Excerpts From the Browser History of Item 662-70519MP, Location 2

1) https://www.healthline.org/health/insect-bites#pictures

“Bites appear as welts, blisters, pimples, or hives […] try to avoid scratching […] It is safe to use over-the-counter anti-itch medications like hydrocortisone cream or to take mild painkillers such as paracetamol […] If symptoms do not improve, see your doctor.”

2) https://www.healthline.org/health/paleness

“Paleness, also known as pallor, is an unusual lightness of skin colour compared with your normal complexion. It may be caused by reduced blood flow, or by a decreased number of red blood cells.”

3) https://www.sleepfoundation.net/insomnia/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep

“If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and engage in some other relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Avoid brightly-lit screens.”

4) https://www.medicalnewsnow.co.uk/loss-of-appetite

“A loss of appetite can be physical or psychological […] It can be caused by infections or digestive issues, in which case your appetite is likely to return once you have recovered.”

5) https://www.livelong.com/article/allergic-reactions-to-silver-jewelry/

“The skin around and beneath the piece of jewellery can become inflamed, itchy and dry […] Allergic reactions to silver jewellery can take years to develop, however once sensitivity has developed it is best to avoid further contact with silver, as the reaction may become more severe with time.”

6) https://www.harvard-health.edu/sun-allergy-photosensitivity

“A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight […] Symptoms are commonly mild, but can be more severe, for example hives, blisters or even small areas of bleeding under the skin […] It is important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible.”

7) https://www.yorkest.org/do-you-have-a-garlic-allergy/

“People with garlic allergy can suffer from rhinitis (runny nose), skin problems such as urticaria and dermatitis, and even asthma […] In very sensitive individuals, garlic may result in anaphylactic shock, but this is very rare.”

8) https://norapax.net/why-cant-you-look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror/

“If you find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror, you may be struggling with low self-esteem.”

9) http://www.phobiasinfo.org/hierophobia-an-exaggerated-or-irrational-fear-of-sacred-objects-or-priests/

“Hierophobia may manifest with the following symptoms:- irrational worry of sacred objects; feeling of panic; feeling of terror; feeling of dread.”

10) https://www.wikidinfo.com/Know-if-You-Have-Renfields-Syndrome

“Throughout human history, people have consumed blood for nutritional and ritual purposes […] However, if you have a strong psychological desire to drink blood, you may be suffering from another condition.”


Author’s notes
This piece won the Writers’ Forum Magazine flash fiction competition, in issue #213, July. Hurrah! The prompt was simply to write a story in the form of a list. By the way, none of the links are real, but I cannot persuade WordPress to ignore them — if you click on them you will get ‘not found’ errors, which is pleasingly ominous, in a way…


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If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2019

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Webchat Subject: The Injections You Gave My Henchpeople Last Thursday

~ CLICK HERE TO START A WEBCHAT WITH ONE OF OUR TEAM ~

DRCSHADE: Hello, this is Dr Calamity Shade, I’d like to talk to you about the injections your medico gave my henchpeople last Thursday.

JENI: Hi! My name is Jeni. Thank you for contacting MediHench. How may I help you today?

DRCSHADE: I’ve just said — I’d like to talk to you about the injections your medico gave to my henchpeople last Thursday.

JENI: Let me check if I understand: you’d like to talk about the service you received from one of our operatives last Thursday?

DRCSHADE: ffs. Yes!

JENI: Thank you! Do you have an account number?

DRCSHADE: DR-EVL-OVLD-663CS

JENI: Great! Am I speaking to Dr Calamity Shade?

DRCSHADE: Can you hear my head hitting the table, Jeni? Can you?

JENI: I’m very sorry, but I can’t — we don’t have audio. Am I speaking to Dr Calamity Shade?

DRCSHADE: YES.

JENI: How may I help you today?

DRCSHADE: #@!*$@!

JENI: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you provide some details?

DRCSHADE: Jeni, if you make me say this again, I’m going to aim my zettawatt laser at your offices. After which there won’t be offices. There will be a crater, some ashes, and some blobs of molten metal. I hope we understand each other.

