An old short story of mine that appeared in the charity anthology 100 Stories for Haiti
DINNER FOR TWO
Has that clock stopped? No, my watch says the same time. Stop looking every thirty seconds will you?
Maisie Connolly, this is your bloody fault. If it all goes wrong I’ll never speak to you again.
Right, check the food, Sarah, it’s fine, you know it’s fine, you only checked it two minutes ago. Wine, where’s the bloo…okay, it’s on the table, should be room temperature by now. Maisie Connolly, if this wine isn’t as good as you promised you’ll be wearing it tomorrow. At twelve quid a bloody bottle it ought to be dynamite.
Check the mirror, sigh, I’m sure those lines round your mouth are getting deeper; you’ll need cement to fill them in if they get any worse.
What’s that? Was that a car? Dare you peek through the window? You don’t want him to catch you looking. Count to thirty and listen for the car door closing… thirty, no, can’t have been him.
I hope he likes classical music, those free CDs from the Sunday papers were worth keeping after all. Classical is a bit more sophisticated than Simply Red.
Hang on, daft girl; Simply Red is fine for that close up chat on the sofa later in the evening. Damn, where the hell is it?
Had to be in the bloody car didn’t it? Right then, that’s Mozart for dinner and Mick Hucknall for afters, lovely.
Twenty five past eight. This has to be the longest night of my life, are we stuck in a time warp or something?
Hope he likes the dress; check the mirror, not too much cleavage, not too short. Come on Sarah, you’ve been through all this; it took you two hours to choose it. What if he comes in a suit though? Are you formal enough? No time to do anything about it now. I bet he wears a sodding suit.
Let’s hope it goes better than last time, eh? Note to self, if you spill the red wine over his trousers, don’t dab at his crotch with a napkin.
Why did you do that? You should have left it at a horrified, ‘sorry.’ It was his house; he could quite easily have nipped through to change. He ended up being more embarrassed than you did, and why did you keep bringing it up throughout the meal? Oh my God, then you go and lose a contact lens in the Beef Stroganoff.
Wonder if he’ll want to stay over?
SARAH! Stop that, you slut…It has been a while though…
Eight twenty eight. Stop looking at the bloody clock!
He’s going to be late isn’t he? What if he doesn’t come at all? No one could blame him after our last date.
Two glasses of wine Sarah and that’s the limit. You don’t want to get the giggles like last time. For pity’s sake, he only asked you how you liked it, and he was talking about coffee.
Bit of a shame he still he has that ex wife hanging around in the background. She shouldn’t really be calling him half way through a dinner date. He was very kind to her though, not many exes would offer to give her and her new bloke a lift to the airport at the weekend.
I hope Malcolm doesn’t ring me half way through this meal. He’ll get short bloody shrift the lying cheating…Maisie Connolly; you had better not ring to see how it’s going either.
Eight thirty one. He’s late; please don’t say he’s going to stand me up.
How the hell did you get yourself into this anyway? You know you can’t cook.
Phew, lucky girl. Another couple of minutes and you’d have been serving crispy chicken.
Phone! It’s him isn’t it? Calling it off, he’s had a breakdown. His ex has come back to stay. He’s just found out he’s gay!
Bloody cold callers. No, I don’t want to change my bloody phone provider you bloody numbskulls.
You need a drink. Just a small one Sarah, remember the giggles.
Candles? You forgot the bloody candles. This is going to be a real cosy meal with a sixty watt light bulb hanging over the dinner table, isn’t it?
Eight thirty three, where the hell is he? If he stands me up I’ll…hang on, whose is that car in the drive? Shit! He’s here. Damn that bloody doorbell, why didn’t you change those batteries when you noticed it wasn’t working?
Shit, shit and triple shit.
Right, breath in, deep breaths, calm yourself. Think Feng Shui or is it Buddhist, OM OM. Check mirror, you’ll have to do. Don’t smile too quickly… act as though this is a weekly occurrence, no, don’t do that he’ll think you’re easy.
Shit, he’s wearing a suit.
Oh he is looking gorgeous though, offer your cheek you slut, not your mouth.
‘Hello, Mike. Are you early?’
