did he have to do something so extreme?

His eyes drifted about the room, taking in the nice furniture (not too expensive, but by no means cheap), the pictures on the wall (nice, but not memorable), the stereo, the TV. It was… nice. He was lucky. And yet… There was no one to share it with. The armchair, which did not match but rather complimented the sofa, was barely used (he tended to gravitate sofa-wards). Down the hall, the spare bedroom had become a dumping ground for everything from the guitar he’d bought on impulse and barely played, to the boxes of books he’d promised would go on shelves when he’d moved in four years ago, to the collection of old toys he’d rescued from his parents loft. There was a bed in there somewhere, he was sure of it…

Ed sighed. So he was lonely. That was hardly a new development; he’d felt lonely most of his life. Half the time he felt relieved not to have to deal with all the crap his friends and other people had to deal with. Housemates. Relationships. Heartbreak. People in general, to be honest; he’d never been good with people. The other half of the time, though… Sometimes his solitary existence did get him down, but not enough to prompt his impulse to change it all.

So what else? His job was… fine. He worked in middle management in a middle-sized company in a middle-sized city. He was good at what he did, but he’d never make Managing Director. His workmates rarely became his friends, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it meant that he could escape the day job when he did socialise of an evening…

“It’s fine,” Ed said, and jumped at the sound of his own voice. “My life is fine.” It was true enough. It wasn’t a bad life. Maybe it wasn’t the best either. But it was okay. It was fine. So what was the problem?

His eyes dropped to the phone in his hand, the friendly yellow icon bright against the wallpaper image. The icon was two white stick figures high-fiving on a yellow background, and the app name sat below the icon: ‘2ndChance’.

“Maybe I’m sick of ‘fine’,” Ed murmured, and his finger touched the icon, opening the app…

* * *

Ed had, unsurprisingly, missed the life-swap craze when it had first emerged. His first encounter with 2ndChance was as a confused observer, and if not for the company’s intensive advertising campaign he’d have dismissed the entire thing as a trick of his imagination.

He’d been sitting in the coffee shop on the corner down from his office, listlessly stirring his cappuccino and looking idly about at the other customers. At the table next to him was a woman about his own age, her light brown hair in a short bob, a mustard yellow scarf knotted about her neck. The woman was fiddling with her phone, and something in the set of her shoulders and the intensity of her focus told Ed she was upset. In his mind he idly played out the conversation he would never have; where he’d catch her attention, ask her if she was alright, and they would start to talk. He’d make her laugh, and by the end of their coffee they’d be smiling at each other and wondering what might come next…

Ed sighed and shrugged away the daydream, glancing at the woman again. She sat there, still playing with her phone, lifting her hand to tuck her long light brown hair behind her ear… He blinked in surprise and stared at her. He could have sworn a few moments ago her hair had been a short bob, but now it was well past her shoulders. Her face had changed too, he was sure of it. But she wore the same mustard scarf, with the same knot… Same clothes, different woman…

Ed was staring openly now, and the woman finally noticed. She met his eyes for the briefest of moments, then she smiled. Before he could even attempt to smile back, however, the woman pushed her coffee cup away and rose. She shrugged into her coat, picked up her bag and headed for the door. Ed stared after her for a few moments, then down at his coffee.

He might eventually have shrugged the whole thing off as a mistake (he’d only glanced at her before swanning off on his daydream, really), but that evening he’d seen an advert online that brought him up short. It was a short video clip, one of the ones that finds its way onto your social media feed despite adjusting all the settings to try and stop them. It showed a coffee shop scene and a handsome but haggard looking man sitting at a table, fiddling with his phone. Another customer passed in front of the camera, and when they’d passed there was a different but equally handsome man in the exact same outfit, sitting at the same table. This man didn’t look haggard, however, and with a smile he put his phone in his pocket, looked into the camera and gave a winning smile and winked. Then the image faded to a white screen with the words ‘2ndChance – Because sometimes the grass really IS greener’ emblazoned across it.

Despite the grin and horribly cheesy wink to camera, it was so similar to Ed’s experience that afternoon that he clicked the link on the video immediately, and so was formally introduced to the idea of life-swapping…

Give yourself a new beginning with 2ndChance!

Have you suffered heartbreak? Are you frustrated in your job? Bitter at the hand you’ve been dealt? Has your life not worked out the way you thought it would? Do you find yourself wishing you had a way to start over? Well, now you really can!

