Ripped from the headlines

London, N7
14/01/2014  •  1093 words

Listening to: Pompeii by Bastille

Head to your favourite online news source. Pick an article with a headline that grabs you. Now, write a short story based on the article.

“Try to get some cheese while you’re out!”

“Wha-?” André grunted from the other room.

“Cheese,” Julie said, more sharply than she had been expecting. “Sorry,” she continued, now with unnerving softness. “It was cheese, that’s all. If you can. While you’re out.”

Julie watched from the balcony as her brother trod through the dust of the apartment, down the stairs to the gap where the door had once been. She knew it wasn’t his fault really. His hearing hadn’t been the same since the explosion. He used to have incredible range, second only to her own, but now she was lucky if she could even get his attention by shouting.

They both knew it wasn’t actually cheese. Nobody had eaten fresh food for years here. A peeling poster for a burger joint boasted cooked meat and dripping slices of cheese, but that was the stuff of myth. What André was looking for had never even seen the inside of a fast-food outlet, let alone a cow. But it was yellow, and that was enough to keep up the pretence and maintain morale.

The last shop was a bust. Someone must have discovered the stash André had stumbled across last week. Secrets don’t stay secret long around here; the place had been ransacked. André skipped through the fire exit and stopped in front of the bingo hall opposite. This was the oldest building at the resort. No-one came here unless they were really desperate. André was desperate tonight.

It got dark suddenly after about five o’clock. The sun bore down directly on the Avenue for much of the day, but sunk suddenly behind the Pleasure Dome in the early evening. The temperature dropped. Julie woke with a start. Must have dozed off again. Colder than yesterday. She burrowed deeper into her bedding. Where’s André?

André was suddenly aware that he wasn’t alone. With hindsight, it was obvious. The trail of cheese dust must have been left recently or else it would have been cleaned up. He assumed that the laboured breathing would have been audible to anyone else, but there was no hope of him hearing it. It would cause Julie all kinds of worry to know that he ventured out without any hearing whatsoever, so he muddled through conversations and never said very much in the hope of coming across as reflective rather than slow.

The little lungs pumped the chest out more slowly this time. André moved over slowly. He had been sprung in a trap before, not too far from here. The bingo hall was notorious for it. That’s why you only came here if you were desperate. But food was short and times were tough.

The mouse reached out to a small cube of old wall insulation a few centimetres away. His arms seemed to have a strength the rest of his body lacked, dragging his hollow frame forwards in a halting motion.

André scanned the auditorium. It took him longer than it should have to notice that it was quiet. Too quiet. He had no sound to compare it to, after all.

“They’ve all gone,” the other mouse said, breathing more weakly than heavily by now. “I thought it was just me, but then you showed up.” André looked around for some kind of sign of what the mouse might have been saying. All he could see was the cube of cheese a little way off.

All he could see. The thought lingered. The scene before him had distracted him from his recce of the hall, but despite the fading light it was now clear to him that the place had been gutted. The walls were stripped bare. The only hope of dinner lay a little way off, guarded by a dying mouse.

Julie was shivering now. Where has André got to? The wind began to whip her as she lay on the balcony, carrying dust as it blew past. She began to ease herself up but sank down with a jolt as her arms gave way. Her wounds had healed, but not before becoming infected. She would never walk again. Where had André got to?

Pity overcame him in the end. He moved slowly at first, then picked up speed as he began to nudge the cheese towards the outstretched arms of the other mouse.

The arms didn’t grab the prize they had been working so hard to win. “Please,” André said as gently as he could without knowing what gentle sounded like. “Please, take, eat.”

Still the arms didn’t move. Nor did the chest.

André sighed as he left the bingo hall, the block of cheese gripped firmly in his mouth. He would have given the mouse a proper burial if he could, but he had Julie to think about. She had always been there for him, looking out for her little brother. He would probably have died in the explosion if it hadn’t been for her. He had been playing near the old substation when the fire broke out. He only just got out in time when she warned him of the gas cannisters. Julie was lucky too, but less so. He carried her, leg missing and tail burned, back to the apartment and onto the balcony to rest and recover.

“Julie! Julie! I’m back! I got cheese!”

“My favouite,” she mumbled, so quietly that Andre’s deafness was no longer relevant. “It’s cold out.”

She took a nibble of the cheese. Her eyes began to droop again.

André wanted to tell her about the mouse in the bingo hall and how he had wanted to pay his last respects properly. He wanted to say that there was nobody else around. Maybe they’ve all moved on. Maybe they’ve all –

He wanted to say that the cheese will have to last them a day or two because he’d have to go further to find food tomorrow. Even the bingo hall is empty.

He wanted to say that he hoped she had had enough to eat and was warm enough out here on the balcony.

He wanted to say that he was glad they could lie on the balcony and gaze at the stars and think of the times they had spent together.

But she couldn’t hear him any more. So he lay beside her and stared at the stars himself, the cheese, untouched, at his feet.

The abandoned tourist resort.