The third in my short Steampunk series starring the Victorian inventor, Sir Oswald Hennessey and his friends.
The Time Machine
Sir Oswald Hennessey chose a cigar from the cedar box, snipped the end and held it under his nose for a few seconds to enjoy its exotic fragrance. He lit it, took a series of quick puffs to get it going, then strolled across the sitting room to his favourite armchair. A few moments later the door opened and Hobson, Sir Oswald’s butler, showed Albert and Henrietta Parkin into the room. Henrietta rushed forward to greet Sir Oswald.
‘This is so exciting,’ she trilled. ‘Thank you so much for inviting us.’
‘You are most welcome, Madam,’ beamed Sir Oswald. ‘I am humbled by such enthusiasm.’
Henrietta waited for Hobson to leave the room before removing her bonnet. She shook her head to allow her loose golden curls to fall around her face. She looked at her host from beneath extraordinarily long lashes. Albert Parkin sat in a chair and picked up The Times newspaper.
‘I see rubber’s down again,’ he said sadly.
‘You should invest in my company,’ laughed Sir Oswald. ‘One of these days we’re going to hit the jackpot with our inventions.’
‘Like the Bath O Matic and the Instant Messenger Machine?’ scoffed Mr Parkin.
‘The Bath O Matic is selling very well,’ said Sir Oswald haughtily.
Henrietta took a sip from her glass of port and pursed her lips. ‘Do you think we could borrow your engineer for a few hours? I fear our Bath O Matic machine needs a little attention.’
‘Of course,’ boomed Sir Oswald. ‘I’ll get Barrymore round there in the morning. I’m sorry you’re having trouble, they are normally a very reliable machine.’
‘It’s been overused, that’s the problem,’ said Mr Parkin. ‘Henrietta is never out of the infernal contraption, I can’t see what she gets out of it, personally.’
Henrietta blushed and placed a soft gloved hand on Sir Oswald’s arm. ‘I do tend to use it rather a lot,’ she confided.
Mr Parkin put down the newspaper and looked around curiously. ‘What fabulous invention do you have for us this evening, Old Man?’
Sir Oswald’s eyes lit up. ‘Something very special,’ he took a puff from his cigar and looked around conspiratorially. ‘I’ve developed a Time Machine.’
‘A time machine?’ queried Albert. ‘I already have a pocket watch and a grandfather clock. What’s so special about a timepiece?’
‘This is not a timepiece, my friend. This is a machine that will transport you through time and space, to the past… or possibly, the future.’
‘Good Lord,’ said Mr Parkin.
Henrietta’s eyes sparkled. ‘Where is it? Can we see it? Have you used it?’
Sir Oswald opened the door at the far end of the sitting room and led the couple into his study. In the centre of the room stood a tall, black metal box, twelve feet long by four feet wide. It was decorated with highly polished brass fittings. A thick pipe marked, ‘Inlet’, protruded from the rear of the machine and disappeared through a neatly cut hole in the wall. A second, smaller pipe marked, ‘Outlet’, ran alongside. Each pipe was fitted with a brass fly wheel to control the pressure.
‘The Time Machine is fed from a huge new boiler out in the yard,’ explained Sir Oswald. ‘We had to build an especially large one to get enough power to run this particular machine. It takes sixty-four pistons to generate enough power to get the sphere spinning at the correct speed.’
Henrietta ran her hand down the side of the highly polished machine and leaned back against it. ‘I can feel the power surging through me,’ she said. ‘It’s quite exhilarating.’
Sir Oswald flicked ash from his cigar and grinned. He patted the machine lovingly. ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’
‘Very nice, I’m sure,’ said Mr Parkin. ‘But does it actually work?’
Sir Oswald looked hurt. ‘Of course it works, my good man. Hobson has been back to 1756 and Barrymore went back to 1588. I personally went back even further than that, so I can assure you that it works, Sir.’
‘1588, wasn’t that the year of the Armada?’
‘Correct, Madam. The Spanish Armada. Barrymore stood on the cliff tops and watched Drake sink the Spanish Fleet.’
‘How wonderful,’ squealed Henrietta. ‘Can you choose any time and place, Sir Oswald?’
‘Anywhere and at any time, Madam. This machine is so precise we can set the location to within a few feet and the time to within an hour.’
