Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

John grimaced. Every queue in Morrisons was trailing into the aisles. He’d only nipped in for a bag of prawn crackers, but he’d been seduced by the buy-one-get-one-frees, the two-for-£3s, the multipacks and the meal deals.

He’d been in there so long he wasn’t sure what day it was. He wasn’t sure who the prime minister was. He wasn’t sure who he was. Was his name even John?

His basket weighed him down like an albatross. Peeling himself from the kitchen roll section, he trundled exhaustedly towards the self-checkout machine.

We meet again, he thought, as he eyed the cold, calculating hunk of metal. I’m here to get my job done, you’re here to do yours. No reason for either of us to make things difficult. 

“Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

John reeled in shock. There certainly was not anything unexpected in the bagging area.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

People were beginning to stare. A security guard unstrapped his walkie-talkie.

There is no fucking unexpected item in the bagging area…” John hissed frantically, tearing open the carrier bag.

Suddenly, he stopped. Nestled between his easy-peel tangerines and can of coconut milk was a baby. A mini-human. Un bébé.

It was pretty unexpected, John agreed begrudgingly.

*

From thereon, the Morrisons was declared a place of miracles by the Vatican. People flocked from all over the world to find their own unexpected item in the bagging area.

And they were not disappointed; the self-checkout machine threw out all kinds of shit. A koala bear. A velvet cape. A fried egg that looked a bit like Ed Sheeran.

All very unexpected.

THE END

The Christmas Advert

“Please, no more,” the man begged exhaustedly. “I’ve had enough.”

As tears slid down his face, the man’s entire body trembled. His eyelids were sellotaped to his forehead, his hands bound at the wrist. Strapped to a metal chair in front of a projector screen in a cold, dark room, he was at the mercy of his captors.

The John Lewis advertising team.

From their two-way mirror, the chief advertising executive turned to his colleague. “We’re nearly there. One more cute animal and a simpering, whispery remake of an 80s classic, and I think we’ve cracked it.”

His colleague eyed him nervously. “Are you sure he can handle it? You know, after what happened last time.”

The two shared a look.

“I mean, we already have a chinchilla in a wheelchair and a hauntingly sad soundtrack,” the colleague suggested hesitantly. “Maybe it’s schmaltzy enough now.”

“Maybe,” the executive pondered, stroking his chin. “Or maybe we’re one Ellie Goulding soundbite away from a viral smash hit.” He stepped away from the mirror. “What are his statistics showing?”

Ruffling through his notes, the colleague jotted down some figures and tapped them into a calculator. “Tears up 300% on the recently-bereaved pigeon advert, down 0.5% on the bewildered red squirrel. He’s 7.8 times more likely to buy a Russell Hobbs Heritage Standard microwave, but far less likely to go for the Swarovski cheese fondue gift set.”

“God damn it,” the executive said, slamming his fists on the table. “We’re so close.” He rolled up his shirt sleeves and paced the room. “That’s it,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“That’s what?” The colleague asked nervously.

“We just put them all together. The wheelchair chinchilla snuffs it, the pigeon is bereaved, and the red squirrel is bewildered by the whole situation.”

“But that doesn’t make any se…”

“It’s magic, pure fucking magic,” the executive said. “We’ll be shipping out those fondue sets faster than an Aldi till assistant, you mark my words.”

“I’m not sure he can handle it,” the colleague pleaded. “He’s becoming weak.”

The executive pushed his face towards his colleague until their noses met. “Fon. Due,” he said.

The colleague nodded resignedly. Typing some commands into his computer, he sat back, before pressing enter.

*

No-one knows quite what happened that day. Some say they heard the cries from miles away. Some say they have glimpsed the man, roaming the moors, sobbing incoherently. The advertising executives were never seen again. They just disappeared. Vanished, like melted snowflakes.

THE END

* This story was NOT sponsored by John Lewis. Although I would happily accept a cheese fondue gift set.

