Day 6. Another short story. May have got a bit… weird… this time. But all in the name of good clean fun!
6. Eye Contact: Write about two people seeing each other for the first time.
I didn’t quite stick to the brief, but was inspired by, as I had been the other days.
Jon can remember the first time he saw him; those big, brown, puppy dog eyes, that wagging tale. He can remember how his heart sank with a weakness that comes from pure, heart breaking love. He was so small, so innocent, so perfect. Jon just wanted to pick him up and squeeze him tight and never let go! He was so agonisingly cute! And Jon’s sister was correct, he would make a perfect replacement for her.
‘May I?’ he asked Mrs Cudgleson as he reached down to pick him up. Mrs Cudgleson nodded her approval. Jon picked up the small, brown puppy and lifted him up above his head, a smile stretching from ear to ear as the puppy hung within his grasp, not fussing, not struggling, not really sure what to do.
Now, readers must be warned – this is not the ‘happy’ part of the story. What I mean by that is that you should be surprised if the puppy survives the first page. I’m sorry. But don’t get too sad; all of this is just a build up, a background story to help ground you in what happens next.
Mrs Cudgleson’s dog, a purebred of some description (Jon didn’t know about dog breeds too well) called Arianrhod, had a litter of puppies. Jon always considered it rather cruel that a puppy would be split apart from his brothers and sisters from such an early age, but when he saw the tiny creature now in his hands, his heart melted and was overcome with a sense of burning jealousy – if he couldn’t have him, no one can!
‘This one!’ he said to Mrs Cudgleson, a tear welling on his lower eyelids. It was meant to be a request, an offer the he would like to purchase this particular puppy, but it came out rather… rather blunt. ‘I want this one!’
He snuffled his face into the puppies underside in a loving, playful manner, much to Mrs Cudgleson’s disapproval. ‘I shall call you Mr Scruffles!’ Jon spoke triumphantly but with a childish highness in his voice. He continued to fuss and play with his new best friend. ‘Yes I will, Mr Scruffles! Yes I will!’
Mrs Cudgleson gave a loud ‘tut’.
He was right. Mr Scruffles was the perfect replacement for her. The years past and the two were inseparable, as far as work and social events would allow. Mr Scruffles grew into a strong, happy and playful dog of some description (Jon still didn’t know about dog breeds), and where women came and went and relationships crushed Jon just a little more, Mr Scruffles was always there to pick up the pieces.
And so it is understandable that, after five years and seven months together, when Mr Scruffles was crushed under a bin lorry, Jon fell into a deep and pitiful depression. His sister couldn’t cheer him up, the £3,000 compensation received from the council couldn’t cheer him up. He was a mess.
It took him a while before he could face stepping foot outdoors. At first he had no appetite. His sister would bring him food and prepare it in his flat, but he couldn’t bring himself to force it down (no judgement here, either, Jon’s sister was a terrific chef if you considered a frozen pizza in the oven for 20 minutes to be terrific chef-ing – and Jon did). Yet his appetite was not there, and during this period he lost quite a bit of weight.
Weeks passed and he started to consider food again – just picking at it. About a month after and his sister, practising the ‘hard’ sort of love they use in the military or Bond Villain facilities, decided she would help him to help himself by not helping him at all. This didn’t quite work. The food he had was stale and mouldy, but he made of it what he could because he could not force himself to step outside.
As a result of eating the gone off food, he was ill for a week. He lost a bit more weight. Eventually he had nothing, and he needed to (and I mean absolutely needed to) to leave the flat.
He put on some now-ill-fitting clothes and blew out the candles and incense sticks which decorated the Mr Scruffles Shrine, grabbed his wallet and keys and stepped out of the flat.
The sun burned at his face, and he stumbled his first few steps as his vision turned from out of focus (everything is a glaring blur) to a 1980’s style glamorous soft-focus (everyone is slightly more attractive than usual), eventually to a full, crisp 4K vision (life is stained with blemish and detailed imperfections).
The shop was a five minute walk away, but when you haven’t walked for three months, not to mention being practically starved, a five minute walk takes fifteen minutes and feels like two hours. As he approached the storefront, however, Jon stumbled under the weight of a terrible shock.
A child of around 10 years old stepped out of the shop, his mother leading in one hand, a red helium balloon attached by string in the other. In a thick black marker, a face was clumsily drawn on the stretched surface of the balloon, clearly markings of the child’s own creation.
The hair was a mess of scribbled ink, the lips looked like two smiling bananas stretched out, the nose was nothing more than an ‘L’ shape. The eyes were the shape of rugby balls with large circles–
Jon’s heart broke.
Those… big, brown… puppy dog eyes.
The boy and his mother walked past the malnourished Jon, who had stumbled to his knees and stared hopelessly towards the balloon. The boy’s mother tightened her grip and hurried her son past the poor man.
For a short moment Jon pondered the wisdom of following a small boy to ask for his balloon, especially in his current state, which he appreciated looked less than friendly. But the thought that the soul of Mr Scruffles, his dog and best friend, was somehow trapped, imprisoned, within the child’s helium balloon just made sense. He pulled himself to his feet, and followed.
