August Writing Challenge: Face In The Crowd

At the end of July I asked my Facebook page followers to give me some more random writing prompts to respond to and I had a great selection to choose from. I ended up blending two together for this weird little story. Author Paula Harmon suggested a story set within a crowd and author Sim Sansford posted a creepy picture of a faceless woman with faceless masks hanging on the wall behind her. I also played around with second person POV which was great fun! Please note, this is only a second draft and I will definitely be rewriting this story at some point, maybe even making it a bit longer.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Face In The Crowd

You won’t see her coming.

Except maybe out of the corner of your eye…

And by then it will be too late anyway.

She seems to know who she wants; you see. She is a predator, stalking you, and you are the prey. Nothing more, nothing less.

Let me take you back to the last crowd you found yourself in. Heart already pounding faster than it should, prickles of cold sweat erupting on the back of your neck, while something tight and spiky curls into a hard ball inside your guts. You’ve felt it before. Bad things happen in crowded places. A human is never so alone as when lost in a crowd. You remember them all. Different types of crowds, none of them safe.

School assembly, remember that? Trapped on a hard varnished floor with your knees tucked up under your nose so that you don’t touch the people on either side of you. Not your friends. Never your friends. To the left, to the right, in front of you and close behind, surrounded, fenced in, unable to breathe. Always too hot. No way out. Panic beating its small wings inside your chest as your outward face insists that nothing is wrong here.

Supermarket queues… Not as hemmed in, but still, the heads bob too close before you and one glance over your shoulder reveals a horrifying snake of people behind you. You swallow fear and bite back the urge to run, because how weird would that be? Suddenly barging through, shoulders crashing into backs, pushing, shoving, running, running. You’d never be able to go back if you did that.

Christmas crowds: the hopeless horror of a shop wedged tight with angry, entitled bodies. You give up and go home and shop online. You don’t like crowds. Never have. Festival crowds. You gave those a go. Outside, fresh air, music thumping through your veins, alcohol and friendship spurring you on. You thought, I can do this! But then you made the mistake of looking behind you, seeing the impossible volume of human life, jumping, shoving, screaming, living, too fast, too hard, too close. You stumbled when they pushed and the pushing didn’t stop. You tried to pick yourself back up, breathless with fear, but they kept coming, trampling, not seeing you, because you had ceased to exist.

Remember, that was the first time you saw her?

Weaving her way through the herd with feline eyes, swivelling to take in every view; hunting someone down. She was tall, you remember that. Towering above the revellers yet hunched over to disguise it. Her neck swanlike, or snakelike. A small mouth, or no mouth. She pushed through them, not touching anyone, moving like oil, her pupils gliding eerily from side to side, until she reached out with a long hand, longer fingers, nails curled over and mottled grey. You saw her touch someone but you didn’t see what happened next because the crowd surged and you almost died.

That’s why I don’t like crowds, you tell anyone that will listen, I am not antisocial, just emotionally scarred from nearly dying. Broken ribs are nothing to laugh about you remind yourself when that chilly fear settles across your shoulders, telling you to turn around and go home.

Today the crowd bustle before you. They have taken over the entire square. It’s market day; you should have known. You shake your head at your own stupidity and lack of foresight. But you did the best you could – remember that – moving to a quiet seaside town, dead in the winter, smells faintly of salt and vinegar – humming with tourists in the summer but that’s when you stay home or go out on your boat. No risk of a crowd out on the water.

Today, market day, the crowd moves like a messy unified thing, a squirming mass of warm bodies and haircuts, small lives, red faces, sweat stains. You hate it. But you need to go to the post office, right on the other side. You sigh heavily, dramatically, your annoyance with these people’s existence out of proportion to their right to exist just like you. You’d fire a rocket launcher at them if you could. You still remember being trod into the mud. You shudder.

But you move. You have to. You can do this. They’re just people.

You step forward and before you are even ready, before you have taken the obligatory deep breath and shaken out your limbs, pulled your bag closer across your chest, the crowd sweep you up and take you.

This is what you resent.

This makes you wish you had a grenade in your coat pocket.

The inescapable claustrophobic nature of the crowd. Of people.

Just people, you tell yourself, but you know that’s not true. They’re not just people, not just this or that. Never underestimate them. Never expect the best. Instead, always prepare for the worst. For sickening body odour and hairstyles freeze dried into place, for sharp elbows and fat shoulders. For feet that trample your own. For bags that whack you out of your space. For bodies, thick and long and selfish and demanding, all moving, and moving you whether you want to be moved or not.

You grit your teeth put your head down and push through.

And then you see her.

Like you did when you were down in the mud.

Tall, hunched, otherworldly in her movements, she glides along, coming for something, someone. Lank pale hair hangs over her shoulders. She has her back to you, every bump in her elongated spine visible through the thin colourless dress she wears. Her arms are at her sides, the elbows jagged, the forearms raised and at the end of the wrists her long thin hands hang, fingers dripping, nails curled.

Your breath catches in your throat and you freeze, unable to breathe or move. Your scalp seems to contract and tighten under your hair and your entire body floods with ice cold fear. It feels like the world has stopped but it is just you, frozen while the crowd moves and circles around you. Unbelievably, they seem oblivious to the strange, hunched form who hunts among them. She doesn’t touch them as she glides between warm bodies and not one of them looks at her or senses her dark presence.

You want to scream out, do something. You open your mouth but nothing emerges except a cold puff of air. You stare in agony as the colours of ordinary life swirl around her and then slowly, you see her reaching out. For she has chosen someone, a woman. A small petite woman with bright red hair wearing a spotty blue and white raincoat.

The hunched woman reaches for her, claw like hand sinking into unwilling flesh and there is a small, awful moment when the woman with the red hair stops and turns and stares in haunting clarity up at the collector. But it is fleeting, a microsecond of agonizing helpless horror and then it is over.

The red-haired woman walks away unscathed, slouching through the crowd with her bag on her shoulder, none the worse. Until she passes you and you see that she no longer has a face.

But no, maybe you imagined it. You are seeing things. Panicking. It’s all this stupid claustrophobic fear that you have no control over. You find yourself moving, pushing through, determined to make it to the post office, determined to brush this off, brush it away.

But as you move through the crowd, you see her again. She is still hunting. Still collecting faces. She towers over the people, glassy eyes swivelling in hollow sockets until another catches her eye. Not you, not you, no, thank God. She does not look at you because if she did you know you would be helpless, unable to run.

