Read Tabitha Online

Authors: Andrew Hall

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Superheroes, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion, #Genetic Engineering, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Superhero

Tabitha

 

 

TABITHA

 

Andrew Hall

 

 

© Andrew Hall 2014

 

Find me on Twitter at
@
andrew_in_space
.

 

Cover art by
Aaron Nakahara

 

All rights reserved. No
reproduction without permission.

 

This novel is a work of fiction.
All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

1

 

The end of the world came quietly one
day and landed in the sea. Nobody noticed a mediocre meteor, or saw what was
growing on it. Humanity was too busy with hunger and war; tight margins and
premium goods. Some people, like Tabitha Jones, were busy losing their jobs.

Tabitha worked
in a run-down office in a Welsh seaside town. A town of chip wrappers,
graffiti, rain. Rust stains seeped through whitewashed ironwork on the old
seafront. The sea was a murky line in the distance, a dull brown mass. Tabitha
could see it all from the office window, faded and
murked
by a film of sandy grime on the glass. She ran her fingers idly over her old
computer keyboard. Every button was smooth and shiny and worn out. Marketing
Admin Assistant wasn’t an interesting job. Graduation felt like a lifetime ago.
She could be making films, she told herself. In another life, a world away, up
there in her daydream.

‘Tabitha, could
I have a word in my office?’ said a deep grave voice. Bill Mangle, CEO. He
loomed suddenly at her desk, tall and black-suited, as pale and gaunt as an
undertaker’s stereotype. He turned sharply and walked off. Tabitha stood up and
smoothed down her shirt and skirt nervously. She followed Bill through the
silent staring office into a worn-carpet corridor. They passed
sunbleached
accolades hung in old gold frames, and a sorry
Spanish plant wearing decades of dust. Walls papered in eighties seasick grey.
Everything had that strange dusty smell of ancient cigarette smoke, like the
fabric seats on an old coach. Tabitha had always hated that smell. Bill led the
way in silence; a funeral procession of two. Tabitha’s palms felt clammy; her
stomach was scrunched up in a ball. What was this about?

 

Bill shifted uneasily in his chair. It
creaked in his silent office. He looked up from his long knotted fingers on the
desk at the young woman sitting opposite; at her wide green deer-in-the-headlight
eyes, half hidden under a mess of ginger curls.

‘Tabitha…’ he
sighed gravely, breaking the silence. ‘There’s no easy way to say this,’ he
said apologetically. ‘We’re making losses. We need to let a few of you go.’
Tabitha could only stare at him. He’d dropped a cartoon ton-weight on her life.
Sawed out the floor beneath her in a perfect circle. His words rang in her head
like a deep dull church bell in a graveyard.
There’s no easy way to say
this. We need to let a few of you go.
It occurred to Tabitha that this was
actually quite an easy way for him to say it. She didn’t mention this. All her
young life, many of Tabitha’s opinions had never quite made it to her mouth.

‘But I’ve been
here for years,’ she mumbled.

‘Well,
two
years,’
Bill chuckled gently, dismissively. Grinning with crooked teeth. He shifted
again in his creaking seat; coughed into the awkward silence. ‘The industry’s
changing,’ he explained, scratching a dry clean-shaven cheek. ‘There just…
isn’t the work anymore.’ Tabitha stared blankly at Bill’s desk. At the fake
wood-grain coating on its surface. She smelled the musky whiff of old
aftershave that filled the gloomy room. Heard the bland clock on the wall,
older than she was, ticking plastic time in the silence.

‘Ok,’ she said
quietly. Job, gone. Just like that. She didn’t see the point in getting angry.
She wasn’t very good at it. There were lots of lay-offs these days, she told
herself. This was the hollowed-out economy.

‘Ok,’ she
repeated, lifelessly, making brief eye contact as she stood up. She saw his
eyes and looked away. He always had that dark intense look, like he was
weighing her soul. Tabitha looked down at the carpet, her go-to looking place,
where no one ever stared back.

‘Should I go
now? Or…?’ she mumbled.

‘I think it’s
probably best,’ said Bill, in his kindest fake-kindness voice. His flinty eyes
and sharp sunken cheeks did little to complement his tone. ‘Probably better to
spend your time looking for a new job, mm?’ he said. Bill seemed brighter now, like
a weight had lifted off his shoulders. He was stroking his chin, thinking. ‘I
know this chap actually, he’s looking for a cleaner,’ he said. ‘I’ll write you
up a good reference, mm? Yes.’ Bill decided before Tabitha could reply. She
didn’t want a cleaning job. Something wasn’t right. She wanted to ask about her
notice period for a start.