The Facebook Birthday Wish

Claire didn’t mind Stephen. He was alright. She wasn’t sure why she had him on Facebook as they never talked and she couldn’t picture his face without stalking his profile, but he was harmless enough.

But when it came to writing on his wall for his birthday, she just couldn’t do it. It’s not like she wanted him to have a shitty birthday. It’s not that she thought he was unworthy of birthday cheer. For some inexplicable reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to say those two little words.

So when Facebook sent her a notification reminding her to wish him a happy birthday, she thought it was a bit pushy, but clicked off it and got on with her day.

Then during a meeting with Barbara from accounts, she got a text from an unknown number.

It’s Stephen’s birthday.

Sliding the lock on her screen, she leaned back in her chair. ‘Probably just a coincidence,’ she told herself.

After returning home from work, she threw her keys on the kitchen table and headed towards the fridge. Grabbing a jar of pickles, she nudged the fridge door shut, before gasping and dropping the jar to the floor.

Arranged in plastic letters on the fridge were the words ‘WISH STEPHEN A HAPPY BDAY’.

“What the fuck?” Claire said.

Checking her door and window, she closed her curtains and sat on the couch to watch Coronation Street. Her eyes heavy, she felt herself drifting off.

A few hours later, she jolted awake to a curious rustling sound.

Peering over her couch, she watched as a note was pushed under her door.

Her hands trembling, Claire got up off the couch and opened the note.

Do U wAnT to WiSH sTePhEn a HaPpY bIRthDaY?

SEVEN YEARS LATER

Claire had moved to Costa Rica, grown a handlebar moustache and bought some Gucci sunglasses, but The Facebook Birthday Wish had tracked her down.

She was tired of looking over her shoulders. She was tired of running. Of living in motels, paying in cash, and taking on a new identity in every godforsaken town.

As she nursed a double whiskey at the bar in some scummy downtown joint, the bartender called over to her.

“Hey, chica,” he shouted. “Some hombre has left a message for you. Feliz cumpleaños for some Stephen dude. That mean anything to you?”

Claire downed the rest of her whiskey in one burning shot, and pushed some crumpled-up cash onto the bar. She now realised that she would never escape.

Back in her motel room, she booted up her laptop and logged into Facebook.

Taking a deep breath, she clicked on Stephen’s profile and began to type.

*

Under the glare of the streetlamp outside, The Facebook Birthday Wish smiled. Its work here was done.

THE END

10 guys you will meet on Plenty of Fish

As a journalist, I come into contact with all kinds of people. Nice people, interesting people, people who call me at 3am and ask me to pay the interest on their Wonga loan. So when I first joined Plenty of Fish, there was definitely a morbid curiosity as to who I would end up speaking to.

SPOILER: I deleted it after a month because I was absolutely deluged with weirdos.

But in between, I spoke to some really nice guys and even met up with a few. From my short-lived foray into online dating, I think I have a rough idea of the kind of men out there. So I have compiled an advisory list of the 10 guys you will meet on Plenty of Fish:

1) Guys who are one more ‘Sorry, I have a boyfriend’ away from becoming serial killers

These guys have been cheated on. They have been rejected. They have been conned and swindled and left a shrivelled prune of the man they used to be, and good Lord, do they want to tell you about it. Every time you try and initiate a conversation, they will spin a tale of woe. You will end up wanting to shake them and tell them the reason they’re not getting laid is not because women are evil, but because they suck the life out of you like a Dementor and they need to stop being whiny.

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2) Guys who seem to have learned how to speak to girls from an 18th century manual

‘Good evening, Madame,’ these guys type. ‘Might I interest you in an evening exchange of intellectual rigour?’ Eh? You will squint at your phone while you’re trying to simultaneously cook dinner and bid on something on eBay. Wot u chat bout. I get the impression these guys are trying to mark themselves out from the ‘Hey how r u’ tribe, but after a long day at work, I just want someone to tell me I’m pretty and offer to take me out for dinner.

