Short Story: “Food Court ’95 ” By C. A. Brown

It’s, like, totally not true.‘ Roy said as he sat back in the metal chair and sipped his coffee. Although it was a bleak Wednesday morning, the food court of the Westview Street Mall somehow seemed to be at least half full. He checked his watch. It was ten in the morning and the shops surrounding the rectangular court were already a riot of neon and strip lights. He wondered what it looked like at night.

Beside him, Lucy picked up a French fry and sighed. ‘I’m telling you, they make these chairs uncomfortable on purpose. It’s all part of a cunning plan to get as many people to buy as much food as possible. They could put proper chairs in here, but of course, they want you to just eat and leave so that the next people can eat and leave. It’s like we’re robots or something.

An impish smile crossed Roy’s face and he leant sideways. With one fist, he tapped his behind, whilst secretly tapping the chair leg with the other at the same time. As a quiet clang echoed across the table, he said: ‘Buns of steel. It’s probably why I don’t notice it.

Lucy wasn’t sure whether to laugh or roll her eyes. So, she did both. Finally, Roy said: ‘Seriously, did someone at one of your punk concerts tell you that thing about the chairs?’

No, there’s a couple of books about it in the campus library. You know, the building you’re supposed to go to every week.‘ Lucy gave Roy a sarcastic smile, before eating another French fry. Above the babble of conversation, the tannoy pinged and a muffled voice babbled for a few seconds. Neither Lucy nor Roy could tell what it was trying to say. Obviously, no-one else could because, ten seconds later, the same garbled mumbling filled the air again.

Roy sipped his coffee and said: ‘We’ve got a guy in our frat who takes notes for all of us. We each give him five bucks a week. The time savings are incredible.

Lucy didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, she ate a couple of French fries and slurped her milkshake. On the table next to her, two blond guys in leather jackets hastily exchanged dollar bills with each other. A smile crossed her face and she got up and walked over to them. Roy raised an eyebrow. When she returned, she slipped something into her bag and said: ‘We’re all set for Friday night. You owe me ten bucks.

Roy lowered his voice to an indignant whisper as he fumbled for his wallet ‘Ten bucks? You talk about the evils of capitalism and then let – he isn’t even a hippie – rip you off like that. I mean, there’s probably thirty cents of oregano in there.

He handed her the note and stared at his coffee cup. There was an advertisement on the side of it. It was an advert for coffee. As Roy wondered why on earth these supposed evil geniuses would try to advertise coffee to someone who had already bought it, Lucy stood up and stretched her legs: ‘Anyway, I’m going numb. We should probably get out of here. I hear they’re still showing Pulp Fiction at the cinema.

Waste of two hours. It doesn’t even make sense.‘ Roy sighed. ‘Seriously, a guy dies and then he just appears a while later like nothing happened.

It’s meant to be art house, I think. Don’t tell me that you want to see the intellectual masterpiece that is Die Hard With A Vengeance instead.

Roy shrugged: ‘At least it probably makes sense. I mean, it’s the last film in the trilogy, so they’re probably going to go out with a bang. Hopefully lots of them.

Lucy rolled her eyes and said: ‘Whatever. Hey, do you want another coffee?

Roy shrugged again: ‘Sure, why not? More to the point, aren’t we supposed to be leaving here like robots? I mean, you said that whole thing about the chairs earlier. How this place was designed to get people to stay for as little time as possible…

I’m rebelling. Proving them wrong.‘ Lucy grinned. If Roy had bothered to read his frat brother’s notes about dramatic irony in 20th century literature, he’d have probably creased over with laughter. Instead, he just stared at the empty coffee cup that remained on the table. As his eyes fixed on the advert on the side of the cup, they widened and he muttered ‘Holy sheet! THAT’S why it’s there! Well played, evil geniuses…

Short Story: “Wake” By C. A. Brown

It had all started at the kind of student house party where rambling discussions about the nature of time and the universe don’t usually start until after the pubs have slammed their doors and the brightly-coloured pipes have finished bubbling. If anything, the party hadn’t even really got started yet.

