Wheels by Night: A Short Story.

The setting sun cast a blood red glow around the room, awakening Rusev. Slowly he pushed away his coffin lid and sat upright, watching the last of the light fade into darkness. He reached out to where he had parked his wheelchair the night before, only to find that having left the brakes off, it rolled away from his grasp. Rusev sighed, he was never at his best in an evening, and crawled inelegantly out of his coffin towards his wheelchair. Once he was seated in his chair, he wheeled across to the fridge and helped himself to leftovers from the night before. He wiped his mouth, a habit he had developed since he could no longer rely on mirrors to determine if he had smears of blood around his lips, and then pulled his cloak off the sofa. As he draped the thick fabric around his shoulders, it got caught on one of his wheels, and he had to struggle for several minutes to free it. He sighed when he saw yet another tear in the cloak that would need stitching up, but that would have to wait. He needed to restock his fridge.

Rusev exited his apartment, locking the door behind him before heading towards the lift. The gothic castles of Transylvania, appealing as they were to any vampire, were not renowned for their accessibility. The closest Rusev had been able to emulate was to live in an apartment block in the shadow of a ruined castle on a hilltop, in the centre of England. As he waited for the lift arrive he watched a bat flit past the window, intent on catching the myriad of insects that appeared just after sunset.

When the lift finally arrived, the doors scraped open to reveal that it was packed with the large family from the floor above, presumably heading home after a day at the castle. Those that acknowledged Rusev smiled apologetically, making no attempt to accommodate him, and Rusev resigned himself to another wait.

Eventually, Rusev made it out on to the street and rolled along the uneven pavements, trying to avoid both potholes and people. To make matters more difficult, he was travelling up a rather steep slope, and soon his arms burned with lactic acid. He was heading towards the castle, which had a dense cluster of trees outside of the walls surrounding the gardens, the perfect place to wait for unsuspecting passers-by, able to see anyone approaching from a great distance due to his keen night-vision. Admittedly the soft soil and partially exposed tree roots made navigating this region particularly difficult, but Rusev had practised such manoeuvres for almost seventy years.

Rusev had to wait an unusually long time before a pair of drunken teenagers stumbled into the woodlands, hoping for a little privacy. He had to prevent himself from tutting, and contented himself with thinking “kids these days”. The pair stumbled to the ground, using their coats as a mattress on this chilly evening. Rusev tried to make his move, but to his horror realised that he had been waiting so long for someone to arrive that his wheels had sunk into the ground, and he was completely stuck. The commotion as he tried to free himself was enough to alert the teenagers of his presence, who quickly pulled on their half-removed clothes, and headed in his direction carrying fallen branches to defend themselves.

“Oh deary me,” Rusev said in the most stereotypically English voice he could, “I’m afraid I’m stuck. I could do with a little assistance if you please.”

The teenagers were momentarily stunned, then dropped their branches, horrified at the thought of beating up a disabled man.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” one slurred, “I thought you were like, a pervert, or something.”

“No, no, deary me, no,” Rusev continued, “an ecologist. Not the best choice of career for a wheelchair user, admittedly.”

“So you’re doing some kind of study?” the other teen asked.

“Yes, I’m studying wildlife in managed woodlands close to urban areas at night. You’re not the first people I’ve scared doing this,” Rusev replied.

“Do you need help?”

“Ah, yes, if that isn’t too much bother.”

It took perhaps ten minutes of pushing and pulling, which was difficult to coordinate given the state of the teenagers, before Rusev was finally free.

“Thank you, ladies,” he said, spinning round and heading in the opposite direction, stopping to inspect a particularly interesting tree root along the way.

Rusev found another convenient hiding spot, where the ground was firmer so he could avoid any further embarrassments. He was becoming increasingly hungry, but he had no choice other than to wait before a late-night dog-walker appeared. This was perfect. The man was clearly tired, so would make for an easy catch, and the dog could be used to lure the man into the woods. In fact, the dog had already picked up his sent, and was tugging at the leash, eager to explore the woodland. As they approached Rusev snapped a twig, and the dog went into a frenzy, dragging its’ owner into the woods. At the right moment Rusev made his move, tripping the man up using his wheels, and then hauling him onto his lap in order to reach the jugular.

He took a deep drink, and then filled an empty bottle to put in his fridge for later, but was careful not to kill the man. Instead he made a small incision on his little finger, which was scarred from repeatedly doing just that, and wiped his own blood over the wound in the mans’ neck. He watched the bite mark heal, disappearing completely, and let the man fall to the floor unconscious. After reaching down to give the dog a quick pet, he placed a garlic clove in the mans’ hand, and rolled away. The man would wake up within ten minutes unable to remember a thing, merely feeling a little light-headed. He would have an inexplicable and intense craving for garlic, and just one small bite of the clove would rid him of vampirism.

Rusev still had another empty bottle to fill, and desired a second, fresh drink, which was when the blood was at it’s best. Now that it was late at night, his best bet would be to wait in the shadows of an old oak tree outside the local pub, which he had never seen the inside of due to the step in the doorway.

It took Rusev longer than he had anticipated to reach the shelter of the oak tree, as he had to take long detours on three separate occasions due to the lowered kerbs being blocked by badly parked cars, and a set of roadworks. Once he had made it he waited again, his dark cloak camouflaging him in the shadows, and he was grateful when his patience paid off. Three middle-aged men, all talking loudly about a recent football match, wandered out of the pub straight towards Rusev. Half way across the car park two of the men peeled off towards the bus stop, while the third one continued in the same direction. Rusev rolled back, careful to remain hidden, and pulled a cigarette from a pocket within his cloak despite the fact that he couldn’t stand the smoke.

“You got a light, mate?” Rusev said as the man walked past.

“Christ, man, you can’t go round scarin’ people like that,” the man tried to recover from the shock.

“Sorry pal, I didn’t mean to scare you that bad,” Rusev replied, “Serious, though, ‘ave you got a light?”

“Yeah, yeah, lemme gerrit out me pocket.”

As the man tugged his cigarette lighter out of the inside pocket of his well-worn jacket, Rusev noticed his two compatriots boarding a bus. He held out his hand for the lighter, intentionally fumbling and dropping it as it was passed to him.

“Ah sh-,” Rusev said.

“I got it,” the man bent down, his neck now level with Rusev’s mouth. Rusev made his move, and soon he was feeling content, with two full bottles of blood ready to go in his fridge. He healed the mans’ wound and left him a garlic clove, tucked the bottled blood inside his cloak, and set off for home.

Going back down the sloped streets was, if anything, harder than climbing up them. The wheels constantly strained beneath his hands, wanting to go faster, and it took most of his strength not to lose control. He was concentrating so hard on not speeding down the hill like an uncontrollable rollercoaster that he didn’t see the gaping pothole in the pavement. Before he had even realised what was going on, his wheels entered the pothole, and he was flung forwards. His seatbelt kept him in the chair, but couldn’t stop Rusev’s head clashing hard with his left wheel.