JENI: I appreciate you may be frustrated, Dr Shade, but I really can’t help you unless you give me some more details.

DRCSHADE: Okay, fine! Last Wednesday I called MediHench and asked you to send someone because I had wounded henchpeople. Ms Flamingo got into my compound earlier in the week and summoned her wretched flamingo horde. You wouldn’t think

JENI: Are you still there, Dr Shade?

DRCSHADE: Yes! Dammed flamingoes!

JENI: My apologies, please continue.

DRCSHADE: YOU WOULDN’T THINK they could do that much damage with those spindly legs, but they’ve got surprisingly large beaks. Several of my people had nasty injuries, and who knows what diseases those birds carry. Jason’s left eye looked very red.

Anyway, I know some of my colleagues treat their henchpeople as disposable, but not me. I value my people. That’s why I have a MediHench account. I called, and you sent someone out on Thursday. She had a MediHench badge saying Melissa Maingolf. She patched up all the scratches, put a steristrip on Millie’s head wound and gave Jason some antibiotic ointment.

Then she said something about bird flu and recommended vaccinations. She injected everyone. I think it’s caused some side-effects.

JENI: What sort of side-effects?

DRCSHADE: Jason’s hair has turned bright pink. Today he turned up in white flared trousers, singing Dancing Queen very loudly. I’m an open-minded arch-criminal, I am, but it’s hardly an unobtrusive dark suit, is it? He’s not the only one. Millie was wearing something today with colours that made my eyes water. Each to her own, but Kenjutsu in twelve-inch silver platform soles is asking for a broken ankle. And when I give orders they answer, “we’re just flamingling, baby!”

JENI: Could you bear with me a moment while I speak to my supervisor?

DRCSHADE: I suppose so.

Are you still there?

This is ridiculous.

I’m going to

JENI: Thank you for waiting, Dr Shade! I’ve checked with my supervisor and we don’t have a Melissa Maingolf on staff.

DRCSHADE: What?!

JENI: We’ve been experiencing a high volume of calls. We weren’t able to send anyone until Friday. The operative we sent reported that he was “turned away by a group of people singing and holding placards saying, ‘Party Like A Flock Star!'”

DRCSHADE: So who was Melissa Maingolf?

JENI: My supervisor suggests you consider the name ‘maingolf’?

DRCSHADE: What?

Oh.

Shit.

JENI: Is there anything else I can help you with today?

DRCSHADE: That’s it? My team are completely incapacitated because someone was impersonating YOUR operative!

JENI: That’s not our fault, Dr Shade.

DRCSHADE: I’m going to the laser room.

JENI: It does say in our terms and condit

DRCSHADE: Can you hear buzzing? It’s warming up RIGHT NOW.

JENI: Let me just speak to my supervisor.

DRCSHADE: Good idea.

JENI: Thank you for waiting. My supervisor says that as a gesture of goodwill, she will extend your MediHench membership for an extra month for free.

DRCSHADE: Do you know how much a zettawatt is, Jeni? It’s a LOT.

JENI: And send another medico out to treat your henchpeople, of course.

DRCSHADE: My finger’s over the button, Jeni. And my button works, believe me.

JENI: Er, we can offer you a $20 Yangtze gift certificate?

DRCSHADE: …

… and the extra month and the free treatment?

JENI: Of course.

DRCSHADE: all right then.

JENI: I’ll arrange it immediately. You have a flamingood day, now!

DRCSHADE: Hey, wait a mi

~ WEBCHAT SESSION ENDED ~


Author’s notes
Have you ever had one of those webchat coversations where you started to lose the will to live two minutes in? Yeah, me too.

Also, flamingoes seem to be very fashionable right now but just look at those eyes. They’re planning something, I’m telling you.


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If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2019

The Last of the Eggs

broken eggI used the last of the eggs today. I scrambled them. They were delicious.

Afterwards I put more duct tape around the front door. I couldn’t help looking through the little square of frosted glass, it’s like scratching a mosquito bite. The blurry shape was in the same place. So his body is still there. I think.