This time she makes her way over to a young man chatting on his mobile phone. He is powering through the crowd in a hooded jacket and black jeans. He is smiling, laughing as he focuses only on his conversation. He is easy prey, too distracted to feel her sliding towards him. He freezes when she touches him and you see the same dull dawning horror explode behind his eyes before it’s over. His face is gone and he moves on, still talking.

You make it to the post office and shove your way, sweating, through the doors. You can’t get out of that crowd quick enough. You cower at the window, behind shelves of envelopes and pens. You peer out, determined to hide until the whole thing has dispersed. You won’t go out there again, not with that many people, not with her out there stealing faces.

‘Are you all right?’ a worried voice asks from your shoulder.

You glance at the little man who wears a tight expression on his weathered face. ‘Yes,’ you swallow hard and reply shakily. ‘I’m sorry but I’m not good with crowds. Do you mind if I wait in here for a bit until I feel a little better?’

He nods and smiles in sympathy and leaves you alone.

You peer back out at the ever moving, swirling, humming crowd of life. The shoulders and heads, the hats and coats, the faces and the faceless.

I will be needing more writing prompts for my September challenge so feel free to post any here!

July Writing Challenge: The Longest Day

At the end of June I posted on my Facebook author page asking for writing prompt suggestions. I received a lovely amount and the one I chose to respond to was, ‘write about an ordinary day that lasts forever.’ I had a few stabs at this but this was the final result. I hope you enjoy it. This is the second draft and I will probably play around with it a bit more before it gets added to my next collection. I’ll be asking for a new challenge for August!

Time didn’t work the same way in Grandma’s garden.

Time had its own rules there.

Time is not the same for children as it is for adults either. And if you combine children with a dark and secret place they have been forbidden to enter, you find that time plays tricks on you. That an ordinary day can become an extraordinary one. That an ordinary day can even last forever.

Would you like that? To live forever?

I thought I did, when I was a child. I first realised death would get me when our dog Ralph got smashed to bits by a speeding car. He wasn’t supposed to be out on the road. That was my fault. I left the gate open and he followed me out to the ice cream van, wagging his fat tail hopefully. His hope ended when the speeding car swung around the corner and took him out. I still remember counting the bits of him that were spread across the road. My mother later said I was in shock, when I kept repeating the number. Twenty-two. It was twenty-two. And I knew then that death was coming for everyone, even me, which didn’t seem remotely fair because I was obviously special, and ought to be allowed to live forever. Children are self-centred like that. Think the world revolves around them.

Until they go to visit their grandparents and the house is full of noise and gossip and there are aunts and uncles everywhere you turn. No child can tolerate that much head rubbing and lip smacking for long, so we wriggled free, me and my cousins, and we went out to the garden.

We followed the wide stone steps from the front door, down to the first layer of the garden. This was Grandad’s domain, with his runner bean plants, giant marrows, trimmed conifer hedges and the door to his cellar. There was a little low brick wall we taught ourselves to balance on, arms flung out to either side. If you toppled one side, you’d land on his runner beans and someone would tap on the glass from the window above to scold you.

We skipped down a worn grass path away from the tapping on the windows and the prying adult eyes until we came to the next layer. A flat spread of grass surrounded by bright flowerbeds. Grandma’s domain. A rotary clothesline swung in circles in the breeze. Her bird table and bird bath were always full to attract the birds she watched from the window.

There was another wall here – you could jump down and land in the final area. The lower garden, where the grass was longer and greener. Grandad’s compost heat warmed the air and flies buzzed manically around it. Here the fences seemed higher, the trees thicker, the canopy above sheltering us from the windows of the house.

Here, we traded secrets. Robert was a snitch and a tell-tale. Martin wet the bed last time he slept over at Grandma’s. Lucy’s dog got splattered on the road and the blood sprayed all the children in the face. It was a zombie dog who kept walking even after his head had rolled away. Maria’s mum had an affair and now she is getting a new daddy. Here, we traded dares. Throw one of Grandad’s tools over the fence. Poke a stick into the steaming compost to see if it is really full of snakes. Steal some knickers from the line and hang them in a tree. Pick the plums from the neighbour’s tree. Throw plums at the houses and then duck.

It was dark and green and safe but in the fence was a small iron gate that led down to the very lowest, furthest part of the garden. Grandma and Grandad did not venture down to the lowest point for several reasons. There were too many trees, Grandad said, so he couldn’t grow anything down there and also, the hose wouldn’t reach. It was too difficult for them now to climb all the way back up, Grandma said, with their old bones and bad backs. It was too wild down there, they said. Best to leave it alone.

We were forbidden. They couldn’t see us from the window, couldn’t see what we were up to and we were always up to something. It was too overgrown down there, too tangled and there could be rubbish, even glass amongst the undergrowth. Over several summers, our curiosity grew into something that felt alive. Something yearning and aching and building up inside of us until that particular summer, the summer I was twelve, we could bear it no more. We hatched a plan and prepared for battle. It was me and my two younger brothers, Patrick, eleven- and nine-year-old Harry. It was my cousins Robert and Martin who were ten-year-old twins at the time, and cousin Maria who was eight.

We set up a picnic in the lower garden, not too close to the fly infested compost pile. We asked to borrow a huge umbrella for shade and behind that, we dutifully spread out a soft blanket and organised the food and drink they’d let us take. We knew from the windows they would just about be able to see the umbrella and would hopefully assume we were still playing behind it.

‘They’ll be too busy watching the match,’ I added when Patrick gave me an anxious look. ‘Besides, we won’t be very long.’

We stood at the gate and took a deep breath. Beyond the gate, darkness beckoned and Maria slid her sweaty hand into mine. I checked my watch – it was ten am. Behind us the sun was a red gold ball of fire torching the garden, but beyond the iron gate, we could feel soft cool air calling to us. It smelled different too. It smelled alive.

What struck me first, before we went through the gate, was how green it all was. How you couldn’t really tell where one tree or shrub ended and another began. It was a mass of tangled green in varying shades and it felt hungry. It wanted us to come in.

So we did. What we found first was a set of small stone steps. This delighted Maria who happily hopped from one to the other, declaring they were small enough for fairies. The boys charged ahead, waving sticks at imaginary danger. I lagged behind, mainly because I wanted to take it all in, this forbidden, secret land, and because Maria was still tightly clutching my hand.