Shaken but not hurt, Rusev slowly sat upright. Nothing appeared to be broken, and he could see no obvious injuries. He was, however, perplexed to hear a soft hissing side on his left. Puzzled, he looked around, but could see nothing that could be the source of the noise. Shrugging it off as a strange aftereffect of the pothole, Rusev tried to move off, but found that where before his wheelchair was like an eager cheetah, now it was more akin to a sluggish elephant. He looked down to inspect the cause of the problem, and found to his dismay that his left tire had punctured when his fangs collided with it, complete with a small blood stain surrounding the hole in the rubber.

The wheelchair wasn’t impossible to move, but it took great strength to maintain even the slowest of paces. It now leaned to the left, and was inclined to head in that direction; steering it was nigh on impossible. Rusev was just grateful that he had eaten before the tire had punctured, frustrating as it was.

It took him over an hour of slow grunting and sweating along dark and empty streets before he reached his apartment building, by which time the earliest signs of the summer sun were already apparent. As he pushed through the shiny glass doors of the ugly, modern building, the sun began to appear. Hurriedly, Rusev pressed the lift button, and cursed it for being so slow. Again and again he pressed it, finding what shelter he could under his cloak. When the lift did arrive, it contained a toned man in running gear, with a large sports bag by his side. Rusev couldn’t help but think that if someone was willing to get up at a ridiculous hour to go for a run, surely they could manage the stairs, but said nothing.

The man bent to pick up his bag, looking a little curiously at the pale wheelchair user who appeared to be cowering from the sun. As he lifted his bag, one of the seam split, and a mess of clothes and sport equipment tumbled out. He smiled apologetically to Rusev, who he had concluded was simply suffering from a particularly terrible hangover, and slowly gathered his things together. Each second felt like a year to Rusev, as his skin tingled, and then burned under the fierce light of the sun. Even wrapped in his cloak he could feel his skin roasting, and knew he would have some lovely blisters for the next week or so.

Once the man had gathered all his things and exited the lift, the doors began to close, and Rusev had to stick his arm between the doors to stop them closing completely. As quickly as he could, which wasn’t at any great speed at all, he pulled into the lift, relieved to have a brief respite from the sun. There were no interruptions as he ascended to his floor, but the progress along the corridor to his flat was hampered by both the flat tire and his burning skin. His trembling hands could barely fit the key in the lock, and he struggled to pick up the newspaper from the day before left outside his door by the one neighbour he ever spoke to. He swung the door open and entered his apartment, cursing the fact that he hadn’t put up the new set of blackout curtains yet, leaving him once again exposed to sunlight.

He didn’t bother putting the brakes on the wheelchair or taking off his cloak, but instead practically fell into his coffin, hauling on the lid after him and relishing in the welcoming darkness. He was perusing the pages of his paper when he remembered that the bottles of blood were still in his pocket, and not in the fridge. Cursing vehemently with every cell in his body Rusev threw the lid off of his coffin, crawled to the fridge, and put the bottles inside, before returning to his coffin. His hands and wrists had black scorch-marks etched across them, and he had no doubt that his face would too. In one last monumental effort, he clambered inside and replaced the lid of the coffin, and was asleep before he had even picked up his newspaper.

Advertisements

Spaced Out: A Short Story.

“Well, you are more than qualified to take the job, Mr Benson, but as I’m sure you are aware, your case is a little…,” the interview paused to find the right word, “…unusual. We have a few questions about how this might affect your ability to undertake the role that under other circumstances would be deemed insensitive, perhaps, but we mean no harm in asking these questions, I assure you.” The middle-aged, balding man in the overly tight grey suit was sat bolt upright, his interlinked hands resting on the desk before him.

“I had expected as much,” Tom said in reply. He had been wondering for the entirety of the interview when the elephant in the room would become a topic of discussion.

“Then you will forgive me for asking why exactly you use a wheelchair?”

“I was involved in a land mine accident while serving as an electrical engineer in the army, and the damage to the spine has resulted in paralysis from the waist downwards,” Tom did not to like to brood on the accident, which still gave him horrific, and very realistic nightmares almost five years on.

“Your upper body is in no way affected?”

“Bar some rather nasty scarring, no. I believe myself to be rather lucky is this regard.”

“And your intellect?”

“Pardon?” Tom was shocked and a little incredulous. He had anticipated questions about his physical abilities, but to query his mental capacities was simply insulting.

“Your intellect. Your ability to think rapidly in stressful situations, and to solve complex problems. Were they in any way impaired by the accident?”

“Of course not, my brain is in my head, not my legs,” as soon as the words had slipped out of his mouth, Tom regretted them, fearing they made him sound arrogant and insolent.

“I apologise profusely if I have caused any offense,” the interviewer did not look in the least bit sorry.

“My impairment is physical only,” Tom replied more calmly.

“Indeed. So, how would you move around the space station?”

“Propelling myself with my arms, just like I do every day on Earth. That will not be a problem.”

“OK. And can you give me a reason why we should risk sending someone disabled into space instead of someone able-bodied please?”

Tom smirked, “You won’t have to worry about the effects of microgravity on my leg muscles, which have atrophied anyway.” He was pleased to observe the flicker of a smile flit across the interviewers’ face.

“Well, thank you for coming, My Benson. We’ll be in touch,” the interviewer stood up and leant over the desk to shake Toms’ hand, before crossing the room to hold open the door for him.

“Thank you,” Tom said as he wheeled out of the room.

***

Nine months later Tom followed his crewmates, Helena and Ulrik, as they crossed the gangway to the relatively small rocket, with the crowd staring up at them from a distance. Only detectable by the flashes of light emitting from their cameras, Tom knew that the focus of the photographers would be on him, the first disabled astronaut ever. Helena and Ulrik clambered into the shuttle before him, and then helped Tom shuffle inelegantly from his wheelchair onto his seat, which currently faced the sky. This feeling was not entirely alien to Tom, who had on several occasions over-turned his wheelchair in an encounter with a small step, usually while inebriated.

The doors were closed and as he strapped himself in, Tom watched as a technician rolled his wheelchair back along the gangway; it was strange to think that he would not see it for three months. He almost missed it.

The intercom crackled into life, and ground control confirmed that all was ready for take-off. As the countdown began the engines rumbled into life, the vibrations causing Toms’ legs to bounce gently against the seat in a comical manner. Finally the Earth moved away, and as the smoke cleared they got one last look at the ground control centre beneath them before the Earth started to shrink at an alarming rate.

“Strange to think that outer space will be more accessible than my local pub,” Tom said.

It was several hours before the rocket got into orbit, and the sudden loss of gravity as this happened caused Tom’s legs to start flailing uncontrollably while his upper body was still strapped in. Tom unfastened his seatbelt faster than Helena and Ulrik, perhaps because they were merely fancier versions of his wheelchair belt. He drifted away from his seat, and almost immediately managed to kick a button on one of the many control panels around him by accident. Thankfully it was just the stereo, and the sounds of David Bowie filled the room.