I found an old copy of War of the Worlds on the shelf in the spare bedroom. Actually, I didn’t so much find it as stop avoiding it. I’ve read everything else. Monsters used to be big things, in the old stories. Big, and easy to hide from.

The house is stuffy. Not surprising, since I’ve sealed every window and door. Air still gets in. I don’t know exactly how, but I can breathe. I don’t think they can get in, though. It’s been days, there’s no sign of silver trails.

I want to breathe cold air.

I know there are some other people left. Trouble is, even if they flew right overhead, they wouldn’t know I’m here.

I had to push him out there. It was too late. He had streaks of silver where veins should be, and eyes like mirrors. They’d only have got to me. I scrubbed everything, afterwards. With the bleach spray we had under the sink for vomiting bugs. God, I hated those. Every October, regular as clockwork, someone would start throwing up and then, bam, the whole house would come down with it.

I’d give anything to be cleaning up puke again.

I wonder if I can get up to the roof? And how long I could stay outside?

I got a bed sheet and painted it with the leftover gloss paint we had from the front door. The smell gave me a headache. Use in a well-ventilated area, the tin says. Hah.

I went out of the window in the attic room backwards, my arse dangling over the sill. I reasoned that if I fell at least it’d be quick. I managed to throw the weighted sheet so it caught. They should be able to see it.

I heard helicopters. They didn’t stop. But maybe they’re planning something.

There’s a bruise on my belly. It looks like a fresh blackberry. I probably did it crawling out of the window.

I woke up in the night with a craving so intense it felt like my brain was on fire. To be high, on a mountain, where the air is thin but clean. Untainted. To shout my name and hear it come back to me.

My belly aches. The bruise is low, under where my skin sags. I can only really see it in the mirror. The beautiful, silvery mirror.

My skin seems brighter today. It almost glints in the light.

I heard the helicopters again. I’m sure they’ve seen my sign. They’re only working out what to do.

Next time I hear them, I’m going out of the window.

At least it will be quick.


Author’s notes
This is quite an old story that I wrote for a Pseudopod flash fiction competition. It did quite well, but it’s one of those pieces where people say ‘I want to know more about….’ and the thing is, I like it like this. Sometimes the most horrific thing is not knowing.


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© Kat Day 2019

Clockthumb

The room is brightly-lit and smells of warm air, lavender and tea tree. As I wait I stare at my left hand, opening my fingers as I have done so many times before and turning my palm awkwardly so that I can see the stretch of skin that runs from the tip of my thumb down to my palm.

There, marked in brown-black, are the numbers. They’re familiar, in a way. And yet, in another, not. Because they change every day. Today they say 257. At one second past midnight, the last digit will change, and the number will become 256.

They call it clockthumb.

I’ve always been this way, although the number was bigger once, of course. Others have it, too. No one knows why, or exactly what it means.

For many, the numbers end when they do.

#

I am ten years old, and it’s the middle of summer. I’m excited and curious. My thumb reads 10,000. Will there be a zero at the front tomorrow? Will the first digit just fade away, forever? I’m desperate to stay up to see it change. Mum says no. We argue about it, but she’s Mum – she wins.

I stay awake anyway, pinching the skin inside my elbow to stop myself falling asleep. I’ve hidden a torch under my pillow and I use its light to stare at my thumb until my eyes water.

At midnight the number 10,000 completely disappears. My skin is unmarked. For a moment I hold my breath, wondering if it will stay that way. And what it will mean if it does. But then dark dots reappear. Like ink spreading on blotting paper, lines grow and curl until the same area of skin is marked as before, each new digit just a little wider and fatter than the old ones.

I’m so excited that I roll out of bed and run out of the room. The light is still on downstairs and I head for the landing, the carpet bristly beneath my bare feet.

I stop at the top of the stairs, though, because I can hear my mum, and she’s crying.

“Janie,” says Granny’s muffled voice, surprising me. I hadn’t known she was in the house. “It’s still twenty-seven years. That’s a long time. And it may not mean what you’re worried it means.”

“It’s hardly any time,” said Mum, her voice cracking and gasping, like there isn’t enough air for the words. “What if it is that, and I outlive my own daughter?”

