by Lloyd Williams
This plot is for the story writers out there.
The premise is this.
Two friends are scouring the fair streets of my home town, Wolverhampton, in the attempt to get as many people as they possibly can to sign a birthday card for their friend Melissa.
Each entry focuses on a person the two friends, Sarah and Rachael, have approached to sign the card. The title for your entry will be the message signed
e.g the first chapter is called 'Dear Melissa, Happy Birthday! Hope this makes you feel better! Love Sarah and Rach xx P.S. These guys wanted to send their birthday greetings too! XX
Your story can go wherever you want it to. It can be funny, tragic, scary, romantic, whatever, the only rule is that Sarah and Rachael approach the character for their birthday greeting to Melissa.
The characters of Sarah, Rachael and Melissa should be consistent so keep your eyes on previous entries. Your characters are your own, do with them what you will.
Dear Melissa, happy birthday! Hope this makes you feel better. Love Sarah and Rach xx P.S. These guys wanted to send you their birthday greetings too!
The idea was simple. Sarah and Rachael bought the biggest birthday card they could find for their friend. Now they wanted to fill it with as many names as possible.
It didn’t matter who they were, what they were doing or whether they even knew Melissa. The objective here was names names names, nothing else mattered.
The sun was shining, that was good. The air was crisp and the wind sharp but the sky was blue for the first time in days. On this Sunday morning churches would be full, dogs would be happily walked and the two friends would scour the streets, shops and cafés of Wolverhampton in their insatiable desire for names and birthday messages to their friend.
Melissa hated birthdays.
She never said why but Sarah and Rachael knew.
Today was the only day of the year Melissa would hear from her father.
The card would arrive as usual on the big day.
Actually it wouldn’t, not this year. This year it would have arrived yesterday, Saturday, the last post of the week. Melissa would know from the handwriting it was her father’s card. She wouldn’t have opened it, that wouldn’t be right. To open it a day early would ruin an annual ritual followed by a melancholy of special reserve.
Melissa always opened her other cards and gifts first. This, as far as she was concerned, was the duration of her birthday. The card from her father was last and it was always the same.
She would regard the message before tossing the card and empty envelope to one side. The cheque would be torn up shortly afterwards, despite protestations from her mother, and Melissa’s birthday would be over for another year.
Sarah knew of this ritual. She’d been friends with Mel as long as she could remember. Mel’s father had been absent all that time. Sarah was Melissa’s confidante and knew all there was to know.
Her best friend’s birthday fell in January
‘The bastard can’t even be bothered to send me a card at Christmas, he just wishes me merry Christmas and happy new year in my birthday card. He probably means the cheque to cover both too the tight bastard.’
Friday hadn’t been a good day.
The rain matched Mel’s mood which deteriorated as the day passed, as the card was carried ever closer by Royal Mail. By home time Sarah felt rotten and full of sympathy for her friend. Then she had the idea and the call was made.
‘So we get total strangers, who don’t know her and who she doesn’t know, to write in Mel’s card?’ Rachael was dubious.
‘Because, by the time we have all the names in the card we can take it to her, it might cheer her up.’
‘Nobody will sign, why should they?’
‘Why wouldn’t they? We’re not asking them to sign away their souls, just a happy birthday and a few words.’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Well we’re doing it, we can’t just let her be miserable all day on her birthday.’
‘Isn’t there something else we can do?’
‘No, besides, what else do you have planned on Sunday?’
So it began.
Dear Melissa, happy birthday, whoever you are, don’t drink too much (trust me), Alex x
It was too cold. Dry, but cold. The wind blew across his face and dried his cracked lips.
He knew last night had been a mistake. The Student Union was always a mistake on Saturday night.
A couple of drinks. When did he ever have just a couple of drinks?
His body protested with every step. His stomach complained of being hungry and feeling sick at the same time and his head was a dead weight on his shoulders. He felt heavy and numbed by the cold.
Alex removed his hand from the safe warmth of his coat pocket to check the time.
It was the busses. Services into the city were terrible on Sundays and they always let him down. Even without a stinking hangover the busses would hinder him.
His mouth felt furry and dry. He’d been smoking again.
He had to stop smoking when he was drunk.
