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18th September 2018

Deciding on a theme for Hour of Writes is a tricky business. It must be precise enough to inspire writers to create pieces with clear connections to the theme, but broad enough that each entry will be unique. Of all things Attack And Receive could have been inspired by, it came from a playing card in the franchise that dominated my childhood: Yu-Gi-Oh. With such an aggressive phrase, I was hoping for war, embittered couples, and intrigue. I was delighted to find all this, alongside some whimsy.

I was immediately drawn to Entry 3155, which explores a situation too many of us will be familiar with. It reminds us that those who suffer from violence often turn to violence, that this cycle is not easily broken. Entry 3155 also shows that there can be a lot of power in simple language.

Entry 3160, Red Poppy Boy (gets what’s coming to him), has a lovely rhythm that drives the reader through a story of addiction and consequence. This can be seen especially in the second stanza, with: ‘an A1 stealer / all state receiver / a total syringe believer’. Successfully employing rhythm always makes a poem more compelling.

With Entry 3163, we see a regular structure and rhythm used to great effect. The images were very vivid, essential for communicating a story with such a degree of movement and as many changes in scene. I particularly enjoyed the shift in scale in: 

‘Zipping through the midges and the dragonflies / We crest the spikes and fall into a murderous scrum’,

making the poem more dynamic and cinematic. 

For me, Entry 3159 was the obvious winner. Gentle and concise, the piece takes us ‘inch by inch’ through a race. The poem is dense with imagery, and it is a credit to the author that they evoked such a strength of feeling in me with so few lines. I keep returning to: 

‘The last water gone / Like legs / with nothing left / except blisters, cramp, / tiredness beyond enduring’

drawn by its subtlety of rhythm and simplicity of language.

Thank you to everyone who entered. Judging this competition was a wonderful excuse to sit down, have a cup of tea, and immerse myself in varied poetry and prose. You each responded to the prompt differently, making this process an absolute pleasure. I hope you all continue to write great work for Hour of Writes, and for yourselves.


About The Judge

Jack Cooper works at the University of Oxford, in a laboratory that uses the sexual courtship of fruitflies as a model to understand core features of development and behaviour. His poetry has been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition, and shortlisted for The New Poets Prize and Segora Poetry Competition amongst others. Stephen King, Final Fantasy, and K-Pop are the great loves of his life.

You can find him on Twitter at @JackCooper666, and on Instagram at @JackCooper0696