#

The numbers switch from 1000 to 999 a few weeks after my thirty-fifth birthday. Now we have the internet, and I spend ages trawling forums, reading posts. Some people do die when their clockthumb runs down, I learn. But for others it seems to mark some other significant event.

One woman, I discover, arranged her wedding for day 1. Everyone else was terribly paranoid, wondering if the brakes might fail on the bridal car, or if she might choke on a canape. But I’m still here, she writes, posting a picture of her unblemished thumb. The numbers ticked down, and disappeared, and never came back.

I wonder if it’s true, or if she’s made the whole thing up for likes. How would you ever know?

Either way, not all the stories are so happy. One man decided to amputate his own thumb at the age of twenty-seven with a 6 on his clock. The numbers on the amputated thumb did stop changing, but he died of sepsis five days later.

#

It’s my wedding day and my thumb says 481. Not a big number, anymore. In the bridal suite that evening Ethan touches my thumb and says it doesn’t matter.

“We’ll face whatever it is together,” he whispers.

He’s said it many times. I think he’s trying to convince himself more than me.

#

The numbers swim in front of my eyes and I blink. The extractor fan is whirring loudly above my head. The toilet seat is hard, and my buttocks are starting to go numb. I take a deep breath.

I have never been able to believe that it means what I know Mum and Ethan fear it means. Perhaps I’m in denial.

257.

I pick up the long rectangle of white plastic I left on the sink and stare at it. Not that I need to, really. I knew what it was going to show me.

Eight months, twelve days.

It can’t be a coincidence.

Of course, things could go wrong. But I have a feeling that they won’t.

I’m going to plan for day zero.


Author’s notes
This story was written in response to a prompt which involved a random combination of two nouns. Something about the word “clockthumb” just appealed to me.


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Please support my work by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2018

Nothing Left But Crumbs

At the edge of time, in a small corner of the universe, a woman is baking.

It’s a simple kitchen of wood and stone and metal. There are bowls, of course. Many of them, in all different shapes and sizes. Some have the orangey-pink hue of copper, others shine silvery bright, distorted reflections twisting on their curved sides. There are spoons, spatulas, knives and cups. A rolling pin that is a cylinder of heavy, glossy rock. Boards made from well-scrubbed wood. The room is quiet, filled only with the small sounds of someone working. It smells of fresh bread and warm sugar, sea-salt and hot iron.

There is an oven, too. Huge and black, and glowing inside: red and yellow and even, sometimes, white.

The woman might be old, but what does that mean? Old compared to the stars outside her window? Old compared to others like her?

If there are others like her.

Either way, her skin is lined and creased with the marks of life. Deep grooves curve from her nose to her mouth, creases stand to attention where her forehead meets her nose, and the skin around her eyes is slashed with lines. Her head is covered with firmly-tied scarf covered in geometric designs, but the rest of her clothes are undecorated. Brown fabric, roughly woven. A white apron, brilliant in its blankness.

Tiny, blue specks burn in the centre of each of her eyes.

She is stirring a mixture, one strong arm cradling the heavy bowl almost as if it is a child. Her other arm moves the spoon round and round and across and round. The batter is thick and dark, and slightly oily. She examines it critically and adds other ingredients. Half a cup of this. A spoon of that. She stirs again and the mixture begins to shimmer.

Eventually she pours it half of it into a silvery pan, a perfect hemisphere balanced on a torus. There, she pauses, and takes something glossy and dark red from the pocket of her apron. She lifts it and turns it this way and that in front of her eyes, frowning a little. With the faintest of nods, she presses it into the centre.

She uses what’s left in her bowl to pile up and up. The mixture is firm; it holds its shape. She leaves the top slightly flat. Space for it to expand. Exactly how much space to leave is a judgement she makes from old experience.

She places a second, shiny hemisphere over the piled-up mixture and fixes it with wire. A perfect silver ball, ready for the warm depths of her oven.

While it bakes she mixes other things. One bowl contains something blue. Mostly blue. It also swirls with green and grey, and tiny peaks of white. Another is a darker green, rich and glossy, a third is ochre and rust, and a fourth is fluffy, barely there at all.