‘Astonishing,’ said Mr Parkin.
‘I had a wonderful conversation with a Roman Centurion, finally found a use for the Latin I was forced to learn at school.’
‘I never found a use for it,’ moaned Albert.
Henrietta clutched at Sir Oswald’s arm. ‘What about the future? Have you looked at what lies ahead, too?’
‘We haven’t actually tried that yet, we thought we might make it our next adventure.’
‘I say, would you let me have a go?’ pleaded Henrietta, ‘Please say you will, I do so want to see the future.’
‘Dash it, Old Girl, it could be a tad dangerous,’ said Mr Parkin, uncertainly.
‘Nonsense,’ argued Sir Oswald. ‘I’ve used the machine myself, there’s no risk involved at all.’
‘Please, Albert. Do let me go,’ begged Henrietta.
‘Well, if you’re so determined, I don’t see how I can say no,’ said Mr Parkin. ‘I wonder if our new life insurance policy covers time travel.’
Sir Oswald led Henrietta around to the front of the machine and opened a half glass door. Inside sat a highly polished steel ball. Sir Oswald turned a knob and the sphere opened up to reveal a small cushioned seat in front of a set of dials and gauges. Henrietta sat down and Sir Oswald turned a dial, then set three stops on the panel. He checked the pressure gauge carefully to ensure the machine was fully up to steam.
‘Right,’ he said brightly. ‘We’re ready to go. We just have to choose a time and place. What do you think, Old Girl, where would you like to go?’
‘Do you know, I rather think I’d like to see what London will look like in the future.’
‘That’s a grand idea,’ said Sir Oswald. ‘You’re a game bird, I do have to say.’ He checked the pressure again and placed his hand on the date dial. ‘Any particular time? How about a hundred years on.’
Henrietta clapped her hands excitedly. ‘More,’ she said. ‘Two hundred years.’
‘Let’s split the difference and call it a hundred and fifty,’ said Sir Oswald. ‘The machine hasn’t been sent forwards in time before. We probably shouldn’t push it too far the first time.’
Under Sir Oswald’s direction, Henrietta pushed two more stops and pulled a small lever on her right. The date and time dials were set to January1st 2011.
Sir Oswald produced a leather helmet and a pair of rubber goggles with thick glass lenses. ‘Just a safety measure,’ he assured. He reached into the sphere, pulled a leather strap and fastened Henrietta securely to the seat.
‘When you arrive at your designated time, the sphere will automatically stop spinning. A few seconds later it will open. You will be able to see your surroundings on the glass screen in front of you while you are inside the machine. Mr Parkin and I will be able to see what you are seeing on the screen in my study. We won’t receive any kind of sound though. Once you are out of the device we lose contact and you’re on your own. To return, just set the stops and turn the dial to today’s date and time.’
Henrietta patted Sir Oswald’s hand. ‘This is so exciting. How long will I be able to stay?’
Sir Oswald stood back from the sphere and tapped a fogged up dial. ‘You can stay as long as you please, it really doesn’t matter. Even if you were to stay for six months, back here, only five minutes will have passed.’
‘How very convenient,’ said Henrietta.
Sir Oswald gave a final word of warning. ‘If you go wandering, don’t forget where the sphere is. It has been set to land behind the stable block at the back of the house, it should be safe enough there. Make sure you close the sphere before you leave it though. We don’t want to inadvertently bring someone back from the future, not yet at least.’
Henrietta checked the straps and adjusted her goggles and headgear. Mr Parkin waved to her from the doorway of the machine. ‘Bon Voyage, Old Thing. Say hello to the future.’
Sir Oswald closed the sphere and checked the pressure dials again. Satisfied, he pulled a lever and stood back. The sphere began to revolve. As he watched through the window, the orb increased speed until it became a blur. A few seconds later, it disappeared.
Back in the study, Sir Oswald poured a large brandy and handed it to his friend. Albert Parkin took a sip and stared up at the foggy glass screen.
‘Hope she’s all right,’ he said quietly. ‘She gets a little travel sick over distance.’
Sir Oswald placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘She’ll be fine, Old Chap.’ He nodded to the screen. ‘Look, the mist is clearing.’