Confessions of a conspiracy theorist

“Mind if I sit here?”
“Be my guest.”
“No-yeah, go ahead. Strangers are just people you haven’t ghosted yet.”
“You looked a bit jumpy?”
“Yeah, jumpy as a roo on the razzle-dazzle I reckon.”
“One must be careful what one thinks these days.”
“Too right. This yours?”
“Yeah, taking a break. Thinking about stuff.”
“Mind if I?”
“The centre of inertia...three letters...third letter x.”
“As in king or queen.”
“The centre of inertia is the letter ‘r’, often an abbreviation for rex, or regina for that matter. But it’s only three letters. And a constitutional monarchy is inert, so...”
“Practice makes perfect.”
“Reckon it does. Are you a monarchist?”
“Um...probably. 51%. You?”
“Don’t suppose it matters now.”
“No. Very diplomatic.”
“Did you stay up last night? See the new year in?”
“Nah. I’m 78.”
“78 is old?”
“Some wear it well. Not me.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Our family don’t live to be ‘old’ old.”
“Didn’t think you’d see 2054 then?”
“I never thought I’d end up in Australia. Spiders, snakes, crocs. No thanks.”
“You’re a bit of a celeb in these parts. Can’t have you living in a swamp.”
“Touché. So you...know me then?”
“Came especially. ‘The Stargate at Pine Gap’ is one of my favourite albums.”
“Mine too.”
“Annoying question. Is the stargate at Pine Gap a thing?”
“Well, what say you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know” is a sound philosophy. Once, I was a barman in a pub talking to a regular about life, the universe. I’m for the afterlife, he’s ‘you live, you die, you rot.’ This goes back and forth, da da da. Then a pisshead called Barry pipes in with, ‘Nobody fucking knows.’
“So you don’t know?”
“About what?”
“Pine Gap.”
“If asking questions about aliens and secret bases is your bag remember to price in the whole equation.”
“What do you mean?”
“So, imagine aliens are here but their presence is top secret and that status quo has to be maintained. How would I even convince you?”
“I don’t think you can keep things like that a secret…”
“So why ask if Pine Gap has a stargate if you think stargates can’t be kept secret?”
“Guess I love wild theories. Part of life’s rich tapestry.”
“So many people think they would know if aliens were here. All the jigsaw pieces would be nicely assembled on MSM. But the jigsaw pieces aren’t assembled, some don’t even belong to the puzzle and most are missing. That’s the machinery maintaining the status quo.”
“You can’t imagine a scenario where aliens don’t want their presence to be formally announced?”
“Sounds a bit unlikely.”
“You think of all the agendas aliens could have and what Earth’s place could truly be in the galaxy- laboratory, prison planet, place you can stop off to surgically mutilate nice juicy cows- you would know them?”
“So you believe in aliens?”
“What’s your name?”
“Greg. I sit on this bench every day in the heart of old-fogey-ville watching the world crawl by. If a spaceship landed with little green men who ate Kit-Kats and danced on roller-skates I’d be on a breakfast show later on blabbering about it. And I’d be damn sure about what I saw because I don’t see shit like that everyday. But for balance I’d have to sit opposite a celebrity sceptic telling me I’d no idea what I’d seen. It was a cloud, or Venus or swamp gas or something far more improbable than aliens. And I’d be no different to countless others. Policemen, military personnel, schoolchildren. If the weight of anecdotal evidence holds no sway with you perhaps we’re wasting our time.”
“We’ve had disclosure, no? Don’t you remember Brian Cox announcing they’d found primitive jellyfish on Europa? He won the David Attenborough award. So yeah, I’m sure there’s intelligent life out there somewhere.”
“But not here? Plus ça change. We had a false dawn in the early 2020s. Whistleblowers in congress swearing the US government had alien bodies and spacecraft. Barely made the news in the UK.”
“Aliens crashing spacecraft?”
“Just probes with soulless biologics inside. Done deliberately. Everything is smoke and mirrors.”
“K. And you think Brian Cox is shadow government?”
“Actually, no. The point is a population’s attention is easily diverted. Stories easily killed. Take the 2020 pandemic.”
“What about it?”
“Actually, maybe I shouldn’t say. It might be an infringement of China’s National Security Law, which as you know has global reach.”
“I reckon anything potentially subversive can always have a disclaimer tagged on.”
“Yeah, but. Ah, screw it. I had this mad fever dream that China lied about transmissibility, openly menaced the UK into keeping its borders open during a crucial window, then had the most draconian lockdown itself and refused to co-operate with an investigation of the virus, which bore all the hallmarks of….not being zoonotic. And for that it got scant scrutiny while the UK went bonkers about why a man called Dominic Cummings went to Barnard Castle. How’s that?”
“Yeah, that works. Why would the UK have not held China to account?”
“They had our ass on a plate. By that time China had cornered most of the world’s medical supplies and they weaponised the asset. Plus America was involved in gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and they didn’t want that can of worms- ”
“It’s a bit of a stretch from that to Pine Gap.”
“Look, I couldn’t even convince the doctors that a strange mystery illness I had as a child was an allergic reaction to Benylin. I’m on a hiding to nothing, I get that. But you keep asking so I’m trying to help you conceptualize.”
“A secret alien presence on Earth. It sounds like a TV show.”
“You can learn a lot from TV shows. You remember the Traitors?”
“My Great Aunt was on that show.”
