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

8 gross things about house-sharing

In this climate, sharing a house with others is a necessity. Especially if your climate is one in which you are: a) chronically single, b) poorly paid and c) addicted to ASOS.

But now that statistically 96.8% of everyone I know is settled down and starting to buy their own home, the novelty of house-sharing is wearing decidedly thin.

So here is a list of eight gross things about sharing a house in your 20s:

1) You can’t have a pet
I grew up with five cats, so to suddenly have none is fairly harrowing. If I see a cat on the street, I can barely contain myself and toddle after it like a fat kid chasing an ice-cream van. My neighbourhood cats are probably sick of me. They probably have a Facebook group where they warn other cats about me. After three years of being kitty-free, I have finally cracked. A few weeks ago, I typed ‘can you rent a cat’ into Google. And the answer is no, no you fucking can’t you crazy cat lady.

2) You have to sign a six-month contract
Your flat is covered in mould? Tough luck, you signed a six-month contract. Your flat has a recurring mouse infestation? Tough luck, you signed a six-month contract. Your flat is haunted by the ghost of King Henry VIII? Tough luck, you signed a six-month contract.

3) You have to live with other people
And sometimes these people are crazy. Sometimes they put cereal down the toilet. Sometimes they bring strange men with eyepatches home. Sometimes they wander around at 3am whistling to themselves. Sometimes they turn off the freezer so your food spoils. Sometimes they watch Harry Potter every single day, to the point where you know ‘doo doo doo doo dooooo doo doo doo’ will be the soundtrack if you ever end up in Hell.

4) Every time someone uploads a smug picture of their house on Facebook, you will do a little cry
Why (sob) can’t I (sob) buy loads of tat (sob) from Home Bargains (sob) with someone who loves (sob) me?.

5) You will become disproportionately resentful when your flatmates don’t do their chores in their allocated time
“Oh cool, you finish work early in the afternoon? Then WHY are you preparing a ten-course banquet five seconds before you know I’m coming home and need to cook my dinner?” you will snarl, before running to your room and slamming the door, crippled with hunger. Only you deffo won’t do this and will just sit politely on your bed starving to death until the coast is clear.

6) You can hear e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g
Whether it’s them flossing their teeth, turning the page of their book, or slagging you off to their boyfriend, you will hear it all. You will become a mystical entity, no sound too small or intimate for your eardrums. Your life will never be the same.

7) Everyone will inevitably have very different levels of personal hygiene
Things I am fairly laid back about: taking the bins out until they’re completely full, washing-up being left overnight, people not immediately moving their ironing. Things I am not so laid back about: raw meat dripped all over the kitchen, period stuff left in the bathroom, people saying “I use my own shower mat, so I don’t have to do any of the cleaning.” U wot mate.

8) You have to act like a normal human being most of the time
If my flatmate goes away for the weekend, I lie in bed naked, covered in crumbs, like a flabby little prawn toast. No clean clothes? No problemo. Want five slices of pizza and half a can of cold baked beans for breakfast? Treat yourself, Charlotte. But when she is here I have to do loads of gross stuff, like use cutlery and get dressed and not repeat adverts back in an opera voice. Ugh.

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As the door blew open, a blast of cold air engulfed the coffee shop. Customers looked up from their chai lattes in surprise, teaspoons tinkling, biscuits crumbling.

But their surprise soon turned to terror. For the wind had brought an unwelcome guest into their safe little village.

The only person on Facebook who wasn’t engaged or pregnant had left her lair.

Fathers covered their children’s eyes, pensioners crossed themselves and mothers stifled their sobs.

Since time began, the villagers had appeased this evil entity with sacrificial offerings of snacks and a Netflix subscription. Every year, they held a Yankee Candle vigil outside her cave to ward off her malicious spirit. Every Halloween, teenagers dressed up as her and told her chilling tale around a bonfire.

“Many moons ago,” they whispered, “she was a perfectly normal girl in her mid-twenties with an okay job and no insanely gross attributes. But try as she might, no-one wanted to put a ring on it. In fact, no-one wanted to put anything on it. She might as well have sewn up her vagina. Things got so bad, she even tried Tinder.”

But now here she was. She hadn’t sizzled under the sunlight. She didn’t have hairy palms. Her eyes didn’t glow red. All of the scriptures and Channel 5 documentaries had been wrong.

“Can I have a hot chocolate, please?” she asked the cowering barista.

It speaks,” the town busybody spat through a mouthful of brownie.

Families huddled closer together as she grabbed her hot chocolate and a muffin and left the coffee shop. Either to eat children, or join Bumble. One or the other.

 

THE END