“Alright, very funny, who put Space Oddity in the CD player?” Tom asked, turning round to face Helena and Ulrik, who were now floating in the tin can, far above the world. Ulrik had a grin spreading from ear to ear plastered across his face, while Helena was managing to propel herself around the cabin by laughter alone.

A few hours later the rocket docked with the International Space Station, a complicated process requiring extensive communication between those already on the station, ground control, and Tom, Helena, and Ulrik themselves. Eventually, after dealing with an uncooperative airlock that had to be switched off and on again, they entered the ISS. As they moved through the doorway Tom got his ankle caught on the hatch and Ulrik had to rescue him, but Tom could be independent in everything else he did. For the first time since the accident, he was no different from anyone else.

***

Two months into his time at the ISS, Tom was woken with a start by loud alarms and flashing red lights. Helena and Ulrik were already at the central control panel trying to assess what had gone wrong, and he joined them as soon as he had disentangled himself from the sleeping bag strapped to the wall. Dave, another member of the crew, was already trying to hold a discussion with ground control, who’s panicked voices could only just be heard over the alarm.

“We hit some unexpected debris out of nowhere and it’s damaged the cooling system, the station needs immediate attention!” Dave yelled, “Ulrik, Tom, get into your spacesuits, you’re going to have to do a space-walk!”

“Really, a space-walk?” Tom raised one eyebrow.

“This isn’t the time for jokes,” Dave said sharply, as Helena managed to silence the alarm, “Helena will help operate the air locks. I will stay on communications. Tom, you’re in charge of the electronics. Move!”

Tom didn’t need to be told twice. Getting into his suit was rather difficult given that not only were the trousers floating around aimlessly, but so were his legs. With a little help from Ulrik he managed to get dressed, and then made his way over to the airlock where Helena was waiting. Safety lines and hooks were put into place, and the tools needed for the repair job were fastened to them by another safety line. Then they were in the airlock as it depressurised, and finally moved out onto the side of the station.

“The site of impact is behind the nearest solar panel on your left,” Dave’s voice sounded tinny over the earpieces in the space-suits.

Hand-over-hand, always having a least one line tethered to the station for safety, Ulrik and Tom made their painfully slow progress towards the damaged area. The sensation of his legs weightlessly drifting outwards made Tom a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t until his leg got caught on the solar panel that he had any real issues. Unable to move his leg to wriggle free, he had to call Ulrik over to help, but this time it was not as simple as when he got his leg stuck when entering the space station. This time they had less than half an hour before the sun re-appeared, when they would want to be back inside the station, unable to do any more repairing until the sun disappeared again. In the rush, Toms’ safety line became entangled with Ulriks’, which took a further minute to sort out.

Eventually made it to the impact site, which essentially looked like a bowl containing a salad of shards of metal and plastic. Wires poked through broken casing, some even releasing the odd spark. Both men began to tinker, trying to make sense of the mess before them while listening to Dave’s instructions. It hardly seemed like a couple of minutes since they had begun this task than Helena was calling them back into the airlock as the sunrise approached.

Once they were back inside the station, Tom took his helmet off to have a better discussion with Dave.

“How the hell are we going to fix that?” he asked.

“The stations’ sensors are providing ground control with some data, so we’ll get better intel from them shortly. It looks stable for the time being, but it’s going to get really hot in here after a while in the sun. If I were you, I’d get ready to leave the airlock the second the sun disappears again.”

“Yes, sir,” Tom said without thinking, feeling almost as if he was back in the army.

At sunset Tom and Ulrik once again headed for the damaged area, a little quicker this time now that they knew exactly where it was. Dave fed them information piece by piece as he talked with ground control, while Tom worked on the wiring, and Ulrik tried to repair the exterior of the ship. The gloves they wore were incredibly cumbersome, and Tom found himself growing increasingly frustrated that his hands felt as disabled as the rest of him.

As he fumbled with the delicate electrics, he managed to reconnect the damaged circuits, and he heard Dave’s voice in his ear; “The cooling system is functioning again. I’m sending out some spare casing via the airlock; I don’t think you’ll be able to repair the damaged casing. Collect it for Ulrik.”

Awkwardly, Tom made his way back towards the airlock, continually trapping his legs between himself and the space station until he looked like a human pretzel. He cursed under his breath, unable to fathom why exactly Dave thought he would be happy to fetch and carry items on command when his legs would quite literally have been more useful had they not been present. Helena had already placed the casing in the airlock ready for him to reach as soon as the door opened, which was a relief, and then he had to crawl over the ship back to where Ulrik was still at work.

“It’s flat-pack but there’s no Allen key,” Tom said as he handed it over, a futile attempt at lightening the atmosphere, despite the fact that there wasn’t one.

Eventually the replacement panel had been screwed into place, and the only sign of an impact with space debris was a collection of scratches surrounding the repaired section. Ground control confirmed that the sensors were now producing perfectly normal readings, and Tom and Ulrik made their way back to the airlock. In less of a rush, Tom was able to keep his legs from becoming as cumbersome as they had been before, and even managed to avoid getting caught on any protruding elements of the station. A few minutes after re-entering the ISS, the sun re-appeared from behind the Earth, and a soft orange light flooded the room.

***

The return trip to Earth was mostly uneventful. Tom was now used to the lack of gravity, and was less prone to knocking things over accidentally; in fact, he made the most of his last few hours of not needing a wheelchair. Just before they were due to feel the full force of gravity once more, he made his way to his seat and strapped himself in as ordered. Ground control had warned all the astronauts on the dangers of not being seated when gravity kicked in, including blacking out due the sudden draining of blood from the brain, or injuries from colliding with the floor. The story of how one unfortunate astronaut had broken his leg had been repeated often enough, but Tom remained adamant that stepping on a land-mine was still far more risky.

The fall to Earth was broken by the deployment of parachutes, but the capsule containing Tom and his colleagues still landed in the sea with enough force to plunge it underwater, before bobbing back up to the surface. All of them, Tom included, were feeling the effects of gravity now. Tom could feel his heart beating harder to push blood up to the brain against gravity, something it hadn’t had to deal with for three months, and he felt dazed and tired as his brain tried to deal with the slower provision of oxygen.

It did not take long for the rescue team to arrive, hauling them onto a boat and taking them to shore. As they approached the harbour they could see a crowd gathering on the harbour wall, and when they were closer still, they could hear them cheering and clapping. Once the boat had docked, Helena, Ulrik, and Tom were all placed in wheelchairs, since standing upright with gravity sickness could result in fainting, and made their way to the jetty, where members of ground control awaited them. Tom had no issue controlling his chair, reuniting with it as if it were an old friend, but both Helena and Ulrik required some help manoeuvring their wheelchairs along the gangway, with Ulrik getting stuck on the railings at least twice.

“Is this what it’s like for you all the time?” Helena called after Tom.