3) Guys who say: ‘Don’t message me if…’

Don’t message me if you’re not interested in meeting up. Don’t message me if you’re only interested in my wallet. Don’t message me if you want a baby daddy. Don’t message me if you look nothing like your pictures, these guys will seethe in their profiles. Well excuuuuuuuuuuse me, Mr BanterNFootie_87.

4) Guys who are douchebags but you kind of dig it

Maybe they told you they’re a fireman. Maybe they’re a bit older than you. Maybe they live in a remote cabin in the woods where they could either a) show you a good time or b) kill you and then taunt the local police force with letters and bits of your skin. But either way, when they make some sultry suggestions, a tiny part of you considers it.

5) Guys who are so nice that you end up messaging them purely because you’d feel abusive if you didn’t

These guys are so lovely, so thoughtful and kind. They think up intelligent conversation starters that they have personalised from your profile just for you. They ask you how your day has been. They ask about your ambitions. They want to know you as a person, rather than as a vagina with arms and legs. But there’s just no party in your pants*. You message them back not because you want to, but because not doing so would be like punching a puppy in the throat. Eventually emailing 16 people you don’t fancy becomes too arduous and you disappear into the shadows, knowing you are a terrible person and this is why you will die alone.

6) Guys who send you well-intended but decidedly odd first messages

Like this guy. I get it. I put in my profile that I like hairy chests. I see what he was trying to do. I feel you, SingleGuy1986. But it was just a smidgen too far with the ‘you can walk on it if you like’. And a second guy who pointed out I was older than him also cracked a joke about me shaving my fanny a few messages later. But when I met him in an EXTREMELY PUBLIC PLACE, he was lovely. Some guys just have no idea how to text.

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7) Guys who message you 187653 times if you don’t reply within five minutes

I am super ignorant. I can go for two weeks without speaking to my family. So when some randy little s0-and-so triple-texts me because I haven’t responded immediately, it gets right on my tits. But a lot of guys seem to think it is their God-given right to get a swift response, and if they don’t get one pronto they succumb to a complete breakdown and send a squirrel emoji.

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8) Guys who have one thing on their minds…as long as you live within an 18-mile radius

This was the one thing I was expecting when I joined PoF. And I received a lorra lorra explicit messages. Personal fave: the guy who called me a cunt after I said no to meeting up with him half-way for sex since he couldn’t be bothered driving for 18 miles. Read my post on this here.

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9) Guys you’re not interested in, but they have a really cute cat

These guys don’t float your boat, but OH MY GOD they have a cat. As you message, you begin to plot ways in which you can nudge them out of the picture and hook up with the cat instead. “Maybe I should meet the cat by itself the first time,” you suggest casually. “You know, just to be on the safe side.”

10) Guys whose profiles are so terrible that you feel it is your duty as a fellow human being to help them out

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* ©Nicola Moors 2016

The Con Artist

“You are brought here today accused of a wicked, heinous crime. A crime that has shocked and appalled in equal measure. A crime that has sent a shiver down the spine of every right-minded person in this community.

“You stand accused of defrauding countless men across the UK. You stand accused of deceiving men with your lies, your illusions, and your deliberate concealment of your true nature.

“In your wicked pursuit, you have left hearts shattered, Oyster cards used for no good reason, and haircuts purchased in vain. You have cheapened saucy Snapchats, invalidated tentative sexts, and nullified restaurant reservations.

“In your heartless mission, you have wasted WhatsApp messages and hours spent carefully evading the Friend Zone by concocting the perfect formula of exuding sexual dominance without seeming like a complete a-hole.

“You have quashed men’s hope of finding The One. You have made them feel used and vulnerable – mere shells of what they once were. You have left them devoid of trust, no longer knowing whom they can believe.

“Lauren Alisha Williamson, you are hereby charged with the crime of looking absolutely fuck-all like your Tinder pictures. How do you plead?”

THE END