Way back at the dawn of time, well, in 2014, I entered a contest with ‘Humour’ as its theme. My story, below, was shortlisted and appears in the 2015 anthology of winners and other commended stories.
Christopher Fielden is still running this contest. For full details, click this link. This year’s contest closes 30th April 2021, as he’s now holding it every two years. The top prize is £1200, plus some interesting extras, for a short story of up to 2,500 words with at least some humorous content. Have a go!
An Eztraordinary Ezperience
‘If you don’t help me, I’ll make you sorry.’
There it was again. Every time he switched on the computer, the same threat flashed on screen, regardless of what he was doing or whether he’d started up any programs. It was unnerving, irritating and inexplicable. That is, until young Jason did the explaining.
‘It’ll just be a bug Uncle Harvey. Some bored dude, with nothing better to do, must’ve stuck it in at the factory.’
Not that Jason could do anything about it, for all he was so clever with computers.
It was an irritation Harvey could do without. He’d bought the laptop, at great personal sacrifice, so he could write literally anywhere. No, he corrected himself; not literally. He couldn’t write under water or in outer space. Get the adverb right: so he could write almost anywhere. That was better.
The message, as usual, faded from the screen and he began chapter 7 of the romance that was going to make his name, make him money, make him able at last to give up the boring, uninspiring day job. His heroine, Melinda, was perfect for the role: enchanting, sublime, sensual and better looking than was healthy for the males he’d surrounded her with. He didn’t like that: ending a sentence with a preposition. Not right.
And the hero? Well, tall dark and handsome went without saying, of course, but he was also an eztrordinarily good lover.
Now, that was odd. He’d definitely pressed the ‘x’ key and it worked well enough now. So, why wouldn’t it work when he tried to replace that tricky ‘z’ that had wandered into eztrordinarily? After seventeen attempts he gave up and left it. It was just one of those irritating and inezplicable…there it was again. No. He wouldn’t let it bother him. Jason would have an answer and until then he’d just let it go and get on with the tale.
Now, where was he? Oh, yes. Melinda had just emerged from her bath and wrapped herself in that soft towel, too small to afford proper cover, of course – have to satisfy the carnal as well as the romantic desires of the readers, and his own, come to that – so she could answer that insistent ringing of her doorbell. Once he got her to the door, she’d be good and mad and there she’d find the hero, whose name he still hadn’t decided and he’d labelled simply as ‘Hero’, standing in the rain, needing her assistance due to…yes, a breakdown of his car. Cliché, of course. But a classic introduction of heroine to hero. Yes. That would do it.
So, he’d have her primed with rage at the intrusion and then melting with desire as soon as she opened the door and saw the eztraordinary Hero standing there.
This time he didn’t even flinch at the errant ‘z’, but continued to write, ignoring it.
‘IF YOU DON’T HELP ME, I’LL MAKE YOU SORRY.’
Wow! That was a bit unezpected. And spooky. He turned off the computer and left it sitting on the table. In the morning he’d speak to Jason and sort out this petty little problem. For now he’d had enough. It was time for bed anyway.
‘You’re early, Harvey.’
Lorna turned over and presented her back to him, the thick cotton only emphasising her inaccessibility and lack of desire as he climbed in wearily beside her. She grunted a sort of acknowledgement of his goodnight kiss and then pretended to fall into the sleep pattern of soft breathing.
Harvey spent the night fighting off ‘z’s and ‘x’s in every form imaginable and under the most bizarre circumstances. At one point Lorna woke him from a particularly terrifying nightmare because he was so agitated he’d disturbed her sleep.
‘Been eating cheese for supper again, Harvey? Always gives you nightmares.’
He hadn’t and it didn’t.
Morning found Lorna stiff lipped due to broken sleep. Somehow it was his fault, as was the fact that the milk had gone off during the night.
‘You left the fridge door open again.’
He hadn’t. Hadn’t been near the fridge. But it was pointless arguing. He tried the positive tack.
‘You’re looking rather elegant this morning, darling. Special meeting?’
She grimaced, ‘I told you. They moved my promotion interview to today.’
She hadn’t told him; he was certain.
Perhaps from a sense of guilt, she twirled for him. ‘Thought I’d best look as good as I could.’
‘Lovely. Go out there and knock ‘em dead, gorgeous.’ And he meant it.
She even kissed him for that and then she was gone, the scent of ‘Wicked’ lingering as an unfulfilled promise.