There was little light. Only tiny fragments made it through the thick canopy of trees and vines above our heads. I identified fir trees mostly, but there were hawthorn, ash and elm as well, all pushing and vying for space. The bushes were mostly rhododendron. Grandad always said that plant was an invasive pest, but its flowers were in full bloom, exciting Maria further as she danced ahead to pluck the bright purple petals.

It was silent. I saw the odd bird flit from tree to tree but I didn’t hear any song. The path seemed to go on forever and I was in awe, confused. I had no idea my grandparents garden was this big, this long. It kept going down, which didn’t seem to make sense because I knew that behind their house was another road full of houses just like theirs. I felt like we should have reached a boundary fence by now, someone else’s land. But it just kept going, and the steps got narrower and steeper and when I called ahead, the boys did not answer.

‘They’ve gone,’ Maria stated plainly and my heart beat faster.

‘Hiding,’ I told her. ‘Watch out. They’ll jump out on us soon.’

Suddenly, she froze and screamed. It was a horrible sound, one that I was sure the adults would hear from the house. Thanks to her, our adventure would be over before it had even begun. I shook her arm to get her to stop but she just pointed to something sat on the next step. Something we had almost stepped on.

It was the largest slug I had ever seen. It was almost as big as my foot. I backed up, blinking in panic, because although I liked to think of myself as a tough customer, I was repulsed by those things. It was just sat there, glistening and pulsing. Its gleaming skin was the colour of the steps, mottled green and grey. I looked over my shoulder and felt sick when I saw more slugs posted on the steps we had already descended. How we didn’t slip on them and fall to our deaths, I will never know.

She hadn’t got far but that was enough for Maria. She pulled free of my hand and charged back up the steps, screaming for her mother. Great, I thought, watching her go. Any second now they’ll be bellowing at us to come out and asking us what the hell we thought we were up to.

‘You can stop hiding now,’ I called out to the boys. ‘Maria went back screaming over a slug! The game’s over!’

There was no reply, just a heavy waiting silence. I stepped over the slug and kept going, mainly because I knew I had to retrieve my brothers and cousins before the adults really got angry with us. There were no more steps after a while, but I couldn’t believe how far we had gone. Where was the fence? Where were the other gardens?

Peering ahead, I could see a dusty brown path weaving around tall firs and pines, seemingly stretching on forever. The branches of the trees were so low and heavy they brushed the ground, creating dark pockets of thick shadows between their trunks. I stared at every one, daring the boys to leap out and scare me and every time, it felt like something was watching me in return. I shivered and walked on.

Now the steps had ended, there was nothing man-made down here at all. No signs of human life. No rubbish, no old plant pots or garden tools, no bird feeders, nothing. I looked up and saw a tiny fragment of sunlight winking at me through the tops of the trees. Around me, the darkness seemed to creep closer.

‘Boys?’ I called out again, nervous now. This was no fun without them. The plan wasn’t to come down here on my own and get shouted at on my own afterwards. The plan was to have an adventure, to explore and discover. I didn’t feel like doing that now. I turned in a circle and caught a glimpse of something shimmering to the left. I wove my way through the trees – some spindly white boned birches this time – which were growing in a haphazard fashion around a large pond. ‘Boys?’ I asked again, but I didn’t like the sound of my voice down here. It sounded too loud, too abrasive and I was sure I could hear the bristle and rustle of undergrowth that didn’t like it either.

I stepped closer to the pond and felt cold water seep into my trainers. Yuk! I grimaced and plodded forward a few more steps, cold brown muck squelching between my toes. The surface water of the pond was rippling, suggesting life beneath and I watched for a while, as a trio of ginormous dragonflies descended like mini bug-eyed helicopters. There were flies too. Lots of them. A gentle thrum of crickets and grasshoppers could be heard beneath the buzzing of the flies and as I skirted around the pond and kept going, the sound grew louder.

I searched around the pond, keeping it in my sights, on a mission now to find those little turds and make them pay for ruining our plans. Maria, I could forgive, but the boys were taking this too far now. This was supposed to be a group adventure. Having said that, the silence and solitude were becoming rather nice. I smiled a little bit, thinking how lucky we were to have found such a secretive place. I also felt an unexpected twinge of anger at the adults for keeping this from us for so long.

I searched for footprints in the mud and dust and found none. I searched for broken twigs and sticks, a trail of anything that would lead me to their hiding place and found nothing. I got bored after a while and as there had been no angry bellows from the adults, I started to make a den a safe distance away from the pond. I got lost in my work for a while; dragging suitably long branches and sticks over to a sturdy pine and arranging them around it in a wigwam formation. I covered it with ferns and left a doorway to entice my cousins in. I sat in it for a while, feeling hot and sticky and thirsty, and thinking longingly of our food and drink back on the picnic blanket.

‘Okay,’ I announced after an hour had passed. ‘I’m going back now. I’m hungry. You better come out and follow me back up or we’ll all be in trouble.’

There was no answer. I was proud of the little den though and smiled at it over my shoulder as I walked back past the pond and headed back towards the steps. Only they weren’t there. I stopped and looked around. The pond was on my right, as it had been on my left on the way down. So the steps ought to be directly ahead. But they weren’t. Instead, all I could see were trees and rhododendron bushes. There was no path at all. No steps, nothing. It was like a dusty, dry jungle of silence and waiting.

‘What?’ I asked myself, turning in a circle, but I had no answer. I had no clue. I had no choice but to keep walking. I checked my watch and saw to my horror that it was past lunch time. How could that have happened? I hadn’t taken that long over the den, had I? I must have. I shook my head and kept walking, trying to head back towards the hill of steps that had led me here.

But there was no hill, no rising incline of land, so surely this was the wrong way? If I wasn’t climbing upwards, I was going the wrong way. I turned around, slightly panicked now and laughing at myself nervously and tried the opposite direction. That didn’t make sense because the pond was no longer on my left, but what could I do? Maybe there were two ponds?

‘You guys!’ I yelled out in frustration. ‘You’ve ruined this whole game and I hate you! Come out right now!’

Of course, no one did. The boys were long gone. Perhaps a monstrous slug had scared them too and they’d run back to the gate another way. I had no option but to stomp around in anger and frustration, but I only seemed to get myself more lost. Some time later, gleaming with sticky sweat, I sat on a grassy hill under a ginormous oak tree and checked my watch. I was shocked to discover another two hours had passed me by. This wasn’t right. I was so confused, all I could do was sit there for another hour, just gazing at the ground in front of me, just trying to figure out what the hell had happened here.