His breath was a pungent mix of cigarettes and whiskey. His toothbrush had barely been introduced to his mouth before Alex had to rinse. He would never have made the bus if he’d spent the time required cleaning his teeth. A quick brush and go and he was out in the cold.
Of course the bus had been late anyway and now here he was, power walking along Dudley Street.
Had he really been here drinking a few hours ago?
The city looked like a different place with sober eyes and sunlight.
Like last night’s revellers, Wolverhampton’s change of wardrobe altered it beyond recognition for a day of work. It looked respectable except for the remains of a kebab here and a slice of pizza there.
Alex was already late and decided he had nothing to loose by grabbing a coffee. Without caffeine he wouldn’t function, being at work would be totally useless. A cup of coffee might get him through the morning, Ibuprofen would carry the afternoon and then it would be evening, then he could go home and let sleep take over for the night.
He longed for five o’ clock and the next six and a half hours stretched before him like a desert.
He felt sick.
The sunshine was nice, but not warming. Had it been raining the morning would have been a wash out. The patter of water on his windows would have driven Alex further beneath the duvet, giving him more reason to skip work. As it was, the bright sun dragged him out into the world where he could fully experience the results of last night.
A couple of drinks,
When had he ever had just a couple of drinks on a Saturday night?
He felt the wind blowing a tuft of hair on the back of his head. He’d managed to make it look tidy but had obviously missed a spot. He tried to brush it down with his hand only for the wind to disturb it immediately afterwards.
It wasn’t worth the effort.
Today called for as little effort as possible, as little thought as possible and as little hassle as possible.
The hair was too much effort and hassle and he didn’t care to think about how scruffy he looked.
The green Starbucks sign came into sight. He could taste the coffee already and knew things would be a little better after his first cup. The wind blew and brought tears to his eyes. It didn’t matter. He was honing in on the green blur before him.
Warmth! Warm, coffee smelling warmth.
The heated door fan blew the tuft of hair as it massaged his head for a split second. His cheeks immediately flushed as blood rushed to the surface, desperate for the heat.
After the initial pleasantness, the smell caused his stomach to protest.
It demanded he leave. It wouldn’t accept a creamy latte this morning. After last night his stomach was on strike, angered by the abuse suffered.
His mind didn’t care. It needed caffeine and his fuzzy mouth craved a taste other than stale drink and tobacco.
He followed the procedure. Drink, size, extra shots, syrups, drink in or take away, two fifty, your drink will be served at the end of the bar, thank you next.
He shuffled along, waiting patiently whilst the passing seconds tormented his brain. A terrible jazz track played in the background while in front, two girls laughed loudly, disturbing his peace further.
One of them looked around, turned back and nudged her friend. The nudge was returned.
The last thing Alex wanted were pissy girls playing games. Thankfully their drinks were served and he shuffled further forwards.
Time dragged its heels in sync with the barista but finally his hands grasped a warm, Styrofoam cup. His fingers tingled, his tongue was bristled in anticipation.
Still the condiments bar was a challenge. His hangover and the cold had combined to make his fingers a clumsy rabble. He wasn’t sure he could remove the lid, pour sugar and replace said lid without burning his hands. Gently, he prised the plastic cover from his cup.
He turned to see the two girls standing behind him, side by side like the twins in The Shining, smiling.
Now he had a problem.
He was late for work, hung-over and had already taken a dislike to these girls, yet he couldn’t help but warm to them now, to their freshness.
They were almost glowing.
It was something in their smiles. They actually looked happy, as though life were going easy on them. Alex felt envious.
Life was pushing him from pillar to post and back again without regard.
He had coursework due last week, still sitting on his desk, incomplete. His flat was a mess and the university were investigating him for an incident involving The Man on The Horse in Queen Square.
It was just a statue for god sakes.
Had he dressed a real horse as Santa Clause complete with hat and shaving foam beard, he could understand the furore. It was just a joke, but the university didn’t seem to agree. The hearing was next week.
But now these girls stood before him smiling and things didn’t seem so bad.
‘Do you want to sign a birthday card for our friend?’ the brunette asked. She had brown eyes full of sparkle to match her smile.
The blond chipped in, ‘We want as many names as we can get,’ she pulled a huge birthday card from a plastic bag.
Alex was confused but intrigued, ‘Do I know your friend?’
