A.J. Walker



Otherlands: And A Coffee In The Railway Sidings

Henry thinks the coffee tastes good this morning. He threw away the packet earlier—bin day—and won’t ever be sure what it is. He has a sneaking feeling that it’s Guatemalan; that was his default thought, with his soft spot for Central America. It could be Kenyan, or maybe Indonesian. His head suffers from faulty internal subroutines like this regularly. Time wasted wondering, not knowing. Never sure.
He hadn’t always been like this. Once he was a dynamic go getter. Living second to second. Life to the max with fulfilling work and a manic personal life. He wonders what has changed. Perhaps it's Long Covid, or just Long Lethargy & Stupidity. Life once full now seemed an empty packet blowing in a guttering wind. He rattled around places without aim or explanation of why. Life was what rarely happened to him these days. Henry used to inflict himself on the world. Now he was in an eternal rinse-spin cycle.
Life was going but it was nondescript. He was a damp shirt spinning slowly in the washer.
He looked at the news headlines flashing up in silence on the screen. Weather related tragedies, pilot errors, wars, environment. Big stuff happening to people. Again. As always. Weather happens, war happens. Nothing changes.
Other places. Other lands.
His past was another land: Otherland. The past is a foreign country, he thought. His present and his future was a nondescript purgatory. He was within a vast expanse of railway sidings, forever not knowing where he had been or where he was going.
Long Otherland. Boredom. Shrugs. Bland nothingness doused in anti-spices—lest you enjoy anything.
Henry looked at the bookcases spread around the living room and tried to ignore the photograph albums. Recently he’d been spending too long looking at them. Looking at these Otherlands. He could barely recognise himself in any of the pictures. These images were of lives before the sidings. Before he’d boarded the train to nowhere. He heard the Talking Heads song, ‘Road to Nowhere’ in his head. Had he enjoyed that song in his other lives. Oh, to be on a road. Going somewhere. Anywhere. Just fucking moving. Even backwards. But he was marooned in a lonely train carriage. There was not a train to shunt him out one way or another.
He wouldn’t look at the photos today. It could push him over the edge. He looked at the remnants of the coffee and with his nose deep in the cup he took a deep draught. It smelt good. It was 10am on Monday and he assumed that this would be as good as his day would get. The way things had been lately it could be the highlight of his week. And he didn’t even know what it was he was drinking. Typical of his life in the sidings.
There was a knock on the front door and he took the last slurp of the coffee before answering. It was a delivery driver going to ask him to take in a parcel for a neighbour. That was exciting as life could be. A decent coffee and now this. Life was looking up. He chuckled to himself—how life had changed. Or maybe it hadn’t. He couldn’t be sure. It was two weeks before the next bin day and it came to him that he should dispose of those photo albums. He didn’t need the clutter. What was the use of pictures from other people’s lives for him to wonder at? Look at what you could have won. In particular there were pictures of this other Henry with a woman he didn’t even remember the name of—she looked bloody gorgeous. And he looked young and bullish. Happy. He couldn’t remember the event, the year. An Otherland. Look at what you could have won. There was a second knock at the door which roused him from his latest subroutine.
Outside Sarah tapped her feet whilst staring at the door apprehensive. She wasn’t sure if Henry still lived there. But she’d had a sudden urge to revisit him. It had been years since she’d seen him and Sarah had only thought about him again when she’d seen an old photograph fall out from between the leaves of a book she’d been taking to a charity shop. It was funny how sometimes photos could take you straight back in time. Like hearing an old song you hadn’t heard in years. She wondered if a catch up would be nice—maybe over a coffee.

The Missing Days of Lorraine Little

Microcosms #211
Flight Attendant / Small Town Post Office / Mystery

The Missing Days of Lorraine Little

With her handbag over her shoulder and her shoes dangling on the straps, Lorraine found herself walking barefoot down a country lane in the early morning hours completely bemused. She didn’t know what day it was, or where she was. It would be helpful to remember where she’d been, but her brain was unable to assist. The last thing she recalled was being on the flight to Qatar. It was supposed to be the first a long run taking in Qatar, Delhi, Kuala Lumpar, and Hong Kong, before heading back to the UK. It sounded like a glamorous trip but it was hard work being perfectly turned out and constantly smiling throughout those long cattle class trips. As she stumbled slowly down the middle of the country road she tried to work out where she could be. She wasn’t smiling. It was green, or it felt like it would be when daylight arrived properly. It certainly wasn’t Qatar. The banks and hedges at the side of the road reminded her of her Devonshire holidays.

Her feet were past feeling sore. She periodically stopped to knock off the accreted chunks of gravel. She plodded on relentlessly hoping to see anything she’d recognise. Then it came: lights and silhouettes of civilisation. There was a sign informing her she was entering Brixworth, wherever that was. She only became certain it was England when she made out a Post Office van outside a small row of shops.

The post office door was open and she made her way in.

Her tired legs failing, she tripped through the door and landed on the day’s newspapers. She came face to face with herself; or more precisely a scratchy colour photo of her under the headline, ‘
Where is Lorraine? Missing Flight Attendant Mystery Extends Into Second Week’.


Didn't win. but it made some people laugh, which is job done in my book. Time to roll the dice.