“You know why it was great TV? It showed how hidden hands can manipulate the majority. It also revealed how those on the right track are often afraid to stick their neck out, and when they do…”
“Yeah, best way to win that game is to keep your head down.”
“You’re not convinced, are you?”
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“You know, sceptics tend to be Sherlock Holmes fanboys, his being an evidence junky. They don’t realise they’re actually Watsons and Lestrades who can make neither head nor tail of the ordinary evidence hidden in plain sight.”
“Maybe if you give me an example of a conspiracy theory that was proven?”
“If the powers that be do their job there’s never any grand exposé. Canonised conspiracy theories are trifling ones. The Gulf of Tonkin, the Reichstag Fire-”
“Any examples of your own country being involved in one? Even a small one.”
“The Horizon scandal was a conspiracy theory, of sorts. Until it wasn’t.”
“Never heard of it.”
“No, well. The Post Office are hardly deep-state but...almost got away with mass false-prosecution. It took a TV drama to expose it after the usual apparatus failed. It’s not aliens but it demonstrates how easily people are gaslit. And if a minnow like the Post Office can do that- extrapolate accordingly.”
“You could use this argument to justify any conspiracy theory.”
“Not without smoking guns. A sudden spike in light-fingered sub-postmasters made no sense.”
“Any examples of conspiracy theories you don’t believe?”
“Some are bananas. The ‘Paul McCartney is dead' theory was genuinely conspicuous by its lack of evidence. And I was never on board with the moon landing hoax, the controversy was astronauts being muzzled about the aliens they saw on the moon. But something like 9/11 has smoking guns. When I was a whinging pomme I saw a BBC documentary debunking the 9/11 conspiracy theory that picked all the low-hanging fruit and ignored the serious points. That’s a strawman argument.”
“And what are those serious points?”
“Now there’s a rabbit hole! The thing about 9/11 is the quality of people who sacrificed good jobs and marriages to question the narrative. Lots of senior pilots said they simply couldn’t fly a plane into a building at that speed if they tried.”
“How was it was done then?”
“The Boeing Honeywell Uninterruptible Autopilot. Not actually patented until 2006 and for good reason. As you may recall, one of the planes didn’t make it to New York but they pulled WTC 7, the tower that plane was intended for, anyways. Not many people noticed three towers collapsed into their footprints that day.”
“You think America would kill thousands of its own?”
“I’ll give you that. That’s quite the stumbling block. But the lives of ordinary civilians have always been expendable and what 9/11 ultimately led to was the Iraq War- launched on the flimsiest of pretexts. Many more people died there.”
“I don’t really know much about Iraq or 9/11. It’s all a long time ago.”
“That’s the thing. One day TWA 800 is downed by a navy exercise missile, it’s all over the news, air traffic controllers seeing it on radar, eyewitnesses jamming television networks, loose-lips, amateur footage. It’s a tragic friendly-fire incident. Then the FBI step on the NTSB’s toes, the networks flip the narrative, Boeing do a sweetheart deal to take the rap, witnesses are intimidated, footage confiscated...tick tick tick- given time TWA, 9/11, MH370 and countless other controversies are deep in the bosom of the ocean buried. When Shakespeare said truth will out he was playing the long game.”
“What else d’you reckon on being covered up?”
“Look, it’s a long list. Who cares?”
“Why? What is this?”
“You’ve got an eye-opening perspective I’m happy to listen to.”
“Well, I talk too much.”
“One more story for the road, then.”
“This’ll scare you off, anyways. Animals are biological robots.”
“Biological robots?”
“The lights are on but no one’s at home, your pet is a biological cuddly toy. Well, some animals have souls, those will be family who want to be with you. So be careful. Your cat could be your mother.”
“So...could your Dad come back as your pet goldfish?”
“I see what you did there. Fish don’t get treats and belly rubs so what’s the point? Of course, none of this is easy to research. The wild west days of an unchlorinated Internet are gone.”
“I’ll add that to the list. Michael Gonzales, you’re under arrest for subversion of the Chinese state, misinformation crimes and conspiratorial beliefs for which there is no proof. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may harm your defence.”
“Oh crap.”
“Just kidding. You Gen Xers are something else. Last generation who grew up without Internet.”
“Funny you say that. My UFO quest began in 2000-ish when I, an Internet newbie, met an RAF reconnaissance pilot in a Yahoo chatroom. She didn’t talk shop but I asked her offhand if she’d seen a UFO and she told me a craft tracking her jet took off as soon as she went weapons warm. She and her co-pilot chased it from Scotland down to French airspace and were debriefed by three big wigs the next day, who said NASA tracked the thing leaving the atmosphere above Brazil at 38,000 miles an hour.”
“And you believed her?”
“Someone says they’re raped we take them seriously, someone saw a UFO there’s no evidence.”
“Right, just lots of stories.”
“I think it was Stalin who said quantity is its own form of quality.”
“Don’t you think you might be wrong?”
“I wish I was. I’ve lived a lonely life. Don’t YOU think you might be wrong?”
“I believe we choose our illusions, John. And I believe in kindness.”
“Good project. Respect.”
“Gotta go. Great talking to you. Stay lucky. And...get a shave, man. You’ve let yourself go a bit.”
“Will do.”
“Which way is the bus station?”
“That way.”
“I’m walking. Oh, and John? John’s your real name, isn’t it? Remember, we’re watching you.”