2ndChance is a revolutionary new way to hit the reset button on your unsatisfying life and seek out a new one. Simply download our app and register for free, and you will be a few short steps away from starting out afresh!

2ndChance – Because sometimes the grass really IS greener!

The website used a lot of words to give very vague information as to what service they actually provided, but after some digging online Ed finally came to the conclusion that life-swapping meant literally that. You registered using the app, gave it all the detail of your life, and then you set search criteria for what you wanted to swap to. The app searched its users and proposed possible matches. You selected the one you wanted, and that was it; you and your match were instantly, physically swapped, and you carried on in your new life as though nothing had changed. 2ndChance switched your electronic identity instantly, and the real world adjusted to match the electronic world, as it always did. A second chance, simple as that.

Which was, of course, completely bonkers. And yet… Ed couldn’t stop thinking about the woman in the coffee shop, about the idea of stepping away from his own life, starting over. Finally he’d downloaded the app, just out of curiosity. Registered an account, filled in details about his life, the ‘fine’, middling existence, just to see what they wanted you to tell them. They were thorough, requiring every last detail in order to find a suitable swap. But whilst Ed had never gone so far as touching the ‘Search’ button, he never quite forgot about 2ndChance, until one day the usual week of meetings and work and solitude had become unbearable, and he found himself sitting on his sofa, his finger hovering over the friendly yellow app icon…

* * *

The 2ndChance app gave Ed a list of fourteen potential matches, and he scrolled through them curiously. When he reached number seven, he stopped. This was the one; Jack Ellory, a trained pilot, but currently owned and ran a moderately successful restaurant. Different. Maybe stressful, with ups and downs, sure, but definitely more than just ‘fine’. He looked about his lounge one last time, and then he touched his finger to the large yellow button at the bottom of the screen.

There was a sudden flash of brilliant white light, and then–

–blinking, the man who had been Ed looked down at the phone in his hand, text bright on the screen.

Welcome to your new start! Thank you for choosing 2ndChance.

And then the text changed:

2ndChance – Because sometimes the grass really IS greener!

Smiling to himself, the man who was now Jack downed the last of his coffee, stood, slipped his phone into his pocket, and left the coffee shop. Out on the street he took a deep breath, then set out to explore his new life.


The inky canopy of the night sky was augmented by almost invisible specks of light, which did nothing to illuminate the streets of the city below. The city seemed to groan with the dull sound of the population, drowning in alcohol to stave off the realization of the hopelessness of their existences. Nobody made anything of themselves here, the most they could hope for was one escape or another.

It was into this cesspool of chaos and petty conflict that Stephen Beckett stepped, from the relative comfort of his hotel, to survey the wreckage of humanity before him. He wore a leather jacket and jeans, with slicked back hair and the walk only someone with more confidence than was appropriate for any human being. He stalked through the city, past bars, clubs and take away shops, watching the people leaving in their stupors, in groups and alone.

Eventually he spotted a woman saying goodbye to her friends outside a bar, as the cover band playing within brutally murdered Radiohead’s “Creep” to completely unjustifiable cheering and singing along from the audience. The woman split away from her friends and walked in the opposite direction of the center of the town. Stephen felt himself salivating as he watched her walk. She had blonde hair which looked like it had probably been pinned in place early in the evening, but was now flowing about half way down her back. Her black dress was apparently designed to be as revealing as humanly possible, and the physics involved in her managing to not fall out of it baffled Stephen. He supposed that was the point. It wasn’t a dress one would wear in order to go unnoticed.

As he followed her she turned a corner and Stephen caught a better look at her face. Her lips were full and painted the bright red usually found adorning Italian sports cars. Stephen smiled as she exhaled a long breath of steam into the cold night. He thought to himself how cold she must be, wearing so little, and recalled wrapping his arms around his ex-wife to keep her warm years ago. They were a good match for each other, Amy and this unknown woman. About the same height, with a similarly curvy figure. He had loved that about Amy, and couldn’t stand the idea of a woman who was little more than skin and bones, liable to be snapped like a twig if the evening became too violent.

Stephen’s pace quickened silently as they reached the edge of the park. He could hardly believe his luck that this woman was putting herself in such a vulnerable position. He had seen no one else since they had left the main part of the town and crossed the inner ring road. Still, he thought, best not to attract attention just in case.