Eventually, the panic subsided and a kind of weary, grudging acceptance kicked in. Maybe I live here now, I thought, maybe this is my place and I can never leave. With that notion kicking around in my head, I started to perk up a bit. I stopped freaking out and started exploring instead. I found all kinds of interesting and unbelievable things that day on my own at the bottom of the garden. You would not believe any of them if I told you. And I knew that if I ever spoke a word of this to anyone in my life, I would be branded either a liar or a lunatic.

I knew I would keep it to myself and once I’d made that decision, things got easier again. I began to enjoy myself, climbing trees that seemed to provide the perfect branch at the perfect time. I found long, twisted vines of elder and ivy and swung from them, each one holding my weight easily. I found a little stone bridge that swerved over a thin, shining point, where I stood and watched rainbow-coloured frogs diving and swimming.

I heard the voices in the undergrowth, the whispers in the trees, the soft playful laughter behind the leaves and I laughed back. I was home.

And not long after that, with my watch telling me it was now four in the afternoon, I suddenly came across the stone steps again. The slugs had gone. Bright light sparkled from the garden at the top and I could even hear my cousins laughter.

I emerged blinking and squinting into the hot sun that parched the end of my grandparents garden, fully expecting the adults to come racing down towards me, stressed and panicked and furious. But they didn’t. My cousins and siblings looked up at me from where they were sprawled out lazily under the umbrella we had set up, but none of them seemed to react with any urgency. I’d been gone all day; what the hell was wrong with them?

‘Can we eat this now you’re back?’ asked Maria holding up a slice of apple cake in her grubby hand.

I stumbled towards them, nodding, my head fuzzy with fatigue and confusion. None of them reacted as I plonked myself on the blanket and plucked several leaves from my sweaty hair.

‘How long was I gone?’ I asked them after a while. I was staring at my watch, trying and failing to understand this.

Martin shrugged, his mouth full of crisps. ‘Dunno.’

‘Ten minutes?’ Patrick suggested.

I tapped my watch. ‘That’s impossible.’ I opened my mouth to start to tell them, to explain that my watch said I’d been in there all day, that I knew I had because of how long and far I had walked and climbed and played, because every inch of me, every bone ached and throbbed with exhaustion. But then my mouth snapped shut and I said nothing.

Minutes passed and still I said nothing. I was starting to think keeping it to myself might be the best option. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me or call me a liar and besides that, I’d found something special, hadn’t I? Something dark and inviting, something secretive, something alive.

Something that was mine.

Guest Post #11 Dreaming of Another World

Welcome to another guest post for my regular feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was originally inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown made me imagine and long for another kind of world, another way of doing things. So, I invited other creative people on to The Glorious Outsiders to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here is a thought provoking short story from author Val Portelli. At the end of the post you can find Val’s author bio and links to her work.

The Grass is Always Greener

‘Shush, I want to watch the news.’

‘I don’t know why. It’s the same thing every night. Who would have believed six months ago.…’

‘Quiet. It’s starting.’

‘Good evening,’ the dulcet tones of the presenter began the broadcast. ‘The Leader announced today that with the devastation of our planet showing little signs of receding, further emergency measures will need to be put in place. These will include the temporary reduction in food allocation and have a knock-on effect on travel. Those who have already received a confirmation of their bookings will take priority, and the committee are working flat out to accommodate others a soon as possible. Please join us tomorrow for further updates.’

Marcia switched off the appliance and sighed.

‘I knew we should have booked while we had the chance, but you insisted we wait for a better deal,’ she said to her husband. ‘Have we left it too late?’

Dane tensed, hating that Marcia was upset but not knowing what to do about it. They had discussed the trip endlessly, weighing up the pros and cons and saving every spare penny so their dream would be everything they envisaged.

‘I’m sorry, love. The discount for going out of season was too good to ignore. Another four weeks and we would have been on our way. Who would have guessed this would happen? The whole universe has gone crazy, but don’t give up. I’ll sort it out somehow.’

‘No, it’s not your fault,’ Marcia said, going over to give him a hug. ‘No one could have predicted this would happen. When we made our plans, life was normal and we assumed it would carry on that way. I should have told you I wanted a crystal ball for my birthday, then I could have said “Told you so.” As it is, we’ve got to take our chances with everyone else who’s in the same boat. We’ve got the advantage we’re prepared. Tomorrow we’ll register and the first space that comes up we’ll take it. Agreed?’

‘Agreed,’ Dane said, determined to spend as much time online as necessary to make sure they got away as soon as possible. Although he tried to stay positive it wasn’t easy as daily life became more of a challenge. No longer able to work as further restrictions came into force, they were forced to exist on half the income they had enjoyed previously. At times they were

tempted to dip into their savings, but that would mean they would be unable to afford their dream, so they made do, and tried to stay positive.

The increasing heat made them feel lethargic, and concentration difficult. Usually they were happy in each other’s company, but being confined 24/7 they were both snappy and unreasonable. Weeks passed until one day it all got too much and Marcia took out her frustrations on Dane, blaming him for everything going wrong. He retaliated and soon they were in the middle of a full-blown row. In temper, she threw two plates in the sink which promptly smashed, he shouted at her for being unappreciative and destroying the crockery set he had worked so hard to buy. All their pent-up anger and bitterness spewed out and he spent the night sleeping in the spare room.

The next morning the atmosphere was quiet and tense. They spoke to each other only when necessary, both too stubborn to make the first move and apologise. That evening Marcia felt tears welling up as she was cutting their last remaining vegetables for a meagre meal. Unable to see clearly, the knife slipped and blood spurted out from the gash in her finger.

‘Darling are you alright?’ Dane asked as he rushed to her side.

‘They were all we had left,’ Marcia sobbed. ‘Now I can’t even feed you properly.’

‘Hush, it’ll be fine. I needed to lose some weight anyway,’ Dane joked as he took her in his arms and comforted her, until with a final hic-cup she managed a weak smile.

‘If we had any other ingredients I could make a black pudding,’ she said, ‘or perhaps we could turn into vampires and not have to worry about food.’

‘That’s my girl. You can bite me any time you like, but first we should clean up that cut. It looks nasty,’ Dane responded as he went to fetch some antiseptic and a plaster.

