Needs and Wants

ice cubes

Nicola sits at her kitchen table, with a bottle of cheap vodka and an ice cube tray fresh from the freezer. Needing to feel something, she touches the hard plastic of the tray and her soft skin adheres, ever so slightly, to the ice. She feels the coldness start to burn and holds on until discomfort becomes pain. Only then does she slowly withdraw her hand and watches in fascination as the skin peels away, the ice a jealous lover who refuses to give up its hold on her. She prods the newly released fingers with her other hand and they don’t feel like they belong to her. Now those fingers are numb, just like the rest of her.

It is 9.57 in the morning and she is waiting for the digital clock to reach 10 o’clock. Nicola has only a faint idea what a yardarm is but has recently decided that this is the new time for the sun to be over it. Occasionally she can resist taking her first drink until later but not today. 9.58. Nicola is struck by a twinge of guilt as it is a Wednesday morning and she should be at work. Nicola has a migraine, or so she told her boss at the call centre, and they’re becoming more frequent. When sober, she worries that he will comment on these increased absences and what she would do if she was confronted and lost her job. 9.59. Nicola drums her fingers impatiently on the rustic oak table, then runs her fingernail along the grain whilst fighting against the voice inside her head which yells, “POUR THE DAMN DRINK NOW!” 10.00. Nicola deftly unscrews the lid off the bottle and pours a generous measure of the clear liquid into a glass. She adds three slippery ice cubes and sips steadily, fighting the urge to gulp. By her second drink, the voice has calmed and her worries have started to fade.

Ignoring the ice cubes which are forming little puddles of meltwater in their compartments, Nicola takes the half-empty bottle to the sanctuary of her sofa and flops down. She doesn’t have to go out today as she has six bottles of vodka, with names like Cossack, Romanov and Gulag, from a variety of supermarkets. She lies with her head propped on cushions at a suitable angle for sipping. There are many worse things to be addicted to, she thinks, gambling for one, or heroin. At least her vice doesn’t harm anyone but her.

Nicola drove along the road shouting at the Today programme. Evan Davies was interviewing Michael Gove who was spouting his usual nonsense about education. There had been a lot of traffic that morning as it was raining heavily so cars had been crawling down roads she’d usually zip along. She steered the car sharply into a residential side street and congratulated herself on knowing a few sneaky shortcuts. An electronic beep interrupted her tirade about Gove being Cameron’s ventriloquist’s dummy and Nicola rummaged in her capacious handbag whilst trying to keep one eye on the road. She tapped the screen of her new Samsung Galaxy a few times and her eyes flicked between the text message and the road ahead. Bugger. Ali had cancelled on her again. How was she going to get fit if her gym buddy kept bailing? In frustration, she threw her phone back in the bag but missed and it slipped down the side of the passenger seat. Worried that it might have been damaged she felt around in the small gap, ignoring the fussy little voice in her head. She grasped the phone triumphantly and was just checking it was OK when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. A lad of about 8 wearing tell-tale white iPod headphones darted out between the parked cars without looking and Nicola didn’t have time to swerve, let alone stop in time. She hit him squarely and watched as he was propelled up the bonnet where his head hit the windscreen in front of her with a sickening thud, before he slid to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Nicola stalled the car and stared open-mouthed at the tracery of cracks in the glass with a smear of dark blood and matted hair at its centre.

The boy has lain in a coma for the last fourteen months, his parents and sister unable to move on with their lives. Convicted of dangerous driving, Nicola spent ten months in jail and lost her licence for a year which is irrelevant as she’ll never sit behind the wheel of a car again. She couldn’t continue working as a teacher, as no-one would employ her with a criminal record and anyway she couldn’t bear seeing all those kids day in, day out. In a bid to wipe the slate clean and start afresh, she moved to a different part of the country, away from all those who crossed the road to avoid her and huddled in whispered enclaves. She will never escape the events of that day and will carry the regret with her forever. With a blank expression, she draws a little smiley face in the condensation of her empty glass before wiping it away and pouring another drink.

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Submarine Dream

underwater

I wake not sure where or who I am then feel a sense of relief wash over me when I realise that the dream wasn’t real.

I dreamed that I had four limbs and moved around on two of them, feeling that I was going to topple over at any moment. My head consisted of two eyes, several holes and with peculiar flaps on either side. Strange gurgling sounds emanated from the largest hole which must be how I communicated. Most bizarrely, I was partially covered in some sort of fur whilst the rest of me was smooth and pink. Two of my limbs ended in long protuberances which I used to grasp, lift and carry. They waved around when I made noises which I assumed aided communication.