‘Oh, and don’t
worry about serving your notice,’ said Bill, as if he’d read her mind.

‘Ok,’ she
mumbled, defeated, opening the door. Wait, wasn’t that something she was
entitled to? She should be pressing him about it. That all seemed a bit
confrontational though.

‘Oh, Tabitha?’


Hm
?’

‘Nobody emptied
the bins over the weekend,’ said Bill, with a confidential tone. ‘What with the
hot weather and everything… would you mind just… taking the old bags on your
way out? Please?’ Tabitha stared at him, and didn’t say what she wanted to say.
She’d need a good reference for her next job. Best not to rock the boat.

‘…Ok,’ she
replied timidly. She left Bill’s office and closed the door silently behind
her.

 

The main office was eerily quiet when
Tabitha reappeared from the corridor. She was walking on a floor that didn’t
quite feel like it was there. Pale, thoughtless, she reached her desk in a daze
and switched her computer off. A phone was ringing somewhere behind her. She
emptied the contents of her desk into a rustling carrier bag. Her stapler. Her
pens. Her work schedule, lovingly drafted one weekend; packed with tasks that
she’d colour coded by order of importance. All redundant now, just like her.

‘Everything
alright love?’ said Gwen in her sing-song voice, peering over the partition
from the desk behind.

‘Yeah,’ Tabitha
replied. She didn’t want to talk about it. Not with Gwen, anyway.

‘What happened?’
said Gwen, with the look of someone who knew full well.

‘I’m leaving.’
Tabitha replied quietly. She wanted to keep it vague. Everything about Gwen was
an intrusion. Always had been.

‘Leaving? Oh,
how awful!’ said Gwen dramatically, with all the sincerity she could muster.
Tabitha didn’t look Gwen in the eye. She couldn’t stand to see the look of
victory there; the look she was so bad at hiding.

‘What’s going
on?’ said Gavin, half-interested, popping his head up a couple of desks away.

‘Tabitha’s been
made redundant,’ Gwen declared sadly, revelling in the drama. Strange that Gwen
knew the exact reason why she was leaving, Tabitha thought to herself. She
didn’t mention this though.

‘Oh no, really?’
Gavin murmured, after a brief pause to click Save on his spreadsheet. Tabitha
watched him trying to formulate some sympathy. Maybe he was waiting for her to
say something. He looked down at his computer to type something quickly.

‘How come?’ he
said eventually, looking up at her again. Tabitha was already walking away down
the office.

‘Bye then,’ Gwen
called sarcastically.

‘Bye,’ Tabitha
replied quietly, barely looking back.

 

A big dead moth lay frayed and dusty on
the kitchen window sill. The summer sun shone bright and milky through grubby
glass. Tabitha wrestled with the sticky sides of the bin bag to tie it up, and
carted its stinking weight out of the office kitchen with a second bag. She’d
never known a smell like it; like death and dairy. Lazy flies followed the sour
fumes out into the corridor.

‘Alright
Trouble?’ said Kevin, smiling his creased old grin as he ambled into the
office. He always smelled of old hair gel. He studied the bin bags in her
hands. ‘Who made you the bin man then?’

‘I’ve been laid
off,’ she said quietly. Kevin’s wrinkled face dropped. He was the one person in
the office she’d actually wanted to tell. He looked angry. He clenched his big
old hands into fists; knobbly knuckles turning white.

‘Wait here,’ he
growled, walking off. ‘And put them bloody bin bags down girl,’ he said over
his shoulder. ‘He’s taking the piss.’

Kevin stormed
into Bill’s office and slammed the door behind him. It wasn’t clear what was
said during the muffled shouting match, but the rest of the office tried their
best to listen in. Tabitha had never heard so much anger, and she was all the
way down in the corridor by the front doors. When Kevin emerged he growled at
everyone to get back to work. He walked back out into the corridor with a face
like thunder, like a grumpy old hound. Tabitha was going to miss that face.

‘Prat,’ Kevin
snarled. ‘Well, I tried to talk him out of it,’ he sighed, his stubbly face
softening. ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen, love. Not if I want to keep my
job. I’m sorry.’ Tabitha looked into his sad eyes, and she wanted to hug him.
She didn’t, though. It might have turned out awkward. She wasn’t good at
contact.