‘So will you sign it?’
He was charmed. He looked a mess. They could probably smell the drink and fags wafting from him but still they stood there, smiling. He had to admit they were pretty cute.
He hadn’t given them an answer when the brunette held out a selection of coloured pens,
He took green. It matched the top she was wearing. ‘Good choice, my favourite colour.’
‘No shit,’ he said, smiling now for the first time today. The girls giggled. ‘Ok, what’s your friend’s name?’
‘Melissa,’ they both chimed before laughing again.
He signed the card. The writing was scruffy and hurried. It was difficult to hold the giant card and write in it without a platform to lean on. He managed to scrawl the message and hand the card back.
'Thank you, would you like a lollipop?’ The blond held out a bag of sweets. Now his mind didn’t argue with his stomach’s protest.
‘No, no thanks, far too early, need coffee first,’ he held up his cup, ‘I need to get to work now I’m so late,’
‘Where do you work?’
‘The record store on Salop Street,’
‘I know that shop,’ chirped the blond, ‘we might come and visit you later.’
The girls walked away, turning and waving as they went.
Alex pondered for a minute before he was reminded of the time and how late he was. It didn’t seem to worry him so much now.
As far as the first human contact for the day went, that was ok. He felt more awake already and capable of getting through the day. Even his coursework and the upcoming disciplinary hearing didn’t seem so bad. His smile sustained and Alex was surprised his face was flexible enough for the challenge. Work didn’t seem so bad either and he set off.
He tried to retain their faces in his memory so he could recognise them later on. The blond was fading fast but the brunette was etched in his mind. Her eyes and smile had been quite fetching, the perfect hangover cure. He looked forward to seeing her again and hoped she would visit, like she said she would.
From behind him he heard one of them call and he turned around. They had the card open and were reading his message.
‘She won’t be drinking!’ The brunette called, ‘she’s only sixteen!’ The girls giggled and went on their way.
Alex carried on walking.
Then they were only fifteen, sixteen, tops.
‘I’m going straight to hell,’ he mumbled as he shuffled off to work.
Dear Melissa, happy birthday and whatever your friends think they saw today, they're mistaken! Okay?! Arthur.x
' Why did I come back? ' One half of his brain was asking.
One half of a brain that had for some time lost all grasp of cold reality, and lost any sense of reason and decency.
' To finish the job... ' the other half replied. ' ...To ensure it was done correctly. Last night it was too dark, I was too slap-dash and I was devoid of practical rationality. I was weeping for god's sake, weeping out of total disgust at what I'd done. The streaming tears of disbelief and shock at how events could escalate like they had. That would surely have hindered a task well done. '
' And the fear of course, ' the other half continued. ' Fear of the inevitable consequences would no doubt have clouded my judgement, and added to the shoddiness of my night's work. That's why I came back. That's why I had to come back. '
' Yeah right, but in the broad light of day? ' the first half of his brain countered. ' On a bright and cold morning like this when the whole of bloody Wolverhampton can bear witness to my activities? Clever boy! Clever old boy! '
If half of a man's brain had possessed a pair of miniature hands with which to mockingly applaud, it would certainly have done so at this point.
Despite the cold, Arthur Stoltz had to wipe a layer of sweat from his forehead as he leant upon his spade.
Considering his lot at the allotment.
Turmoil amongst the soil.
Strictly speaking, he wasn't supposed to be on these premises anyway. His own patch had been confiscated and his tenure had been terminated several months earlier, when a fellow vegetable enthusiast had caught Arthur taking a widdle on his prize turnips.
He'd been sent packing with his tail between his legs...so to speak. But not before he'd managed to take a copy of the key to the large iron gate of this urban greenery.
Well he'd figured it was bound to come in handy at some point. Perhaps he might find an unused plot where he could cultivate some secret night-time beetroots.
Perhaps he could widdle on a few more turnips.
Never did he foresee using it as a burial site for his dearly departed wife.
His dearly departed nagging wife.
His dearly departed not nagging me anymore though are you, you stupid little bitch wife.
But all the same, he'd known the key would come in handy eventually.
One more layer of soil, Arthur decided. He'd at least been careful enough to choose a plot that received very little sunlight, and therefore was rarely ever used.
