Tag Archives: Short Story

The Braiding

Holding back the vampires.


Seems the only jobs I get offered these days are those that require a strong stomach, and wooden stakes. There’s 10 CCTV screens banked in front of me, behind my feet, which are rested up on the desk, next to my medication.

This is what they give you medication for. For when the only work for which you’re considered suitable involves the massed ranks of the undead, and surveillance equipment.

“Rumour has it they’re working on a time machine somewhere in this compound.”

“What the fuck!?” I jump, startled by the unexpected voice at my left shoulder. “Shit, who are you?”

“I, I…” Stammers the figure standing before me. He’s dressed in blue overalls with the company logo on one sleeve.

“You work here.” I point out the logo, and the obvious.

“Started yesterday.”

“Right, I wasn’t here yesterday. Don’t sneak up on me like that again or I’ll put a fucking stake through your heart.”

“Wh… why…”

“And cut your head off.”




“No worries. What’s your name?”


“Neville. Nice to meet you, man.”

>>> OBEY <<<

“What was that?”

“Never mind that, Jase, just do what it says. Now what’s all this about a time machine?”

“I heard that’s what they’re doing up on the top floors, in the laboratories, that’s what they’re building up there.”

“And who did you here that from, down here in the basement?”

“I read about it.”


“On a website.”


“Yes. A website.”

“I see. Well then in that case maybe it’s true. Let’s check it out.”

“But, what about, I mean, I think we should obey…”

“Jason, listen…”


I lean forward and whisper in Jason’s ear, “…rebel…”

Jason whispers too, fearfully: “But what about the vampires?”

“I’ve been working here for three weeks now, Jason. I sit in there, on my medication, looking at those flickering, black and white monitors, relaying images from the outside world, and do you know how many vampires I’ve seen so far?”


“None, not a single fucking one. No zombies either, except for you. I have observed an extraordinary lack of demonic entities.”

I throw some stakes and a hammer in a bag. I put a blister pack of meds in my shirt pocket. I finish my jasmine tea.

“Let’s do it, Jason.”

“Do what?”

“Go and check out the laboratories.”

“Oh right, yeah. So the top five floors are where all the research happens, from level 49 up.”

“Where did you find that out?”

“I think… the same place I found out all the other stuff. I mean, you know, on the web, people talk, but I can’t be sure…”

“Whatever, come on.”

We head for the elevators, but upon stepping inside one, discover that it will only take us as far as level 48. I push the button, and the doors slide shut.

Vapour Trail

Cover your mouth when you sneeze.

He sneezes again.

Cover your fucking mouth.

And again. And one more after that. He’s a big guy, looks weird. Voluminous hair, and a wide, elasticated hair band, making his glossy, black bouffant splay out from his head, long and straight, in all directions. He’s wearing multiple layers of loose-fitting, brightly coloured clothes, accentuating the bulk of of his chubby frame.

I guess he’s around thirty.

But I can’t figure him out. He could be a musician. Probably a songwriter. There are a lot of rehearsal studios round here, and he’s got the of air of an amateur performer who thinks he should be famous. Slouched over, his shoulders roll forward even when he hikes himself up and casts a frown around the room, scowling and scratching, and demanding attention.

Or maybe he is famous, and I’m sitting too straight.

Across the table from him in the chain restaurant is a slim, beautiful woman. She must weigh about half what he does.

Poised and sharply symmetrical, dressed in monochrome, she looks him in the eye and doesn’t laugh, and he doesn’t laugh back.

She could be his girlfriend or she could be his manager. Her stillness has purpose though, and no-one gets to be that expert at concealment for fun.

We all have bills to pay.

He starts twitching. Is he going to blow phlegm again?

No, he settles down. Sniffs.

I can’t intuit what she thinks of him. She just sat straight across from his gaudy, heaving frame as he rattled his lungs, four times, with no attempt to cover his mouth, and no apology. But she didn’t flinch. Didn’t comment.

What’s in it for her?

She knows I’m staring at the side of his head, from my position at a right-angle to them. Knows I’m disgusted. Isn’t she disgusted too?

She glances at me, making brief eye contact. Was it a meaningful connection? Held for a second, did it signify agreement, or nothing at all?

She’s looking back forward now, her focus somewhere around his chest or shoulders. She’s neither smiling nor not smiling.

I don’t think she hates him. Not like I do, anyway. I think she’s smart enough not to give a shit. The brains of the outfit. The smartest person in this whole Japanese curry diner at three o’clock on a dark, wet afternoon.