300 words. Microcosms No. 201 Prompts: Cosplayer/Back Alley Casino/ Comedy


Daniel was doing his best not to kick up any of the greasy mud which caked the Back Queens Street alley. He never knew where all the grease came from, nor the mud, the cobbles were well laid, there was no exposed soil and there were no greasy spoons putting their waste there - not without a commute. He was adamant he would not splatter grease on to his hired outfit before returning it.

He spotted the door he was after and carefully climbed the steps. Finally he was faced by the doorman.

‘What do we have here?’ the bruiser asked.

‘I’m Robin Hood, of course.’ Daniel replied with some trepidation; blood on the costume would be no better than grease.

The doorman put his head to one side. ‘I can see who you are dressed as, but why the hell?’

‘The Spider-Man costume was gone.’

‘You wanted to dress up as Spider-Man, but instead came as a sad old folk hero - to a casino? What the fuck?’

‘No. I’m here for the cosplayer event. It’s here isn’t it?’

The doorman’s face gradually progressed through thinking, smiling, and laughing before settling on nodding.

‘Yes, Mr Hood. Right place, wrong time. That’s next week. Tonight Robin, this is a casino. You want to play roulette or blackjack? Or you going to wait for Friar Tuck and Little John?’

Daniel cursed, but eventually went in; whilst promising himself to sort a diary.

He recognised the dealer on the blackjack, it was the lovely Joy L’al from the Back Alley Massage Parlour.

‘Hello, they’ve taken you on after closing the massage parlour then?’

‘No, Daniel. It’s diversification. We do usual after casino closes. You want play?’


‘Either, or both. With the cards I can’t promise you happy ending.’

Daniel wondered about possible stains.

Where Is That Italian?

Made up that this story won the community vote at Microcosms for the week. Wasn't really sure how the story would be taken. So thank you for those votes.

300 words. Microcosms No.197 Prompts: Psychic / Subway / Mystery

Where Is That Italian?

‘Communication is all, dear.’ Mystic Gina said, gesturing for Carla to sit down beside her.

Communication and money thought Carla, having just paid for the sitting. She’d heard nothing but good things though about Gina’s talents. She’d foretold new relationships and their breakdowns, accidents & illnesses, births and deaths. If Auntie Annie was right, Gina’s record was second to none in the state. Though Annie was a trifle gullible.

Carla put her hands into Gina’s. She felt a tingle and wondered if she’d picked up static from the carpet.

‘Ah! I see your questions are about your near future. Oh yes, very clearly. I see it.’

Carla said nothing. Not wanting to direct the answers at all. She wanted to hear the future from Gina’s abilities, not from mirroring her hopes.

‘Nice. I foresee an Italian. Do you know any?’

‘I don’t think so. Even the guy who runs the pizza place was born on my street.’

‘You definitely have an Italian in your future. And your love will be total. Brown skinned and six foot.’

‘Sounds interesting! Where will we meet?’

‘The subway.’

‘Oh dear. How will I know? I mean that’s a hectic place to bump into someone.’

‘You’ll know.’

Weeks passed without any love interest. Carla almost forgot the prediction after deciding it was all just a parlour game.

It was only sighing out loud whilst she was eating a Meatball Marinara that she decided that Gina had almost perfectly predicted it. She loved that filling on a 6” Hearty Italian and it was a Subway. Perhaps Gina had simply mixed her feet and inches. That would explain how she hadn’t met the Italian man yet: there wasn’t one. As she chewed the last of the sub she decided that was the only 6”s she needed anyway.

Smoothly Until That Point

300 words: Microcosms prompts No.196
Prompts: Mermaid/Astronaut Spaceship/Atlantis Western/Romance

The prompts made me think of an amalgam of Firefly and Stargate Atlantis. So I combined the two sets of prompts into one. Although I didn't use the characters from these series you may spot that I instead used the actors first names.

Smoothly Until That Point

Nathan decided he’d been lollygagging in the outer planets of Sham-69 too long. It was time to get on with something interesting; and get paid. He was kickstarted in the Serenity Bar where he’d overheard a conversation between the two resident exotic dancers, Torri and Jewel (whose enormous assets she named after gemstones). Puzzlingly mesmerised he only caught half the conversation, but it was an enticing one about a mermaid called Morena who lived in the tropical ocean close to Nova Atlantis. A mermaid! Such a rare catch would be worth plenty of planetary credits he thought. He’d found a job.

He’d filled his one bag and left the hotel room in super quick time. When his mind was made up there was no stopping him. His Astrobug, the Aldi Central Isle, was at the nearby airport and as always ready to go; it didn’t pay not to be ready for a hasty getaway in Nathan’s line of work (when he was working).
It took him just two days in various unsalubrious honky tonks in Nova to learn the whereabouts of Morena. His charm and his bribes worked well – and his trusty Colt revolver even better. Two days later he flew Aldi to the area he’d been recommended and found her within half an hour of arrival. Everything had gone so smoothly: until that point.

He’d found his prize to steal away and sell to the highest bidder, but no one had warned him of Morena’s beauty and magic. It was soon clear he’d need an alternative plan of work. Love would do that to a man. Last time he was seen he was living with Morena whilst selling flip-flops and knock-off sunglasses on the beaches of Nova Atlantis – looking the happiest he’d ever been. Serenity: love would do that.