Most worryingly, there was a large expanse of blue above me which went on forever and was like nothing I’d ever seen before. In the dream I picked up a round object and threw it for a furry four limbed creature that made a very loud sound at sudden intervals but who ran after the sphere and brought it back to me. Only then did I realise that nothing floated, the round object hit the ground and bounced before it was caught by the fluffy thing.

I shake my head in wonder and promise myself I will never, ever eat sea urchin again before sleep as it always gives me weird dreams. Deciding that it’s time for breakfast, I unfurl my tentacles, all eight of them, and go off in search of a lobster pot to raid.

Lost and Found

large houseThe young woman walked through the woods, unsure how she had come to be there. Her mind was fuzzy and she felt as if she had just awoken from a drugged sleep. An image of a large house with immaculate gardens flickered in her mind like an old film but when she tried to grasp the memory, it slipped away from her. She found it difficult to move quickly without tripping over exposed roots and tree stumps so she made her slow, stumbling way through the autumnal forest.

With relief, she suddenly remembered why she was there. She was visiting her friend, Jemima, for a weekend house party and someone had suggested playing hide and seek. This childish game had appealed to them and many clapped their hands with glee. Jemima’s brother, Robert, was down from London where he was something in the City had looked indulgently upon his sister and her friends, whilst reading The Times. Robert was blond and tanned with an athlete’s physique so caused quite a stir amongst the female guests, whose eyes shone more brightly and hair needed touching far more than was necessary whenever he was around. She had hung back, mesmerised by his good looks but feeling far too gauche to approach to him.

Several of the more forward girls declared Robert “it” so he gamely turned his back and started counting steadily to one hundred. She and the others had squealed with excitement and scattered like hens across the lawn. Most had kept close to the house, or disappeared inside to find neglected rooms in which to hide, but she remembered Jemima had mentioned a secret glade, where statues glowed in the half-light. She thought it the perfect hiding place so ran away from the house, leaving behind echoed giggles and an abandoned croquet game, and plunged into the trees’ silent depths.

She followed the path, her shoes kicking through crisp, brown leaves, heading towards the river where Jemima had said the glade could be found. A small path intersected the main ride so she turned onto it, thinking it looked exactly like it should lead to a secret glade. After several minutes she realised she was hopelessly lost and had no idea in which direction either the river or the house lay.

The shadows had started to lengthen when she heard someone calling her name, “Sylvia!” She froze like a startled doe for a moment then quickened her pace, moving away from the sound. She thought she recognised the man’s voice, although it sounded different somehow, and it scared her.

“Sylvia, where are you?” the man called, a trace of panic in his voice. He sounded closer so she tried to speed up but her legs wouldn’t move quickly enough. “Sylvia! There you are!” the man cried out with relief. She turned to see an old man walking towards her, arms extended. She screamed and lashed out at him as he approached, his hands covered his head to protect it from the volley of blows she had rained down on him.

“Calm down, Sylvia, it’s me!” he entreated as she continued to pummel him. “Go away!” she yelled, “Leave me alone! Mama told me never to speak to strangers!” He grabbed Sylvia’s wrists and drew her to him, enfolding her in an inescapable embrace. She continued to struggle and let out a piercing scream in the hope that Jemima or one of the other guests would hear and come to her rescue.

Robert held Sylvia until her hysteria had subsided. The unseasonable warmth of the day had fled and the air had turned chilly so Robert removed his jacket and rested it across his wife’s shoulders. Her pale cream shoes were streaked with green smears and threads on the hem of her skirt had been pulled by brambles. This touched him deeply so he cupped Sylvia’s face in his hands and kissed her gently on the lips. They were cold and dry and she neither responded nor drew away from him. Her face was etched with lines caused by all the emotions she had ever experienced but was now as expressionless as a mask. This was the first time she had failed to recognise him and sadness overwhelmed him like a tidal wave. When had his beautiful, vibrant wife turned into a confused, scared, old woman? Sylvia had become quiet and biddable so he put an arm around her waist and, gently guiding her, they made their cautious, shuffling way home.

Modern Love

white sofaTamai and Kaiko sit close together on the white sofa, almost but not quite touching, stealing shy glances when they believe the other isn’t looking. Kaiko reaches out and clasps Tamai’s hand in his and she blushes furiously, casting her gaze downwards. Their fingers are elegant and slim and, intertwined as they are, it is difficult to tell them apart. Tamai colours even more deeply as Kaiko disentangles their grasp then lifts Tamai’s hand to his mouth and places a gentle kiss in her palm. This is the blossoming of their first love.

Tamai and Kaiko could be mistaken for siblings with their androgynous features, large, dark eyes and slim build. Professor Ishida himself has commented on it as he watches their tentative steps through this fledgling stage of courtship. He views their progress via a battery of high-definition camera equipment, secreted around the laboratory, and his team of researchers record every aspect of the teenagers’ behaviour. The scientists measure the temperature of their subjects via state-of-the-art thermal imaging cameras.

Kaiko brushes hair from Tamai’s face and gently strokes her cheek, her skin as soft as velvet. They stare deeply into each other’s eyes, as if the answer to every question posed in the world can be found in them. Kaiko tilts his head slightly and leans in for their first kiss. Their lips barely touch but they are both transformed. As they open their eyes and stare at each other in wonder, Kaiko and Tamai realise that they have left childhood behind and are now embarking on the long road to adulthood. Tamai glances around the room and is amazed by how different everything looks. She then realises that it is not the room but her perception that has changed. Empowered, she kisses Kaiko more passionately and waves of desire threaten to overwhelm her.

Much later, Professor Ishida silently enters the laboratory so as not to disturb his subjects who have fallen asleep in each other’s arms. He switches them both off then locates the relevant port at the back of Tamai’s head, inserts the USB stick and uploads that day’s data before wiping all trace of Kaiko from her memory bank. Two of the stronger members of his team extricate Kaiko from Tamai’s embrace then carry him from the laboratory, leaving Tamai on her own in the large, white bed.

Tamai and Yukai sit close together on the white sofa, almost but not quite touching. Yukai reaches for Tamai’s hand but she withdraws it, knowing that this feels wrong. She yearns for the love of someone else who exists only as a ghost in her memory.

Snowed Under

snowed underIt’s 2pm on a Friday in February and the clouds have that bruised look that can only mean one thing. Snow. Everyone is getting jittery as they don’t want to be snowed in at work at the start of the weekend. You can almost hear what’s on everyone’s mind, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” and the relief is palpable when we’re let out of work two hours early. There’s a polite stampede and no-one asks what their colleagues are up to this weekend. No need as it will be the same for everyone; keep warm, stockpile food and hope the electric doesn’t go off so that you can catch up with the latest must-see boxset. I’m on True Blood season three but Sue, who sits opposite me, has just started Breaking Bad and has been raving about it all week.

I dash out to my grubby white Peugeot 107, hugging my not-quite-thick-enough coat around me, shout a hurried, “Drive safe” to anyone within earshot and get in, just as the first thick snowflakes hit the windscreen. I’m running low on fuel but decide I have enough to get home and doubt I’ll need the car until Monday. I’m just about to start the engine when my mobile rings. “Hey Gran, what’s up?”

“Oh Kerry love, could you come round when you finish work? The pilot light’s gone out on my boiler and I’ve no hot water. I’ve tried to relight it but the button’s too stiff and I can’t be lifting pans with my arthritis.”

I suppress a sigh and the image of a brooding Erik Northman, which was going to sustain me until I got home, evaporates, “Sure Gran, I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

A few flakes quickly become a flurry then escalates to blizzard conditions within ten minutes. I have a choice and can either take the high road over the moors or go the long way round and add another three quarters of an hour to my journey. I decide to risk it and point my little car towards the lesser travelled road.

Things don’t start too badly but as the snow settles, the tyres begin to lose grip and I slow to a crawl to avoid sliding all over the road. I struggle to keep the car from running away with me as I descend the moors, lose control and end up in a ditch. Luckily I wasn’t going fast enough for the airbag to go off but I’m a bit shaken and the car is half on its side in a fairly deep gully. I check my mobile but there’s not even an emergency signal.

At least the engine’s still running so I turn down the heater to try and conserve what little fuel I have left. Snow soon settles on the windscreen and the inside of the car becomes darker as the light quickly fades outside. How long will it take Gran to call for help when I don’t show up? I’m always late so she’ll probably leave it a while but then they still have to find me.

The lights on the dashboard glow orange and the fuel gauge is well into the red so I must be running on fumes. My stomach starts to growl and I rummage in my handbag for my emergency Twix but it’s not there. I must have got peckish one morning and forgotten to replace it. I find some cough sweets at the bottom of my bag, pick off the fluff as best I can and pop one in my mouth.

The car starts to cough and splutter which goes on for a while then with a final hiccup, the engine dies. At first the silence is complete, then I hear the wind whistling from outside. Any residual heat quickly dissipates and I start to shiver, wishing I’d chosen a more practical winter coat. My fingers are warm enough, gloved and jammed under each armpit, but I can’t feel my toes. I’m wearing heels, not stupidly high but not exactly practical for walking through snow drifts.

My teeth won’t stop chattering and it’s getting on my nerves. Every exposed bit of skin is tingling from the cold and my feet are numb. I read somewhere that freezing to death is not an unpleasant way to go as your body slowly shuts down and you don’t feel a thing.

Much later, don’t know what time. Everything’s numb, no energy. Can’t keep eyes open. Just a little sleep ‘til help comes.

Tragedy and Comedy

comedy-tragedyWhat do you do when you like your characters too much to kill them off? I started writing this story and had in mind that it would have a sad ending but once the characters had come to life on the page, I found I couldn’t do that to them. So I simply changed the ending.

To Sleep

I can’t move my arms and I’m so tired my eyeballs feel like they’ve been replaced by lumps of grit. Even blinking hurts. Perversely I’ve had the opportunity to sleep these last few hours but I couldn’t. I tried counting sheep and doing complex mathematical sums in my head but not one wink to be had. This is torture, pure and simple. Abi is working late but should be home any minute. We’re going out to celebrate our anniversary, four years, but all I can think of is cool sheets and an undisturbed seven hours. Bliss.

We met at a party. My mate Phil worked with the sister of Abi’s flatmate so we blagged an invite. It felt mapped out, like something important was destined to happen on that humid night in August. The party was jumping when we arrived, too many bodies trying to squeeze into the kitchen or dance in the poky lounge. A wall of heat hit us as we walked in and it felt like the best kind of gig; vibrant, sweaty and alive. The bass was thumping so hard you could feel it in your chest, like a heartbeat.

Phil and I grabbed a beer each then shoehorned our way into the lounge and boogied around in there for a while. It was very intimate, everyone rubbing up against each other, but a great way to start the evening. I was dancing with this foxy girl, all skimpy top and skintight jeans, when I got that hairs-rising-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling that someone was looking at me. I glanced over my shoulder and, sure enough, there was a petite girl with short, dark hair staring at me, a wry smile etched on her lips. It put me off my stride and where moments before I was more than happy dancing with Miss Skimpy, now I’d lost my groove and it felt almost wrong to be dancing with her. I waggled my beer bottle at her, disentangled myself from the writhing mass and headed towards the kitchen. There wasn’t much more space in there but I managed to find my way to the sink where beers were bobbing in icy water. I grabbed the nearest one and held the chilled, perspiring bottle against my forehead. It felt cool and delicious.

Miss Skimpy hadn’t missed me and was now dancing with a beardy hipster type. Slightly irked that I had been replaced so quickly, I searched the room for Phil and noticed him leaning against the mantelpiece, attempting to conduct a conversation with a cute looking girl over the very loud music. Leaving him to it, I went through the French doors, down a couple of steps and into the garden. Despite the humidity, it felt fresher outside and there were groups of people enjoying the fact that you didn’t have to yell directly into someone’s ear to be heard. A familiar smell wafted towards me, sweet and pungent, which reminded me I had a joint in my pocket for just such an occasion. I had just taken my first toke when a voice behind me said, “You’re nicked, mate.” I spun around and found myself looking down at the petite girl with the elfin haircut. “Gotcha!” she grinned, punching my arm lightly. “Are you gonna share or do I have to go and make friends with those people over there?” indicating a group whose laughter drifted across to us.

“Be my guest,” I said, handing her the joint. She inhaled deeply, held her breath for what seemed like an eternity then slowly exhaled smoke which hung around her like a halo. “If it’s any consolation, you don’t have much in common.” “What?” “That girl you were dancing with. Puddles have more depth than she does so unless you want to talk about nail bars and Made in Chelsea, you’re better off out of it.” “Who says I wanted to have a conversation with her?” I deadpanned. That grin again, “Touché, mister.”

She handed the joint back to me, staring directly into my eyes as she did so. Her gaze was disconcertingly honest and I noticed that she had eyes the colour of moss and freckles on her nose. We chatted for a while and realised we had a lot in common; similar taste in films, books and holiday destinations and discovered we both worked in the music industry; Abi in A&R for a medium-sized label with solid indie credentials and me as a sound engineer. We also found we knew a lot of the same people and were surprised we hadn’t bumped into each other before.

I had finished my beer and my throat was dry from all the talking so I volunteered to brave the crush to get more refreshments. As I sidled through the tidal wave of bodies, a strange feeling hit me and I struggled for air. Then I realised, this is it, this is what love feels like, being punched in the gut. That particular image probably wouldn’t look quite so romantic on Valentine’s cards though.

Abandoning my quest I retraced my steps, needing desperately to get back to Abi. I hurried down the steps and across the parched lawn towards her. I stood in front of Abi breathless with emotion and looked down at her with fresh eyes, so completely different from who I was five minutes ago; a changed man. The air between us became charged as Abi felt it too. I closed my eyes and leaned down to kiss her when I heard sniggering. My eyes snapped open to see her giggling and covering her mouth to suppress the laughter. “I’m sorry but you just looked so serious, like a love-struck teenager going in for his first kiss.” I was just about to take offence when she stood up on tiptoe, flung her arms around my neck and gave me the sweetest, softest kiss of my life. “Wow!” she exclaimed when we resurfaced, “Does that mean we’re going steady now?”

There’s the door. My left arm’s got pins and needles so I shift slightly to ease the discomfort. “How are my two favourite people in the whole world?” Abi calls out at she rushes into the lounge. “I’m trapped but Freya seems fine,” I reply. Abi gently plucks the sleeping baby from me and kisses the downy fluff on top of her head. I stand up, flexing my arm to try to restore circulation, “I’ll hop in the shower while you two catch up on gossip.” “My sister’s coming round in half an hour so you’d better be quick. No wandering around in your underwear showing off your cute tush.” “Sure thing, hot stuff,” I reply embracing my wife and daughter. Sleep? Highly overrated if you ask me.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

lanterns

This is another story that popped into my head almost fully formed. I couldn’t think of a title at first but I think this suits it rather well.

Goliath

I am very good at waiting; I have had a lot of practice. A hundred years is but a week to me, a year a mere blink of an eye. I have been in existence for time beyond measure. Although I am trapped, I will wait. Someone will release me. They always do.

Tim and Cassie parked the car in the driveway, stretching their limbs as they got out, undoing the knots in their muscles as a result of the long journey. His grandfather’s house was much as Tim remembered it; large, built of sandstone and strangely neutral. He visited regularly as a child, once being left for three weeks in the summer when his mother and father decided to tour Europe. However, despite knowing the house well, Tim couldn’t say that he’d ever warmed to it. He didn’t dislike it but conversely he never felt completely comfortable there either. The design of the house added to its air of inscrutability; large, stone lintels over recessed windows giving the impression of hooded eyes.

The house was an ideal playground for a child, with long corridors and unused rooms, perfect for hide and seek if he’d have had anyone to play with. He spent many hours arranging imaginary jousting tournaments along the upstairs corridor which ran the whole width of the house. There were many bedrooms which had not been slept in for years, with dust covers over the furniture and the unaired bed linen giving off a musty odour. When an excited eight year old Tim had discovered a large wardrobe in the Blue Room, all he had received was a bump on his head when he’d tried to walk through the back of it into Narnia.

Tim grabbed the suitcases from the car and took them into the large hallway. Tim’s grandfather hadn’t lived in the house for two years, not since he’d moved into the nursing home. It had been cleaned once a month but felt hollow and airless as houses do when no-one has lived and breathed in them for some time. Tim went round the ground floor peeling back the shutters and flinging open windows to let the April sunshine and spring breeze freshen the rooms.

Cassie brought the Waitrose bags full of provisions through to the kitchen and found Tim standing at the sink, staring out at the manicured lawn. Everything had been business as usual while Tim’s grandfather had been away, as if he’d expected to make a full recovery and return to live there. The problem was that you don’t get better from Alzheimers.

“Are you alright, love?” Cassie asked, laying a hand on Tim’s back and giving it a consolatory rub.

“Yeah, fine. We’d better get the suitcases upstairs and start thinking about dinner. We need an early night as we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”

Tim strode out of the kitchen towards the hallway, leaving Cassie staring after him with concern etched on her face.

They woke early and after a breakfast of toast and cereal, made a start on sorting out Tim’s grandfather’s effects. They started in his bedroom, a room so full of dark, heavy wooden furniture that it made the large room appear small and cluttered. Cassie cleared the wardrobe while Tim sorted through the chest of drawers.