‘Don’t be
sorry,’ she said, smiling. ‘It happens a lot these days, people losing their
jobs.’

‘Well it’s a
bloody shame that people like you have to go, and some of
them
keep a job,’
he said quietly. Tabitha smiled. ‘If it’s any consolation though, I reckon
there’s more lay-offs coming soon anyway.’

‘It’s not any
consolation, really,’ Tabitha told him quietly. ‘I don’t want anyone to lose
their jobs.’

‘Look, don’t
worry about them,’ said Kevin. ‘You just look after yourself, alright?’ he was
smiling sadly.

‘Yeah, you’re
right,’ Tabitha replied.

‘You never know.
Losing this job might be the best thing that ever happened to you. A good kick
up the bum to find something better, maybe.’

‘Maybe,’ Tabitha
agreed quietly, welling up.

‘So, you better
come back here and see us when you’re a high flyer, alright?’ he said. Tabitha
nodded, with a tear running down her cheek.

‘And leave them
bloody bin bags here, will you?’ he said, pulling them out of her hands to give
her a hug.

‘Bye Kevin,’ she
said, her voice muffled in his musty jumper.

‘Bye Trouble,’
he replied. ‘Now go on, get lost. Go and get a better job.’

 

The gravel in the car park crunched under
Tabitha’s shoes, stabbing crisp sound into the silence. There was only the grey
distant hiss of traffic noise in town; no other sound in the world. Tabitha’s
head was empty of thoughts. She didn’t know whether to grieve or celebrate.
Maybe this was a time for both. She’d been cut loose, so what now? Did that
mean she was falling, or flying? Maybe it was up to her. Yes; it was up to her.
A whole world was open to her. Tabitha climbed into her car and shut the door
on the office behind her. She turned the key in the ignition. As the engine
started up she felt like she was starting a new chapter in her life. She could
go anywhere she wanted, do anything she wanted. She was absolutely free. So…
why did she feel like everything had come crashing down on top of her? She
reversed out of the tiny office car park and drove off down the road. It was
Friday; there was a weekend to enjoy. The next few weeks, strange and
uncertain, could stay on the far side of Sunday. As for now… she knew exactly
where to go.

 

Tabitha’s worries disappeared for a
while once she parked up at the supermarket. She’d always liked supermarkets.
They were magnolia paint for the mind. A busy vanilla distraction, plain and
orderly. She hadn’t been to this one before, though. She didn’t normally drive
this way home after work, but she was feeling daring today after losing her
job. Life was too short not to try a new supermarket once in a while.

She thought
quite highly of the supermarket’s exterior on her way in. Tasteful brick
pillars, accentuated by the clean sharp lines of modern glass. A class act,
really, though she wanted to reserve judgement until she’d seen the customer
service. She felt a cool blast from the air vents over the doors on her way in.
The fake breeze touched her head for a moment like a good thought. She picked
up a shopping basket and felt the reedy rubber-plastic handle in her hand. She
studied the black-dotted sick-beige of the floor tiles under her red suede
shoes. Walking in through the customer barriers she began her browsing tour,
eyeing the shelves like an art critic. She put a crinkling packet of grapes in
her basket, bright poison green. Crunchy biscuits, sloshy wine, and a definite
slab of chocolate. Cheesy pizza. Serious DVD.

A
blazered
shop manager followed an old man around the store
at a distance. She sprayed asthmatic puffs of air freshener discreetly in his
wake. The old man smelled of urine. A very sharp cloying smell, like car park
stairwells. Tabitha saw him walking this way. She smiled to him as she passed
by, to show him that she didn’t mind the smell. He saw her, but didn’t
acknowledge her. He had bushy eyebrows, grumpy jowls. Tabitha watched him push
past a young man rudely in the next aisle, and suddenly felt more entitled to
dislike his sour old smell.

 

‘Excuse me, I
was in the queue,’ Tabitha told a tall man in front of her. He ignored her.
Short hair, gold chain, angry red tan. He’d simply walked over and made himself
the front of the line for the self-service tills. He’d taken her place, jumped
in front. The crook. Tabitha was just the right height to face his armpits too,
and the dark smelly sweat patch under each one. He looked like a gym fan,
steroid-angry. Tabitha sighed and turned away, refusing to even look at him.
The supermarket checkouts
bipped
incessantly
like robots praying. A faint smell of sun cream filled the store. Everyone at
the tills, staff and shoppers, shared the same crabby, clammy exhaustion in the
summer heat.

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