Recent ShowNotes

Reset… The… Clock

Last week's competition

Featured Entry

by AmyKO
It's Sunday afternoon, again.
I've learned to dread the weekends, as this is when I will become abandoned while he reverts to his (obviously) preferred persona; that of a single young man, cruising the bars and nightclubs until there is no option but to return home. He's not single though. He's my husband.

I'm relaxing in my favourite chair in front of the telly - a small glimmer of happiness I've learned to clutch on to. At least when he's out 'doing his thing' I have some freedom in the house that he doesn't trample all over. He also favours this particular seat. Between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, it has become mine. The race cars on the screen zoom and whine. Another familiar comfort. I've always loved to watch the race, ever since my dad and I used to sit together, placing penny bets on who would win.

The clock on the opposite wall ticks on, piercing the peace I'm forcing myself to feel, a reminder that he will return soon. Our toddler is napping upstairs. I'd have popped out to the supermarket already if she hadn't needed to sleep. There's nothing left in the cupboards for me to cook this evening. No doubt he will use that as a reason to call me useless. A bad wife. A justification for his absences. I check the time against the list in my head of all the tasks I should complete to avoid his wrath. It's approaching three o'clock. He could arrive, clattering through the front door, (definitely still under the influence though he'll deny it) at any time.

I've learned not to attempt to contact him during these disappearing acts. I've never been able to get hold of him so I don't bother wasting my time any more. His phone will ring and ring, or I'll only reach voicemail. I'm well and truly conditioned to put up with it and shut up about it.

The laundry needs folding and putting away; another load needs to be washed; the dishwasher needs loading; the bathroom needs cleaning and the stairs need vacuuming. Whether or not I put the effort into these mundane household tasks to show him I am competent and capable and that I am a good wife, the outcome will never change.

The clock reminds me that time is running out until his return and anxiety blooms from my gut to my chest. Tick-tock he'll be back any time now; tick tock you'd better get on with the chores. Tick fucking tock I don't want to feel like this any more!

Is this my life? Is this who I am? Small, quiet, cowed? Reframing moments of enforced solitude as a reward for putting up with being bullied, belittled and coerced into submission? I'm angry now, feeling restless and alive with an unfamiliar sense of realisation that I can take back my power. I don't have to repeat this never-ending empty drudgery of a life. My child doesn't need a cold emotional battleground as the backdrop to her youth.

What will my life become if I stay here? Undervalued, unloved, underwhelming. The clock ticks on, the seconds pushing forwards as the days of my life flash by; each one the same, each one as unremarkable as the last yet each one a moment of the rest of my life to endure.

When he returns I'll be gone. He can have the chair, the telly and the clock - ticking onwards through the days of his sad, wasteful life.

My time will be refreshed, buoyed by renewed freedom and hope and happiness. I will move through the days without the destructive weights of fear, unfulfillment and unfair expectations.

My clock has been reset.

Last Week's Winner!

Winning entry by safemouse
The Ferris wheel groaned like a rusty colonoscopy machine, as the inky sky dropped lazy spots of rain on the old coastal amusements. Evangeline, perched precariously on a frayed vinyl seat surveying the greasy drama beneath her. The thumping air had a whiff of cheap sex and shebeenish booziness, the night seemed like it knew something she didn’t.

Her gaze snagged on the flickering neon sign of Madame Zarina's 'Palace of Lost Time', pulsing on a garish wooden shack. It was a place whispered about in token asides that went nowhere; a place scarce visited or understood. The owner, after all, was just another washed-up fortune teller, a Romany woman, perhaps, with hand-to-mouth skin who used to peddle her bad tarot readings on the beach before the local council swept her aside. Now, she was back 7 years later, venturing some kind of time-warping swizz.