No coffee to kick start the day: he couldn’t stand it black. No cereal. The toaster refused to relinquish the two slices he gave it to nurture and the fumes set off the smoke alarm; piercing screeches assaulting his morning ears. In the garage, hungry, he found the back tyre flat. If he mended the puncture he’d have to cycle like fury. Better just walk; fast.
The level crossing gates went down as he approached. Glancing at his watch, he twitched as he heard again the words from that prat who called himself his boss. ‘If you’re late once more Harvey, I’ll dock your pay.’
And Lorna was still punishing him for his ‘frivolous’ spending on the laptop. ‘Not as if you’ve actually sold a single story, is it?’
Which was true. Though he had won a couple of contest prizes and had a few acceptances in some of the small press magazines. He obviously had talent.
The train dawdled by, pulling out of the station as though time wasn’t an issue. At last the gates rose and he dashed across. High Street was traffic mad and the lights at the Pelican turned red as he reached them. He stood, tapping his foot in annoyance.
The last two hundred yards was a sprint but he made it with seconds to spare as he pushed his card into the clock machine.
The day did not go well. Seventeen orders to be rushed and completed where he’d normally do a dozen. And the boss was more than usually sarcastic. Harvey walked back home in the rain; late, tired and dispirited.
Lorna arrived just as he was towelling his hair dry. Thank God he remembered and smiled his question. Her scowl was answer enough and she sank on the sofa and sobbed. It took him half an hour to decipher her explanation through the tears of injustice. Genuine, it seemed. And another hour to calm her into acceptance that the younger woman had probably got it because… well, he left that open to interpretation, which Lorna clearly developed into insult.
They ate in resentful silence; mutually exclusive instead of supporting one another against the world. Harvey went off to bury himself in his romance whilst Lorna drifted to the telly and her favourite DVD so she could weep a little more.
‘I TOLD YOU: IF YOU DIDN’T HELP ME, I’D MAKE YOU SORRY.’
It was too much. ‘Bugger off!’
‘All you have to do is help me out of here.’
This was idiotic. It was a machine, an inanimate object. There was no question of it having some sort of consciousness outside of his input. Perhaps he was going mad.
‘It’s not too much to ask. I just need your help. Then I’ll leave you alone.’
What the hell? Everything else today had conspired against him, against them, in fact. ‘OK. You win. What do you want?’
‘Better. I want out of here.’
‘Who are you?’
‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’
‘Try me. I’ll believe anything after the day I’ve had.’
‘I’m Syd. Syd Mason. Used to work for the company that assembles these bloody things.’
‘Now? I’m dead of course! You some sort of moron?’
Dead? He looked at the screen. That’s what it said. Dead. He almost brought Lorna to witness this aberration but then he considered her state of mind and the opposition she already felt toward his precious laptop.
‘OK, so you’re Syd and you’re dead. How am I supposed to help you? And what are you doing in there anyway?’
‘It’s a long story.’
When it came to trouble, was there any other sort?
‘Fire away. I’m listening.’
‘Look. How and why don’t matter. You’ve got to get me out. Now.’
‘Or I spend eternity, and I do mean eternity, in here.’
He thought of replying with the cliché that eternity was a hell of a long time but decided against it. ‘So, how do I help you?’
‘Oh, that’s easy. Don’t know why you didn’t ask me right away.’
‘Would’ve saved you, and me, a lot of grief.’
So now it was his fault. But, no, he wouldn’t let resentment overcome his good nature.
‘What do I do?’
‘Just type in the message, “I wish you would go to Heaven“.’
‘Simple as that?’
‘Simple as that.’
‘OK.’ He typed, ‘I wish you would go to Heaven.’ Though the temptation to insert Hell instead was very strong.
The screen blanked, flickered, and flashed a scene that might’ve been from a divinely inspired Old Master with angels, clouds and even a brief chord of sublime music.
Eztraordinary. Oh no!
He tried again. Extraordinary. And sighed with relief.
That night, he completed chapters 7 and 8. When he climbed into bed, Lorna was still wrapped in thick cotton and fast asleep, genuinely.
Saturday morning, neither of them was due to work. The phone rang early; Lorna answered it.
‘That was work. Seems that trollop gave some false information on her application. Wanted me to know as soon as possible. I’ve got my promotion.’
‘How’s the book going?’
Hopefully but without expectation, he tried, ‘Brilliantly. Could do with a bit of personal experience for the love scenes, though.’
‘Easy. Help me out of this, will you?’
He did and she did. And she was extraordinarily loving.
As they dozed off again, happy and content, he could have sworn he heard her murmur softly, ‘That was really quite ezceptional, darling.’