Tag Archives: short story

Outrage of an angel


It was kind of a crazy coincidence that I saw her at all. Daytime tv is something of a mystery to me most of the time, but the night before I had taken a hard tumble at a softball game and my ankle was swollen and angry. The Doc had said to keep it elevated and use cold packs from time to time, and I had told my boss (who happened to be waiting for his turn to bat) that I wouldn’t be in the next day.

I’d made a comfortable nest on my couch with drinks and snacks within reach, but that meant I wasn’t in a hurry to get up when the dvd I’d been watching came to an end. I switched off the dvd player and the tv leapt back into life with some moronic mid-morning talk show.

The hostess was a plasticated Barbie Doll who had to keep saying “That’s sad” or “That’s so funny” because her botoxed features couldn’t form the relevant expressions. She rounded off her chat with a comedienne who was promoting her latest movie and turned to the camera. She lowered her tone to indicate this was a serious segment.

“We’ve all experienced them.” She said, her painted eyes solemn and unmoving. “Those moments of desperation and despair when we feel we simply CANNOT go on. Those are the times when we cry out to a higher power for help, and sometimes…”

The camera cut to the audience, entranced and a little fearful, then back to the host.

“Sometimes… those prayers are answered in a truly physical way!”

I snorted and began to root around under the debris of chip packets and candy wrappers to find the tv remote so I could change channels.

“For our next guest, her moment of despair came during a dark and snowy winter’s night on the I-99. Her car had died, and she and her baby daughter had no phone with them. They were miles from the nearest house, and neither of them had clothing that would keep out the bitter cold.”

Now, I drive the I-99 every day. I would have been driving it that day too, if not for my ankle. The truth is that you’re never more than a mile from a house the whole length of the road, but I did remember it getting pretty snowy last winter. I stopped searching for the remote and watched the host introduce her guest. The slight blonde woman looked nervous, in sharp contrast to the comedienne who had been on earlier. The host established that the baby girl was safe at home that day, and then invited the mother to explain the course of events as they unfolded in the snow.

“The car was toast.” said the woman, “The engine shut off and there was smoke coming out under the front there. Casey and I were warm enough inside, but without the engine running I knew it would get cold pretty fast. I put the emergency flashers on and the other cars were just driving past me.”

“No one stopped?” asked the host, trying to twist face into a mask of concern.

“No one stopped. And I had no phone because it had run out of charge. I was feeling pretty desperate.”

The host nodded sympathetically.

“That must have been so scary. And what happened next?”

“Yeah,” I asked the tv, “What happened next? Did you die of exposure?”

The woman had taken a moment to compose herself, but her eyes were glittering when she looked up again.

“I just looked out the windscreen and I saw this figure walking towards me. They didn’t seem bothered by the wind or the snow and they were carrying something.”

“Were you scared?” asked the host.

“I don’t think so.” said the woman, “I mean, I had been scared, but I think I started to calm down almost as soon as I saw him coming.”

The camera cut to the audience again, some of them smiling, some nodding encouragement. Back to the host.

“Just seeing him brought you a feeling of calm, of security?”

The woman was nodding herself.

“And he just came straight up to the front of my truck and waved at me to pop the hood. I don’t know what he did, but in no time at all he slammed the hood down and I could start the engine again!”

The host leaned forward again.

“You said the mysterious figure seemed to be carrying something. Was it a toolbox? A bag of wrenches?”

The woman shook her head.

“No it was something smaller, like a flask or a bottle.”

The host turned to face the audience.

“So he fixed a dead engine with no tools. He appeared just when you needed help, even though you didn’t call anyone. And when he had fixed the truck? What happened then?”

The woman shrugged.

“I was just so relieved, I started crying. With the engine going again I made sure Casey was safe in her car seat, and I put my seat belt back on too. Then I looked out of the windscreen again, and he was gone.”

“He disappeared?” the host whispered.

“Like he’d never been there. Except my truck was running and Casey and I were home safe ten minutes later.”

The host probably said something, but I missed it. There was a hollow roaring in my ears, and I was struggling to close my mouth. It had been hanging open for the last five minutes, from the moment I recognised the woman’s story. While I struggled to get control of my head, the host set up the line that finished me off.

“So, tell us, do you know who the mysterious stranger was who helped you that night?”

The woman nodded and faced the audience for the first time.

“I believe I do. I think he was an angel. He answered my prayers, and he saved my life and the life of my baby!”

This bizarre pronouncement was met with whoops and cheers and a storm of applause. It was also met with rustling and curses as I finally unearthed the remote and snapped off the tv. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Some of them were complimentary too. But I’ve never been called an angel.

