She left school at sixteen, studied Animal Care and Photography at college and now owns a dog called Beau and takes many photos of many things. Mainly the dog.
The sky was always pink in the Beautiful Place. Maybe because it was Ffion’s favourite colour. The clouds resembled candy floss, the grass was the softest green, and the trees swayed gracefully even when there was no breeze. Birds sang the sweetest songs and bees hummed along. There were no wasps.
Ffion collected the souls of people who’d lived the hardest lives. The ones tortured by loss or pain or circumstance. Every night before sleep, she drifted on the other plane, looking for those who were lost. She smiled, she held them if they wanted to be held, and she guided them onwards.
The Beautiful Place took them all – even she felt soothed when she visited, though she couldn’t stay for long. When it faded from her grasp, a cold feeling of dread washed over her before she could push it aside and sink into sleep.
Ffion worked in the village bakery. She made cupcakes which were very popular with the locals celebrating occasions such as birthdays and Christenings. She made cupcakes for the village fayre to support the church even though she wasn’t religious. Once, she gave cupcakes to a teenager for free when he claimed they were for his poorly little brother. When she later found this to be untrue, she didn’t demand any money – she simply sighed and gave a sad smile.
Scientists worked out a way to stop murders altogether. They had a fancy name for it, some ridiculous sounding thing that I can’t remember, but everybody else refers to it as a soul swap. If you kill someone, you swap souls. You’re now dead and somebody else inhabits your body. Shocks all round.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Sort of. I mean, you didn’t really have to worry about it unless you were a murderer.
Things went a little wrong, though, as things often do when they’re not tested enough. The soul swap didn’t just work for murders. I remember reading about the first case – a doctor lost a patient on the table. The patient, little old dear called Susan Smith, found herself staring at her own corpse with a scalpel in her hand. There was probably lots of screaming, but they never mentioned that on Now the News.
Then there were the car accidents. A plane crash. That weird one where a toddler accidently murdered his Grandpa with a shotgun – now little Jonny has the mind of a ninety year old and is off the breastmilk.
People freaked. Like, totally freaked out. For quite a while some people just refused to leave their houses. Say you were driving your car to work one day, and somebody decided to step out in front of you? That’d be the end of you.
Beth grinned as her sister Katie spun around their bedroom singing along to Connie Francis. Katie loved singing – she even sounded a little like the icon and had similar looks – and what with her red-and-white halter-neck dress, she was sure to bag a Teddy boy at the dance.
Beth turned back to the mirror and blotted her red lipstick on some tissue paper. Father didn’t like her or Katie wearing lipstick but he was away with work and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
“Aren’t you ready yet?” Katie asked, lifting the needle from the record and closing the lid. “We’re going to be late.”
“I’m ready.” She got up, took her sister’s arm, and the pair of them hurried from the room yelling good-bye to their mother as the front door closed.
It was a warm evening and children still played out in the street; two boys ran towards them, kicking a football. The girls parted to let the boys pass, then linked arms again as they made their way to the dance hall. As they drew nearer, partygoers milled outside the building and music floated from the open door– an Elvis Presley track.
Now they’ve gone, I’m bored. I sit alone in a darkened room, drumming my fingers on my knees.
Although, I’m not entirely on my own. It’s there, staring at me but not seeing anything. It will see, if I want it to. But I can’t … I can’t let it see me. It will judge me, just like they all did.
The smack came so hard to the back of my head that my nose hit the desk. I didn’t make a sound, but everyone laughed. I looked down at my notebook. There was blood on it now.
“Loser,” I heard.
I ignored the voice and dipped a pen into my own blood, trailing it across the page. I heard more sniggering and then a clatter of chairs as everybody rushed to take their seats when the teacher entered the room.
What do you get someone who has everything? I have everything I ever wanted – the swanky apartment in the City, the fast cars, the racing bike, the expensive holidays. I don’t go to work because I don’t have to; I could employ someone else to do it all for me. My parents were rich. They died. They left me everything.
Money doesn’t make you happy. That’s what people with no money say. Money made me very happy.
I grew bored, though. After I had travelled the world, I base-jumped. I scuba-dived. I climbed the highest mountains. I went into space. I did it all. I experienced everything, even things I didn’t like very much just for something to do. I had relationships with men as well as women. I’m pretty sure I was the modern-day equivalent of Dorian Gray.
But God, I was bored.
That’s when I heard about Dream Box. The vast majority of drugs have been legal for so long now that nobody really bothers with them anymore, but the Dream Box was something else.