Apart from Cassie occasionally asking whether an item of clothing should go on the charity pile or in a bin bag, they worked in companionable silence with Classic FM playing quietly on their portable digital radio. Normally, they’d listen to 6 Music, or Absolute Radio if they wanted some retro tunes, but today the strains of Mahler and Tchaikovsky were more suited to their sombre task.

They’d both taken a week off work after the funeral to sort out the house and it looked like they were going to need every minute of it. Tim’s grandfather had travelled extensively in his life and had brought back souvenirs from his time spent living in Kenya and South America. These included a Masai warrior’s shield to a carving of an Aztec fertility goddess.

Tim had contacted an auction house to come and collect the most prized pieces to sell later as neither of them knew the value of the collection.

Once they’d cleared all the clothes, kitchen equipment and a lifetime’s worth of belongings, Tim and Cassie started going around the house with two packs of coloured post-it notes, deciding what should go to auction and what could be collected by the house clearance firm. Both were booked for Friday, leaving only a few days for them to finish going through the rambling house.

Thursday dawned bright and clear and having worked so diligently, Tim and Cassie had completed every room and only had the attic left. Tim had climbed the extendable stairs into the loft space the previous afternoon to have a brief recce and reported back to Cassie that there was a lot to sort through and they might not get it finished by the end of the following day.

They ascended the stairs and started working their way from each end of the attic, looking through tea chests and packing crates, the idea being to meet in the middle when they were finished. As Tim was rummaging through one of the boxes he discovered a small Moroccan lantern, the bronze tarnished and mottled. Tim picked it up and started to clean a small patch with the sleeve of his jumper. A blinding flash of light and billowing smoke were followed by a large explosion which propelled him across the attic floorboards. Emanating from the air above the lamp was a light so bright it illuminated even the darkest corners of the attic.

“What the…?” Tim and Cassie chorused in unison.

The smoke cleared and the light dimmed enough for them to see a large shape had emerged from the flames, although there was no heat and nothing had caught fire. The figure was huge and filled the loft to the eaves.

“You have freed me from my prison and to repay that debt I will grant you a single wish,” the figure declared in a voice that was deep and booming.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re a real life genie?” Tim asked after a long pause.

“I am Goliath, the most powerful of the Jinn. I know not of this Jeannie.”

“How long have you been in that lantern?” Cassie asked.

“Five and ninety years. I have been held captive for much longer so it went by quite quickly.”

“How did you fit in that lantern when you’re so big?” Tim asked, as he edged his way slowly around the Jinn towards Cassie.

“A magic spell cast by my enslaver shrank me so that I could fit in the lamp.”

“Enslaver? Who was that?”

“Your father’s father,” replied Goliath.

A stunned silence followed as Tim tried to absorb this information.

“My grandfather trapped you in this lantern?” Tim spluttered.

“After I had granted him his wish, yes. I thought it was not a grateful gesture.”

“A wish! What wish?”

“Eternal life.”

“But my grandfather just died so that’s a load of tosh.”

“I am a powerful being but no-one can live forever so a long life was compromised upon.”

“Wait a minute. You said you’d been kept prisoner for ninety five years so how old was my grandfather when you granted him the wish?”

“Five and thirty years old.”

“So he was a hundred and thirty when he died?”

“Yes. That is a long life for a human, I think.”

“That’s quite old but I’m sure he probably expected to live longer than that. Five hundred years would have been more what he had in mind. Anyway, for the last two years he didn’t even recognise his own family.”

“His wish was granted and he lived a long life.”

“So you’re saying that I have to be careful what I wish for?”

“Don’t you mean we?” Cassie interjected.

“I believe that is so,” answered the Jinn, ignoring Cassie.

“I suppose most people ask for endless riches or eternal life, don’t they?”

“Human beings are quite predictable, yes.”

“Okay,” Tim said slowly. “I’d like us to be happy, me and Cassie.”

“Happy? Not endless riches or a really long life?” squeaked Cassie.

“Yes. I’ve got my inheritance so I don’t need loads of money and my grandfather lived the last fifty years of his life alone in this huge house, surrounded by artefacts and I know that he was lonely and unhappy. I don’t want to end up like that so I’d prefer a short, happy life rather than a long, miserable one.”

“Very well, your wish is my command,” Goliath intoned and started to fade away.

“Hang on a minute, how will I know that it’s worked?”

“On your death bed,” the Jinn replied and promptly disappeared.