I don’t know the difference between resignation and patience. Don’t know how to play the long game.

Without visible notice he sneezes again, even louder than before, but this time it’s over-ruled by a punchy metallic clatter as I slam down my stainless steel fork.

He spins straight round on his bench seat, faster than I could have anticipated, so that he’s instantly facing me. Legs spread, chest open, baring his teeth and looming hard,

“What the fuck?” he barks.

She barely moves, just as much of an adjustment as is necessary to hold me in her line of sight.

Her mouth hasn’t shifted, but is she smiling? How do you smile without moving your mouth?

“You fucker.” He’s getting to his feet rapidly and I still haven’t responded.

I’m watching him move on the edge of my vision, because I’m looking at her. It’s barely a couple of metres between our places, and I’m still staring at her as his hand slams down on my table, shaking my plate.

It’s a big hand, I’m pretty sure of that, even though I’m not looking at it.

“Kei!” she pulls him up curtly, “doors open at six.”

He steadies himself, withdraws his hand, leers down at me. He’s a big guy, that much is confirmed. I’m looking back at him now, wondering what he’ll do next. There are splashes of yellow-brown curry sauce on the table, and a couple of chopped red pickle squares, but that’s the extent of the damage as he turns and half swaggers, half waddles, to the front door.

His companion stands and picks up her bag to follow him. The way she moves is fluid and composed. She stops in front of my table.

“It’s just hayfever.”

“What is?”

“He doesn’t have the virus.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“Sorry for the disturbance, no harm intended.”

From her bag she produces two tickets and places them on my table, avoiding the displaced food. The gift comes packaged with an efficient disclosure of her perfect smile, and then she walks to the door.

Bite The Dust

An unusually chill gust of wind picked up a scattering of fallen petals and eddied them around Kayoko, prompting her to pull her long, black spring coat tightly around her body. She was hurrying along the path that runs north south through the large cemetery in Tachikawa, out on on the western edge of Tokyo’s suburbs, where the city begins to mingle with countryside and foothills, and the temperature is a couple of degrees colder than among the heat retaining concrete of Shinjuku.

She carried flowers, and after another thirty seconds, and a turning down a smaller path leading between two rows of graves, she stopped at her late husband’s memorial patch. The stone of his Buddhist grave was smooth and shiny, in an almost-black, angular, modern style. She placed the flowers carefully but quickly, and her mind clicked back to the day he had passed away, at the age of 54. He’d died in his sleep, she recalled, at around the date the doctors had predicted a few months previously, when it had become apparent that his terminal illness was in its advanced stages.

She remembered that on the day he died, rather than having her usual breakfast of cereal and coffee, she’d woken up early at their clean, newly built home and cooked herself a meal of steamed rice, salmon, and miso soup, with some freshly brewed, expensive green tea that she’d received as a gift from her sister the previous week. The tea had issued a woody aroma, which subtly occupied the entire first floor of the house for the rest of the morning, and its flavour had been luxuriant: burnt and nutty, with just a trace of bitter brackishness after it had been swallowed.

It was a remarkable brew, sipped hot and dark from one of her best cups, and it provided the perfect balance to the mild white rice and flaky pink salmon flesh. The main course was helped along by the warm bass notes of the miso soup, its stirred sediment whirling as she gulped it down quickly, straight from the bowl.

Kayoko now felt a lump in her throat as the vigorous orchestration of flavours, textures, and colours replayed in her mind, activating ghost senses. Such magnificent contrasts and compliments, and the cups, the plates and bowls, the chopsticks, all attuned and in harmony too. She rode out a twinge in her eyes and nose, her tear ducts overwhelmed at the memory.

Oh, for another breakfast like that! They implored her.

Then Kayoko remembered: she had ordered some more of the tea online and it had arrived the previous morning, she had miso and salmon in the fridge, and there was rice in the steamer, ready to be eaten… it wasn’t breakfast time, it was afternoon, but still… what harm could it do? She’d had her cereal and coffee hours ago, why not have fish for lunch? Yes, she told herself, she was free and could take the path of her own choosing.

She steadied herself, emotions swollen but in check, anticipation whispering at her pounding heart. She could almost smell the tea leaves. Her mouth watered at the thought of the sticky rice.

After taking half a second to rearrange the flowers so they’d be protected from the wind, she turned and strode back quickly toward the cemetery gates.