Victor sat on the edge of the bed, surrounded by underwear and socks and ladies’ things that he wasn’t quite sure what they were or where they were meant to go exactly. He frowned and blinked once, slowly. He tore his gaze away from the chest of drawers and wondered if he should call his wife…
…Elsa lost socks. Not purposely – it was just something that happened, something that happened to everybody, so she didn’t mind or take any particular notice. Except when she had to buy new socks, or worse, when socks she’d just bought went missing. There was nothing worse than being mildly inconvenienced. Elsa lost other things too, on occasion, but Victor always remarked upon the missing socks. There were supposed to be two socks after all, a pair, so one sock on its own was not right.
“Connor, put that down, poppet, there’s a good boy,” Elsa said, looking away from her washing basket for long enough to stop her grandson swallowing one of her Wade Whimsies. It was the owl one too, her favourite. She would hate for him to swallow that one.
She cleaned toddler drool from the porcelain owl and set it back on her Welsh dresser before lifting Connor from his chair and placing him on the kitchen floor. He gurgled happily, said, “Na na na,” and then proceeded to pull dirty laundry from the basket.
Dawn. The time of day when the sky is a dangerous shade of red; day has almost arrived but night has not yet left. I’d been out all night and not caught a damn thing. In fact, all I’d managed to do was lose my best knife down a drain and get a bat caught in my hair. Okay, it didn’t get caught – it just startled me.
Monster hunting’s supposed to be glamorous. I was bitten by a ghoul last week and my arm damn near went septic.
I jumped down off the wall I’d sat on and made my way home. I’d have to sharpen up a knife from the kitchen and use that. I didn’t have time during the day to go to the supermarket, and unfortunately my local Monster Hunter’s Hardware Supply Shop doesn’t exist.
I was shattered and wanted my bed, and preferably a hot drink as I was bloody freezing and had pretty much lost all feeling in my toes.
Hello aliens. Thought I’d better let you know what’d happened here on Earth, what with it being kinda my fault an’ all. See, it all started with my period being late. I’m never late. I had several thoughts running through my head at the time – I had polyps, or was starting early menopause or something like that. Or it was the second coming of Jesus Christ.
I couldn’t be pregnant, you see. I don’t really do sex. Never really my thing – the sweaty nakedness and the grunting and the bodily fluids. Nah.
I done lots of Googling – that’s a thing what we had here on Earth – Google. You ask it stuff and it gives you answers. Google suggested I took a pregnancy test even though, as I say, I hadn’t had any of the sex. Well, I took the test and yeah, I was pregnant. I had lots of horrible thoughts then, like, something had happened without me knowing.
Turns out, it was the second coming. I had a dream that explained everything – sounds batty, I know, and if I dared mention it to anyone they all gave me the same look and suggested I seek professional help from a mental doctor. Wait, that’s a doctor who does head stuff, not one who’s mental.
He sat and watched the sun set. It was beautiful, he thought, in spite of how apprehensive he felt about what was bound to happen when night fell.
“You chose this,” he whispered. “You want this.”
A wolf howled from the valley below and he shivered and pulled his suit jacket tighter around himself. “You chose this,” he said again, and he waited.
Bored of living? Afraid to die? Turn your back on both! Choose immortality…
“Ben, why do you read that stuff?” Honey asked, peering over his shoulder.
Ben folded up the newsletter quickly and sipped at his tea. “I wasn’t reading anything,” he said. Then, “It’s interesting.”
Jay was laughing and waving to us as we watched from the beach, telling us how nice the water was and that we should go and join him.
That was the last we heard from him. I remember protesting as Kirsty pulled me to my feet. I remember the pair of us running towards the water.
And I remember Jay’s screams as something pulled him beneath the waves.
That was ten years ago now. I was only nine. Kirsty was eleven and our brother was thirteen.
“Unlucky for some!”
“Don’t butt in. That’s not even funny. You wanted to know why I hate this place, I’m telling you.”
We’d always go to this same beach every summer; my aunt and uncle owned a chalet on the seafront so it was a cheap holiday for the family. I never liked swimming but Kirsty and Jay loved it. I preferred to sit on the beach and build sandcastles. Maybe eat an ice cream.
I remember that year we met some other kids, I remember what they looked like but for the life of me, I can’t remember their names.
“I’m going to get an ice cream, do you want one?”
“No! Finish the story. I’m here; nothing’s going to happen.”