With harmony restored between them, he salvaged what he could for their meal, and on impulse brought out their last bottle of wine.

‘I know we were saving it for a celebration,’ he said, ‘but I think we need it tonight. Perhaps it will bring us luck. Sorry sweetheart, I shouldn’t have taken my temper out on you. Cheers.’

‘It was my fault. I’m sorry. Whatever happens, we’ve still got our dream. Cheers to a brighter future.’

Once they had cleared up, he logged on as usual, prepared for another disappointment. To his amazement a vacancy appeared, two seats available, leaving in three days’ time. He was shaking so much his finger could hardly press the “book” button. Half excited, half gearing himself up for disappointment he sat biting his nails until the confirmation with full details appeared, when he let out a loud whoop of delight.

‘What’s happened? Tell me,’ Marcia said as she came rushing in to ask what all the commotion was about.

‘We’re going, we’re going,’ Dane shouted as he picked her up and twirled her round the room. ‘In three days’ time we’ll be leaving this hell-hole planet for good, and on our way to earth. No more 40 degrees heat, no more confined to the house, no more food restrictions, no more rulers dictating what we can and can’t do. We’ll be free to wander about and enjoy life the way it used to be.’

Neither of them truly believed it would happen until they received their immigration papers, medical confirmation for a clean bill of health, and were seated in the space craft ready for take-off to a new world. Life on earth was their dream finally coming true.

It was only as they exited the craft and joined the queue for new arrivals, they were able to learn of the restrictions affecting their new planet. Global warming meant average temperatures were similar to home, the virus meant food shortages and confinement, with additional regulations affecting their every move.

The grass is not always greener.

A huge thanks to Val for sharing this story with us! You can find out more about Val and her work below. If you have a blog post, short story or poem on the theme Dreaming of Another World, then please get in touch!

Author Bio

Despite receiving her first rejection letter when she was nine, from some lovely people at a well-known Women’s magazine, Val continued writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy. The completion and publication of her first full length novel helped save her sanity during those difficult times.

Six books and various anthologies later, she is currently working on her long neglected 100,000 word plus manuscript, in between writing follow ups to two of her earlier novels with the intention of making them into a series. She writes in a variety of genres, although the weekly short stories she posts on her Facebook author page tend to include her trademark ‘Quirky’ twist.

Val lives on the outskirts of London, where she provides a free restaurant service to various generations of foxes who have obtained squatters’ rights since her dogs passed over the rainbow bridge. She is always delighted to receive reviews, as they encourage sales, and help to pay the exorbitant supermarket chicken bill to keep her visitors fed.

In her spare time she studies how to market her work to a wider audience, before resorting to procrastinating on social media, and seeking advice from the unicorns she breeds in the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Links

Amazon author page https://author.to/ValPortelli

Voinks blog and Val Portelli web site. http://www.Voinks.wordpress.com

Quirky Unicorn web site. http://www.quirkyunicornbooks.wordpress.com

Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/wwwgoodreadscomVal_Portelli

Twitter https://twitter.com/ValPortelli

Guest Post #5 – Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote during lockdown. I wondered whether other writers and bloggers felt like me during this strange time – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed thanks to the stillness the pandemic enforced on us. I’ve had a great response to my request and each week I will be welcoming a guest to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences on how lockdown affected their vision for the future. Did it change their views about anything? Did it change anything in their life? Did it make them long for a different kind of life or society? This week Toby Martin shares a story he wrote during lockdown. It expresses the frustrations and fears he experienced when trying to keep an appropriate distance from other people during his daily exercise. (This does include swearing in case that offends you.)

Walking Alone – by Toby Martin

At the last count, there were nearly 8 billion.

Somehow that didn’t seem right. Could it really be possible that after millennia of wars, famines, droughts, democides and genocides, hostile weather, predation, disease, murder and even self-inflicted death, there were still this many? Why did humans have to be so resilient anyway?

Dani found a growl in her throat emerging automatically at the sight of a woman with two loud kids in tow, their screeches and guffaws dirtying the still air. She was in half a mind to confront the woman and tell her exactly how much she had got wrong. Hadn’t she heard of protection, contraception, or even abortion? Where exactly did she get off, producing two more of these obnoxious specimens when the planet was already heaving under the weight of the overinflated ego of a bipedal ape that had gotten too technologically savvy for its own good?

And even if she insisted on ruining the rest of her life by producing time and money consuming crotch goblins, with a masochistic instinct Dani could never understand, why did they have to choose this exact path to be walking on? Dani had chosen this path, and she was almost certain she had been there first. In really ruined the serene image created before – a tiny strip of walkable gravel lined by trees and swaying grasses, tucked away from the hideous noises of humanity, all of that muffled and replaced with the twitter of birds or the occasional whine of an insect. That particular image had been fine as it was before, and Dani really felt that the narrowness of the path spoke volumes about how people should be on it at any given time. But no, apparently dragging your shrieking genetic splurges along it regardless of who else might be there as a giant fuck you to anyone who preferred the quiet life was a perfectly decent use of one’s time. Especially if the path was so narrow that should people be coming in opposite directions, collisions were inevitable. Realising this, Dani began to resent the person who had made the path. Fuck that thoughtless idiot.

Faced with the prospect of other people coming within her personal space, Dani considered her options. As it had been earlier with the blond loser in the hoodie, cheerfully chatting into his phone and not caring that his presence was so interfering, Dani felt she’d have to drastically change direction. The loser from earlier seemed not to have cared that Dani had had to leap across the road and risk being run over by a car, which raised the question of which cunt had thought it was a good idea to be driving in such a way that disturbed the peace, to say nothing of the amount of pollution they were causing. Still, the way out had at least been obvious to her, if risky. Now, however? Vegetation lined the entirety of her peripheral vision. She was funnelled in, doomed to be within the range and space of the disgusting entity that was OTHER PEOPLE. Damn it. The tranquil-looking path had lured her in like the proverbial gingerbread house – and a path with intent was not a welcome idea, because that would mean it was sentient, and then Dani would have to hate it too. As far as she was concerned, her only options were limited to diving into the surrounding plant matter, risking scratches and stings until the loathsome ones had passed, or else hoping that the life-threatening car from earlier would suddenly crash into the vicinity and put this smug, noisy family permanently out of her misery. Such serendipity was unlikely, as Dani knew too well, though she liked to entertain the image for just a couple of seconds before having to face the inevitable.