“I’m thinking of turning Muslim. I like the clobber,” said a displaced Cockney on the seat in front of Evangeline, to her mate, who was shoving fresh candyfloss into her gob.

“What, like Madame Zarina?” her friend mumbled, gesturing towards the vivid depiction of the fortune teller on the hoarding steeply below, all flowing robes and mystical trinkets. But what grabbed Evangeline, as it might a five year old, were the eyes peeping through a sequinned veil. They seemed to gaze across time itself, and know all of Evangeline’s intimate hopes, as their eyes met.

Possibilities swirled around Zarina, buoyed by tell of her ability to rewrite destinies, bend the gamma ray proof fabric of time. These suggestions, mind you, came from one not-very-popular post on a local online forum and a half-remembered bus conversation Evangeline wasn't even sure she'd ear-wigged correctly. But still. Evangeline, clinging to the wreckage of a life bobbing nowhere in particular, set Madam’s Zarina’s wares in her sights.
Curious though she was, in her mind she was more inclined to call Madam Zarina out for being a fraud than a cosmic life-coach.

And so Evangeline disembarked from the creaking contraption and headed towards the fairground attraction like a woman on a mission. The burlesque entrance was a maw of tattered velvet, draped with strings of fairy lights cheaper than their berth. As she stepped through, a not unwelcome cacophony assaulted her: the raucous heckle of the bazaar, the mournful wail of a gypsy violinist, the hypnotic thrum of a belly dancer's drum- otherwise known as a compact disc player programmed to repeat track 2.

A woman, her skin the colour of a Benidorm busker’s, sat under a dim light. Her eyes, the colour of a gathering storm, held Evangeline captive.

"Yes darling?" Her voice was a gravelly purr, laced with the scent of Silk Cut and the spell was broken.

Evangeline asked, "Um, is this a fortune telling thing?"

Madame Zarina motioned a manicured fingernail towards a cheap sign that read: "Three Questions About Your Time: £5."

Perplexity ran through Evangeline’s face like a swarm of hornets looking for someone to sting. This was a business model that surely had no place in the rough and tumble of a pop-up amusement park.

“Ask me about your life, but make sure all questions are time-related,” Zarina prompted.

“Right. Er…So...The universe is 14 billion years old…” Evangeline began, unsure. “So why me, why now?”

"Time," Zarina purred, "is a Marxist materialist construct. That will pass. In time. But in reality, the universe is infinite and no age at all.”

“Marxist whaaaat?”

“Materialist. A person who believes we our flesh and blood and nothing more. That life is nothing but a walking shit bucket. You are familiar with the mind-body problem, no?”

“Wow. You use quite high-brow words. Did you go to university?” Eva exlaimed.

“I use Chat GPT to help me express myself when I’m selling gigs on Fiverr but what you see now is what you get.”


Zarina nodded casually and took a puff on a cigarette that had appeared faster than a non-smoker’s frown.

“Anyway, to answer your question-cos I don’t think too much mystical talk is going to be much good with you. Why are you here? Why now? Well, let me tell you,” Madam Zarina said.

Evangeline leaned forward cockily, in spite of a former wish to remain contained.

"You're adrift, darling," Zarina rasped, her voice a glum tremor that hung closely in the shack's rickety frame. "Lost in the Sargasso Sea of unfulfilled potential. But the currents have a way of guiding even the most rudderless vessel."

“They do?” Evangeline, with unrestrained sarcasm, which Madam Zarina ignored. The flowery speech borrowed from artificial intelligence is strong with this one, Evangeline thought.

“You have another question?” Zarina asked.

“I do, oh cosmic one. Why not stick with basic fortune telling? This time thing is confusing the punters.”

Madam Zarina shrugged without moving her shoulders.

“Everyone’s fortune is the same. All readings are about love, death or money. You can only tell people what they want to hear. And the truth is, fortune will not smile on anybody unless it meets them half-way. I wanted to try something different. You’re right, though. Business is bad and I’ve less money to spend on designer shoes.”

A fortune teller who used Chat GPT and spent her ill gotten gains on fancy shoes? This was peak low-rent mystical.