The woman pauses, places her hands into the small of her back and leans back, looking out of her kitchen window, at an indigo sky broken only by pinpricks of light. She wipes her hand across her head, leaving a pale smear across her skin.

The baking takes time. But she cannot rush this; the centre must be hot. Eventually the thin metal skewer she carefully slides between the two half-domes makes her wince when she pulls it out and presses it against her cheek.

Carefully, she removes the tins. The cake is not quite perfect. Despite her efforts, and all her experience, the shape is slightly distorted. She tilts her head to one side and examines it. It doesn’t matter, she decides. In fact, perhaps it’s even more beautiful for being less than perfect. Most things are.

She decorates her work with the cool blue-green and warm ochres, some of the darker green, and finally dabs of white. She breathes in the buttery-salty scent and turns her creation on its stand, checking each tiny section of its surface.

Finally, she reaches again into her white apron pocket and takes out a crystal vial. It sparkles in the light as she holds it firmly between finger and thumb. She removes the cork, takes a pinch of the contents and blows gently. Glimmering flecks of silver and gold, a little black and a few, sparse, touches of red settle on the surface she has made.

Finally, she is satisfied. She opens the door to her kitchen and carries her work outside. She is a master of her craft, and this is her masterpiece.

It sits, against the dark, star-pricked backdrop, turning slowly. It will stay there, for a little while, in this place where neither ‘little’ nor ‘while’ mean very much at all. It will stay until someone comes for it.

“It almost seems a shame to destroy it,” they will say.

But, they will.

And, in time, there will be nothing but crumbs.


Author’s notes
This story was written in response to a prompt about cooking. I started thinking about heat, and this year’s heatwave, and this is what came out of the oven…


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Please support my work by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2018

A Change of Space

“Welcome!” said Captain Shepherd, as the door to the quarterdeck of the ship Starry McStarface slid aside. “Your grandfather’s told me all about you!”

Freddie Feghoot shook her outstretched hand. “It’s an honour to be invited, Captain.”

She waved her other hand dismissively. Her eyes sparkled. “Would you like to sit in the Captain’s chair?”

Who could say no? Freddie sat in the seat she indicated. It was smaller than he’d imagined. Glowing controls covered the arms. A screen floated in front of him, displaying a complicated pattern of intertwined, silvery strands.

“Strings,” said the Captain looking at the screen. “We use them to bend space, allowing FTL travel, you see. Neat tech. Only trouble is–”

“Captain! Anomaly on Zed!” called a middle-aged woman who’d been studying a display to the Captain’s right. “It’s a way off, but I think we’ll need to alter the knots.”

“Drat! Good spot, Lieutenant Motte. Out you get, Freddie.”

Freddie moved, and she slid into place. He stared at the screen. A red dot appeared, growing into something that looked like a child’s scribble. Captain Shepherd tapped furiously at her controls. Silver writhed around the red.

“Captain,” said Motte, “we need to change–”

“I know! Dammit!”

The floor shuddered. Freddie reached out to steady himself. The red scribble swelled. “What happens if we hit it?”

“Don’t ask,” said Motte, staring fixedly at the screen. “Captain, shall I…?”

Captain Shepherd cursed and pushed herself out of her chair. Motte took her place and reached for the controls. Freddie watched as the silver threads began to tie themselves into new knots which appeared, to him at least, to be pushing the red scribble off the top of the screen. He felt his heartrate slow down.

Then the floor lurched again. He looked and saw that the strands had twisted and slipped. “Are… they back to where they were?” he asked.

“Yes, dammit!” said the Captain. “Keep your eyes fixed on Motte while she tries again, will you? There’s a good chap.”

“Why?”

“Just do it!”

Motte jabbed at the controls again, gazing forward as both Freddie and the Captain stared at her. Freddie thought he could make out a flicker of reflected red in her eyes. Then it was gone. Her face relaxed.

“Thank goodness!” she said. “I thought we were going to collide with the wretched thing.”

Freddie looked cautiously away from the Lieutenant. The strings had adopted an entirely new pattern. There was no sign of any red.

“Well done, Motte,” said Captain Shepherd. “The pattern is dammed hard to alter once we’re underway.”