He pulled a slightly damp cloth from his jacket pocket, put it over the woman’s mouth from behind and dragged her into the tree line beside them. He heard some muffled screaming but the chloroform made her groggy immediately. He pulled her hair aside and sank his sharp teeth into her neck. They pierced the skin and the blood rushed into his mouth like juice out of a tomato. Time seemed to stand still as he swallowed a mouthful of the red nectar and he felt the power of life and death fill him. He wanted to drain her completely, then return to his hotel room fully nourished for the week to continue his marathon binge-watch of the comedy “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Netflix. Movies and tv shows always got vampires wrong. Vampires living in crypts and graveyards, put off by garlic and crucifixes. Laughable. Just because they weren’t human didn’t mean they didn’t enjoy the feel of quality Egyptian cotton quilts on their skin and a well equipped room to return to. Netflix must have been designed by a vampire, Stephen thought, you never missed the sunlight with all that entertainment designed to keep you from even leaving your bed.

But this feed was not his “one for the week”. He had a more significant purpose. He pulled himself away from her neck as she clung to consciousness, a streak of red running down her front. Stephen shook his leather jacket away, held his shirt aside to reveal his shoulder, then grabbed the woman’s head and maneuvered her mouth to his neck. As she instinctively bit down on his shoulder he felt an ecstasy fill him in a way he hadn’t experienced in years, maybe decades. Time was more and more difficult to keep track of. He closed his eyes and tried to absorb the whole experience. The feel of the woman’s hair in his hand, her scent even brought his wife’s memory back to the front of his mind. As he held her close, Stephen remembered the feel of Amy’s arms around him and all the nights they spent together, dreaming of bright futures and the ways they’d find to get out of this dead-end town. He remembered her smile and the glint in her eyes as she pinned him down on their bed, and how that light had disappeared from her as she died in his arms.

Stephen’s attention snapped back from his memory as the woman kept taking blood from him, sinking her teeth more confidently into him, until finally he threw her to the ground. She looked similar enough, he thought, enough to help him fall into his delusion each morning. She snarled at him.

“Relax.” Stephen instructed. “You may find the change… is a lot to process… How do you feel?”

She stood up and stretched the muscles in her neck, the wound already healing.

“Empowered” she replied.

“Welcome to your second life.” He grinned, as he told her what all his puppets wanted to believe. “You’re free.”

Second Chance

She sank into the large leather wingback, crossing one leg over the other, enjoying the glimpse of her favourite shoes as she cast her eyes about the room. Ruby’s sported only arty mood lighting so it was filled with shadowy corners draped in red velvet, but then you didn’t exactly come here for the view.
Drink?  Yes
Dance?  On occasion
Escape?  Always

She closed her eyes and let the music move through her, the walking jazz baseline pulsing through the drink clutched between her finger tips, wrist hanging limp over the arm of the chair. Her tongue darted across her lips to catch a trace of liquor but caught only gloss and she pouted, partly at the now required effort to catch a taste, partly as she remembered the deep shade of red she had painted on for the occasion and knew how fantastic she looked when she pouted just so.

“May I?” The soft baritone was like butter and the tall drink of water it belonged to was gesturing to the chair beside her.
She let a wry smile crease her lips, “You may.”

He was older, dashing, fair hair shot through with grey, laughter lines tickling at the corner of his eyes. He wore his shirt collar loose, draping his jacket over the back of the chair before settling into it. His soft blue stare drank her in, and she loved it.

“To whom do I owe the pleasure?” she asked, that fine line between sultry sing-song and coy that the boys all like so much. This one though. A shadow seemed to flit across his eyes at the question, for so brief a moment that she doubted herself immediately.
He held out his hand to her, “James, and the enchantress before me?”
“Enchantress?” she gasped, a grin spreading wide as she placed her hand into his. “Why sir, I do believe you have quite the wrong impression of me already.”
“And yet I am certainly under your spell” He pressed his lips gently to the back of her hand, lingering a moment before relinquishing.
“Maggie.” There was something about him. Something she couldn’t put her finger on. Something warm and inviting yet teasingly aloof. “So, what brings you to such a fine establishment on a night like this?”
He glanced about a moment before answering, the question hanging in the air among the candlelight. “I was hoping to run into an old friend,” he sighed, “it looks like I’ve missed them.”
She leaned in, placing her hand on his arm, “I guess you’ll just have to make do with me.”

The song finished and she put her drink down to applaud. The enthusiastic slap of her hands rang out in the empty bar but that only increased her effort, an attempt to make up for the lack of patrons. He grinned and stood to join her, whooping and hollering for an encore. The band struck up again and they cheered.