Fortunately, our girl Evangeline had imagined the whole thing, as she was wont to, projecting a future coloured with her own concerns. Obviously a fortune teller is not going to say, ‘Time is a Marxist materialist construct.’ That was some graffiti she saw on a wall and she had no idea what it meant, other than nothing. And there she was, still on her vinyl seat on the big wheel wondering about what that damn Palace of Lost Time was actually about. Was it some kind of hall of mirrors, was it a ghost-train type thing?

She had to know the purpose of that overwrought but rather nicely painted shed down there. She would spend a few quid. Why not? The Ferris wheel curtseyed Evangeline back onto the teenage playground. She wandered through hot-dog scented convection and stuffed toy con artists toward the Palace of Lost Time with a bit of a skip in her step. On the fortune shack a rusty sign proclaimed: "Enter at Your Own Peril."

And in the inner reaches sat a woman, shrouded in darkness. Her face was obscured by a heavy veil of crimson silk, only the glint of obsidian eyes piercing through.

"Welcome, seeker of lost time. What is it you seek?"

Evangeline swallowed, her voice barely a whisper. "I...I don't know. Maybe a glimpse of what could have been? A chance to undo a mistake?"

There was a long silence, punctuated only by the relentless ticking of the clock. Then, the voice.

"Ah, the siren song of what-ifs. Imagine how precious now is. I hate to quote an INXS song, because it makes it sound so feckin’ trivial, but all you’ve got is this moment. What is it you are so afraid to grasp? Isn’t it about time you just started living? Quit the job at the McDonald’s drivethru?”

“How did you know I worked there?”

“And maybe it’s time to let Dave go. That relationship is so 2019.”

“And how did you know...”

“Ah, but this job is all bullshit, isn’t it?” Madam Zarina said with a left -handed flourish or her slender fingers.

“Nah, that’s not it,” said Eva, who was still on her ferris wheel, trying to conjure how things might pan out in the beguiling Palace of Lost Time. “Might just as well, go and see what it’s all about,” she concluded.

And so she hopped off and trod forth with the resignation of one consigned to inevitable disappointment.

In the confines of the shack once again she found a woman seated on a table in the centre of some sort of boudoir with an Eastern feel. Incense, low lights, cushions, curtains, tassels.

“My child. What is it you wish to know?”
“Why is this called the Palace of Lost Time? Is it because I am wasting my time coming here?”

“Is that your question?” Zarina asked with wide-eyed surprise and languid eye lashes.

“No. My question, what I’ve always wanted to know is: does all time exist at once or is the future really some as yet untrodden vista?”

“I’m afraid all that can be exists now.”

“Really? Even 120 men having sex in a line with a hippopotamus in the middle and a giraffe eating jelly?”

“And brushing its teeth. Seriously, is that weirdest thing you can think of, innocent child!”

“Then if such things can be why am I working in McDonald’s?”

“You raise a fair point. I guess time is not to be trucked with. Unless all parties in that line are consenting adults.”

There was something about Madam Zarina’s eyes. They were shining with love. Then she looked down at Aisha’s hand. She was holding Evangeline’s own and putting a ring on her finger.

“I was waiting so long for you to ask,” she said as they sat in their upscale restaurant with a view of the sea in some permissive but not-so-very-far from the Middle East locale. Lesbos, perhaps.

“I have waited for this moment for a hundred lifetimes. I have waited and waited. But now we are here. And I’m never going to let you go,” Aisha Zarina replied.

The eyes. They were making her very sleepy. She was looking into the eyes, the eyes… of the Muslim nurse.



“You’re awake!”
“So it would seem. Where am I?”
“In hospital.”
“How long have I been here?”

“About 6 weeks. You’ve been in a coma. Wait a moment. There’s a young man who wishes to speak to you.”

The young man was already at her side.

“Evangeline? It’s me, Dave.”

“Where is Aisha?”

“Who’s Aisha?”

“What’s happening? Where am I?”

“It’s okay. You were on a ferris wheel that collapsed.”

“Oh my God. Was anybody hurt?”

“Yes, there were a few injuries, unfortunately. And one person died."

"Who? Please tell me..."

Dave looked at the nurse for guidance and then down at the bedside table.

"Someone called Madam Zarina.”

Evangeline gasped, but Zarina's words were sharp in her ears: "Isn't it about time you just started living?"

