Monday, 16 July 2007

A stab at a story (first draft)

On a dreary day, in a dreary town in a dreary part of England, Margaret Slaughter was shuffling home, wheeley bag in tow. Her path and footfalls were automatic. The once weekly trip to the supermarket had become the highlight of her life. A depressing thought, she mused.

Her large, thick glasses reflected the silhouette of never ending ugliness that was the council estate. She longed to get away from this, from her life. Just a bit more money, that's all. A little more saving and she'd be free from the monotony.

It was chance that made Mrs. Slaughter's trolley’s wheel catch in a pavement crack. As she struggled to free it, her weak eyes caught sight of something bright. Anyone else would have dismissed it as broken glass, catching the glare from the nearby street lamp. But for Mrs. Slaughter it was like a siren. Something drew her irises into greater focus than they had been for years.

In a trance she strode, sure footed, towards the gleam. With each step the source seemed to tare itself out of the darkness. At last, someone had finally managed to acknowledge its existence. It belonged now, in this world, this place.

Margaret chuckled, she didn't know what she'd expected but this certainly wasn't it. Her withered, arthritis infested hands were slowly tracing the contours of a brightly colored slot machine. The moment Margaret had touched the machine her mind began spouting thoughts: someone must have thrown it out, its so bright, I wonder if there's still money in it, it definitely still works, maybe just one go. If Margaret had been thinking clearly she'd have noticed, the slot machine was buzzing away but it wasn't plugged in.

Margaret started slowly enough. Just a few coins at first. It was her new hobby she thought. The other elderlys had their bingo and countdown she had this. It was all hers. Days passed and without noticing Margaret fed more and more coins into the slot. It never gave back anything. It was only occasionally; she'd get angry from the frustration of never winning. Still she thought, I'm the only one playing and the prize will be all the bigger. Weeks passed and to Margaret's great detriment she came to the decision to tell a couple of her close friends about the slot machine. She reasoned that if three of them played the chances of winning the big prize would, well, triple.

She invited Toni and Pam around for tea one afternoon to explain the situation. Neither questioned the truthfulness of Margaret's story. It never occurred to them that a pristine slot machine down an alley would seem out of the ordinary. All three were now regulars in their own private casino. They'd take turns, on the hour. Margaret had had the bright idea of bringing a comfy fold out chair with an umbrella holder for when it rained, which was frequently. They spent so much time in the alley, that soon flasks with tea and soup, packets of biscuits and newspaper crosswords were a regular feature.

A month after Toni and Pam had joined the private casino gang, the slot machine began to crack. It was unnoticeable at first, tiny hairline fractures. These soon gave way too much larger scars and a distinct groaning noise, like a stomach with severe indigestion. The three were worried. What would they do if it broke? If it stopped working they'd have to get someone in to fix it. But no one else could know, they'd take the money for themselves. The three had devoted everything to the machine. Each selling off their worldly possessions for a chance at the jackpot and the promise of leaving this place. It was then they resolved to get all the money they had left and stay until either the machine broke or they finally won the big prize. The following hours were agonizing. What if they didn't win? All that time, it had started innocently enough, a hobby, but now...

Finally it happened. Margaret was the last one standing. She had one coin left. It was everything. She fingered the coin like a rosary. Margaret wasn't religious but she prayed to any Gods listening and hoped more than anything that lady luck was smiling. She slowly inserted the last chance. Pulling the lever down so hard and fast it reminded her of ripping off a plaster as a child. It was in that moment that Margaret saw clearly for the first time in months. A fog completely dissipated in her mind. She noticed the plug first but it was only until the realization that there was no logical way that a small slot machine like this could retain the massive space needed to hold all those coins. It was months worth now, between three people! As the last symbol rotated into place, signifying the jackpot, Margaret screamed.

The lights flashed and celebratory sounds wailed out of the machine. But nothing emerged from the dispenser tray. The two startled by Margaret's scream turned their attention to where money should have been spilling out. A windshield of a car parked just outside the alley smashed. Then the street lamp. It sounded like hail but each impact had a twang. Bits of pavement started to fly up like mud being pulverized in a field. The walls on either side started to shrapnel. Toni was the first to go down. A blow to his leg brought him crashing to the ground. He desperately grabbed through his bloodied trousers trying to find the offending object. Pulling it free, Toni cried in pain. He wiped the blood clean and saw that it was a coin. In unison the three looked around as the hail of coins intensified engulfing the alley and the town with it. When the news crews and police finally arrived the only salvageable thing they could find in the strewn rubble was a pristine slot machine.


Tad said...

Thats a bit dark isn't it.
I like it though :)

Joanna Steele said...

Very well written and well paced, best bit of writing !!