Parkin’s jaw dropped as he saw the ghostly images of future London appear on the screen. Small self-propelled, metal boxes filled the narrow streets. The pavements groaned under the weight of the city’s population.
‘Where are the horses?’ gasped Parkin
Sir Oswald moved closer to the screen. ‘These little horseless boxes seem to be everywhere. Their engineers must have found a way to make a steam engine small enough to fit inside them. I wonder how they feed the coal to the boiler? I imagine each box has a driver and a stoker sat up front.’
The image on the screen faded and the fog returned.
‘She’s out of the sphere,’ said Sir Oswald. ‘Henrietta’s in the future.’
Five minutes later they heard the sound of hissing steam and the whir of the sphere as it slowed. Sir Oswald stepped forward eagerly and opened the sphere. Henrietta climbed out and stepped into the study. Parkin gawped at her.
She was dressed in bright pink shoes with seven-inch stiletto heels. Black stockings stopped at her exposed thighs. She wore a tiny skirt which barely covered her backside and her almost transparent blouse did little to conceal the flimsy, red corset that fought a losing battle to hold in her breasts. Henrietta’s eyelids were painted pink to match her shoes; her lashes were three times their normal length. There was a gold stud in her nostril. She stared at them angrily.
‘Wot iz yous lookin at?’ she spat.
Albert Parkin tried to soothe her. ‘You’re safely home now old girl, what on earth happened to you?’
Sir Oswald leaned forward.
‘Hello, Henrietta. Don’t you recognise us? This is your husband, Albert.’
‘Don’t you give me no shit,’ said Henrietta. ‘This Ho ain’t no mofo’s biatch.’
Sir Oswald led Henrietta to the sofa and sat her down. ‘She’ll be fine in a few minutes, Old Man. I was speaking in Latin for a while after I returned from Rome.’
Albert nodded. ‘Thank goodness for that. But what the hell is she wearing. And what sort of language was she speaking? It’s foreign, that’s for certain. I thought you sent her to London.’
‘I did,’ said Sir Oswald. He took a cigar from the cedar box and snipped the end. ‘She must have stayed there for quite a time to involve herself in their culture to that degree. What we have just seen and heard is the London of the future.’ He paused while he lit his cigar. ‘I think I’m going to dismantle the time machine, Old Man. If what we have just witnessed is anything to go by, then I think it’s fair to say that sometimes you are better off not knowing what lies ahead. The reality can be far too upsetting.’
Excerpt from The Westwich Writers Club.
Read more here, 16 parts available so far. The Westwich Writers Club
Stephen King, a wannabe author, joins his local writer’s group only to find it run by a bunch of geriatric nepotists. Stephen arrives at the group meeting venue after an angry, parking altercation with a female driver.
Stephen was still seething as he entered the institute. He took the stairs two at a time and threw open the door to the classroom. He froze as his eyes fixed on a naked, elderly woman lying on a small white towel on the floor.
‘Are you Ricardo?’ she asked.
‘He’s late,’ sniffed the old woman. ‘I’m getting cold and my hip has locked up. Be a love and see if you can find him?’
For some reason, Stephen stuck up a thumb. ‘Yes, I’ll err…just see if I can… find him.’
Stephen hurried down to the bar and found Margot, the writing group leader, sitting at a table by the door. ‘Is there someone called Ricardo here?’ he asked.
‘No idea,’ said Margot. ‘Ask Joe behind the bar, he might know.’
Stephen walked to the bar and waved to get Joe’s attention. ‘Do you know someone called Ricardo?’
The steward nodded. ‘Yes, he’s an adult education instructor, teaches art and photography.’
‘Is he here tonight?’
‘Yes, he’s taking an art class in room ten.’
‘Room ten, art class? Ah, that explains it,’ said Stephen.
‘Explains what?’ Joe was puzzled.
‘There is, what I assume to be, an elderly female model in room one,’ said Stephen. ‘She’s getting a bit nippy.’
Joe pulled a face. ‘Shit, that’ll be Reanie?’
‘I don’t know who she is but she’s stark naked and she reckons she’s frozen to the spot,’ said Stephen.