"Dave," Evangeline said, her voice stronger now, a newfound resolve settling in. "I need you to leave."

Dave's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Evangeline, I—"

"Please," she interrupted, her gaze unwavering. "Just for now."

He lingered for a moment, his expression a mix of concern and confusion. And loneliness. The nurse busied herself. Finally, with a resigned nod, he turned and left the room.

Evangeline looked at the newspaper on the bedside table. The nurse paused, wondering if it was right to overload her senses but instinctively picked up the newspaper.

"Please. Let me see it for a moment. It's so important."

The nurse held the local newspaper headline in front of her and her eyes slowly wandered across the print capitals until they landed on a picture with a caption: "Fatal Ferris Wheel Accident: Fortune teller identified as victim."

She looked into the eyes of the woman. The eyes. Gazing across time. Deeply into hers. How would she ever find her again? A hot tear ran down her cheek and splashed onto the torn vinyl seat on the ferris wheel. And she looked down on the Palace of Lost Time. This time she had to throw caution to the wind. End all doubts and all fears.

She alighted from the ferris wheel. Taking a deep breath, she pushed aside the velvet curtain and ducked inside. The air hung heavy with incense and the smell of something vaguely floral. A woman, shrouded in darkness except for a cascade of shimmering silver bangles, sat on a pile of plush cushions.

"About time, seeker," the woman's voice purred, smooth as silk. "What is it you yearn to know?"

Featured Entry

by Babybell
The air con is getting uncomfortable, but what's really making me shiver is a cold realisation that sticks to my throat. The thought of doing this job for the rest of my life, or even a few years, drops my body temperature right down. The little hairs on my arms rise to attention, to the panic that hovers over me. A patient with a tall, grey topknot hands me her slip. I take the orange paper with dread, unable to shake off the meaninglessness of it all. I do what I always do. 'Is there any particular day that is better for you?' 'I'm afraid the Hygienist is all booked up until October, but we can put you on the cancellations list.' 'Would you like your appointments emailed to you?'

My first day was filled with such nerves, I felt like a child not wanting to go to school. So much to learn, a new team to navigate, a fresh client base ... I even convinced myself the uniform looked alright. But now, I dread zipping up the grey pencil skirt that does nothing for my figure; the black blouse with its unnecessarily straight, pleated neckline; the shoulder-padded blazer with its crushingly fake pockets. Just leave, you think. You do think that, don't you? The problem is, it's my third week. I'm as fresh as a baby's bottom and I can barely summon my body to get out of the car each morning. Arriving back from lunch is worse still. The effort it takes to return is phenomenal. On Tuesday, I had a glass of wine. On Friday, I walked around for an hour looking for signs; something, anything, to guide me in a direction that wasn't this one. A pigeon fluttered in a tree (was that a sign?); my coffee was £3.80 (a sign?); a mallard glistened in the sun (surely, a sign, but what?).

The wall clock shows a time I don't understand. I've been here for hours yet mere minutes have passed. It reminds me of Lucifer's hell loop, but I'm not on television and there's always hope on television. The white background of the clock melts into its silver dial, which in turn melts into the white wall and disintegrates into nothing. I feel like I will disintegrate here.

I don't fit in. I always fit in at work, but not here. It's an unfamiliar feeling that lingers on my skin, emerges from behind corners, cupboards and doors. I don't feel like myself; don't lift people's spirits, my creative skills lie dormant. I avoid the staff room, eat on the move, go to the bathroom just to breathe. I am not me here. I am, quite possibly, nothing.

It's Monday afternoon. I stand on the opposite side of the road, staring at the building. The sun beats down on me, causing me to sweat, but the air con is still full blast inside. I can't go back in but I can't stand here either. Cars fly impatiently past. My eyes sweat until my cheeks are sticky. Maybe the pigeon was a sign. They can find their way home from hundreds of miles away. Pigeons can smell the very scent of their home. How can I do the same? Home is a feeling, not a place. Where can I look for this feeling, how can I recognise its smell? Despite not knowing any of these things, I swear I can taste a piece of it; subtly sweet with a smooth, thick texture. The kind of texture that doesn't go cold or disappear into walls. The kind that regulates time. Lunch is over.
My Notes