“Pretty much,” he responded, “you wait until we get among the crowd and have a child’s point of view.”

As they moved forward, pushing through the crowd that engulfed them, Ulrik and Helena ran over several people, and eventually resorted to following Tom in single file through the crowd, akin to a mother duck and her offspring. It amused Tom that in this scenario, his disability was actually to his benefit, something that before had only ever been true of discounted concert tickets when people felt sorry for him.

They headed towards a coach that awaited them, and in doing so passed a newspaper stand in the midst of the crowd with a teenage boy trying to sell papers to the passers-by, probably earning less than a single paper cost. Tom picked one up, and as he made his awkward way onto the coach via a very slow and noisy lift, he began to read. He had a lot to catch up on.

Agent 48: A Short Story.

The woman looked completely out of place as she entered the pub. She had tried her best to dress inconspicuously, but her creaseless blouse and plain jeans tucked into knee-high leather boots made her stand out like a sore thumb among the crowd. She kept her head down as she hurried across the room, relying on her hair to obscure her features. As promised to her by her advisor, there was a wooden door hidden in a dark recess at the back of the pub which she gently knocked on. She turned and looked over her shoulder, but everyone seemed to have lost interest in her, and were focusing on their drinks instead.

A panel in the door at eye-level opened, and the woman found herself looking at a pair of bright blue eyes before the panel was slammed shut again. She heard the sound of locks and bolts being used, and then the door opened. She stepped through wordlessly into a plain, simple room containing a desk and two chairs, before the door was shut firmly behind her by the man who had opened it.

“Take a seat, ma’am,” the man said, “he will be here soon.”

“Thank you,” the lady said politely before perching on the edge of a chair, clearly agitated.

To the right of the desk was another wooden door, which promptly opened.

“Ah, Lady Mansfield-Hope, I was wondering when you would arrive,” a man in a smart tuxedo seated in a wheelchair tried to glide elegantly through the doorway, but caught one wheel on the narrow doorframe, and had to reverse to free himself. He positioned himself opposite her, and apologised for his ungainly entrance.

“You’ve been expecting me?” Lady Mansfield-Hope asked, clearly perturbed by this statement, having accepted his apology.

“A woman of your intelligence and beauty would not marry a man like Lord Mansfield unless there was something to be gained by the marriage, or more specifically, his death. I am only surprised that you did not come sooner” the man replied.

“I thought it would be suspicious should he die too soon after the wedding,” the woman had regained her composure. “I would prefer to discuss this matter further with Agent 48 himself, if you please.”

“Madam, I am Agent 48,” came the reply.

“But-“ she uncomfortably gestured towards the wheelchair.

“I charge extra for ableism,” Agent 48 retaliated. “Speaking of which, let us first discuss prices.”

“Money is no object here, I will pay what you ask.”

“In that case then I will ask about the job at hand,” the man leant back in his chair, calm and composed as if planning a murder was nothing to him.

Half an hour later, Lady Mansfield-Hope exited the pub, and went to find the chauffer in a nearby café.

***

Agent 48 waited on the platform for his train, getting soaked by the incessant rain, while he waited for the ramp he had booked the week before to be brought to him. It was on his third visit to the coffee machine that he asked a member of staff about the ramp, who proceeded to inform him in a patronising manner the process of booking a ramp for future occasions. Agent 48 informed the staff that he knew the procedure well enough, having used it many times before, and that he was concerned with how to access the ramp he had already booked, not how to book one. It was bad enough that he had to book a ramp in advance, which prevented spontaneous travel altogether, but to yet again face the lack of a ramp at the train station made Agent 48 snap.

“It may surprise you that wheelchairs aren’t made with the ability to levitate, but I’m afraid to inform you that this is the case. So, if you could find someone with a functioning body to put out a ramp, allowing my dysfunctional body to ascend the insane foot-long gap between the platform and the train, I’d be grateful. What exactly is the point of going to the trouble of booking a ramp, which by the way is more complicated than a power outage at an electricians’ convention, if a ramp never appears?”

Eventually, after much more detailed and heated discussion, a porter with a ramp showed up, mere minutes before the train was due to leave.

“Sorry,” he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, clearly not concerned about his lack of punctuality, “I was on a fag break and saw an old friend.”

Once Agent 48 had been reprimanded for making a fuss about nothing, he boarded the train and manoeuvred through the tight doorway and into the carriage, only to find a pram in the one wheelchair space in the carriage. The porter left him to deal with the angry mother alone, who refused to move her pram despite notices saying that in the case of wheelchair users, she was obliged to do so. Agent 48 decided to sit outside the dingy bathroom in the space between carriages, having people clamber over his feet as they went past. He noticed that it was always him who received the tuts and looks of disapproval for blocking the way, particularly when the snack trolley was brought through, but being used to this it didn’t bother him too much. He was merely glad that when the train pulled into his station, a porter was ready with a ramp on the platform for him, a rare occurrence.

After this, Agent 48 had to wait for an accessible taxi, watching people climb in and out of inaccessible cars while he waited. Eventually a wheelchair taxi pulled up, and once he had managed to convince the able-bodied people trying to climb in that he needed the adapted car, he was strapped into the vehicle. As inevitable as it was to ask the taxi driver what time his shift finished, the taxi driver asked why he used a wheelchair.

“I kicked the last person who questioned my disability,” Agent 48 said in a deadpan voice. The rest of the journey was spent in silence, bar the exchange of money at the end of the trip.

Once Agent 48 had found the ramp, he entered the hotel and checked in at an overly tall desk before being told that his room was on the top floor. He went to the lifts and waited, with his luggage in a heavy sports bag balanced precariously across his knees. He was glad that he had allowed extra time for all the hold-ups, as was his standard protocol.

Eventually the old lift reached the ground floor, and a wave of pompous businessmen in expensive suits pushed passed him without so much as a glance. Once again Agent 48 thanked his lucky stars for the benefit of anonymity that came with a wheelchair.

The lift moved slowly up the building, occasionally scraping in a very disconcerting manner as it travelled up the lift shaft. It stopped at almost every floor, sometimes for people who didn’t want to walk up one flight of stairs, and sometimes opening the doors to find no one there, as whoever had called the lift had clearly got bored and decided to walk anyway.

Finally, Agent 48 reached the top floor of the hotel, and he laboured across the thick, woollen carpet to reach his room. He struggled to reach over his bag to insert the key-card into the scanner, which was placed so far up the wall an orangutan would have struggled to reach it. After stretching and straining Agent 48 finally entered the room. His wheelchair only just fit between the bed and the wall, leaving muddy streaks down the crisp, white bedding. With no room to turn around he had to reverse to shut the door behind him, and then he heaved his bag onto the bed.

After sorting out the contents of his bag, he went to the window with his sniper rifle, and watched many important political figures being questioned by journalists as they entered an environmental policy conference across the road. The clasp to open the window was at the top of the frame, so Agent 48 had to use his rifle to undo the clasp before forcing the window open the fraction it could without allowing people to throw themselves, or someone else, out. Finally, Agent 48 set up the rifle so that he was ready to take the shot before covering it with a curtain, giving the appearance that the curtain had been pushed back by a careless guest.