I’d been driving home slowly, cursing the snow that was making a regular journey into a slow motion epic, when I passed a truck in the inside lane, flashers on and steam still erupting from under the hood. I didn’t need all the time I spent working on my uncle’s old truck to know that the radiator had blown its cap. I had a big water bottle on the passenger side, relic of a rained off softball game. There wasn’t space on the shoulder until I’d crested the hill and the truck was out of sight. I parked up and grabbed the bottle of water, then pushed out into the night.

It was cold, and the wind pushed the snow right into my face and down the back of my neck. It took at least five minutes to reach the truck, and I waved at the woman to pop the hood without wasting time going to her window to talk to her. I mean, I knew what was wrong, knew I could help, so why waste time yakking? She’d probably feel more threatened by a stranger approaching her window anyway. Besides, I was already half-frozen, so I wanted to get this over with.

The hood was still hot to the touch from the gout of boiling water that had hit it, but the radiator cap hadn’t fallen out of the engine compartment. Huddling in under the hood kept the worst of the wind and snow at bay, and I was able to absorb some of the heat streaming off the engine. I dumped the contents of the bottle into the radiator, and the fact that there was only a minimal hiss told me that things had cooled off sufficiently. With a couple of minutes to get the whole bottle in and re-seat the cap, I figured the engine would be good to go. I slammed the hood and made twisting motions with my wrist. She got the idea and the engine started up. The water I’d put in should hold long enough to get her wherever she was going, and if she had any sense she’d get the damn truck checked over by a mechanic ASAP. Now the cold was getting to me again, so I didn’t hang around for tea and medals, just ran back over the hill to the warm sanctuary of my car. I was home inside ten minutes too.

Having a duff ankle meant I couldn’t stomp around my living room, kicking the furniture, but that was certainly what I wanted to do. I picked up the phone, determined to call the studios, get through to the stupid host and tell the truth about what happened that night, but I stopped, and not just because I didn’t know the number.

What did it matter? Well, to me, it shouldn’t matter at all. Had I not seen the stupid show, I would have gone on my merry way, neither knowing nor caring that someone viewed my amateur mechanic moment as heavenly intervention. Did it matter to that woman? Since I’d shut off the program, I couldn’t be sure. What I hoped was that this experience had encouraged her to do a basic car maintenance course, to prepare better for inclement weather, maybe even just check the damn weather forecast once in a while. But I think what was making me angry was that she probably wouldn’t. My miraculous appearance was confirmation that the helpless have a divine protector, and they never need to take care of themselves. Well, I would have been sorry to hear that little miss meek there had frozen to death in her truck that night, but her kid… For god’s sake, she had her kid with her. Casey ought to grow up knowing her parent can stand up for her, not expect them to stand by and hope for rescue.

In the end, I put the phone down. Call me a cynic, but I had more than a little suspicion that if I had got through to the host herself, she would have assured me that, yes, I was the one who helped, but my decision to stop and help was prompted by another angel, one I couldn’t see. And little miss meek would go on believing that the universe will care for her regardless.

I limped into the kitchen. I needed a cold pack for my ankle, and you know what? No one was going to appear mysteriously and bring it through to me. I sat back down, the cold seeping into my ankle and bringing a measure of calm with the reduction in pain. Maybe I would just print up some cards for the next time I rescue a damsel in distress:

“This aid has been brought to you by an entirely earthly entity, unbidden by any ethereal figures, visible or invisible.”

Brian, destroyer of a city…

Yesterday was bad, creatively speaking. I had time, I had projects, I had opportunity, but I produced nothing.

As a response, I sat down this morning, when I had no time, and wrote this piece:

Brian scratched idly at the fading letter D on his keyboard. The paragraph on the screen seemed to pulse gently in time with the flashing cursor, mocking him with its brevity.

Write something.

Write something.

Write anything.

Three times he began a fresh sentence, and three times he deleted the words before they were completed. He sighed again, the millionth since he began that morning’s avoidance of work, and re-read the paragraph.

It didn’t feel like a paragraph, didn’t look like one to him. When he read it, he saw the bustling street, the rain-soaked pavements reflecting the bright lights of the cafes and shops along the road. He could hear the hum of traffic and smell the sour tang of a city alive with the early evening, but the pavements were empty. There was no one there because Brian didn’t have a clue who the story was about. He didn’t know if his protagonist was a man or a woman, didn’t know if they were even in this scene. Perhaps this story, whatever it was, should begin with the antagonist, the villain. Perhaps the villain had chosen the busy street to….to… To what? Plant a bomb? Release a virus? Rob a bank?

With his mind’s eye, Brian scanned the street, seeing a furtive figure dash out from a café, moments before a tsunami of vivid orange fire burst through the windows and bathed the street, consuming cars and peppering the walkways with glass fragments. Car alarms would shriek into the night like startled…pigeons…who…

“Pigeons.” muttered Brian in disgust. “Like pigeons, for god’s sake!”

For a moment, his tired and abused brain showed him a flock of cars, startled by the explosion, taking wing into the night sky, wheeling in perfect formation, their doors flapping anxiously as they struggled to gain height. He seriously considered it. Would it count as magical realism? Was there a metaphor there, in cars flying?

Brian sullenly reminded himself that, when using a metaphor in fiction, it’s usually best to understand what it means yourself, rather than figuring it out after you’ve written it. He returned to his contemplation of the city street, once more quiet and undamaged. Somewhere, behind one of those bright but opaque windows, his protagonist was hiding. Not waiting, hiding.

They knew, the smug, irritating bastard! They knew he needed them to come out, to walk a path for him, to show him the story, and they weren’t going to do it. They were sat, perhaps sipping at a damn latte, scanning idly through the day’s paper, determined to wait him out. They could sense, he was sure, the prickle at the corners of his eyes, the ache in his shoulders and that pain in the sole of his foot that told him he’d been sitting too long. Any minute now he would have to give it up, admit there was no progress to be made and stand up. They’d have won. They’d have escaped. And he would have nothing.

Brian scowled at the screen. His rotated his shoulders, stamped his foot. One last time he stretched out his fingers and began a fresh paragraph.

“The occupants of the city felt it first as a sick, swooping in the pit of the stomach, like when a train pulls away unexpectedly. Those with experience glanced up, catching the eyes of friends and strangers. They framed the words ‘Did you feel that?’, the innate human response to the first rumblings of an earthquake. But the words were snatched away by the second shock, the real shock as the mantle of the planet flexed and rumbled. The people were flung to the ground, and had no time to do more than scream as the building folded around them, on top of them. The earthquake ground on, shifting the piles of rubble, extinguishing a few fires that had leapt up and starting dozens more. Car alarms honked unnoticed amidst the screaming of the concrete and metal, the wails of the dying and the hiss of water and gas.

Though the aftershocks rumbled on for hours, no city remained to bear witness to them.”

Brian closed the quotes and tapped Enter a couple of times. He re-read his vengeance, seeing the destruction anew, killing the hidden characters a second and third time, burying them in the rubble of their hiding places. Then he stood, stretched, and went to put the coffee on.

Smoke – a short story…

So, it seems unfair, somehow, to write about life out here with the In-Laws staying while they’re actually still here. Instead, I thought I’d raid my archives for my favourite short story. By that I mean one that I wrote and actually like. It’s been a long time since I wrote any short stories, but it’s something I like to think I’ll go back to when the right idea arrives. This one came out exactly as I wanted, and I think it was published somewhere in some format. One day I may try to find out what happened before or after.


            And then he woke up and found it had all been a dream. The sunlight yellowed the aging curtains and flung arms of shadow across the cluttered floor. Lying unmoving, he struggled to retain the fractured, fleeing images. A bad way to begin the day, losing memories of joy.

            By the time the back door thudded shut behind him the sunlight had already slunk away. Grey skies stretched overhead now, promising rain. Nice to have a promise kept, he thought. His pace lengthened, though he had no real destination in mind. Since she’d gone his days had become time to be filled, an unwelcome interruption in his sleep pattern. The rain fell and he let it come down, wishing someone would see how it fell on him in particular, soaking into his clothes, washing down his face. But what’s the point of suffering in silence? Lights beckoned in the grey distance and he hastened on.

            It was a café. Plastic seats, badly written menus scrawled on painted blackboards advertising unremarkable specials. He bought a cup of coffee for the heat it offered, which was just as well since it seemed to have lost all flavour on the short walk to a seat. He watched the steam rise from the orange brown liquid and felt a similar steam lifting from his sodden trousers. The steam rose like the cigarette smoke from the next table and he felt a sudden unreasoning desire to smoke. He couldn’t remember when he’d last had a cigarette, couldn’t remember why he’d quit or even if he’d liked smoking, but he wanted one now. Wanted the occupation of unwrapping the pack, the anticipation of sliding out that smooth cylinder from nineteen identical brothers. A wonder of design, the brown filter actually a patchwork of tans, ochres, stone, taupe. He stared at the stream of smoke, licking his lips and remembering the lightheadedness that accompanied his first drag in days. What would that be like now? A year or more, surely, since his last one. His heart quickened with a junkie’s desire and he felt a rush of heat at the knowledge that he was going to give in to this need, whatever else he did that day, he was going to buy the cigarettes and smoke the whole damn pack. Maybe he would do just that, buy a pack in the shop round the corner, come back here for another coffee and smoke all twenty, one after another. So what if the buzz is gone after the first, hell, what else did he have to do today?

            “You look like a man who’s given up.”

