Saturday, 25 May 2013

Creative Writing at the University of Winchester

Yesterday was the last day of term, but for me my course ended back in April. I can't believe how fast it has gone, I can still remember my enrolment and course talk perfectly, and how my tummy was knotting itself. When you start university everything feels so daunting and big, then you live through it and find it's not all that bad, in fact, it's really fun.

The Student Union -  Many fun times were had here!

Taking Creative Writing was the best choice I ever made. I actually enjoyed doing most of my assignments (not the rationales of course) which is a big deal at university. All the modules were interesting and fun, with only a few dull moments, primarily in Creative Voice, which was a compulsory module. At first the most appealing part of the course was no exams; I get super stressed and freaked out by exams. Whenever I tell someone I don't have exams they're surprised and a little bit jealous, and I secretly laugh at them in my head.
But now I realise that the creative freedom I had for my dissertation was amazing. Others talked of how hard their dissertations was, and how they had to force themselves to write it; but I really loved writing mine, I wanted to write it and I thought about it all the time. It was probably one of the best things I have written (though sometimes I think it was awful - all part of being a writer) and although it was stressful it wasn't nearly as stressful as writing 10,000 words on Shakespeare, Feminism or something as equally mind-numbing.

The Stripe Lecture hall

Creative Writing has, of course, had its highs and lows like anything else. Getting bad marks, not knowing anyone in lectures, having to do presentations, and worst of all 9am starts. Yet there have been many more highs; getting a First on something I worked really hard on, laughing with friends, reading new books I would never have thought of, writing things I would never have dreamt of, and finally getting a degree in something that I enjoy doing. How many people can say they have done that?

Even though I was terrified of workshops and reading my work aloud people were nice about it, will helpful comments and kind smiles. No horrible things were said, well, at least to my face! And, while I may still not be one of the 'popular kids' I made great friends none the less. At university everyone is there because they want to be there and they love the subject, and if they realise it's not for them they drop out pretty early. The people on your course are going through exactly the same things as you are; they find the same lecturers infuriating, the same modules uninspiring, and they probably hate reading Wolf Hall as much as you do. People are right when they say you make some of your best friends at university. For Creative Writing having a group of close friends is even better, because they are willing to read your work and give you constructive criticism  They know all about grammar and sentence structure; they know what your lecturers will like or absolutely hate; and they just love to read anything!

My friends back in first year -  how we've changed! 
Three years seem like a long time, but they're really not. I will remember every minute of my time at university and I'm so sad to leave. I now have to start to writing by myself with no deadlines and no briefs, and that scares me. I don't want to start an adult life where I work 9-5 and then come home too tired to write. I have so many stories in my head and I don't want them to stay there, I want to let them out. So I'm making a promise to myself here, that I shall write, always, and I will never forget my university years. 

So, I didn't win...

Well, after the months of waiting I got an email yesterday saying I didn't win the BBC Radio 4 Extra Opening Lines competition. I would be gutted, but my piece still made it to the top 65 out of 700, and only 3 could win. Now I get send that piece to other competitions and see if it does just as well.

If you want to check it out you can find it here: The Diary of Lucy Van Helsing.

I've entered half a dozen competitions lately and I am still waiting for the results of those, hopefully they'll be more positive. 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Call of the Owl

This is my first fantasy creative piece for the module Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It was hard to write at first but once I got into it I really enjoyed it. part of me wishes I had done a fantasy piece for my ECP now. 

I got the grade back for this the other day - 69% one mark of a First! I'll be honest I was annoyed because the marker's comments were useless, like 'I didn't know who the main character was', most likely its Pikku the person I keep mentioning. Then, there were only three typos that they picked up on and they said 'best have it read by other readers', three of my friends already had a check over it. I was so close, yet so far. 

I still have hope for my second fantasy piece, which I will post after it's been marked. 

Here is the map that accompanies this piece. Enjoy! 