Their eyes collided, breathless, and he thrust out his hand to her, an invitation. She grasped it and together they began to spin and twirl, weaving together as if they were one and had been always. The music slowed and her pulled her in close, swaying together.
“What’s the name of this place again?” his voice vibrating through his chest against her.
“Of course,” a fond smile tickling at the corner of his mouth, “we did always love it here. Made a good martini.”

She pulled away, reaching for her drink, “shame you didn’t catch your friend.” She took a long gulp, waiting for the whiskey sting at the back of her throat but all she could taste was water. Damn ice.
“I didn’t mean…” A frown streaked across his face and frustratingly he looked even more adorable.
“It’s my luck, I always fall for the unavailable ones,” she huffed, “Sailors on leave, cadets shipping off, married, emotionally stunted, I’m some sort of bastard whisperer.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He stepped towards her and like repelling magnets she stepped away.
“So you’re married then.”  She drank deep again and still the whiskey came up short.  “What the fuck is with this drink?!”

She glanced down at the glass in her hand and confusion swarmed.  It was not the cut-glass tumbler brimming with gold that she had expected.  Instead she held a stout, plain highball containing naught but water.
“What’s this?  Did you get me this?”
“No, you had it the whole…”
“Did you swap out my drink?”
“No, I…”
“Does a woman drinking offend you?” she screeched as she advanced on him. “Are you one of those old boys that likes their women chained to the kitchen sink?”
“Midge, it’s ok.”

Her vision swam and time faltered.  The candlelit club flickered to a dim sitting room, the final turn of the vinyl halted the band.  Fingers of clarity crept in and she looked into his eyes again, and yet for the first time.  “Jim?”

His arms outspread and reaching, he approached her softly, like a bomb that may explode at any moment.  “Midge? I’m here, it’s me.”
She carefully put down the glass and backed away from it into his arms.  “Where am I?  What’s going on?  I thought…”
“It’s ok,” his strong arms folding around her, tears stinging his eyes.  “I’m here.  I’ve got you.”

The lucid days were always bittersweet.  It was a dream to have his wife, his best friend back, but it always began with that same explanation, the same tears, the same heart ache.
As always he told her about the children; how Mark is engaged and their first grandchild is due any day now.
As always she gave him messages to pass on, messages she tried to pack full of love and meaning.
As always she asked about him; had he moved on, had he met someone.
As always he said he never could, that he is her husband.
And as always she chastised him and tried to set him up with a nurse.

They would talk away the time until eventually it returned for her; her grip on his arm would loosen, the mist would fill her eyes and she would sink into her chair.  He would sit with her a while longer, clinging to the chance that it might just be temporary, but it never was.  The real her was the temporary version now.


All dead, all dead,

All the dreams we had,

And I wonder why I still live on.

He remembers it vividly. Kids born in the ‘wrong generation’ have nothing on him – he who states with heavy disappointment that he was simply born ten years too late.

On July 13th, 1985, his Dad, my Grandad, had a cricket match on the green opposite the house and my Dad, then a young, fresh faced boy, had spent the day running back and forth, throwing himself down in front of the bulky television and catching glimpses of Sting, Phil Collins, U2 and a world of popular music, and running off again without so much as a savouring moment. My Nan had strict instructions – to come running, screaming and hollering if Queen were announced while he was still outside. I can imagine her, legs tucked up underneath her on the sofa, age not yet settling into her softly amused, pretty face.
Still too young to have yet made the journey into London to see his beloved band play live, the twenty minute Live-Aid slot was
everything to my Dad.

He tells me this on the way home from coffee, and I’m still all caught up trying not to cry over the grand masterpiece we’d just seen on the big screen. No matter how many times he states ‘it certainly isn’t a biopic, the timeline is all messed up’, my Father clearly can’t deny the magic of Bohemian Rhapsody either, because I’d gently teased him for crying about it all the way to the coffee shop afterwards. He knows all there is to know about them, and I was now feeling just slightly guilty for stealing all his old Queen t-shirts to wear to college. Not that he needs them, honestly, the expanse of Queen themed tattoos down his right arm are merchandise enough, truth be told.  

Over the next few days, I have some time to reflect on why I personally loved the film so much, and why I’m suddenly listening the soundtrack on repeat. Spotify notes, with a teasing tone, that the songs are all in ‘heavy rotation’, considering I fail to listen to anything else at all. This is the same kind of reflection I took after saving over forty pictures of 1970s Tim Curry to my phone and reading article after article named something like ‘Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About The Rocky Horror Picture Show!”. Undoubtedly, I’d lovingly latched onto the fact that Freddie Mercury was a queer icon in a time where it wasn’t so fun to be a queer icon. For that I loved him dearly. Frank n Furter, with his shimmering garters and string of pearls, has been making space for an 80s Rock God in full lycra.