“Well, you know what they say,” said Motte with a wink, “a Shepherd can’t change her knots!”

“Haha, indeed!” said the Captain, slapping Motte on the shoulder rather harder than was necessary.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Freddie. “Why did we have to stare at the Lieutenant?”

Now it was the Captain’s turn to grin. “As everyone knows, Mr Feghoot, a watched Motte is never foiled!”


Author’s notes
I’ve always loved a shaggy-dog story. One the first I ever heard involved a chef called Gervais, a kitchen assistant called Hans and a small, green squid. If you don’t know it, I invite you to have a read. There’s a history of science fiction stories with these sorts of punchline endings, the most famous of which were written by Reginald Bretnor under the pseudonym Grendel Briarton and regularly featured a character called Ferdinand Feghoot. As you might have guessed, this is my little homage to those. I wrote it for the Escape Pod flash fiction competition. It got a smattering of votes but not enough to get through to the next round. Ho hum. But anyway, at the time of posting, you can still vote in the final of that contest – it closes on 27th June 2018. Go and check out the fabulous final stories!


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Please support my work by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2018

Key In

I wedge my palms over my eyes, trying to block out the glare. The room has no comforting shadows, no dark corners. Nothing but coruscating white. Makes me think of that nightmare where I’m in a spotlight, but I don’t know my lines and can’t see the audience.

How in hell did I get here? More to the point, how do I get out?

I move my hands and look at them. My skin looks almost dusty in this light, like chocolate that’s been left in the fridge too long. Not that I see that often.

I don’t know my name, but I know I eat too much chocolate?

There’s nothing on my hands or – I touch my face – my head. But I have a feeling that there should be. Or… there was.

I try to think, but the music makes it difficult.

It’s the one feature in this blank space, and it’s a jarring one. Synthetic and repetitive. And there’s something wrong with the tune. Every so often there’s a gap. My irritated brain desperately tries fill the space. Two beats, I think. I’ve never had an ear for music – I literally don’t know ti from tea.

~~~

“Everyone knows girls are useless at games, anyway.”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“I need the computer. Go and do some cooking or something.”

“Shut up, I’m finishing this level.”

“You’ll never beat my score.”

“Already did. Why don’t you do your piano practice? Mum’ll only nag you.”

~~~

Da-ding, da-ding …………………………..  ding, da-ding da-da-ding

I recognise the tune, now. It’s from an old computer game.

I walk around, trailing my fingers along the walls. The room isn’t square. It’s sort of oblong, with a narrower section at one end – a corridor that doesn’t go anywhere.

~~~

“You need the key to get past this level.”

“Stop distracting me! What key?”

“THE key.”

“Very helpful. Go away, Aaron.”

​~~~

My idiot brother. I drop to the floor, cross-legged. Key. It has lots of meanings. Keyboard keys, door keys, piano keys, answer keys, even – if you’re not bothered about spelling – dockside quays.

My shoulders shake as I start to laugh.

“Aaron, you asshole!” I say out loud. “Piano key? You know I never got past two-finger chopsticks.”

There’s no response that I can hear, but deep in my belly I can feel him laughing.

I stand and walk back to the widest part of the room. Then I wait.

Da-da-ding, da-ding, da-ding… goes the music and right there, I jump, landing feet flat on the floor, as hard as I can. The floor lurches and I’m rewarded with a dooong. Without pausing I do it again. There’s another sound and then the tinny music continues.

Did I fit the two notes into the gap?

The answer comes as the wall at the end of the narrowest part of the room slowly disintegrates until there’s nothing but blackness. It’s inviting after all this glaring white.

“Press any key to continue,” I chuckle, as I walk onto the next level.


Author’s notes

This story was written in response to a challenge to write a story in which the main character wakes up in a featureless, white room (in 500 words). Writers are often advised to avoid the cliché of starting a story with a character waking up in unfamiliar surroundings, so this was always going to be tricky to pull off with any finesse. Does it make any sense? I’m not entirely sure! This story definitely has its issues, not helped by the short word count, but I’ve left it in its original form.

© Kat Day 2018