Shelves by Rhys Jones

There was a shelf for every type of person, a special place to put them so that order could be maintained. Every wall from floor to ceiling was shelves. The Collector hated when the people moved from one shelf to another because he wanted all the types kept together. The people on the shelves for the most part agreed to this because they had been ingrained with the idea that this was the only way it could be. They believed in the labels The Collector had created for them.

Gavin was stuck on the hopeless dreamer shelf. The problem with Gavin was that he didn’t understand that shelves existed or even that that was what he was on. He could see the Musicians shelf and thought it was enough just to imitate there ways and say that’s what he was, when it clearly wasn’t- he could never be bothered to actually learn to play anything. This sort of thing is what landed him on the dreamer shelf in the first place.

There was a way off the hopeless dreamer shelf that would never occur to Gavin, but it’s painfully obvious. All he had to do was stop dreaming about it and start doing it and he’d be moved automatically. It was that easy.

But he never did do that because he was a hopeless dreamer and he didn’t know it. So he just lived and died on the same shelf he’d always lived on never doing anything. This made The Collector happy because he liked the types to stay put.

Pillow by Robin Bell

She cried as she looked at the pillow. His pillow. The one he fell asleep on every night. The one he cradled his arm around. The one he kept turning over to rest his face on the cold side. The one he folded over when he wanted to prop himself up. The one he wrapped his arms and legs around when she got out of bed in the morning. The one he drooled all over. The one he somehow managed to pull the pillow slip off on a night where he couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned all night, making sure she couldn't sleep too.

The one she placed over his head one morning while he still slept because she'd had enough of him, snoring, twitching, thrashing about in the night, moving the pillow about, grabbing onto her and rubbing against her, throwing the pillow case over her face whilst she slept. Year after year that became so irritating it drove her to pushing that pillow down over his nose and mouth, pressing hard.

At first she thought she'd just do it for a second as a joke. When she pulled it off she'd say "You were snoring. I thought it'd be funny." But as his legs thrashed out and he couldn't breathe, she realised she had passed the point of no return, She pushed all her weight into pressing that pillow down on his face. She pressed until she knew he would never breathe again.

Then she relaxed, took a few deep breaths, and cried as she looked at the pillow. His pillow. The one he feel asleep on every night.

Steam by Rhys Jones

Jack was convinced that parts of him were turning into steam. Jack liked his baths hot. Scolding stupidly hot, no cold water added. Jack worked on a building site and his muscles always ached, a hot bath always soothed them.

But was he stupid to keep having such hot baths?

Last night his tattoo, the one of a cartoon devil, evaporated away. It was fine, he was embarrassed by that one anyway, but where would it end?

Jack took tonight’s bath against his better judgment, but his muscles ached so bad it was painful. He needed that bath. His skin on his belly began to dissolve, drifting upwards and mingling in the steam from the bath, it wafted towards the ceiling. Jack instantly began to splash around, clambering out of the bath. By now his whole body felt on fire as every part of him began to evaporate off him in bursts of steam.

Screaming in agony Jack stumbled towards the full length mirror on the back of the door as jets of steam, which were really bits of him, erupted off him like geysers.

Jack tried to see himself in the mirror, but all the thick steam made it impossible.

The heat, mixed with the overriding panic, made Jack feel faint and he passed out.

When he awoke the steam was gone. He got up and quickly looked at himself in the mirror. What he saw shocked him.

He looked great, the steam had taken at least ten years off him, and as he stretched he realised his muscles felt amazing.

Jack smiled at himself, he was glad he’d taken so many stupidly hot baths, but doesn’t recommend you to try it, because it might not work for you and it really does hurt a lot.

Beware the Rats by Rhys Jones

I love to feed the birds. I watch them from my comfy chair as they flutter about the feeder in my back garden. I’m not a bird watcher or anything like that, I just like to look at them. It’s a simple pleasure for an old man. So it was a bit of a shame when I saw that first rat.

The rat was cuter than I expected a rat to be, I’d never really seen one before, I’d always imagined rats to be horrible things and it wasn’t. It was almost adorable; it scurried up the feeder and sat in the water dish, it played with its whiskers contemplating the fat balls which dangled tantalisingly in their cage. I didn’t think the rat had a chance of getting to them, but I was wrong. The rat carefully leaned forward, stretched, hooked its nails onto the cage and with its weight pulled it towards itself. The cheeky bugger then began to nibble and feast on the delicious fat balls inside.

I ran out of the door as quick as I could (which isn’t very quick anymore), grabbed my garden brush which I always keep handy, and hollering and yelling I chased the rat up the garden trying to hit it with the broom. The rat moved faster than I had thought, it dodged every swing of the broom and quickly disappeared under the fence at the bottom of the garden.

That, I thought, would have been enough to scare the rat off for good. It wasn’t. The next day I saw the rat scurrying up the garden towards the bird feeder, only this time it had a friend with it. Again I grabbed the broom and ran up the garden scaring the rats off. But I was less convinced this time that I’d seen the last of them. So, I called in the rat catcher.

The rat catcher was called Clare, she was nice and helpful and she knew right off what was attracting the rats and what needed to be done.

“You need to get rid of the fat balls,” she said.

“What about the birds?”

“They’ll have to do without, well for a couple of weeks at least. And I can put some poison down.”

Reluctantly I agreed to this and removed the fat balls. I was disappointed when birds swooped down to the feeder only to discover there was no food for them. I’d go as far as to say I felt sorry for them.

A rat came too, snooping around for fat balls. I was quite angry with the rat- it was its fault the birds were going hungry. It was with a cruel sense of satisfaction that I watched the rat eat from the dish of poison at the bottom of the feeder. It carried some of the poison back with it up the garden, presumably taking it back to its nest or den to feed, and unwittingly poison, its little friends.

Soon after that I found a dying rat in my garden. It lay on its side looking weak behind my black bin, twitching pathetically. I put it out of its misery with a shovel, scooped it up and chucked it over the fence. As I made my way back up the garden I noticed several rats watching me near the fence. I ran towards them to chase them off but they didn’t budge, they just stared at me.

It left me feeling a bit shaken.

Dead rats kept turning up in my garden over the next few days. Each one I scooped up and chucked over the fence, always with an audience of three or more rats watching me.

“Get a good look, this is what you get for coming here on the cadge,” I said to them.

The poison in the dish was almost gone, so I went to fill it. As I did several rats ran at me from the cover of a bush. I’m not ashamed to say that I panicked and ran. One of the rats sunk its sharp teeth into my ankle. I made a hasty retreat back into the house. I locked the door behind me and tried to catch my breath. It was quite surreal.

The next morning, I tucked into my breakfast but was appalled by its funny taste, upon examining my cereal closer I noticed that rat droppings were mixed in with the corn puffs. Horrified I tossed the bowl across the living room. Then I noticed dozens of rats in the back garden, all staring back at me. They had piled up the corpses of the dead rats I’d poisoned at the base of the bird feeder. It was an intimidating sight.

The rat catcher was called out again but she seemed to think that I was just senile, and although she was polite I got the sense that she didn’t believe me. I couldn’t blame her I guess, none of it was normal rat behaviour. Rats don’t usually make threats against people, but these ones had, that was clear to me.

But she was kind enough to put some traps down, even then I had a feeling that wouldn’t be enough, but I thanked her anyway.

The droppings in my cereal had me startled- they were obviously getting into the house from somewhere. I did a full check of the house that night to try and find where they were getting in, but couldn’t find any signs, the house seemed secure.

At ten o’clock I turned the TV off and got ready for bed. I washed my face and put my teeth in a glass to soak. That’s when I heard them scurrying behind the walls, in the ceiling. There were rats in my house, I don’t know how but they were inside. I moved as quickly as my old bones allowed. On the landing I could see shadows of rats on the walls- they were cast large and looked hostile.

As I made my way down the stairs in the dark I tripped on something and was sent tumbling. At the bottom I lay stunned. I had landed on something hard. I pulled the whatever it was out from underneath me. It was one of the traps the rat catcher had put down in the garden. It must have been on the stairs. I was, and still am, sure the rats had put it there.

Rats, more than I could count began to come out of the shadows around me. To my horror I discovered that I couldn’t get up, the fall had thrown my back out, I was stuck where I was, my old body had let me down. The rats creeped slowly towards me, I tried to swat them away with my hands but it was hopeless. There were just too many of them, they had nothing to fear from me in my helpless state and so they came.

Rats crawled all over me, scratching at me and biting me hungrily. My hands went to my face trying to protect it, it was futile. One of them managed to get to my left eye and sunk its teeth in, I screamed in pain and horror. The scream was cut short by a rat slipping into my open mouth.

I kept flailing my arms, chucking rats off me, but I was at their mercy.

They continued to swarm over me, ate chunks of my flesh, attacking me. I don’t know how long they were at it for, because at some point I mercifully passed out.

When I awoke later the rats had gone, I was bit up and scratched at and blind in one eye, but I was alive.

So, why am I telling you this story?

It’s because you think you’re safe and you’re not. I want you to know about what happened to me, because it could very easily happen to you. I’m not sure how true it is that you’re never so many meters from one, but Rats are never far away. They hide all around us, watching us as we go about our daily lives oblivious to them. Most people hate rats and I think they hate us in return. Don’t underestimate them.

Please, just take my warning and beware the rats. They may even be watching you right now.