I begin to listen with absolute dedication and can’t help but notice the dog growing bored of being the one-canine audience to my intense afternoon dance sessions. That said, I think she rather enjoys that I dedicate Love of My Life to her every single time.

My Dad talks about live concerts and appearances with such longing, and when I ask him to send me some more obscure song recommendations, he sends me two long paragraphs worth, and then songs from each band member’s solo career the next day. I find my favourite song and it’s only when I’ve been rattling on about it to him for five minutes that I realise I must have the same dreamy, far off tone he often adopts. And it makes him smile a smile that reaches right up to his eyes, making them shine.

The Dad, with a face giving into the tracks and traces of age, is a young boy again, running across the green to catch his favourite band on television.

It’s something like a second chance, like brushing the dust from the record collection in the loft, and turning the handle of the music box lying still in his chest. 

But please you must forgive me,

I am old but still a child,

All dead, all dead,

But I should not grieve.



Blue Christmas

It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house,

only one creature was stirring, too big to be a mouse.
To the cheese fiend looking up at this orange furred beast,

the creature was huge and had just finished a feast.

Its tail was striped, with black like it’s back,
But the face was a boy’s, no big old fierce cat.
As he stirred his hot cocoa, watching the marshmallows sink,
Snuck up upon him, his father, the slink.

Turned to his Pa, his face filled with glee,
His Dad’s returned smile, as proud as could be.
“Come on then, Tigger,” the Dad said to the lad,
“Let’s watch a movie before we hit the sack.”

The Two wandered off, the mouse in pursuit,
Into the living room, with cookies and fruits.
The plates were placed gently, for Santa and co,
Though with a wink from Dad, two cookies did go.

As they sat through the film, all snuggled and warm,
The mouse could sense something, some unseen storm.
The father grew anxious, as the film came to close,
And he looked as his boy, with cream on his nose.

“Will she be here this time?” The boy asked quietly,
The dad feigned a smile, “you’ll have to wait and see.
Now let’s get you to bed, before we intrude,
On Saint Nicholas’ night shift, we don’t want to be rude.”

And so the ascended, the old wooden stairs,
The boy he seemed hopeful, the man seemed more closed.
The mouse took to the tree line, only one in sight,
And lay down his small head, bidding all good night.

It was later that evening, as everyone slept,
That a light pair of feet, on floorboards they crept.
The mouse did stir this time, and looked up in shock,
To see the small boy, in dressing gown and socks.

He snuck to the chimney, and took a quick look,
He came back disheartened, his belief slightly shook.
When all of a sudden, a hearty boom,
As a warm belly laughter, filled the room.

“Santa, you’re here!” The boy shouted with glee,

and ran over to cuddle the man by the tree.
Mr Claus picked him up and took him to sit,

“You shouldn’t be awake, what time even is it?”

“Santa, I’m sorry, I needed to wait,

I have a big favour, and I was worried I was late.”
“Settle down, sweet lad, what bothers you dear?”
“It’s my Dad and I, we’re lonely this year.”

“Lonely?” Santa chuckled, then looked around,

all pictures had three but no third stocking was found.
“My mum, she’s gone sleeping, that’s what Dad said,”

the boys eyes looked aged but youthfully blinded.

“Oh, son, I’m sorry,” Santa’s face dropped.

“My letters are many, and sometimes get crossed.”
“But you can help us?” The boy asked with hope,
And Santa breathed heavy, rummaging in his coat.

He pulled out a snow globe, and handed it forth,
“Take this to bed with you, and dream your big thoughts.”
Rushed back to bed, with a kiss and a bow,
And the lad slept with a smile, no hint of a frown.

It was early next morning, as Dad panicked awake,
His hand moved to her pillow, then pulled away before his resolve could break.
He stepped onto the landing, dropping his voice to a drone,
“Tigger, it’s Eeyore, it’s time we went home.”

Bouncing out of his bedroom, up onto dad’s shoulder,
The Two headed downstairs, to the presents like boulders.
But taken aback, as the pair came in to,
A woman was waiting, with hair brown and eyes blue.

Her arms were outstretched, the pair stood as if stuck,
The mouse he watched on, as the family closer drew,
“Mum, you’re awake!” The little boy ran to her,
“Santa really did it! The snow globe, it worked.”