With minimum grace, Dani launched herself into what appeared to be a minute gap in the surrounding bushes, which, whilst certainly not ideal, did at least count as a gap. At least for this absolutely vital purpose. Now she just had to hope that these organisms would not seek her to bother her further.

“Thank you!” the mother said briefly as she passed. Dani simply scowled behind her back. Sure, it was better for her sacrifices to be acknowledged, but she wouldn’t have to make them if people did the sensible thing and kept out of her way. Surely this town was big enough for people to keep a distance? And if not, then they should all do what would have been advisable many hundred generations back and just stopped reproducing. Was it too much to ask that a voluntary, long overdue euthanasia for the human race be put into practice before any more damage was done? It would be the more palatable option for most, compared to the inevitable rush for humanity to cause its own violent destruction, though Dani considered the latter option to be the more cathartic. At the same time, the former would give Dani more peace in the years to come, when there’d be a beautiful absence of the usual screaming kids, who insisted on getting in your way in the most farcical ways. Though that wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of the clueless adults, or the teens on bikes. Well, shit.

Dani was about to continue her angry stroll along the now clear path, when she noticed something in her peripheral vision that she hadn’t noticed before. This was understandable – diving into bushes wasn’t her usual way of doing things. The rows of vegetation didn’t seem quite as solid as before, and, twisting around, she noticed that, beneath a low hanging branch, winded a smaller path, covered in earth and looking free of human influences. Hm.

Dani looked closer. The path led onto a field that she had known beforehand ran parallel to this particular path. She had deliberately avoided it because of the sight of all the fucking people there. However, this narrow view of the field showed this particular end of it to be mercifully free of people and leading to a wooded area she had barely spared any thought to before. The wood was bordered by extremely tall pine trees and looked to be completely unoccupied. How come she hadn’t noticed it before? She supposed raging at her species on a constant basis left little thought space for ways to get away from it all. But now, for once in her sorry life, she had struck lucky. Provided nobody else got there in the meantime…

It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.

It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.

Though the sound of the barely sapient sapiens wasn’t entirely muffled by the lines of trees now surrounding her, Dani felt that the ambience had shifted enough. No longer did she have those stupid fuckers in her lines of vision, just the trees, silently swaying or gently rustling, and masses of ferns growing without restriction, without dictat from consumers and horticulturalists. This was the vision of a post-human world. It was just a shame she wouldn’t be there to see it.

Taking a few slow steps along a makeshift path, away from the human noise, Dani began fantasizing about people finally taking notice of how much she avoided human contact, and, became moved by sympathy to put the voluntary human extinction into action. OK, so – it wouldn’t happen. Humans loved fucking and breeding like rabbits way too much to realise how much better it would be to stop. They couldn’t see beyond their next fuck, drink or consumption of natural resources. Their cares lay beyond the important things in life. Mindless breeders, the lot of them. Dani audibly sighed and briefly span around to get a panoramic view of her surroundings. Such a limited look gave the impression of the good life, but alas…

Another twirl showed her a dog and, sadly, its walker in her peripheral vision. Fuck. She couldn’t escape even in a temporary wilderness. She guessed it was time to change trajectory again.

Fortunately, this open woodland allowed for a much greater number of escape routes. The one she selected, over a low-growing holly tree, likely required much for agility than the wrinkly fogey and tiny terrier were capable of, and it led her further away from the breeders beyond the trees. It was ideal!

After the dog and its walker had passed, Dani realised that the particular area she had found herself in was not as ideal as it first appeared. The trees and ferns grew much closer together here, restricting her room for exercise whilst fantasizing about the end of her pathetic species. She began to step back in the direction of the more open area when something else caught her eye. This time, it was mercifully not a human being. It may have been the herald of one, however, long ago.

She crouched down and took a closer look at the small, mysterious shape nestled under a much shorter pine than the ones that towered around her. Shrouded in the permanent shade and covered in pale pine needles, it was very easy to miss. It took a real sophisticate and not a sheep, Dani reflected, a wide, involuntary smile making its way onto her face, to notice such a thing. The shape, as far as she could ascertain, was of a small rucksack, looking to be of a faded indigo colour. How long had it been there? Would it be safe to touch? Dani dismissed this concern and reached out for it, brushing some of the pine needles off. It certainly felt like a rucksack, with the rough, sturdy texture that might have been polyester, although…she ran her hand up and down it, occasionally coming into contact with the odd zip…it was slightly softer than a brand new one would have been.

Dani felt for the straps and yanked it into a clearer view. Though not heavy, it had some degree of weight resistance, and rattled slightly as she set it on a partially emerging tree root. It still contained what it had been abandoned with. What was it and why? This was a pertinent question for those with the intellectual capacity to consider it, not those clueless reprobates. Dani suddenly felt the made urge to yank the bag open and plunder its secrets. But she had to examine every inch of this bag, to find everything that might be within it. It had several separate sections, after all. She would build up.

The smaller pockets and pouches yielded nothing, so that only left the main body of the bag taking up the majority of its weight. A delicious shiver ran up Dani’s spine as she slowly unzipped the rucksack, half-closing her eyes to savour the sound that heralded her discovery.

She peered into the bag once it was fully open.

Tapes.

The abandoned rucksack was full of a pile of cassette tapes, each one its own plastic case. Blank? No – they were labelled with hand-written letters of the alphabet. Some of the cases were cracked, and, as she discovered when she lifted one out to examine it, they opened very easily, indicating a rather repeated use. All the spools of tape were also still intact.

So, it came to this – unbroken cassette tapes, with all almost certainly containing recordings, had been abandoned in the middle of the woods. Who had made the recordings, what was in them, and why had they wanted them hidden?

Dani wasn’t sure if she felt a rush of kinship for someone who had hidden something they had made from prying breeder eyes, or whether she should be wary that these tapes should yield criminal acts of such disgusting depravity that to declare kinship with such a person would be tantamount to being the worst.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

*

Following Dani’s not-so-blissful but interesting walk came the inevitable not-so-blissful and not that interesting either confrontation with her mother, who insisted that she should have let her know before she had set off because she wanted her to post a letter on her way and had had to do it herself. Dani gave her an insidious glower at her words, biting back the retort that she should stop leeching off of her to get her pathetic tasks done and that Dani wanted no part in her attempt to support the increased interaction of the human species or contribute to deforestation by use of her paper consumption and maybe she should take a long hard look at herself and realise how futile everything she did really was. She bit back that retort for a good four seconds before breaking. It felt rather pressing a matter. In response, her mother got defensive and proclaimed that Dani was closer to a leech than her given that she was still living under her roof and being financially supported by her, and maybe she could do more to support her? Well, at this, Dani, her face burning an awesome shade of crimson, hollered back that she’d rather be a leech than a human and that her mother had done a terrible, immoral thing by bringing her into the world in the first place and that she was simply reaping what she had sown. She added a ‘fuck the normies’ and ‘hail Satan’ in there for good measure.