One more layer, and then he'd get the hell out of there. Swallow the key and never set eyes on the damned place ever again.
Not that he'd done that bad a job the previous night actually. He was pleasently surprised, on his cagey return that morning, to only find one freshly varnished finger protruding through the earth.
Not bad for an insane, wide-eyed blubbering amateur.
' Jeffery Dahmer eat your heart out ' he'd congratulated himself, ' If you haven't already done so that is. '
Maybe he could make a go of this murdering lark, didn't seem that difficult really.
He began his final dig....
" Excuse me sir! "
' Why did I come back? ' One half of his brain reiterated, and not without a hint of smug satisfaction.
He turned, one foot still perched on the shovel-head, to see two young girls picking their way precariously through a potato patch. One was blonde, clutching something large and rectangular. The other was brunette, following behind with a less enthusiastic stride.
' Oh terrific, a couple of silly schoolgirls doing a school project, just what I need. Thank the Lord above, thank you so bloody much! '
" Hello " said the blonde cheerfully.
" Hi " said Arthur, leaning on his spade, nonchalantly. ' Easy does it now ' he told himself, ' nice and relaxed. It's a sunday morning and you're just planting some nice fresh cabbages. No reason to.....
" Oh my god! " said the blonde alarmed, " are you okay? "
Arthur scrambled back to his feet and glanced ruefully down at the spade that had snapped beneath his weight.
" Yes, yes I'm fine, " he muttered.
" I'm so sorry if we startled you sir, did you hurt yourself? "
" No, not at all. Just banged my dead slightly- my head slightly. " Arthur could see that the other girl behind was trying desperately to keep a straight face. He gave her a brief look that said ' I've murdered once sweetheart, I could quite happily do it again. '
" So er, what can I do for you two lovely young bodies...I mean ladies, sorry, ladies. "
The two girls exchanged a quick glance. The brunette giggled, but somewhat nervously.
" Well, " said the blonde, rediscovering her cheery disposition, " we've got a birthday card here for our friend Melissa, and we're trying to get as many birthday messages from as many people as possible...."
" Why? " What's wrong with you! a voice in his head screamed, don't prolong this by asking questions. Just sign the damned card and get rid of them!
" She's had a rough time, " the brunette chipped in.
" Ah, " said Arthur. " Such is wife. "
" Pardon? "
" I said such is life. "
" No, " said the blonde with a giggle, " you said such is wife. "
" I did? "
Both girls nodded. " Are you sure you're okay? " asked the blonde. " Did we catch you at a bad time or something, you seem a bit...erm... stressed out. "
" Well to be honest, I am a bit. Not anything I'd want to murder you with though...sorry, burden! Burden you with! "
The two girls exchanged another slightly perturbed glance, whilst Arthur stared down at the earth, cursing himself.
" So erm, anyway. Would you like to sign the card? I'm sure Melissa would really appreciate it. "
" Of corpse I'll sign it, but what should I slay in it? " Shit!
" Pardon? "
" Of course I'll sign it, but what should I say in it? "
" Well you don't need to put much, just wish her a happy birthday and sign it. "
" Okay. "
" Choose a pen, " the blonde held out a selection of pens.
Arthur gazed at the choice before him.....
Flashbacks, images, the horror, the screams for help, the screams for him to stop, PLEASE STOP! The blood...everywhere....seeping from her lifeless head, smeared across the wall, on his trembling hands....Oh my god! What have I done?! ....
" I'll use the red one, " he said.
" And help yourself to a lollipop, " said the brunette, proffering a bag of sweets.
" Thanks, I've already beaten- eaten. " Arthur clasped the pen top between his teeth and began scrawling his message.
" So er, what are you planting here? "
" Dead women, " Arthur replied absently, as the giant card flapped awkwardly in the wind.... " Potatoes, " he added hurriedly, " Dead women potatoes, a new type that's replaced King Edwards. "
" Oh.... I see. "
" There you go girls, " he handed the card back to the blonde. ' Now please piss off ' he thought to himself.
" Thank you so much for your time sir, very kind of you. "
Arthur exhaled as evenly as he could as he watched the girls stumble off across the various plots, returning their occasional waves back at him.
" Yes, " he muttered, " Aren't I a kind soul. "
His bladder was at bursting point. " Now where was that turnip patch again? "