The Devil’s Bargain

My terrible drawings are back! Hooray!

Grey ran. In the distance his pursuers shouted insults that distorted and reverberated, assaulting him from all sides. Tears stung his eyes, narrowing the world into a series of blurry passageways. Grey ran, and the voices followed snapping at his heels and driving him on deeper and deeper into the abandoned tunnels on the edge of the town.

After an eternity of wild flight, when the voices finally began to fall away, Grey felt his legs turn rubbery, and he pitched forward landing in a crumpled heap. The voices were still with him, echoing in the dark but they were remote now, more whispers than shouts. After a long moment where he lay sucking in lungs full of the musty air, his heart started to slow, and he pushed himself up on a skinned elbow.

Looking around it quickly became apparent that there was good news and bad. In good news, there was no sign of the gnawed bones that would indicate the dangerous beasts that stalked the tunnels. The bad news though, was that no matter how hard he looked, Grey didn’t recognise anything. He was well and truly lost. Grey sat thinking for a long moment, then when thinking didn’t seem to help much, he dragged himself to his feet, picked tunnel at random and started to walk.

The tunnel led slightly upwards, but the air remained musty and still. As he continued to trudge through the semi-darkness carvings started to appear on the walls. Trees, bowing figures and some flowing script Grey couldn’t read. Grey reached out a hand and ran his fingers over the wall, following the lines, and as his fingers brushed the strange writing, they began to tingle. He stumbled and when his hand came off the stone the tingling vanished. Grey wiped his hand on his tattered cloak. Whatever this place was there was power here and out in the abandoned places power trouble.

“Come out, come out wherever you are.”

Grey’s blood ran cold. How had they found him in this maze of tunnels? It wasn’t possible!

“There’s nowhere to run a little rabbit. Don’t make me follow your trail all the way back to your warren.”

Grey looked down. His gashed knees were oozing blood, and he had left a trail of small red drops behind him. Cursing wiped the blood away and bolted up the tunnel. After a few hundred yards, the tunnel levelled out, and Grey burst from the corridor into a tall, round chamber. There was a stone bench in the centre facing an altar that, like everything else in the room was covered in intricate carvings. One of which caught his eye, carved into the wall above the altar was a horned figure wreathed in flame. The details washed over Grey in a second, but he dismissed them. All he saw was what was missing; a way out.

Grey cursed then flinched as it echoed around the room.

“Ho, ho, ho! There you are little rabbit,” called the voice from down the tunnel. “Stay there we will be along to play presently.”

“Please, please, please,” whispered Grey sprinting to the altar. It was rectangular maybe eight feet in length and four feet tall and was covered in a thick layer of dust and on closer inspection he saw it wasn’t an altar at all, it was a tomb the sides carved with lines of flame that whipped up to a thick stone lid that was three inches thick. With a despairing sigh, Grey slid to the floor and pressed the back of his head to the tomb.

“Welcome little one.”

Grey started and spun looking around the room, but he could see no one. Then out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something.  One corner of the tomb had a small hole between the lid, and the base like someone long ago had tried to pry it open with a  crowbar. Curiosity overriding his common sense Grey leaned in closer. A breeze that carried the smell of smoke, dried herbs and ancient things flowed from the hole.

Welcome to my home.

The voice echoed in Grey’s head, a deep musical voice that had nothing human in it.

Please forgive the mess it has been some time since I’ve had visitors.

Grey clapped his hands over his ears as a strange pressure started to build.

Now listen little one. They are coming to hurt you. Coming to break your bones and drink your blood.

Grey dropped to the floor with a groan. Eyes squeezed shut, hands clamped to the sides of his head, the pressure unbearable.

They’re coming little one… to do unspeakable things…

Grey could barely make out the voice over the buzzing in his ears. Then when he was sure his head would explode the pressure vanished, and Grey was floating looking down on the cavern, as five men entered. Four could have been any of the desperate people who scraped a living in town.  Grey’s eyes washed over them and dismissed them, it was the leader who held his attention. He was young but had a man’s size with a barrel chest and arms thicker than Grey’s waist. He had short blonde hair so pale it was almost white and the simple shirt and trousers he wore made him look like a prince compared to his companions.

“There’s nowhere to go little rabbit,” said the leader. “You may as well come out.”

Grey watched as behind the altar, his body started to stir.

