Stories are displayed in reverse order.
The staffroom in the Imagination Correction Facility was the colour of vomit. It reminded Chris of a recent night out where he’d drank far too much cider and brought most of it up onto the pavement outside the kebab shop. The girl he’d been with had laughed, called a taxi for herself and left him there, spewing up his guts.
He wiped his mouth, flicked sandwich crumbs from the table, and then got up to throw his rubbish in the bin. As he washed his hands in the sink, he gazed at the rota on the wall. He didn’t have a day off until Sunday. Great.
Sighing, he picked up his set of keys and headed out of the room. The janitor’s cupboard was just down the corridor and he stepped back to let two giggling girls pass – checking out the arse of the blonde – before unlocking the door and pulling out a mop and bucket.
Two weeks. That’s how long he’d been working there. Two whole weeks, yet in that time nobody had paid him much attention. The girls ignored him, mostly, and the rest of the staff only pretended to be interested in him when they had to work together. He could probably do anything he liked and get away with it.
With a curse and a struggle, Con pulled up the corrugated shutter and peeked out of the storage container she’d spent the day in. She stared into the darkness down the alley, spotted a black cat pounce on something by the bins, and then disappeared back inside to fetch her rucksack. She hauled it onto her back and then crouched by the entrance, holding her hand out towards where the cat had gone.
Here kitty, kitty, kitty.
“Come on, you little sod,” she muttered. The animal appeared from behind the bin, its amber eyes flashed and something – a rat – hung from its jaws. It took a step towards her, tail swishing, and she urged it silently closer.
When it reached her, she ran her hand along its back, making the connection she needed. She sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. Her eyelids flickered.
The cat dropped the rat and trotted down the alley towards the street. It looked one way and then the other, checking the coast was clear. Cars drove down the road, headlights dazzling, but they were unimportant. There was a group of young women across the street, dressed in short skirts and high heels, dressed up for a night out. Heading towards the cat, a man carrying a shopping bag.
Paula picked up her plate of lumpy mashed potato and congealed beans and carried it to the table where her friends sat. Fish fingers today. She hated fish.
She sat down and stared at the food as all around her the other women in the canteen chattered nosily, or hurled insults, or laughed. Chairs scraped across the floor, plastic cutlery scraped against plastic plates. Her head throbbed.
“…roast chicken,” Mia was saying, “with gravy and roast potatoes and peas. Watch this.”
Paula lifted her gaze and watched. Mia lifted a fish finger and it changed into a chicken drumstick in her hand. “It’ll still taste like fish though,” Paula said.
Mia dropped the drumstick onto her plate, where it abruptly turned back into a fish finger. “What the hell’s wrong with you lately?” she asked, flapping a hand. “You’re so damn miserable all the time.” She clicked her tongue in disapproval and picked up her knife and fork. A black curl of hair fell in front of her face.
“I’ve been here ten years,” Paula said. “That’s what’s wrong with me.”
“Yeah, well it’s not our fault you were an early starter.” Mia hacked a fish finger in half and shoved it in her mouth, glaring at Paula with eyes that were almost as dark as her hair.