Inevitably, the several cups of coffee drunk in the train station while waiting for a ramp to make an appearance had their effect, and Agent 48 had to use the bathroom. He reversed, leaving more muddy marks on the bedding, and stopped by the bathroom door. This he opened with relative ease, although the door now blocked his route to the window, and with some mishaps, he negotiated his way into the bathroom. Once inside he stretched up to reach the light switch, and then began the struggle of trying not to fall over his own wheelchair while he manoeuvred himself around the room. After about ten minutes Agent 48 made it back to the window, just in time to see Lord Mansfield’s car approaching slowly down the crowded street. He positioned himself carefully, took hold of the rifle, and exhaled. As Lord Mansfield climbed the steps, hindered by over-zealous photographers, Agent 48’s finger hovered over the trigger. He took the shot, and Mansfield fell forwards onto the stairs while the crowd ran panicking in all directions. Another shot sealed Mansfield’s fate, and then Agent 48 fired some more shots to hide the fact that this was a targeted attack, giving non-lethal injuries to two more politicians and one journalist.

Quickly, Agent 48 wiped the rifle to remove any fingerprints, and grabbed a pair of balled-up socks from his open, semi-unpacked bag. He shoved them in his mouth, and then in one swift, well-practised movement, over-turned his wheelchair. He lay sprawled on the floor, and only had to wait a matter of minutes before policemen were hammering at the hotel door, having figured out where the shots were fired from. When the door was not answered it was kicked down, and three policemen practically fell into the room, where they were horrified to discover that a poor disabled man had been attacked by the sniper before he escaped.

Agent 48 was helped back into his wheelchair before being taken to the police station to submit a witness statement, describing how the sniper had followed him to his room and attacked him, gagged him, and had fired the rifle several times before fleeing. He recounted that the sniper had been wearing a mask to disguise his identity, and hadn’t spoken a word. While he gave a statement, his luggage was collected from the hotel on his behalf. The following morning, he left the police station having given all the evidence he could to aid the capture of this fiendish villain, and made his way to the train station which was only round the corner. He was predictably hampered by a few journalists who wanted to hear his version of events directly from him, rather than the edited witness statement released by the police. As requested, Agent 48 remained silent, only breaking his silence to ask a photographer to step aside as she blocked the road crossing.

At the train station Agent 48 had once again to wait for a ramp, and so he decided to visit the newsagents as a newspaper would be helpful for him to remain discrete from the publics’ eager eyes. He expected the headlines to scream of Lord Mansfields’ terrible assassination, but was surprised to find that actually, the majority of the headlines were far more concerned with the attack on the heroic disabled man than the cold-blooded murder of an important political figure. He bought one of the papers, and settled down to read the article on the assassination while he waited for a ramp. The article gave a brief discussion of the previous days’ events, including the fact that no suspects had as yet been apprehended, and a small mention of what all this would mean for Lady Mansfield-Hope was made. However, far longer than Agent 48 deemed necessary was spent focusing on the diabolical nature of a man who would physically attack someone deemed weak and defenceless.

As he finished reading the article a porter arrived with a ramp tucked under his arm, and finally Agent 48 could board the train. It did not surprise him that once again a pram had been placed in the wheelchair space, but this time the mortified mother was more than welcome to accommodate him. Smiling and relaxed, Agent 48 buried himself in the pages of the newspaper, reading the latest about global politics and new scientific discoveries. He had never known such a pleasant commute as this.

Captain Wheels: A Short Story.

The pub door swung open, and a tall, muscular woman entered and looked around the room. Finally her eyes settled on the man she wished to speak to, perched precariously on a bar stool with his wheelchair directly to his right. She marched across the room to him and tapped him lightly on the shoulder, causing him to swivel round.

“Captain Wheels?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “want to take a selfie?”

“No. Actually, I’d like to speak with you in relative privacy, perhaps in one of those booths?” she pointed to the opposite wall which was lined with tall, secluded booths.

“Oh, OK, sure. Give me a minute.” Captain Wheels shifted into his wheelchair, stretched up for the half-drunk pint still on the bar, and followed the woman across the room to the booth in the far corner. He manoeuvred himself from his wheelchair, which couldn’t fit in the booth, onto one of the high-backed, cushioned seats.

“My name is Nicola Rage, and I’m recruiting people with special abilities to form a team,” Nicola began, “In searching the newspapers for reports of such people, I came across several articles discussing your activities, and I decided to that you might be exactly what I’m searching for.”

Captain Wheels raised one eyebrow slightly, “And what exactly is this team for?”

“Government intelligence services has found evidence of a criminal organisation that is in ownership of multiple significant threats that have the potential to destroy entire cities. What these threats are is as yet unknown, but when those threats present themselves, as appears to be inevitable, we need someone to protect us.”

“And that’s me?”

“Potentially, as part of a team of like-minded individuals,” Nicola said calmly, “but first I need to talk to you to discuss what exactly those abilities are, without the exaggeration of excitable journalists.” She flipped open a notepad on which were scrawled a handful of questions, and before Captain Wheels had the chance to say anything else, began questioning him.

“How did you obtain your powers?”

“Well, personally I don’t especially like recounting that experience-“ Captain Wheels began, but was interrupted by Nicola.

“Captain, I realise that asking someone how they obtained their special abilities is a sensitive question, but I am not asking this to satisfy my own personal curiosity. I need to hear it from you.”

“7 years ago doctors found a tumour in my brain. A cancerous one. The operation to remove it went wrong, severely limiting my mobility and putting me in a wheelchair, but while I lost control of my own body, I gained the ability to control other physical objects. I can move things with my mind, get things to levitate very briefly, and can even influence the actions of those around me to some extent.”

“So you’re telekinetic?” Nicola asked in a matter-of-fact voice, almost sounding bored.

“Yeah, I guess so,” came Captain Wheels’ reply.

“And how do you use these powers?”

“Probably my most frequent job is to move extremely heavy objects if someone is trapped, say in a building fire or a collapsed building following an earthquake. I’ve also been able to prevent car accidents and the like, and I can move objects to block and trap criminals allowing them to be caught by the police before they cause any more harm,” Captain Wheels said.

“So, you could perhaps trap terrorists allowing them to be apprehended, or move a bomb to a safe distance away from inhabited buildings and businesses. And you could help anyone stuck within the wreckage if we weren’t fast enough,” Nicola proceeded.

“Yes.”

“Could you get them to change their minds about their intentions?”

“It’s possible but not certain, I’m afraid. I may be able to slow them down by making them question their actions, but once an idea is imprinted firmly in someone’s mind, I can do very little to change it,” Captain Wheels explained.

Nicola Rage sat back against her seat in thought, before continuing.

“Would you be willing to be a member of an elite team, all of whom have their own special abilities, to help reduce the threat to our society on an international scale?” she asked.