‘Bugger,’ replied Joe. ‘Ricardo left a message to say that the art class has been moved to a different room but she never came in to pick it up. No wonder she’s cold, they started at six.’
‘Can you find him?’ asked Stephen. ‘Poor old Reanie’s getting frostbite in her extremities.’
Joe shuddered at the thought. ‘I can’t leave the bar unattended. Could you nip up and let him know?’
Stephen hurried back to room one. The woman was still on the floor.
‘You’re in the wrong room, Reanie,’ he said. ‘The art class is in room ten tonight.’
The old woman sucked her dentures into place. ‘I’m not Reanie, I’m Dot. Reanie‘s busy, so she asked me to stand in, or lie in, as it were.’
‘I see, well, the class is in room ten…’
‘I’ve never done anything like this before,’ Dot tittered. ‘I feel quite wanton.’
‘Yes, well, shall we, err…’
‘I get thirty pounds for this you know?’ Dot continued. ‘It’s good money when you’re on a pension.’
Stephen nodded. I’m sure it is, but didn’t Reanie tell you to find Ricardo before taking your clothes off?’
‘No, she told me to arrive early and get into position, it’s less embarrassing. You don’t have to move about in front of the students.’
Stephen tried to hurry things along. ‘Where did you put your clothes? I’ll get them for you.’
‘They’re in that cupboard over there. I won’t be able to get dressed though, my hip’s locked up.’
Stephen retrieved Dot’s clothes and placed them next to her. ‘Shall I wait outside?’
‘It’s a bit late for modesty,’ she cackled. ‘You’ll never make it as an artist.’
‘I’m a writer,’ said Stephen. ‘I’m hopeless at drawing.’
‘Reanie reckons most of the art class are too. She showed me a drawing one of them had done of her, it looked like a hippo. Mind you, Reanie is a big woman.’
Stephen risked a peek; Dot was still lying in the same position. She smiled at him lasciviously. ‘You’re going to have to pick me up young man; I did tell you I can’t move.’
Stephen groaned. ‘Okay, Dot, wrap the towel around as much of you as it will cover and grab your clothes. I’ll carry you to room ten.’
Dot grabbed the ends of the towel and pulled them over her hips. ‘Doesn’t cover much does it?’
Stephen crouched, placed one hand under Dot’s knees, one round her waist and lifted her into the air. Dot threw her arms round his neck. ‘This reminds me of my wedding night,’ she cackled. ‘Victor carried me to bed… you look a bit like him.’
Stephen turned towards the door and found himself looking into the face of the woman he’d had the altercation with in the street. She raised her eyebrows. ‘You don’t hang about do you?’ she said.
Dot’s knickers fell to the floor. The woman picked them up and handed them to the wannabe model. ‘Don’t go without these dear, it’s chilly out.’
Stephen turned a deep shade of purple. ‘It’s not the way it looks,’ he mumbled.
‘It never is,’ said the woman with a twinkle in her eye. ‘Have you had the main course or is she the carry out?’
Stephen was saved from further embarrassment when Margot entered the room. She was followed by a tall, olive skinned man that Stephen assumed was Ricardo. The art teacher looked over his spectacles at Dot.
‘You’re not Reanie,’ he said.
‘Reanie had something on tonight,’ replied Dot. ‘Unlike me.’
‘I left a message in the bar about the change of venue,’ said Ricardo. ‘You were supposed to come to room ten.’
‘I didn’t get it,’ said Dot. ‘All I got was cramp.’
Margot decided to take control of the situation. ‘Carry her to the ladies toilets, Stephen,’ she ordered. ‘Let’s get her decent before the rest of the group arrives.’
‘I’m not leaving without my wages,’ said Dot.
‘We’ll sort something out,’ Ricardo promised.
Stephen carried the old woman to the ladies toilets and laid her gently on the floor. Dot looked dreamily into his eyes and placed her hand on his arm. ‘How was it for you?’ she croaked.
Stephen blew her a kiss and headed for the door. ‘Fabulous. I hope your hip unfreezes soon.’
Dot grinned. ‘It clicked into place back there, dear. I just liked the idea of having a pair of strong arms round me again. Is that Italian fellow coming in? I’ve always fancied Italians.’