“If you make us come looking for you this will go badly for you,” the man looked over at his companions. “More badly I should say…”

Grey’s body sat up jerkily like a poorly controlled puppet. With a sigh, the leader waved a hand, and the men spread out, two going left and two right, cudgels raised. Grey could only watch as his body burst from behind the tomb darting forward to squeeze through the swiftly closing gap. For a second he thought he’d made it, but then they tackled him to the floor. He looked so tiny locked in that cruel embrace that struggle as he might he knew there was no escape. Struggle he did though, and with each bite or swing of his leg, he took a blow with a cudgel or a kick on the chest. They beat him until he lay shaking in a pool of his own blood.

The fight finally out of him the leader stepped forward between his men and stood towering of Greys body a sick smile on his pale face.

“I’ll show you what we do to freaks like you girl,” he said licking his lips.


Grey fell back away from the tomb and looked around in confusion, the room was empty. He rubbed his face with his shaking hands. It was just a dream, or a hallucination, or something but try as he might he couldn’t shake the feeling that was real in some way he didn’t understand. He had the coppery taste of blood in his mouth and the stink of the men in his nostrils.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I can help you, make you strong.

Grey felt an alien presence reaching out for him, the strange breeze caressing his cheek as gentle as a lover.

I can be your second chance as you can be mine. Just reach in and take it.

“No!” cried Grey. “Leave me alone!”

“Or what?”

Grey’s head shot up, and he saw a pale face smiling out at him from under a pile of unruly blond hair.

“No! No! No! Leave me alone!”

“Why would we do that when we’ve been searching so hard for you?” the man nodded his head and his accomplices spread out cutting off Grey’s escape.

“No! Just leave me alone. Don’t make me… Not again…”

The man laughed, a hollow sound with nothing of amusement in it. At his signal, the ruffians started to close slowly in on Grey. “Don’t make you what girl? What are you going to do?”

Grey dove forward thrusting a hand into the gap in the tomb. As the men darted forward to grab him, he felt his hand close on something cold and hard. A great wind seemed to come from nowhere. The men were pushed back, straining to hold themselves up as the wind battered them, blasting exposed skin with like a sandstorm. Then as quickly as it came, the wind died down leaving Grey standing straight behind the tomb palms upraised.

“Call me girl again,” he whispered his voice low and dangerous.

The man ground his teeth, puffed out his chest and took a step forward. “Listen, girl…”

Flames burst into being writhing around Grey’s hands as he locked eyes with the pale-faced man. “Big. Mistake.” Grey’s eyes flashed, and for the next few moments, all that could be heard over the screams of the dying was the young boy’s laughter. Bright, glorious and mad.

It’s beginning to look a lot like December…

Well it’s been a hell of a month. Over the next day or two, we’ll be shouting about the wonderful pieces the gang have written for November’s Time challenge. If you’ve already read them, head on over to the Voting Page and vote for your favourites!

With that being said, it’s time for Steve to avoid Christmas as it’s better than simply playing Whamaggedon. So as these pieces are being handed in by the 31st of December, let’s talk Resolutions. This month, the writers are challenged to write on the subject of Second Chances. Not managed to do that thing you promised yourself last year? Well this year’s resolution will be easy to think of. For bonus points, because I’m a pain in the ass music nerd, if you can mention Halley’s Comet in some way, I’ll give you a bonus vote on your December piece; but don’t let that lead you from what you want to write…

Don’t worry, the 2000’s Alternative/Hard Rock fans are loving it.

So, Merry Crimbles from all of us here this year and I’ll be sharing a Christmas story somewhere in the month for bonus content. And now for the example piece…


“I’m telling you, it’s tonight! I know it!” Ellen said excitedly to Sophie as they sat next to one another on the bench in their back garden. The trees lining the perimeter of the yard were tall enough to keep the neighbours from prying, and the couple had taken this advantage to create their own secluded getaway; just on the doorstep.

“I know, sweet. I know,” Sophie sighed as she leaned in and rested her head on Ellen’s shoulder. “Every 74-77 years.”

“That’s like an entire lifetime just to briefly glance across the Earth.” Ellen’s voiced brimmed with fascination and awe. She had always been like this, it’s one of the reasons Sophie had fallen for her; once Ellen was invested in something, she was invested 1000%. This had been a problem in Ellen’s youth, as the goth phase meant her flowing brunette hair was tarnished with obsidian black hair dye and her brown eyes stencilled with thick eye liner. She had returned to her natural beauty many years ago, and Sophie was so glad for it. Being the blonde haired blue eyed girlfriend of a goth chick had meant a lot of standing out because you accidentally wore a dark green with your navy blue jeans.