“If my powers are useful to you, then yes, absolutely,” Captain Wheels said with sincerity.

“Then welcome to the Protection Squad.”

***

Captain Wheels slowly seated himself in his new wheelchair. Instead of the cold, grey lump of metal he was used to, this was warm and comfortable, more like an armchair on wheels. Like his old wheelchair it was powered, but here the similarities stopped. The batteries had an extra-long life, and could be charged using solar power as well as the charger. The control panel was cluttered with a myriad of buttons, which Nicola guided him through.

“The top one is for stealth mode. It silences the motors and dims the lights on the control panel, activates the chameleon panels which help you blend into the background just like the ones on your uniform, and switches off the horn so you have no chance of alerting someone to your presence accidentally.

“That one is for the jet pack, which will help you levitate your own wheelchair at great heights for longer, so you can focus your powers elsewhere. This one here is for the parachute should something go wrong.

“This one is for the gun incorporated into your left arm rest, and will reload automatically from the magazine of bullets under the seat. We’ve added special receptors that can enhance the effects of your telekinesis, allowing you to aim the gun hands-free.

“Obviously all of these things take some power from the battery, so should be used carefully, but with these batteries I can’t imagine you’ll have to worry about it too much.”

“Wow,” Captain Wheels said slowly, “just wow.”

Nicola smiled, “I had an inkling that you might like it. Are you ready to meet the other team members?”

Captain Wheels nodded, and followed her into the next room. In the centre of the room was an oval-shaped mahogany table, with three men and two women in the same uniform already seated around it as if they were attending the worlds’ most unusual board meeting. Captain Wheels manoeuvred into the space left for him at the table, while Nicola took her seat at the end of the table.

“Welcome all of you,” she said, “you were hand-picked because of your special abilities, and together you are the Protection Squad. I advise that you get to know each other quickly; the latest government intelligence suggests that the first threat is imminent, and we will need you to defend us. Now if you will excuse me, I have a strategy meeting with my superiors to attend, after which you may well be called upon.” She stood up and left.

There was a short, awkward pause before the darker-haired woman introduced herself as Dominique, her power being the ability to shape-shift. The second woman, known only as the Blood Assassin, briefly described the genetic and surgical enhancements she had been subjected to against her will that had turned her into a super-warrior. Doctor Raven described himself as a super-intelligent telepath, and Jerry Lightning introduced his ability to run faster than the speed of sound. Finally there was Thoron, affectionately nicknamed for his strength and odd resemblance to the Nordic God of thunder. The last person to introduce himself was Captain Wheels.

“I’m Dave Heyton, otherwise known as Captain Wheels,” he said as all eyes turned to face him, “and I’m telekinetic. My wheelchair also has special stealth settings, and a jet pack.”

“So what are you without the wheelchair?” Thoron scoffed.

“A telekinetic, cancer-surviving badass,” Captain Wheels kept a straight face as he said this, while Dominique struggled to supress her smile. Before anything else could be said, the door opened and Nicola Rage entered.

“We have a situation,” she said.

***

Tactics were discussed in the helicopter while they headed to their destination, an allegedly disused block of offices in the financial district of London. It had been reported that a gas-emitting bomb was to be hidden there by the criminal organisation shortly before rush hour, when it would be set off, releasing poisonous gases that would result in horrific widespread disease, essentially turning people into mindless zombies.

“This weapon is designed to cause mass panic on a national scale as much as it is to harm people,” Nicola Rage said, “if it goes off, not only will we have a horrific disease to manage, but the country will be in uproar. The mistrust of governmental departments is bad enough as it is; something like this would push the country into disrepair and self-destruction. And that means that someone new can barge in and take control, because in that situation the public simply want a leader to follow, and they won’t give a damn who that will be.

“You will be dropped off here,” Nicola pointed to a location on the map, “and will make you way through this series of back alleys to the office block in question. Raven; we want you on the top floor of the building providing us with information as to the whereabouts of the criminals in the office. Dominique; follow the gang through the building by blending into the environment, providing us with further intel by thinking it for Doctor Raven, and joining in the fighting when we apprehend the gang. Assassin and Thoron; using the intel provided we will guide you through the building until the right moment, when you will start your attack. Lightning and Wheels; you will use your speed and levitation powers in combination to quickly transport the bomb to our bomb-disposal team in their secret base, in the most remote part of the Scottish highlands. Understood?”

Everyone nodded, and soon the helipad where they were to land came into view. Instead of waiting for the lift to arrive to carry him down to ground level, which was taking far too long, Captain Wheels decided to use the jetpack and go down the stairs, which proved trickier to control than he had anticipated. Quite how the scorch-marks left behind him would be explained to the cleaning staff he didn’t know.

Once they were on the street they moved swiftly through the back alleys until they arrived at the office block. As expected, there was no evidence of activity yet, so they slipped into the building unnoticed. Doctor Raven checked with his telepathic powers that the building was indeed empty, and then set off for the top floor. Dominique disguised herself as a small spider spinning a web in the corner, ready to follow the criminals when they arrived. The rest tucked themselves in the dark underneath the stairs, activated their chameleon suits, and waited for further instructions to be fed to them through their ear pieces.

A short later their earpieces crackled into life, and Nicola Rage’s disembodied voice confirmed sighting of the gang headed towards the office disguised as delivery men, driving an unmarked white van. About two minutes after this Doctor Raven said he could detect ten people, all men, approaching in a white van. While nine of the men were highly anxious that some sort of suspicious activity was going on, only one seemed to actually know what was being delivered. Doctor Raven tracked the men as they entered the building; two stayed on the ground floor, two outside the first floor, and two more stayed outside the door into the second floor while the remaining four entered the offices. Dominique was completely unnoticed as she scuttled into the office underneath the closed door.

At this point Blood Assassin crept out from beneath the stairs and stealthily made her way towards the two men in the reception area. Silently, she knocked them both unconscious simultaneously, and gently placed their bodies on the floor. When she returned she clambered onto Lightnings’ back, and in a flash she was up the stairs, having knocked out both sets of guards. Captain Wheels and Thoron could now make their way up to the second floor, where they grouped together.

Doctor Raven said that the package containing the bomb had been put down, and that the three men who didn’t know what was in it were making their way back towards the stair well. Everyone pressed themselves back against the wall on each side of the door, something Captain Wheels found particularly difficult, blending into the dull grey walls almost perfectly. The three men left the second floor in silence, and once the door had closed behind them Blood Assassin knocked them all unconscious, propping them up against the wall.

As they were about to enter the office to apprehend the one remaining man, Nicola Rage reported that a helicopter was progressing towards them. Once Doctor Raven found the relevant vehicle, he said that there were four men in the helicopter, all in the know. They were planning to kill all the other men involved in the operation, acting as security until the bomb went off, when they would succumb to the disease just like the man already in the building. Thinking quickly, Nicola ordered them to enter the room and apprehend the one man there, telling Lightning and Captain Wheels to remove the bomb while only one man was present, leaving the rest to fight the approaching criminals.

Captain Wheels deactivated stealth mode and violently kicked the door open, which promptly swung back and slammed his legs. Thoron leant across him and pushed the door so hard the hinges snapped. Dominque transformed into her human form, blocking the doors on the other side of the room. The criminal screamed that he was under attack into his own walkie-talkie, before firing his gun at his attackers. Only two bullets had been fired before Blood Assassin had disarmed him, both of which missed their target, at which point Captain Wheels levitated the bomb towards him. Thoron kept the enemy in place while the two women headed up the building to deal with the helicopter that had just landed, and Captain Wheels was propelled out of the building at super speed by Lightning.

Once outside Captain Wheels activated his jet pack, flying close to the buildings so that Lightning could run along them, continuing to push the wheelchair at speed. Within seconds they were out of the city, running along buildings and hilltops, flying in between, and in only a couple of minutes they were approaching the bomb disposal unit. Travelling at such a speed through the cold, wet Scottish highlands was not the most enjoyable experience, nor was it good for slick hair styles, but both men were far more concerned with the bomb than they were about their own discomfort. It was only as they landed, soaked to the skin, that they even noticed just how cold they were. The bomb disposal team took the bomb from them as soon as they had landed, and almost immediately Captain Wheels and Lightning embarked on the return trip.

As they arrived at the office block, they were informed by Doctor Raven that the fighting was already over. Dominque and Blood Assassin had rapidly disarmed the men from the helicopter, and he himself had hacked into the still-working security system to lock the doors of the room they were in once the women had escaped. A police squad were on their way to pick up all the men, and in the meantime the Protection Squad were to wait on the roof of the building for further orders, bar Thoron who was still occupied detaining the apparent mastermind behind the scheme.

From the roof the Protection Squad had a reasonable view of the police arriving in vans and dragging out the unconscious men, before finally putting the rest of the men into high-security vans with the aid of Thoron. As this progressed a crowd gathered, and soon extra police had to be called in for crowd control. Soon enough the police were escorting their prisoners to the nearest station, and the Protection Squad worked their way down the building to meet the enthusiastic people outside, who were particularly interested in Captain Wheels’ chair. Camera’s flashed and journalist yelled questions at the top of their lungs, all trying to find out what exactly had happened. Nicola Rage reminded them not to say a word as she sent a van to pick them up.

The following morning all of the newspapers headlines were as predictable as a B-movie science fiction film; all of them were desperate to know just who the Protection Squad were. Captain Wheels smiled at the photograph plastered across every front page; only the very top of his head could be seen as he sat beside his standing compatriots. He didn’t have long to relax, however, before Nicola Rage called upon him again.

Wheels of Fortune: A Short Story.

As soon as I arrived home, I rang my mum, who I knew would be waiting my call. She answered almost immediately.

“Hi mum,” I said.

“Hey sweetie, how did it go?” mum never did like small talk.

“Not well,” I replied, “They turned down the appeal; I’ll only get the lower rate of mobility payments, and nothing at all for care costs. According to the doctor in charge of my case I could choose to use crutches to move around, and a manual wheelchair on bad days.”

“That’s ridiculous,” mum exclaimed, “You did explain that you can’t walk very far on crutches, and that you can’t push yourself any distance in a wheelchair, yes?”

“Of course, mum. They just said I would have to have someone to push a wheelchair on bad days.”

“But they haven’t given you any money for care,” mum sounded as exasperated as I felt.

“Apparently it should be such a rare event that I can simply rely on friends and family.”

“How utterly ridiculous. If they had to live with a disability-“

“I know, mum, I know,” I interrupted her before a long rant ensued.

“So now what?” she asked.

“Well, I can no longer afford payments on my powered wheelchair, so they’ll be coming to collect that in less than a month.”

“Can you try and push for a pay rise?”

“Mum, without a wheelchair how am I even supposed to get to work, let alone get a pay rise? There’s no chance of me being physically able to walk around the office on crutches all day, and my colleagues have work of their own to do; they can’t be my carers.”

“Oh Susie, I wish your father and I could help you out, I really do, but he’s still hunting for a job and his redundancy pay has run out.”

“That’s OK,” I said. There was a short pause, before I asked, “Any ideas as to what I should do?”

“Short of robbing a bank, Susie, I don’t know.”

***

Dave was driving an adapted mini-van hired specially for the occasion, with Sam sat beside him. I was sat in my wheelchair in the back, with the wheelchair steadied on the floor by series of straps more convoluted than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We pulled up outside the bank, and Dave craned his neck round to face me.

“You don’t need to do this, you know,” he said, “I’ll do it.”

“Are you saying that because I have boobs or wheels?” I retaliated.

“Fine, fine, it’s your money. Got your mask?” he asked.

“I’m in a wheelchair,” I said levelly, “that’s a pretty damn obvious clue towards my identity.”

Dave looked horrified, but Sam was grinning from ear-to-ear, his balaclava pushed back to look like a normal hat.

“Everyone knows that wheelchair users are invisible,” he pitched in.

“Yep,” I agreed.

Dave rolled his eyes, and climbed out of the drivers’ seat. He opened the back door, put out the ramp, and released my wheelchair. I reversed down the ramp with ease, a practised manoeuvre I was very used to.

“I’ll be here when you get back,” Dave leant casually against the open boot of the car and crossed his arms, clearly not happy about my lack of a mask.

Sam and I moved towards the platform lift provided for wheelchair users to traverse the flight of steps into the bank. A piece of paper with the words “Out of Order” was pinned to it, waving in the breeze. Clearly the lift had been out of order for some time, as the paper was dirty, crumpled, and damp.

“Right,” I said to Sam, “the actual disabled entrance is round the side.”

“Sure,” Sam replied.

I traversed up the narrow ramp which had a tight hair-pin bend half-way up, and hit the button for the automatic door to open. As usual, the mechanism wasn’t switched on.

“I’ll get it,” Sam heaved the door open, which due to the rather pointless automation was incredibly heavy and cumbersome.

Once inside the bank we joined the back of the queue, and slowly we moved towards the cashiers’ desk. Aside from getting caught in the tightly weaving line set out by flimsy barriers, this was uneventful, and even boring. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the head of the queue.

“Next,” a bored assistant said in a monotone voice, “How can I help?”

“This is a stick-up,” I said to the marble panels lining the front of a desk so high I would have needed a periscope to see over it.

“Pardon me, but I can’t hear you,” the assistant said.

“This is a stick-up,” I said loudly. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned towards me, a stunned silence sweeping the room. I was used to being a spectacle, so this did not perturb me. Sam turned to face the crowd, his balaclava obscuring his face, and pulled the most realistic-looking toy gun we could find out of his back pocket.

“I need £6,000 in cash in this bag, now,” I said, “and nobody gets run over.” I gave the bag to Sam, who put it on the counter for me.

