Pain erupted as the ibulex burned through my veins. Accelerating when it reached my heart, the drug fired into my arteries like a sling shot; an inferno deep inside my chest. When the agony subsided I saw from the deep impressions left by the restraints that my body had fought on even when my mind was helpless.
Now I sagged, drained. The fire still burned, banked coals throughout my body which could be blown to life at the slightest touch. Even in the warm release-chamber sweat cooled on my skin, leaving a trail of goosebumps behind. Breathing gradually became easier, each breath reassuring me that the worst was over, at least for now.
Voices in the background, a drone which slowly resolved itself into the magistrate reading out the conditions of my release. My exhausted mind wondered if it had been worth it.
I was given civilian clothing, the sort a tramp from the ‘forties might have owned. It had been worn before and came with its own ecosystem of lice and fleas, its own atmosphere of stale body odour. I told myself it was better than being naked and my flight suit had been damaged beyond repair during my capture.
The walk from the detention block to the main gate was an exercise in endurance; cat calls from every shielded window as the entire prison population poured their hatred out at me. I was being released while they still served life sentences, but it wasn’t jealousy that drove them: I had been the most hated prisoner in the facility, in solitary confinement for the last seven years just to keep me alive. Even then there had been attempts on my life. I smiled.
Dora had hoped to surprise Chris after her lessons but instead of bursting into the staff toilets, she lingered outside listening to his voice as he laughed and joked with another of the janitors. She leaned close to the door, knowing she shouldn’t really eavesdrop but she had heard her name. Twice now.
“…blonde bird. Nice one, mate.”
“Yeah, bit thick but nice tits.”
Both men laughed and Dora sucked in a breath. She clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms. There was the scrape of a metal bucket across the floor and Chris’s voice came closer to the door.
“You seen that mate of hers with the fat arse? I’d love a go on that.”
Dora turned and marched down the corridor, quietly fuming. People winced and turned away as she passed, blinded by the light coming from her body. She didn’t care to control it. Screw them – she just wanted to get back to her room and scream into her pillow.
She’d almost made it when somebody snatched her arm and pulled her into a room. Mia’s bedroom, she quickly realised, and Mia and Con shielding their eyes before her. Dora made no attempt to relax. Continue reading
The sweaty lowland summer set in as The Day approached; Menuil could hardly waddle. Her tongue had become even more acerbic, too, something I wouldn’t have believed possible. I had worked out something to keep me occupied out of range of her venom: flying in snow.
The midwives informed me, almost maliciously, about how miserable a delivery could be in the heat, so I’d been transporting ice. I’d developed a delivery system with the innkeeper; a small boy –originally one of his sons, but more recently any child from the poorer families in the region – would dress in warm clothes and I would fly him and a shovel up to the mountain peaks, where he would prepare loads of snow, piling it onto tarpaulins and roping the corners together. Without landing, I would swoop down and snatch one of these up, fly level and high until I almost reached the inn, then dive and, still without stopping, dump my load into the yard.
There, the innkeeper and his family packed it in straw and stored it in a cellar.
When the child started shivering I’d fly him down and the innkeeper would give him a meal, while I collected the next aspirant from the ever-waiting crowd wanting to escape the summer swelter.
The innkeeper did his part in exchange for half of the ice – and I could collect a lot more than double this way, maybe five times – which at first I found a bit strange, as his wife’s figure had not changed since we arrived, so she was probably not expecting. Strange that is, until I overheard: “Five coppers for a beer? Whatja brew it from, goldnuts?”
Mia listened as patiently as she could as Dora twittered on about Chris. She didn’t know what the girl saw in the guy – he had nothing on Carlos, the chef – his backside was too skinny and he had greasy white-boy hair. She nodded anyway and lifted another spoonful of soup to her lips, looking towards the kitchen and smirking at the idea of sneaking Carlos back to her room later.
When Dora’s topic of conversation changed to Paula’s whereabouts, Mia gave a loud sigh. “Girl, I told you,” she said. “She’s left. Finally. You should be happy for her!”
“I just think it’s a bit weird,” Dora said. “Like… It’s Paula.”
Mia rolled her eyes. “I know. And I know you miss her, I miss her too. But she’s in a better place now.”
Paula was, of course, in the basement. Mia suppressed a shudder at the thought and pushed her soup away unfinished. She wasn’t supposed to know about the basement, but she did. And she kept quiet about it because she did not want to end up there herself. She was perfectly happy in the House of Witches. Everybody should’ve just been happy and then there wouldn’t be any trouble.
Change the subject.
One morning I woke up and 1988 had disappeared. I didn’t notice at first, except for the fact that Katie didn’t ring me that day, and she had been born in 1988. I tried to call her later but she wasn’t there. Nobody was there.
The Seoul Olympics were meant to happen that year. At least that was what the newspapers and old TV footage from 1987 said, but nobody could remember the games ever happening. In fact, there was no record of it at all. The newspapers I found in my local library stopped at December 29th, 1987, and started again on March 12th, 1989.
The papers from 1989 told me more. That day, the twelfth of March, everybody panicked. Women who had been pregnant suddenly weren’t, but there was no child to show for it. Other people had disappeared overnight. Maybe they died in 1988, but there were no graves to mark their passing. Where had that time gone? “A tear in the fabric of space-time,” the experts said. “Time is dripping away.”