Two Stories - The voice that didn't fit & The Party by Robin Bell

The voice that didn't fit 

Geoffrey wandered around lost in his own head most of the time. He had plenty of things to say, but whenever he had the opportunity he couldn't find the way to say them. He sometimes opened his mouth but nothing came out, most of the time he didn't even get that far. The thought just bounced around his brain until it became irrelevant. 

Many people would become frustrated but Geoffrey was sort of happy with his place in the world. Which was to lack a place. He could disappear in the background wherever and whenever he wanted because he put nothing of himself out there. 

He was the voice that didn't fit. 

Strange thing was he knew that it wouldn't take much to fix this, but he hadn't found it. It was like a frustrating itch he couldn't scratch. 

He wasn't mute. He did speak, but nothing of importance came out. He passed pleasantries; hellos, goodbyes, thank yous. He answered peoples questions; yes, no. He talked about the weather and could easily drop into chit chat with anyone. It was just when conversation got into any depth, his voice disappeared.  

Geoffrey wasn't sure if it was supernatural or just nerves, but he couldn't speak. He'd found a way to back off from discussions, excuse himself to safety, he made sure he was never asked for an opinion. 

He worried though. Mags from work was getting close to him, kept asking him questions, said she was intrigued by him, called him the man of mystery. He hated that, even though he quite liked her. 

She was organising a party for next week, and today he found an invite waiting for him at work. He seized up.  

Panic. Panic. Panic. Panic. It flashed in his head. Brought about by confliction. He wanted to go to the party, but worried he'd have nothing to contribute. His voice didn't fit. 

 

The Party 

"No" he turned away, embarrassed. He hated letting Mags down, but she was getting too close. He couldn't go. 

"Why not?" 

"I'm sorry" 

Geoffrey had to escape. He actually left work. Walked out of the office. He stood in the car park, looking up at the building, terrified. The world seemed to be whirling around him, he felt dizzy. He was going to faint. He needed something to hold onto. 

Then he felt an arm on his shoulder, he whirled around and gripped whoever was there, holding on for dear life. 

It was Mags. Geoffrey looked tremendously pale, like all the blood had rushed out of him. His eyes couldn't focus and he was unsteady on his feet. She led him inside, told the bosses he wasn't feeling too good and sat with him in a quiet room. 

"What happened?" she sat down next to him, staring at him, he could see in her eyes that she really cared, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't reply.  

This mattered, it held importance, therefore he was unable to speak. He'd got used to it, but it never got easier. 

"I see." said Mags. Tears filled her eyes and she shook her head. Geoffrey worried that she didn't understand. 

"You're coming to this party Geoffrey. I don't care if you lose your voice when it matters, you're coming." 

Geoffrey smiled, how did she know? 

The date of the party rolled around, and the nerves built up in Geoffrey. He was about to face up to every fear he'd ever had. He was getting ready to go to the party. He sat in the bath thinking about how he was going to get through it. 

Afterwards he stared into the mirror "I don't believe in war. I believe we are all equal. We should help as many people as we can, irrespective of race, gender or wealth." They all sounded like trite, mindless shit to him, and he knew he wouldn't be able to say anything like it in a few hours. 

He got dressed, and the sickly feeling filled his stomach, his legs felt odd. He sat on the edge of his bed, and breathed slowly. Then the knock came at his door. 

Within half an hour he was at a party. It was as terrifying to him. Straight away he deviated to a corner and hoped no one would talk to him. 

He was succesful for at least an hour. He checked his watch it was now 9pm he only had to hold on for three more hours and he had made it. He would have succesfully been to a party. 

Then Mags came over. 

"Come on, you can do it." 

"Do what?" He managed to get the words out because he didn't know what on Earth she was going on about. He was doing it, wasn't he? He was at a party. 

"Come with me a moment." Mags led Geoffrey through the venue. They found an area where they could sit away from everyone else. 

"I'm just going to talk at you Geoffrey because I know something takes your voice away at parties so this will just make it easier. Ok? You can nod." 

Geoffrey nodded. 

"You know how the best is when two things come together? An idea is usually two things mixing together isn't it? Like Sherlock? Do you like Sherlock? I'll presume you do. So they thought - let's adapt that, but in the modern day. Two elements mixing, creating something new. Most things are like this. Music and lyrics, sweet and sour, relationships. It's why people like parties, because it's where ideas can form. It's why your voice is essential to the party Geoffrey, to be detached from that is to not allow yourself access to ideas, stories, life, flavours, viewpoints. None of us are above anything, we are all mucking in creating stuff." 

And like that it all made sense, Geoffrey found his voice. He just needed to be at a party and hear those words, two things coming together to make sense. So the voice that didn't fit, went to the party and found himself.  

By the end of the party he'd got together with Mags too. Another coming together of two separate things which made the world better.