The voice was low, amused. It took him a second to come out of his fugue and locate it. The woman who was smoking regarded him with dark eyes. He felt them on his face, felt their passage, heard the vibrant cry of her carmine lipstick, lost himself in the maze of lazy looping black hair that tumbled out of sight behind her shoulders.


She waved the lit cigarette and he was entranced by her smooth wrist, the tension of the tendons in her hand. The glow of the cigarette’s tip shone in her eyes.

            “It’s a hard habit to break – you’re never a non-smoker, you’re a smoker who isn’t smoking. Right?”

            “It’s been a while.”

They traded stares, his open and unguarded, beguiled and frank. Hers was curious, suspicious and a touch defiant. She nodded, as if agreeing with something he hadn’t said. Her cuticles were a translucent white, the nails uncoloured, and he followed their path as she raised the cigarette to her lips. Her eyes, those fabulous eyes, squinted half shut against the smoke curling up and he was so distracted he didn’t see what she was doing until she held the new, untouched cigarette out to him. He looked at it, the effort of refocusing causing him to lean back a little. She laughed at him, the cigarette shaking in her outstretched fingers and he suddenly snatched at it. Fearful, lest it should fall, angry that she found him laughable. He examined the gift, hoping he had not creased the perfect tube in his haste. Some tobacco was protruding from the end and he pushed at it with his fingertip. It loosened further and he left it, not wanting to lose any. Looking up, he found the eyes of his donor.

            “It has been a while, hasn’t it, Quitter?”

            “Can I have a light?”

She pulled her chair round to join him at his table, reaching back for a bag and coffee cup, then one more time for a silver lighter. The bag went on the floor. The coffee cup, already half empty, was pushed to the edge of the table. She slid the lighter across to him and it arrived spinning. He watched the lights glinting on it, catching in the design etched on the surface. A skull and crossbones? No, some other thing, a skull with a dagger through it, a military emblem of some sort. He flicked his eyes up, tapping the design.

            “Should I salute? Or run for cover?”

She shrugged.

            “Stole it off an old boyfriend. Only thing he had I wanted.”

A million replies sprang to mind, funny quips, sharp questions, worldly wise throwaways, but he left them ashes in the pit of his mind. He’d used them all once, when he was someone else, with someone else. He picked up the lighter, opening the cover and thumbing the wheel. The flame was orange and flushed the scent of paraffin before it.

            “Do you want me to hold that for you?”

She was sounding amused again. He raised the cigarette to his lips, felt the heat from the lighter as he brought it close. The cigarette was fresh, he heard no crackle as the flame kissed the tip. A deep breath, his eyes on hers as the smoke rushed down. A second’s hesitation, heighten the anticipation, wait, wait. Now breathing out, through the nose, an old friend’s wisdom recalled in the moment

            “You pass the smoke out through your nose, the nicotine reaches your brain quicker.”

And there it was, like a punch to the back of his head. The room retreats a pace, the vision of dark-haired beauty before him wavers slightly and his eyes water.

            “Oh yeah.”

He can smell the smoke on his breath as he speaks. He’s taking another drag, adding another layer to the fog he’s in and she’s reaching for his hand, her fingers cool on his wrist.

            “Steady, Quitter, they’re strong enough.”

Was it the touch making him giddy now? He couldn’t move the wrist she held and he watched the cigarette burning down. The waste, after all this time, the drug he suddenly wanted being released into the uncaring air!

            “You didn’t come out today looking for cigarettes.”

            “But I found them.”

            “Maybe I found you.”

            “Was I what you were looking for?”

He was answering by rote, watching the dissolution of the cigarette he held, feeling the electricity of her fingertips. One finger slowly moved, tracing a circle on his wrist bone. In a sudden movement he swept his left hand over the table. He let the cigarette drop from his right, scooping it out of the air and into his mouth. Her grip tightened and her mouth dropped open. He heard her gasp, surprise rushing out of her, carrying the tang of smoke to him. Gently now he took the cigarette from his mouth with his left hand, moved his captive right to her chin and drew her forward across the table to him. Their lips met and he filled her mouth with his smoke. She pressed her lips to his, never releasing his wrist but pressing with her fingers too. He felt a circuit being completed, the flow from her fingertips down his arm, through his mouth and back into her, the smoke his returning of her gift.

            They broke apart and she smiled, exhaling smoke through her nose and sliding her fingers  up his hand to his fingertips. He caught her hand before she could withdraw it completely. She muttered something he didn’t catch.


            “My heart will be the bridge that you walk over.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “You’ll use me to get over her, whoever she was.”

            “Maybe I just did.”

She pulled her hand free and reached into the bag. Dropping the pack of cigarettes, two remaining, onto the table, she met his gaze.

            “I have another pack at home.”

Thanks to Natalie Imbruglia for supplying a vital line in this narrative.