“Very funny,” the assistant didn’t laugh, “now what are you really here for.”

“Gimme the money!” I shouted in my most gangster voice.

It dawned on the assistant that we weren’t actually joking, and she must have hit the emergency button underneath the desk. Red lights started flashing as the alarm screamed, and the doors locked themselves. Everyone started running around like madmen, trying to cram themselves into the offices lining the walls of the bank for safety.

“The money, in the bag, now!” Sam yelled, turning to face the assistant and pointing the toy gun at her.

“That is not real,” she said.

“Wanna risk a bet?” Sam levelled it at her head.

“Yeah I would be, since the armed response team will have real guns to shoot you with on the off-chance that yours is real,” she retorted, “so I suggest you put it down and take a comfy seat until the police arrive.”

“C’mon Sam, let’s just go,” I was disappointed, but I knew when I was beaten.

I put my wheelchair on the highest speed setting, and rushed towards the disabled exit. Since the automatic mechanism wasn’t switched on, the door hadn’t locked. I hurled myself through the door and down the ramp, and headed towards the car, only to find another car parked over the space where the pavement levelled with the road. I could see that Dave was already arguing with him.

“I’ll only be hear a minute, what’s the rush?” the driver was saying, dangling his cigarette out of the window and dropping ash onto the road.

“Move or I scratch your precious car,” I said from the pavement. The driver saw Sam behind me, toy gun in hand, and looked as if he had had an accident that didn’t involve cars.

“OK, alright man, chill,” the driver reversed his car the two feet necessary, and I hurried towards our mini-van.

The ramp was already down so I could drive straight into the vehicle, but then began the complicated business of strapping the chair to the floor. It was a full minute before this was complete, and as Dave pushed the ramp in behind me, three police cars screeched around the corner. Almost before they had stopped moving the officers were out of their cars and running towards us, and were quickly joined by a van-load of officers with viciously barking dogs.

“Stop right there!” an officer yelled.

“The armed response team is only minutes away, so I suggest you cooperate,” he continued, “Now let the hostage go, and nobody gets hurt.”

It took me a second to realise that by “hostage” they meant me. As this sunk in Sam threw his head back and laughed loudly, sending the dogs into a burst of loud barking and growling. The officer who had spoken looked stunned.

“She ain’t no hostage,” our cashier hurried down the steps towards us, almost stumbling in her ridiculous heels as she did so, “She’s one of the robbers.”

The officer opened his mouth to speak, but she told him that it was her who had sounded the alarm before he could ask how she was involved.

“I have no doubt that they were using this poor woman as some kind of protection, almost like a human shield,” the officer raised one eyebrow and glanced over at me.

“She was one of the robbers alright,” customers were now filing slowly out of the bank, and among them was the middle-aged man who spoke. A few officers were occupying themselves by stopping them from leaving the scene, as they were all valuable witnesses.

“Are you?” the officer gaped at me. I figured there wasn’t much point lying, as every witness would testify otherwise, so I told the truth.

“Arrest them all,” he ordered his subordinates. Quickly Dave and Sam were cuffed and placed in the back of separate police cars, while being given the usual spiel about having the right to remain silent. However, I presented a problem; none of their own vehicles were accessible. Even when the armed response team came screeching around the corner a minute later, there were no facilities capable of transporting me in my wheelchair. Thinking on his feet, the officer ordered that I was cuffed, and that a couple of officers drove the car to the police station.

The ride back to the police station took no longer than five minutes as we followed the cars containing Sam and Dave, but upon arriving at our destination my case presented yet more problems. It took ten minutes for the police officers to figure out how to release my wheelchair from all the safety measures, and then they realised that while cuffed driving my wheelchair would be rather difficult.  They tried to push my wheelchair, but it wasn’t designed to be pushed by others, and it was extremely heavy. Eventually they had to settle for my slow and shaky driving as they escorted me into the police station.

The reception desk in the police station was as high as the one in the bank, and yet again I found myself taking to a wall, wishing I had a periscope. After signing in I was escorted to a holding cell down a corridor so narrow it was virtually impossible to fit the wheelchair through. What the people already in a cell must have thought when they heard an electronic whine combined with the scraping of metal on whitewashed walls I do not know. The door of the cell was too small to allow the wheelchair through, and so I had to hobble over to the bench on the far side of the cell bracing the walls, and my wheelchair was taken somewhere where I was told it would be safe. Once the door had been slammed shut, I was amused to hear the sounds of the policemen struggling to drive my wheelchair to said safe place.

That evening mum and dad came to see me, just as I was swallowing the last of something that barely qualified as food. Dad looked bemused and a little concerned, but mum had a face like thunder.

“They’re releasing you on bail until the trial comes round since you didn’t actually hurt anyone or steal any money,” dad said calmly, “but only if you live with us until then, with a curfew, and if you go out alone you’ll be arrested again. Count yourself lucky that this is some kind of wheelchair perk.”

“Oh, and surprisingly enough, you’ve been fired. So now you really are out of money,” mum snapped.

I heard the barrage of whining and scraping that signified the re-appearance of my wheelchair, and an hour later I was lying on a flimsy camp-bed in my parents’ cluttered lounge, trying to get to sleep while being licked by their dog, Ringo.

***

The day before the trial I sat on the kitchen floor and scrubbed my wheelchair clean; they do say that appearance is everything in court. I picked out a matching dress and jacket combination, and made sure that my leather boots had been polished. Outside a group of photographers and journalists lounged on my parents’ garden fence, which was scuffed and dented thanks to all their attention over the past months, much to my mothers’ dismay. I was actually grateful for their media coverage, as my motives soon came to light, and public pressure had forced the reinstatement of my disability benefits, allowing me to keep my wheelchair. It seemed that even after my little escapade, most people felt sorry for me because of my wheels.

For most of the introductory speeches at the start of the trial, I remained lost in my own thoughts rather than listening to what was being said, all the while trying to maintain the appearance of being riveted for the benefit of the jury. The state-provided defence lawyer had advised all three of us to plead guilty to charges of attempted robbery, since there was an overwhelming amount of evidence in the form of witnesses and security camera footage against us.

Once Sam and Dave had been called, pleaded guilty, and been sentenced to a short stint in jail followed by many hours of community service, I went to take my place opposite the witness stand. There was, however, one minor inconvenience. Despite the excessive media attention having taken great pains to emphasise my disability, turning me into the victim of the piece, between me and the microphone where I would confess my guilt, there was a step. When the press saw my plight, uproar ensued as photographers leant dangerously far over bannisters to take pictures of the court stupid enough not to provide accessible facilities.

The following day while lounging in my prison cell I was given a newspaper by a guard who had finished reading it. On the front page was a birds-eye view photograph of me seated in my wheelchair, looking at the step in the court room. The focus of the article was not the fact that I had attempted to rob a bank, but the fact that blatant discrimination still existed in a court of law. The scathing headline summed it up perfectly; “COURT NEEDS TO STEP-UP THEIR GAME.”