Boris always enjoyed his hotelbreakfast when he was working away, even if it was sometimes difficult to obtain proper British grub. Not for him was bacon from Denmark or sausage from Germany. But today was going to be champion; a proper start to his day.
He rubbed his hands together as the waitress laid the groaning plate before him. He turned the pages of his copy of ‘The Times’ to the political section and propped the folded newspaper against the condiment set.
Tucking his linen napkin into his collar, Boris prepared to eat. He pierced a generous forkful of Cumberland sausage, stabbed a piece of Wiltshire bacon and dipped it into the golden yolk of his free-range Gloucestershire egg, before popping it into his mouth.
Then he started to read. The opinion piece was appalling. How dare this jumped up journalist decry his efforts to restore the autonomy of his beloved country! Boris drew a sharp intake of breath. The large piece of north-country sausage caught in his throat. Boris coughed. He tried to breathe in, but the prime piece of spiced ground pork was firmly lodged in his windpipe. He tried to cry out, but only a whisper of a bark came out. He attempted to attract attention by waving his newspaper frantically in the air.
British reserve to the fore, his fellow breakfasters ignored the disturbance. The waiting staff were absent from the room. No-one was coming to his aid. Boris’s face turned a delicate shade of puce. He struggled to his feet, cartwheeling his arms in a caricature of buffoonery.
But his efforts were to no avail. His face turned grey. He slumped back into his seat and keeled forward, his nose burying itself in the runny egg in the centre of the best Worcester plate on which his breakfast had been served.
Hoist on the petard of his Great British Breakfast, Boris breathed no more.
The little bear remained awake long after Emily had gone to sleep. He stared up at the ceiling wishing he could stay in this moment of perfect peace, wrapped in the arms of a dreaming little girl. “Merry Christmas, Benji,’ he whispered to himself.
The county news station is reporting from the town of Gingerbread.
Recent storms have caused extensive damage to a large number of houses in the area. When interviewed the mayor commented: ‘We have run out of the sugar, corn syrup and ginger, and consequently rebuilding efforts have had to be halted. We have declared the situation a catastrophe.’
When I saw this drawing by artist, Suzanne Starr, on my LinkedIn feed, I was so intrigued by the figures in the picture that I had to write their story. I contacted Suzanne to ask her permission, and now we have a collaboration across continents. Awesome!
‘Who are they, Ashley?’ Charlie pointed up at the picture on his bedroom wall. ‘Are they family too?’
Ashley glanced at the picture which was hanging next to the school room door. She’d never really noticed it before, but then she’d hardly ever been in the austere blue-painted room (formerly the nanny’s room) in which her young cousin was staying until it was time for him to start at his new school in England.
‘I don’t rightly know, Charlie.’ Ashley carefully took the picture down from the wall and came to sit beside him on the bed. They looked at it together. It was a small pencil drawing of five children of varying ages, or maybe four children and their mother, tightly grouped together with their arms wrapped around each other. They were wearing outdoor clothes which looked rather old-fashioned, thought Ashley. The drawing looked old too, faded, the paper discoloured along the one edge of the wooden frame.
‘Look at their expressions; they’re so lifelike.’ said Ashley.’
‘They look sad,’ said Charlie.
‘Maybe it’s because they’re posing,’ said Ashley. ‘Like the in the old photographs on the piano downstairs.’
‘The little boy at the front, what’s he holding?
Ashley peered at the picture. ‘I think it’s a spinning top. You know, you push the handle up and down,’ she demonstrated a pumping action, ‘and it spins. I’m sure we’ve still got ours somewhere. I’ll see if Hodge knows where it is.’
‘But I wonder why he looks so cross.’
‘Perhaps it’s because he’s had to stand still for so long and maybe he’d rather go and play,’ she ruffled Charlie’s golden hair. ‘You’d be scowling too.’ Ashley laughed.
Charlie pouted and then giggled as Ashley chucked him under the chin.
Ashley returned the picture to its place on the wall. ‘Come on, Charlie, it’s time for lunch. We can ask Hodge about the spinning top.’
Ashley was curled up in the drawing room with her notebook at her side. She’d intended to finish her latest fairy story, but her mind kept drifting back to the drawing. Maybe there was a story there, ‘The people who lived in the picture’. She smiled to herself and glanced at her watch; Charlie was supposed to be studying to prepare him for the start of school, but he wouldn’t mind if she just popped in to borrow the picture. As instructed, she wouldn’t disturb him.
Charlie’s door was closed. ‘Charlie? Can I come in?” Ashley knocked politely and waited. ‘Charlie? Are you there?
There was no reply. Ashley put her ear to the door. Perhaps he’d dozed off. She wouldn’t be surprised; the books with which he’d arrived looked deathly dull to her. As she put her hand on the doorknob, she heard a huge crash, as if something had fallen on the floor.
‘Charlie?’ She turned the doorknob and pushed the door, but it wouldn’t open. ‘Charlie! Let me in!’ She shoved the door hard and it yielded. She looked around. Charlie was crouching on the floor in the corner of the room. A brightly painted metal spinning top rolled across the room towards her.
Ashley picked the toy up and turned to Charlie. ‘Hodge found it then,’ she said. ‘What on earth were you doing with it?’
