I love collaboration.
One of the first stories I ever told was made into a short film by silhouette-virtuoso Richard of Mansfield Dark.
He spent ages in Shad Thames and Bermondsey sketching the locations before he cut out the silhouettes
Here is that story anyway:
“Spring Heel Jane got old Peter,” the woman said. “He wouldn’t come in the shelter, the silly old fool. She pulled him clean under the ground. Just left his hand sticking out, like a little tree.”
Rosie felt sad- but the old man had been asking for trouble. The enemy came out after dark and if you didn’t stay in the shelter, you really were a fool.
But it was hot down there on the platform. And so crowded, you couldn’t turn around.
She opened ‘New Elementary Algebra’, her favourite book.
“Look at the little girl!” someone clucked. “You don’t understand all those numbers do you?”
“She won a scholarship!” her best friend Ada piped up. “She’s going to be a scientist! She’s going to invent a machine and save London!”
A dozen faces turned to look. The woman patted her twisted knee “That’s sweet! Makes up for something I suppose.”
Rosie closed the book and struggled to her feet.“I need to get some air….” she steadied herself and begun to pick her way over the crowded platform.
The woman watched her go. “You should be resting that leg of yours.”
“She needs exercise” Ada piped up loyally.
Rosie’s brace clanked. Deep Line Bermondsey station had five hundred steps. There was a lift in the daytime, but they turned off the power at night, to conserve London’s precious resources.
One of her legs was short and skinny, had to be dragged up each step. Rosie started to climb, hardly aware that she was still clutching ‘New Elementary Algebra’. She just had to get away from that crowded platform.
Clank. Clank. Three seconds per step, five hundred steps, twenty-five minutes. Numbers numbers.
“I’ll don’t think I’ll ever get married” she told Ada once. “With my leg like this.”
“It won’t matter.” Ada said. “You can be a scientist.”
‘A scientist’, she whispered as she reached the top. ‘Maybe I’ll save London.’
Cool air, a midsummer breeze, blew through the gate into the station.
It didn’t look dangerous but it was. The enemy had this thick grey gas which crawled along the floor like a caterpillar. The wardens had to keep vacuums on their backs- just in case-
But where was the warden? He was gone!
His empty stool sat by the station gate. And the gate was open!
They were defenceless!
What about the warden? Rosie thought. What if Spring Heel Jane had got him? What if he was dead- buried under the pavement outside, just one hand sticking through the stone like a little tree?
Cautiously, she scraped towards the open gate and looked out onto the road.
There was no hand sticking up. No sign of the enemy, no fire, no robots, no gas. Rosie felt herself relax.
The moon was peachy and the air was fresh.
Daringly she stepped outside.
The clank-scrape of her brace echoed over the cobbles. The street was lined with tall houses, they’d been posh once but half of them were abandoned now.
Suddenly, Rosie desperately wanted to see the river. She knew it was dangerous but she didn’t care. Placing her heavy Algebra book carefully on the floor, she crossed the road and turned left towards the docks.
The Thames was as smooth as paint.
Rosie couldn’t swim, but she didn’t care. Her bad leg looked bony as a pencil in the moonlight. Dreamily, she knelt down and unbuckled her brace. As it fell to the floor, there was a cracking sound.
A figure, with skirt flying, sprang through the window of the nearest wharf and landed beside her.
There was an almighty crash and fragments of glass peppered the stone. The monster gripped her shoulders and opened it’s sucking mouth. It was inhaling her.
She was engulfed into the robot, and at the same time, they were both sinking into the cobbles. It was as if the stone had become quicksand.
Rosie struggled, but the stone closed over her head and darkness pressed in, smothering her skin, her nose, her eyes.
Muffled, far away, she heard a gunshot.
She passed through death and out the other side. The spring-heeled Jane was broken, shot, a mess on the floor of springs and blood.
Rosie got up feeling strangely different. Footsteps clattered, a man was running towards her, his gun over one arm. A guard- thank goodness!
“I got that one” he panted “but there might be others- run!”
Rosie jumped up and ran, leaving her brace on the floor with the metal guts of the Spring-Heel Jane.
The two of them raced down the Wharf and out onto Jamaica Road.
In two minutes they reached the arches of the station. The gates were locked.
The warden was back on his stool, sipping a mug of tea.
“Can’t come in.” He grunted as they approached.
The Guard shrugged. “Little girl came from this shelter.”
“Did she? Well I found this on the floor…” the warden showed them ‘New Elementary Algebra’. “Is it yours? This maths?”
Rosie looked at the book blankly. A book of numbers? It was familiar. She felt as if it should mean something. but it didn’t…
The Guard laughed. “She’s not the algebra type, mate. Why don’t you take care of it?”
The warden sniffed in disgust. “Maths? What am I, a flaming scientist?”
At that moment the dawn siren started to wail.
“Another night over,” the warden sighed, and he slid the gate open.
Rosie ran inside, eager to find her friend Ada.
“Wait for the lift!” he called, but it was too late, she was already gone, springing down the staircase like a lamb.
“Makes me tired just looking at her” he yawned. “too much bloody energy!”
He threw ‘New Elementary Algebra’ into the Lost Property box and settled down to his cup of tea. It was almost cold.
Watch it here: