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Short Story - Take Your Chances

 For Lynne Brown, who gave me the inspiration ;)

Emily cycled up to the junction, her heart in her mouth. It was the same every day; either pedal like crazy and hope the cars missed you or sit, and wait, possibly until you were retirement age.  The council kept saying they would install lights, had been for six, years now, but the promise had attained the stuff of legend. And so the accidents happened, the injuries and deaths mounted.

And the residents of the four villages fastened their seatbelts, put the pedal to the metal and did the suicide run morning and night. In 3 years of travelling to the rural museum, where she worked reception, Emily had never seen anyone willingly let some else through. It was always a battle to the death, cars skirting around the edges of disaster daily. For cyclists it was worse.

Emily put her head down, sent a prayer to whoever was listening and shot into traffic. The usual choir of horns and curses buffeted her on all sides, but she weaved her way through and shot out onto the narrow lane which paralleled the road to Winterhalt. She put a foot to the ground, let out her held breath and relaxed. Eight hours before she had to run the gauntlet again. Pushing off she noticed the square bulk of a sofa cushion, in delightful shades of grandma’s floral curtains, plonked by the hedge which marked the end of the lane. She sighed, silently cursing fly-tippers and headed to work.

A couple of days later, aquaplaning through a puddle at the lane entrance, Emily noted the cushion had been joined by another in a vastly unattractive shade of vomit yellow. Well yes, she could understand not wanting that monstrosity in the house, but why were they collecting at the lane entrance? Mentally taking a note to call the council and report the rubbish, she hurried on.

Another working week rolled around and Emily felt momentary hope when she saw a council van hurtling across the junction, but alas. In fact the original plump pair had been joined by a third in electric orange. Fine, if the council wouldn’t do anything, she would. Come the weekend those eyesores were going to the community dump.

Saturday dawned and Emily set out early, a borrowed wheelbarrow from a friend’s allotment and a great deal of determination getting her out of bed at the unearthly hour of 5am. She figured that would be early enough to avoid the worst of suicide canyon. She trusted so because if the roads were treacherous for bikes they would be lethal for a walker with an unwieldy barrow!

She dodged a single car and turned onto the lane, and stopped dead. Seated on the sofa cushions was a trio of men. They were dressed in pinstripe suits, replete with bowler hats and furled umbrellas. They sat cross-legged, holding clipboards and pens poised. Uncertain how to proceed, Emily cleared her throat. The man nearest looked at her and she couldn’t help thinking of a train full of quintessentially British men heading to the City. Whatever they were, they made her brain squirm and her skin itch.
“Yes?” Clipped tones, Oxford essence.
“Erm, can I ask? Do those cushions belong to you?”

The man looked away, clearly assuming they were finished. Emily edged nearer and the man looked back.
“I want to take them to the dump.”
“You can’t, we’re using them.”

Again, he assumed finality, but Emily was beginning to be slightly annoyed and very intrigued. At which point the sound of a car engine began to grow in the direction of Lower Muslip. As one, the men clicked their pens, rested clipboards on knees and took something from their breast pockets. The sound of knuckles hitting board followed, and Emily watched three bright silver dice roll on three clipboards.
‘5’, ‘1’, ‘2’
The men called their rolls and marked their clipboards. The car sailed through the junction and Emily gave up. She rolled the barrow under a hedge and took up a position behind the men, who roundly ignored her.

A van, scoring 5, and a tractor racking up 9 followed before Emily could hold it in no longer.
“What are you actually doing?” she asked in a respectful whisper. The van which had headed out, made the return trip, its driver furiously yelling into a mobile as he hit the junction.
‘5’, ‘5’, ‘2’!
Scratch of pens and then a shattering bang. A tyre blew on the van and it fish-tailed, swinging right through the junction and ending up backed into a streetlight. The driver stumbled out, shaken but unharmed. The trio rose, tucked pens in breast pockets and looked ready to leave. Emily stepped in front of them.

“Wait. Just wait. What are you doing? Who are you?”
Two of the men walked off and Emily was pretty sure they just winked out of existence at the road bend, but there was a lot of foliage there. The third man paused, seemed to consider and then spoke.
“It is our game. There are six of us. Three deposit the cushions for us to sit on. The other three must find the cushions and watch. They are always at roadsides. This junction is a particularly fine one.  Lots of potential.”
“Potential for what?”
“Disaster. We watch, we roll and if the dice total more than ten we are allowed to play. The higher the amount, the greater the disaster. Twenty is rare but oh so delicious.”
He scooped up the cushions and walked away, smiling.
“We must find somewhere else for them, but we will be back. This one is our favourite.”
Emily sagged into the hedge, wondering when the next twenty was due and if she would be there.


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