Dani’s mother went off in a frantic distress, muttering about where she might have gone wrong. Dani managed to resist the urge to fire back that birth was the answer (both her birth and Dani’s), but declined, given that now the path to being alone in her room was clear.

She sprinted up the stairs, slid into her room and shut the door behind her. With a sweep of her arm, she cleared her desk of the trashy clutter than inhabited it, with the exception of the small goldfish bowl, containing her best friend, Jeremiah, happily swimming about, oblivious to how fucking awful everyone else was. Jeremiah was always content to have his bowl perched in the corner, so he could be a companion to Dani as she worked on various misanthropic projects without getting in the way.

Amidst a dusty pile of retro stuff under her bed that came in and out of fashion cyclically was a small cassette player with a pale stain on it. Dani had no idea what the stain was, had no desire to investigate, and in any case knew it was of no concern given that it still worked perfectly, about the only thing in the pile that did. Dani set the player on her desk, plugged it in and wiped the film of dust that had gathered atop it off in a flourish. The dust particles still dancing in the air, she selected the tape labelled ‘A’, slipped it in and pressed play.

It occurred to her just after she did this that it might have been advisable to rewind first, just to ensure she didn’t miss anything, but it soon became evident that that had already been taken care of for her. There was a crackle and an exhale on the speakers, and she leaned in closer.

“Hello.” The voice was male, sounded relatively young (though definitely post-puberty) and had a very nasal quality. It continued,

“This is a first of a series of recordings I’ve made where I really want to share…well, everything.”

Everything? Dani’s ears pricked up at these words. Was this recording something she was never supposed to stumble across? That made it even better. What horrific crime did he have to confess to? She held her breath as the recording continued,

“For starters, there are times where I wonder whether some dinosaurs would have been suitable pets.”

Dani frowned slightly. This was a disappointment. Confessing one’s idle thoughts were far from exciting, as she had often remarked to her mother when not raving about how humanity needed to go extinct. Still, this could easily give her an insight into what this person was like. From the pile of abandoned former desk clutter, she extracted a pencil and paper and began to note what this mysterious nasally stranger was saying about dinosaurs.

“I mean, some of the more famous ones would obviously been quite dangerous,” he continued, “Or else have very tricky upkeep. Take Argentinosaurus – the largest land animal that ever existed. Pretty awesome to show to your neighbours, but how are you supposed to house or feed an animal that may have weighed 100 tonnes? You’d have to go for a much smaller one, but that might look a lot less cool. You’d have to strike the right balance between cool to look at and easy to keep, and so…”

And so he went on. Dani began to find it a little tricky to keep up with his line of thought, her jottings becoming rougher and less distinct and wondering how the hell this shameless nerd had managed to talk for so long about an abstract hypothetical. After all, if there were no humans, keeping pets wouldn’t even be a thing! Though she did wonder whether humans vanishing suddenly or simply never having existed would have been the better option for enslaved animals at that point, distracting her so that she almost missed the nasally stranger wrapping up his stream of consciousness by concluding that Struthiosaurus (whatever that was) would make the ideal dinosaur pet, and moving on to another topic, which began,

“I have a little confession to take about when I was younger…”

Dani corrected her slouch so suddenly she jolted the desk and risked upsetting Jeremiah’s bowl. Onto the juicier topics, surely?

“It was back when I was maybe about seven or eight. There was a little wood less than five minutes from where I lived. And at this age, my parents were starting to get a little more relaxed about letting me go there alone, provided I went in the middle of the day, didn’t talk to strangers and promised I’d be back at the exact time they had specified.”

Dani gripped her pencil tighter. An anecdote of being an unsupervised child? Something scandalous was sure to come of this. She licked her lips in anticipation. Did it involve talking to stranger? Even going off with one and his parents never finding out? Maybe he found a whole stash of porn in the woods?

“There was a point in the usual walk in the woods where the canopy ahead was thickest,” the stranger said, his voice taking on a slower pace, squeezing any suspense out of the story he could manage, “and it always interested me, because to me it seemed like it was inevitably the wildest, most untouched part of the whole area. But there was a gate there.”

Dani scrawled, ‘A MOTHERFUCKING GATE???’ onto the paper, taking up the rest of the space and necessitating turning the page over. Now she had to know what was the on the other side of this gate.

“Now, obviously, in such a small wooded area, it’s not exactly wild and exotic. But to my child’s mind it was, and this gate always stuck out to me. A construct of old wood with flecks of green paint. Obviously, the paintwork had just faded with time, but I thought it was a deliberate pattern at the time, to signify something way more mysterious and other-worldly.”

“And what was it…?” Dani actually found herself muttering out loud.

“I was never brave enough to venture through the gate-”

‘FUCKING TEASE.’ Dani scribbled before leaning back and sighing with all the exaggeration she could muster. The voice of the stranger continued,

“Doubtless, on the other side was something hopelessly mundane, probably someone’s garden. But honestly, the possibilities I made up in my head were much more exciting. What if it was a portal to a world of dinosaurs? To a secret world of magic, sorcery, and villainy only I could find? The embarrassing thing is, I spent a lot of time near that gate as a child, completely on my own, wondering out loud what might be on the other side of the gate, and loudly battling the imaginary foes that came out of it.”

‘How sad,’ Dani jotted, sniffing in a supercilious way. What kind of sad person would spend that much time alone?

All the same, as soon as the stranger began to give more details on the kind of encounters he imagined getting from the mysterious gate, which included everything from ancient aliens to ridiculously tall witches, Dani found there was just a little more intrigue than before. Though it was disappointing that no cryptic crimes or mysterious pasts were being unveiled, this insight into a mind that refused to conform to the acceptable imaginations of the sheep that flocked everywhere she trod was a welcome, inviting break. A little lighthouse in a dark sea of depravity.