Despite the shining array of bottles on the table, there were only three people there. John was sitting back on the sofa with a can of lager, his leather trenchcoat carefully folded over the armrest. Fran was fiddling with the iPod dock and muttering something about a battery. Laura was sneakily inspecting the house’s DVD collection – which was, to put it politely, just there for show. For starters, there wasn’t even anything remotely resembling a DVD player connected to the TV.

As Laura nervously cracked open a pristine new bottle of blue alcopop and poured some of it into a bright orange plastic cocktail glass that had obviously been left over from a Halloween party, she thought that this party reminded her of a horror movie office block a few seconds after closing time. A theatre at three AM. A….

This party is dead.‘ Fran said, between jabs at her iPod. It remained resolutely silent.

Yeah.‘ Was all that Laura could think to say, the swirling mass of metaphors in her mind refusing to settle on just one description. She took a sip of the blue liquid, it tasted like a comic book artist’s impression of a stick of bubblegum.

On the sofa, John took another swig of lager before nodding solemnly. The party was, indeed, dead. Laura giggled: ‘So, is this a wake or something?

It would be if I could get this …. ing thing to work properly.‘ Fran’s sentence was interrupted by a loud crackle of static from the dock. ‘What the hell? It’s switched itself to radio mode. Anyway, Steve burned me a CD of these MP3s from the 80s. Proper goth club stuff. Would be perfect for a wake.

And..‘ John took another swig ‘.. where the bloody hell is Steve anyway? Last time he texted me, he said he’d be here.‘ Carefully setting the can down on the wine-stained carpet, he rustled through the trenchcoat for his phone. It had one of those flame pattern shells that was all the rage five years earlier. The Game Boy-yellow LCD screen showed that there were no new messages, just a pixellated background picture of a skull. Best four quid I ever spent, John thought as he looked at it.

Fran jabbed at the iPod again. The loud radio static was like something from one of those grim TV dramas about military interrogations. Finally, with a shrug, she pulled it out of the dock. The room was, fittingly, as silent as a tomb once more. Laura took another couple of sips of the sickly blue fluid and gazed regretfully at the industrial-sized bottle of vodka next to the curtains.

With a series of quiet bleeps, John flicked through his contacts and then held his finger up. The sound of ringing echoed through the room. Ten seconds later, a prim voice said: ‘The number you have tried to dial is not currently connected. Do you wish to leave a message?‘. John hung up. Does anyone ever want to leave a message?

Fran walked over to the table and picked up the vodka bottle. Pouring some into a faded promotional coffee mug that must have been one of those unwanted heirlooms that never gets taken away when students leave, she said : ‘If a party happens and no-one shows up, does it make a sound?

Laura smiled: ‘Probably not, but it’s probably more fun than clapping with one hand.

Silently, John held his arm out and clenched his fist quickly. A faint clapping sound echoed. Fran raised her eyebrows. Laura rolled her eyes and said: ‘We’ve all seen that episode of “The Simpsons”.’

I haven’t.‘ Fran said, taking a swig of vodka. John grinned and clapped with one hand again. Laura tried to join in, but couldn’t quite get the hang of it. John tried not to laugh as he muttered: ‘Takes practice, you know. I’ve been training for five…

Bet you have.‘ Laura laughed politely, before an uncontrollable torrent of laughter rushed forth. ‘It’s probably your… strong arm… too.

Everyone’s laughter rose like a flurry of violins and then faded away gracefully. For a few seconds, the only sound was the sloshing of vodka and the slurping of lager. It was, Laura thought, like waves crashing on a stony beach. Like the gentle sound of a fisherman….

Before she could come up with the perfect metaphor, John raised his can and said solemnly: ‘A toast. To the party that has died. Let us drink to it’s memory.

They toasted. With a mischievous smile, Fran said: ‘Ah, but can a party actually die if it never actually started in the first place?

As Laura gnawed on this complex conundrum and found that it tasted slightly better than the blue alcopop, John leaned over and rifled through his trenchcoat for a small plastic bag. Fran raised an expectant eyebrow. John sighed: ‘It’s way too early for this stuff, I know. But, if we’re going to start talking philosophy…