“It’s the poster child of second chances.” Sophie lightly chuckled and turned to kiss Ellen but stopped short as she saw that her face had dropped. “Ellen, you okay?”

“Why would you go and say that now?” Ellen’s voice had lost its warmth, reminding Sophie it was mid-autumn coming into winter.

“Ellie… I didn’t mean anything by it,” Sophie smiled and her eyes softened, trying to convince her that it wasn’t a barbed comment. “I thought we were passed this?” The two sat in an awkward silence for a moment before Ellen turned back to the sky and took a sip of her thermos. Sophie, in yet another contrast, looked down to the floor and nervously started rubbing her hand up and down her forearm.

The two had recently had their 18 year anniversary, also the 15 year anniversary of their wedding; Ellen had been most impressed with herself landing the wedding day on the anniversary of them getting together. The two had got surprises for one another, had a reservation at the restaurant they went to every year, had even got dressed up for the whole shebang to remind one another that they had more than just work clothes and pyjamas. As they sat beaming at one another, they fell into their usual conversations they followed when dining; some current affairs mixed with some silly nothings to keep from getting serious. It was one of these silly nothings that caused the rift that had appeared. Sophie had accidentally taken the silly conversation too far and Ellen had given her the usual light telling off, before trying to bring it back to the normal conversation; Sophie tried to brush off the comment but this one seemed to hurt. So it was all but an outburst when Sophie blurted out:

“Can I ask you a serious question for once?” Her hand slowly moving to the other so she had control of her twitch.

“Of course, Soph, what you thinking?” Ellen said with a smile.

“Am I good enough for you?” Sophie asked slightly louder than she intended. Ellen sat in shock, so Sophie took the opening. “It’s just that more recently than not, you’re telling me off for the things that you said you love about me. You’ve grown more distant when I try to show you affection. The other day I made the mistake of telling you I had missed you after the shittiest day…”

“Sophie, language!” Ellen averted her eyes, trying to sink into the chair.

“Oh, grow up, Ellen, we’ve both sworn hundreds of times. I didn’t realise I had to pass a certain amount of time before I’m allowed to miss you. Have you ever thought that maybe I just needed the comfort I find in you after dealing with Tom’s shit yet again? And yes, that’s still a thing. I go to work everyday worrying what I’m going to have to deal with both in and out of work. If it isn’t his bullshit flirting, it’s your accusations that I’m going to leave you for him, and both of you seem to forget I’m a fucking lesbian! What is going on, Ellen? What have I done to deserve this slow Japanese torture method of your persecution?”

A silence fell over the entire restaurant. People awkwardly leant into their tables trying to eat still without disturbing or drawing attention of the volcanic eruption on table 14. Ellen cleared her throat, steadied her breathing, and levelled her eyes on Sophie.

“I have cancer, Soph. I have been trying to work out how to tell you for weeks. I just didn’t know how to tell you that I may have to break a promise I made.” And she stood up, and left…

Back on the garden bench, Sophie took a deep breath, picked up her stupid grin she wore when she was trying to fix things, and turned back to Ellen.

“You know that you’re pretty hot when you’re frowning, right?”

Silence, but for a moment, then like an old Transit Van with something stuck in the exhaust, her laughter rose into the cool night air; Sophie’s laughter twinned it shortly after.

“It’s not easy, being silly when your body is trying to kill you,” Ellen chuckled breathily as the laughter subsided. She took her handkerchief and coughed into it violently.

“I know, baby, you have no idea how hard it is trying to kill you when you’re already dying,” Sophie said with a wink. “I can’t keep paying the Russian down the round for plutonium.”

“Wow, your gallows humour is in full swing once more.”

Sophie looked at Ellen, taking a moment to replay what she just said in her head. The beaming smile coming across Ellen’s face allowing her to see the warmth returning to her face and voice once more. The two embraced and kissed, before both looking up to see Halley’s Comet soar through the night sky. Ellen coughed gently once more before getting up to head back inside. Sophie took her hand and they took the longest stroll they could back to the house.

“I guess I can die happy now,” Ellen said with a heavy breath. Sophie turned, the look of panic in her face flashed before she tried her hardest to hide it; Ellen smiled softly. “I got to share a once in a life time experience with my best friend. If there’s nothing else left for me, looking at you will remind me how good it was.”

“Felt a little anti-climactic, if I’m honest,” Sophie laughed nervously.

“Oh Soph, we’ve only been together 18 years, the climax is yet to come…”

And with that, they went home.