Con had snatched a kiss from Francis before he’d abandoned her in the Imagination Correction Facility and she replayed the memory as she waited in the check-in room, half watching a middle-aged woman setting out new clothes and books and toiletries for her.
That bloody arse. He should be getting his own damn daughter out of there, not leaving it for her to do. She shouldn’t have kissed him. It had only cemented something between them, some sort of bond. He’d probably manipulated her somehow – taken advantage of her stupid sentimentality. Except that she had initiated it. She had kissed him and that silly, confused half-smile on his face afterwards could only have come from an innocent man.
Bollocks to it. It was still his fault she was in there.
She collected her new belongings, listened to her ‘welcome’ in silence, and followed the woman down one of the clinical corridors to her room with a set jaw and a frown on her face. Then the woman handed her an itinerary and left, with the brief instruction that lunch was at one and to ask a member of staff – the ones in blue – if she needed anything.
Con dumped her stuff on the bed, vaguely aware that a thin mattress was better than no mattress, and went to look out of the window. Her room was on the second floor, overlooking a tennis court. Beyond the dome, the forest seemed impossible to reach.
So what now?
* Winner of the 2014 Story of the Year Award *
Prosecutor General Eve Marshall – the meanest cross-examiner in the courts of New Scotland. Eyes that glint when she goes for the kill, a mouth that tightens at every lie, a manner that pulls jurors in and makes them believe.
And a babe; long hair practically to her waist, glasses she looks over the top of just so, and a way of sucking a pen that keeps men awake at night, and plenty of women, too.
Just my luck to get her on my case.
The jury were hanging on her every word. Sixteen fine upstanding citizens, chosen for this, “the trial of the year”. All of them watching Eve stick her little tongue out, all of them riveted as she put me through three days of questioning.
Three days where I hadn’t cracked, not once. Three days where question after question got hurled at me and I found the right answer. All I needed to do was survive this day and I’d be home and dry.
“So,” she said, in her lispy, false-cute voice. “You can’t tell us where you were the night of the murder, Oskar?”
“No, ma’am. Just that I wasn’t in the Five-in-a-Line store.” Continue reading
Trees groaned and creaked on either side of the road and dark clouds loomed overhead. Con hoped for a storm. If a tree blew over and blocked their path, she could escape.
She spotted Francis looking at her in the rear-view mirror and she stuck out her tongue at him.
“Mature, as usual,” he said.
The forest the road ran through was dark and dense – easy to get lost in if she could just get out of the car. “You’re being an arse. I don’t know why you’re doing this to me. To me. With our history?”
Francis sighed. “I have to. It’s my job. Besides, it’s your own fault – if you hadn’t killed that man—”
“That man was a scumbag.” She sat forwards in her seat and rested her cuffed wrists on Francis’s shoulder. “Pull over, Fran, yeah? Let’s have a little fun before you turn me in.”
It wasn’t far now until they’d reach The House of Witches. Everybody knew it lay just beyond the forest – out of sight and out of mind. If she could stall him, maybe make him change his mind…
The clouds burst and the rain came down hard and fast, hitting the car noisily. Francis turned the wipers on. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. “It won’t work.”
I didn’t realise that Sheeps were so large until they crowded around me and I got small and scared. We were inside a square wood home made by the Two-legged, and I went in by mistake because the chief Herder told me to, or at least I thought they told me to. It turned out that was wrong. I regret now that I didn’t understand what they meant – the Two-legged rulers, not the Herders. At the time I was new to everything, including what to do and what not to do, so what happened really was an accident, and not deliberate at all. I also didn’t know that the Two-legged command the Herders.
You know that strange effect when you see your reflection for the very first time, and you know it’s a reflection of you, and you’re really disappointed because you’ve imagined yourself like a superhero? I felt that when – inside the home – I looked at the eyes of the nearest Sheep and saw myself, and realised that the reflection was myself. There was a kind of nighty-night darkness to my body, a small head-ness, and tiny white eyes with metal inserts. I was a small, gleaming version of the Herders. Big ears though, which was odd, because Sheeps have quite small ears compared to mine. So there we were, inside the wood thing, and I was scared and I didn’t know what to do.
Dora didn’t like meditation. It was boring and stupid, and she wasn’t any good at it anyway. She had to sit in class with five other girls and listen to whale song and pretend she was floating in the sea, or walking through a meadow, or something equally as silly.
She opened an eye and took a peek. The other girls were still, legs crossed, palms resting on their knees. The teacher, Miss Thompson, murmured instructions to lead them through the meditation. Her eyes were also closed, and she moved her hands slowly by her sides as if conducting an imaginary orchestra. Dora had the biggest urge to take the woman’s spectacles – or the handkerchief sticking from her sleeve.
Miss Thompson opened her eyes and Dora closed hers a little too slowly.
“Concentrate, Dora,” the teacher said. “You want to be able to control your ability, do you not?”
The sooner Dora could get her power to glow under control, the sooner she could get out of the facility. She already shone less than when she’d arrived, so she was confident it wouldn’t take much longer. She didn’t want to end up like Paula – stuck there for years because she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, control her imagination. Continue reading