Welcome back to Stranger Than Flicktion, our Flickr-inspired fiction column. We provide writers with five random food-related Flickr images and ask them to construct a fictional short story in under five days. Today, we eat our last fish supper at a chippie on the edge of the abyss.
The train carriage was empty apart from Fred and an elderly couple in the seat opposite. The withered man and woman talked softly, clasping hands with a serene look in their eyes. Outside, empty fields and dilapidated buildings blurred past, forming fleeting reflections in the three passengers' eyes.
Eventually, the train collapsed into its final station. The couple looked at each other, then at Fred, then back at each other, then outside the carriage window. They smiled.
"We're finally here," beamed the woman.
Fred stepped out onto the platform. It smelt of earth and wet concrete. Everything was enveloped in a thick, icy mist that licked the station's dull metal structure and made it sweat with cold.
"You look lost, my love," said the woman. "Terence and I can show you the way."
So, off they went. It wasn't long before Fred grew frustrated with his new companions. Every few paces, the pair would stop to whisper in each other's ears, before holding hands again and laughing.
Finally, they arrived at a fish and chip shop. The windows were boarded up but Fred could hear voices coming from inside. It was stout building painted with faded red and white stripes. A handpainted sign read: "The Last Stop Fish And Chip Shop."
Suddenly, Fred noticed a great plume of murky smog emanating from directly behind the chip shop. Was this the source of the blinding mist? He walked around the side of the building to investigate, leaving the old couple to their sweet nothings.
Behind the shop, Fred came to the edge of a wide cliff face of crumbling red rock. He turned around, the only thing he could see for miles was the chip shop. He looked over the edge of the cliff, and felt heat rising from the endless drop. He shuddered and quickly turned back to the chippie. He had no choice but to go inside.
"WHAT'LL IT BE, GOOD SIR?" a voice boomed from behind the counter, seconds after Fred had pushed open the door.
"Erm … Just a large chips please," said Fred meekly.
"OPEN OR WRAPPED, SIR? OPEN OR WRAPPED?" asked the man, his tongue rolling gregariously with each rrrrr.
"Open," replied Fred.
"EXCELLENT CHOICE, GOOD SIR, EXCELLENT CHOICE. YOU SHALL FIND THE WOODEN FORKS AND CONDIMENTS ON THE SIDEBOARD TO YOUR RIGHT THERE, SIR."
More tongue rolling ensued.
As Fred was handed his chips, he tried to think back. He couldn't seem to remember a thing beyond getting off the train. It was like the mist had swallowed his memory. When he looked back at his polystyrene tray, he realised that he had spelled out the word "ART" with chips.
Yes, that was it! His art. Fred remembered the pride he used to feel when he unveiled a new piece. The swelling in his heart and flashes of warmth across his shoulders.
When did he stop making art? Fred couldn't remember. All he remembers is the tiredness, and the sudden emptiness in his world after the mist came.
And now this grease from these chips, dribbling down his chin. Now this uncomfortable gas in his stomach. Now this empty tray and puddles of mahogany vinegar.
The other customers in the shop were laughing and joking. They seemed to be happy, despite the dense stench of boiling fat that permeated the building. Some were even dancing on their chairs. Fred saw a girl with gleaming eyes turn and smile at him. He almost managed to smile back, but couldn't quite bring himself to. "What would be the use?" he thought.
Instead he scanned the shop for the elderly couple and saw that they had finished their fish suppers and were now clutching each other in a waltz-like embrace. They had tears in their eyes. He watched as they eventually uncoiled their bodies and left the shop, arm in arm.
Fred waited for a long time in the chippy. He saw people come and go, some leaping from counter to chair and out again, some trudging in and out. The girl with the flashing eyes had gone, slurping on a can of Fanta as she went. He waited for the old couple to come back so he could feel annoyed with them again—feel anything, in fact, besides this emptiness. They didn't return.
Fred knew he couldn't wait much longer, it felt too awkward. He got up and trudged towards the door.
"THANK YOU EVER SO MUCH FOR COMING, GOOD SIR. HAVE A PLEASANT JOURNEY," barked the man behind the counter.
Outside, Fred saw a cat sitting on the concrete. It looked pissed off, like most cats do.
"You gonna fuck off or what then mate?"
Fred looked around for the owner of the sneering voice.
"Oi, you cunt, down 'ere. You gonna fuck off then? Go on, you soft cunt, fuck off."
The cat was looking up at Fred.
"Are you … talking to me?" he squeaked.
"Are you fuckin' deaf or summink mate? You know where to go. There isn't anywhere else for the likes of you now mate. You're fucked. Now fuck off," said the cat, somewhat crudely, Fred thought, for a creature of its supposed feline elegance.
The cat sauntered back into the chip shop, slipping through the catflap like liquid.
Feeling more dejected than ever, Fred walked around to the back of the building. The cat was right, this really was the only place for him to go.
He was faced with the cliff edge—the vast, never-ending edge of the world. When he looked down, he felt the warm heat blow back up into his face. Fred turned back to take one last look at the fish and chip shop, and heard the faint grumble of another train pulling into the station.
Then the weightlessness took hold of his body. As he fell, he noticed how the warmth of the mist gradually grew to a fierce and unbearable heat.