The mother and son combo made their way through the streets to a large and busy high street, passing by pedestrians and shoppers alike. They stopped at the bakers to buy the child a sausage roll (Jon was getting quite hungry now), and another time to look at the books in the window of a charity bookshop.
Jon stayed behind, keeping his distance, but keeping them in sight. He was trying to formulate a plan, but instead his mind was creating crackpot theories as to exactly why the soul of his poor, crushed dog was captured in the prison cell that is a helium balloon. How could this have happened? What did it mean for Mr Scruffles? Too many questions. Jon lost sight of his target. If Mr Scruffles was trapped within the balloon, then the balloon was stopping him from reaching the afterlife, doggy-heaven. Jon spotted a big red face bobbing above the crowd and he made a move.
The soul – Mr Snuffles – for him to be at rest, truly at peace in doggy-heaven, he needs to rise from this world, and that damned balloon was the only thing in his way! That damned balloon was the one thing keeping Mr Scruffles in this world, or even worse – doggy-purgatory!
And then it struck him. A realisation of a deep truth, intrinsically plaited into the microcosm, a vital fact of the universe forgotten or ignored by mankind, a revelation of such power that Jon himself was overcome with the dizziness of it all. That he had been chosen to house this truth, that he should share it with the world.
The doggy-souls long to go to doggy-heaven, which everyone knows is far above the clouds. Their souls rise to that place of peace and eternal joys. Balloons also rise, but only when inflated with helium. Could it be? Is it true?
His voice shook as the words escaped his lips.
‘Helium is made from… souls?’
Jon stumbled under the shock and exhaustion of it all. Yes! It was the only viable answer, the only thing that made sense!
‘Helium is made from souls…’
A little louder now. The people around him were taking notice.
‘Helium is made from souls!’
The truth needed to be know, and Mr Scruffles needed to be released! Take the balloon from the child by any means necessary! Release it into the atmosphere! It will eventually pop and so release Mr Scruffles to doggy-heaven!
Screaming like a madman, Jon ran through the crowd, pushing people out of his way until he got to the child and his mother. The two looked terrified. The mother knelt and shielded her son. Jon wouldn’t hurt the child, or at least that wasn’t the plan.
‘Helium is souls’ he pleaded with here. ‘I need to set Mr Scruffles free! Please, give me the balloon!’
She looked at him, the fear in her eyes made Jon’s heart fill with sadness. This wasn’t what he wanted. Panicked, she gave him the balloon, and in one steady motion, he threw it into the sky shouting ‘Be free, Mr Scruffles! Be free!’
The balloon rose and rose. Then stopped for a moment. Then started to descend. No. Mr Scruffles was a good boy. He deserved doggy-heaven! Then Jon noticed a weight at the end of the balloon’s string – a little pink plastic weight in the shape of a smiley face. It had just touched the ground, the balloon floating above it. Mr Scruffles’ soul longing to be free.
Jon grabbed at the string and tore off the weight. The balloon ascended, ascended. Jon cried out in his pleasure! Mr Scruffles was free!
In all of this commotion, Jon had failed to notice the crowds part. He had failed to notice the sirens as they came closer. He had failed to hear the officer’s warning, and so the pain of the taser came as somewhat a shock.
The questioning cell was dark and cold. Or at least Jon thought it was cold. It felt cold. The walls were grey. The table was grey. The chairs and tape-recorder, the CCTV camera in the corner and little teapot on the table, the stack of Earl Grey tea bags – all grey. A large mirror set into one wall reflected more grey. Jon had seen enough ‘Hollywood’ to recognise this mirror was not for his vanity. After ten minutes of waiting, the grey door ahead of him opened up, and a suited man entered.
Silently, this stranger took a seat opposite Jon, maintaining eye contact behind shades. As though the room wasn’t dark enough… why would anyone need to wear shades!? Something didn’t feel right to Jon.
He took sight of the strangers right hand. It was clothed in a white latex glove. The sort a doctor would wear when performing a physical. Jon clenched at the thought. But the glove looked somewhat puffed up; inflated.
Using his left hand, the stranger fished a remote control from his jacket pocket, and clicked it towards the grey CCTV camera. The grey blinking light next to the lense went dark. As he did this, his right arm started to rise. The stranger placed the remote on the table and brought the floating hand down with his left.
‘Jon. I assume you know why you are here?’
Jon looked at him with wide eyes. He didn’t. Well… not fully. This was a little extreme for stealing a kids balloon, surely?
The stranger’s right arm started to rise again as he pulled out and flicked through a very thin profile folder. He pulled out a little pink plastic weight in the shape of a smiley face and slipped the connecting ribbon around the ring finger of his right hand. The arm lowered and settled on the table. ‘Excuse that,’ he said, ‘old war injury.’
Jon stared at him. Now he was very uncertain of his mental wellbeing. This was beyond a joke. He looked at the man’s face, imagining sharp, piercing eyes scrutinising him from behind the shades.
‘Jon, My name is Mr Haffleton.’ the stranger spoke in clear, confident words. ‘I represent the Haffleton Latex and Helium Company.’
Jon shuddered. His brain exploded a little bit. He was right!?
Haffleton removed his shades.
Jon wet himself.
Mr Haffleton’s eyes were nothing more than the markings of a thick black marker pen; two eyes crudely drawn onto a smooth, stretched latex skin.
‘We need to talk.’