This delightfully bizarre imagination continued for a while, long enough that Dani had found herself more invested than she expected and was surprised when the tape suddenly stopped with a loud clunk. She frowned. It was possible that all these tapes – ten in total – displayed a continuous train of thought rather than separate accounts. If so, anything the stranger confessed would likely be buried deep within the winding thought stream, not set aside for any tape specifically. She couldn’t be 100% sure of that, but also had no way of finding out, other than to listen to all of them. One by one.

This realisation in her mind turned into a commitment, and for the next two and a bit days, she barely left her desk, listening and taking intense notes on everything intriguing the stranger said. It irritated her to no end when she had to get up to eat, sleep, use the toilet or help her mum out with something stupid and futile and listen to the whines that she was starting to smell and needed a shower. This proved beyond reasonable doubt, Dani decided, that it was infinitely preferable to spend time in the mind of another outsider than brave the horrifically boring and boringly horrific exploits of the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.

It was a good way into the second side of the ‘J’ tape, whilst the stranger was rambling about the kind of food combinations he’d enjoyed as a child, that Dani realised that, if there was some higher purpose for him making these recordings, with this being the last tape, it must be coming up any moment now. With ten whole cassettes dedicated to things like embarrassing childhood attempts at writing, the scariest advert he ever saw, habits he had picked up while shopping, a dream diary he had kept at thirteen that had coincided with puberty and much more, she concluded that such occasionally delightful non-conformist confessions must be culminating in some seriously important zenith. As such, she almost had a heart attack when the stranger began to say,

“OK, so, as this is the last tape, I think I should probably wrap all this up and get to the point about why I even did this.”

Almost involuntarily, Dani emitted a noise that sounded some degree of excited, but possibly also pained to ignorant eavesdroppers.

“I have no idea who will find these recordings,” the tape went on, “but given how much I’ve shared about myself, I feel we’re sort of friends now.”

‘This is a stretch’, Dani found herself writing, but continued listening.

“So…a while back, I heard that a childhood friend of mine was being investigated for…well, the bottom line is, they weren’t who I thought they were. And that severely shifted my perspective not just on the time we’d spent together, but also on basically everything. All of us. As a species.”

‘He had childhood friends?’ Dani queried to her paper but finished this observation quickly. Her excitement had peaked as soon as he had mentioned the human species. This had to be the point where their ideas converged! He was going to condemn the rest of humanity as trash and prove this whole long exploit worth it. Maybe he’d even share some ideas of how to persuade everyone to stop reproducing. Heart hammering and pencil poised, she turned up the volume and listened intently.

“I think, when we grow up and learn more about the intense harshness of some parts of the world, part of us feels betrayed. You know, we had this image of an ideal world where we could be anything we wanted, but actually, no, we have to go into a field that makes money or else we’ll never get a job or a house or a livelihood. Oh, and loads of people are homeless or elsewhere dying of war, disease, famine, oppression, ignored by many people in charge and we’re also completely screwing the natural world over. Suddenly, we feel a bit shafted, and fall into a resentment of almost everyone. Even those you trusted might not be as pure as you thought and it makes you wonder, is anything really worth it in the end? Are we, the dominant species, worth it?”

‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ Dani triumphantly declared on paper.

“I would say – yes, absolutely.”

What.

“I mean, think about it this way – all this introspection, this species-wide self-deprecating. No other species on the planet does it, not even mosquitoes, who kill more of us every year than we do of each other. We can probably safely conclude that no species has ever done it, because they’ve never had the self-awareness we do. And whilst it can come with some depressing side effects, being self-aware is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. We have a wider scope of the problems we face than any other animal does, giving us both the desire and means to sort them. And sure, we mess up a lot, and we all choose to remember that, rather than the huge amounts of progress we’ve made – for example, I guarantee that nobody listening to this will be living in fear of smallpox, giving us the tiny window of possibility that this may eventually be true for all disease everywhere. Imagine a world like that.

“Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with all the other random stuff I’ve been talking about on all of these tapes. Well, not much, except that it gives you a little insight into me, hopefully to generate a bit of empathy, because sometimes that kind of perspective is all we need to realise we care enough about another individual that we are, even just slightly, invested in their continued happiness. Also, it shows the ridiculous capacity for imagination we have, again, unique among the animals, as vast as our potential. I hope that’s the case anyway – and I hope that whoever found these tapes, whatever you might be thinking of the world right now, I hope you at least bear what I said in mind. Thanks so much for listening to my weird little rambles, clearly a connection’s already been made!”

And the tape clunked to a stop.

Dani let the pencil fall from her fingers onto the desk, ignoring it as it rolled off onto the floor. The last words of the stranger reeled in her mind, echoing strangely as thoughts exploded in her head more intently than she had felt in a while. She had been left with a rather…unexpected message. She glanced down at her paper. Then she snorted and screwed it up.

No, he was completely wrong.

I mean, of course he was wrong. Dani knew better. Humans were depraved. All of them. Even her, probably. Humanity had never done anything good, it was obvious, when you looked at all the bad. God, this fucker was an idiot. And she had thought he had valuable insights? Ha! Clearly only she knew the truth.

Standing up and beginning to pace in frustration, she realised she’d almost definitely have to send him a reply. Write or even record an impassioned rebuttal, taken from a list of horrible human things she had been working on since the age of nine, then leave it in the rucksack when she returned to its former place. Then she’d see what his stupid mind made of that! Maybe he’d be persuaded to stop the breeding of everyone he knew!

Her relish at this was rather heavily distracted however, when she span back around to face her desk and noticed that she had forgotten to feed Jeremiah in the last two and a bit days.

Thank you so much Toby, for writing and sharing this lockdown themed story with us. If you would like to find out more about Toby, his bio and link to his blog are below! I still have spaces for the guest post slot – so if you have a piece in mind, do get in touch! Anything fictional or personal on the theme Dreaming of Another World will be considered.

Toby Martin

I’ve been writing since I was ridiculously young, although I’m happy to say I think I’ve improved a lot since those initial makeshift books in felt-tip pen and terrible spelling. I’m constantly looking to push the boundaries of what I write, and whilst my current preferred avenue is contemporary fiction, I’m looking to expand into some speculative fiction as well, should time allow.I was accepted into Bournemouth University in 2015 and have more recently started a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing. Outside of writing, you can usually find me either with a performing arts group, with a humanist group, or doing way too deep analysis of any creative work I feel you might like. You can find out more about me here; https://tobythewastrel.wordpress.com/