Charlie shook his head and pointed to the picture. Ashley crossed the room and looked; the little boy’s hands were empty. He was leaning forward, arms outstretched, as if he’d just dropped (thrown?) something. Ashley looked at Charlie in disbelief.
Ashley held out her hand to Charlie. They fled from the room.
They found Hodge peeling potatoes in the kitchen. Breathlessly Charlie tried to explain what had happened.
‘Slow down, slow down!’ She wiped her hands on her apron. ‘Now, Miss Ashley, you’ve not been scaring young Master Charlie with your fairy stories, have you?’
Hodge reached out and put her arm around Charlie’s shoulder. ‘All right, luvvy, let’s go and have a look.’
Charlie hung back as Hodge marched into his bedroom followed by Ashley. The picture lay face down on the floor and the schoolroom door was open. Hodge bent down and picked it up. Suddenly the schoolroom door was snatched shut. Hodge looked up. ‘Master Charlie?’
‘I’m here,’ said Charlie stepping into the room. Behind him they heard footsteps running along the landing.
Hodge turned the picture over. It was a drawing of an empty room.
The HQ of Deeply Underground Subversive Comics was under attack. Bullets sprayed across the hillside from a jet fighter. Moments later a nearby explosion rocked the desk where Mick was working.
“Dammit, we’re going to have to move out!” He yelled at Simone, who was steadying her laptop with one hand while furiously typing lines of complex coding with the other.
“Can you reconfigure the IP address before we go?” she yelled back.
“Sure, I’m on it.” Mick flung himself down at the adjacent desk and pulled the keyboard onto his lap. “What were you working on anyway?”
“Just some research for ‘Jasmine’s Day’.”
“Not on Google?”
“It was only innocent stuff,” replied Simone, emptying her desk drawer into a large canvas satchel.
“Huh, like last time.” Mick’s fingers danced over the keyboard. “Why can’t you just stay in the Deep Web?”
The flames outside were dying down. Suddenly the viewing screen was filled with what looked like giant flying insects. “Drones incoming!” Simone shouted as she crouched behind the main console and started to rummage about in a cupboard.
“Deploy ‘Flame Kitten’,” Mick turned to give the order to Jonesy.
“No can do boss, she’s busy in Syria.”
“Who else we got?” Mick finished typing and slung the keyboard back on the desk.
“‘Silver Sparrow’s in South Sudan and ‘Galactic Gecko’s in…”
“Dammit! What’s the point in us creating these superheroes if they’re not here for us when we need them?” Mick hammered his fist on the arm of his chair.
“Prime directive boss,” Jonesy shut down his screen with a click and tucked the tablet into his overalls.
There was another explosion and an ominous crack appeared in the ceiling. Simone looked up. “C’mon guys, we’ve got to get out! To the escape corridor!” She slung the satchel over her shoulder and pulled out her cell-phone. “There’s nothing for it,” she tapped the screen rapidly; “I’m messaging ‘Grand Trope Central’.”
“You’re doing what?!” Mick grabbed his rucksack from under the desk.
“We’re going to need something good if we’re going to get out of this.”
Mick, Simone and Jonesy reached the corridor just as the ceiling collapsed and the roof caved in. Flames shot across the room.
“Sealing hatch!” Simone announced as she hit a large red button mounted on the wall. A metal shutter slid into place closing off the corridor. “C’mon, run! It won’t hold for long.”
As they jogged along, their progress was hampered by a series of thick cords which crisscrossed the brightly lit passage. Mick grunted as he clambered through the knotted strands. “What the hell are these, anyway?”
“Twisted plotlines,” replied Simone. “Try to bend them rather than break them; they might be important.”
Simone’s cell-phone beeped, signalling an incoming message. At the same moment the corridor lights failed, plunging them into darkness. The only illumination was from the phone; the message read: ‘look ahead’. Simone looked up from her phone; a large wooden door had appeared from nowhere right in front of them, seemingly hanging in limbo. Golden light leaked around the edges of the door. A red neon sign flashed. ‘Enter,’ it commanded. Simone glanced at her two companions.
“What the f…” Mick took a step towards the door, as the excruciating sound of shearing metal echoed down the passage. They heard a drone whirring towards them.
“C’mon,” Simone tugged at the sleeve of Jonesy’s overalls, “we’ve no alternative.”
Mick touched the door which swung inwards, bathing them in the bright golden light. Blindly they rushed through; the door slammed shut behind them. Slowly their eyes adjusted. They looked around, confused. They were back in the room from where they’d just made their escape, but it was undamaged. Good as new.
The viewing screen over the main console flickered on to reveal a figure, features obscured by the bright back lighting.
“Sit down,” commanded the voice from the screen. Obediently Simone, Mick and Jonesy seated themselves at their workstations. “You have done well,” the voice continued, “but now you must move to the next level.” The walls around them began to shimmer. “Write yourselves out of this!” The screen dissolved. There was a loud pop and a flash of light.
“Whoa, what’s happening?” Mick‘s words were barely audible above the sound of rushing wind. Suddenly the noise stopped. They looked up at the viewing screen. Outside the view was as green and tranquil as before the recent attack.
Mick shrugged. “No immediate threat then?”
“Maybe not.” As Simone took out her laptop the sky darkened. On the viewing screen they saw a huge metal disc hovering over the mountain. It didn’t look friendly.
“Here we go again!” Mick said, snatching his keyboard from the desk.