The Call of the Owl
Based on the stories of the Cherokee

Pikku looked across the city. It was such a change from her home, the small village of Keko, nestled within the mighty trees of the Elema forest. From the aviary tower of the castle, Pikku could see the whole of Mahtava - from the start of the Maht River that snaked down the cobble roads, all the way to the southern wall; an impenetrable barrier that stood above the city, casting dark shadows on the slums. The fortress-like castle was carved out of the very rock of the Varjo Mountains, offering the greatest protection. Before Pikku had arrived at Mahtava she had heard rumours of secret passages leading into the mountain’s depth, but she had yet to find any.
She leant further out of the tower’s window and watched the people as they decorated the main street with maroon banners and bunting of the Mahtava crest. Traders were already setting up their stalls and selling wooden carvings of bears with white heads and paws. The boundary gates were opened and the common people spilled in to join the rich, who were already gathering by the castle gates along the river.
Prince Musta, son of King Vahva, was due back from the Alku Hunt soon. Pikku turned from the window. In Keko she would hunt rabbits and squirrels with her bow and arrow, as her family needed to eat. Here they didn’t hunt out of necessity, but for sport. Outside the walls a massacre would take place; flesh, bones, and blood despoiled the Jahti Planes.  No spear, sword, or axe was spared. Nor was any man. As soon as a boy reached one and five years he was given a horse and a weapon, then sent to take part in Alku. When he returned, he was a man. No woman was allowed on the hunt and for that Pikku was grateful.
There was a rush of air and a hawk-owl landed on the perch by Pikku’s head. It rustled its wings indignantly, golden eyes narrowed.  Tied to its leg was a small scroll. When Pikku reached for the note it nipped at her fingers. She swatted at it.
‘Do you want me to have this or not?’
It turned its dark feathered head, sharp beak upturned, and let her take the note. As soon as she untied the parchment, the owl flew away up the tower. A dirty white glob fell from above, spattering on Pikku’s shoulder.
‘Hey!’ she called out, rubbing at the mess with the sleeve of her tunic.
A hoot sounded from the rafters.
‘No good bird,’ she muttered with a scowl.
Pikku knew what the note would say before she even unfolded it.
Prince Musta is returning.
With a slight nod Pikku tore the note into tiny pieces and threw them out of the window where they were carried off into the wind. She then pulled the horn from her belt and gave it a mighty blow. The sound reverberated across the city. The traders hurriedly opened their stalls and the people flooded the streets. Pikku watched from above as the crowd’s excitement grew. Then, at the far end of city, the Southern Gates opened with a groan. Horns blared loudly. The hunting party had arrived. Pikku hurried from her tower to gather with the rest of the people at the castle gates.

The streets were already overflowing when Pikku reached the gateway. She was too short to see much so she elbowed her way through the gathering to the front. The chattering people cheered as the hunting party rode into view. Horses thundered down the cobbled streets, their flanks slick with sweat and blood. The men that rode upon them had swarthy skin with bulging muscles under their leather tunics. Prince Musta led the riders, a smug smile played across his lips. The banner of the white-headed bear flew above him, whipped about by the autumn wind. Behind him, pulled by two horses, was the body of a black bear, three arrows protruding from its blood-matted fur. Pikku’s stomach lurched. The smell of birds was nothing compared to the stench of rotting flesh. Once within the boundary walls, in the square, Prince Musta leapt down from his horse. As he swaggered to the bear’s carcass he drew his sword from the highly decorated scabbard.
Pikku fell back into the mass and let herself be jostled aside. There was a deathly silence. Then, a metallic twang as Prince Musta’s sword sliced through fur, muscle, and bone before hitting the blood stained cobbles. Cheers filled the air. Pikku fell to the ground as her legs gave out beneath her. She heaved, but the little bread she had eaten that morning refused to come back up. Gagging painfully, she pulled herself to her feet and stumbled away from the square. Jeers and shouting came from the crowd and Pikku couldn’t help but look back. The bear’s head swayed above the crowd mounted on a spike. The shaft was smeared with congealed blood. Flies were already feasting on the bear’s glassy eyes. The spike moved forward, carried by Prince Musta to the middle of the square. He stuck the spike into the ground and faced his people. The noise died down. He raised his arms above his head, his hands and forearms splattered in the bear’s blood. He called out, his voice deep and strong.
‘Let the search for the Etsija begin.’
The tower was stuffy and the smell of bird droppings was overpowering yet Pikku avoided the window.  If she were to look out of it she would see the mouldering bear’s head. The raw muscle of neck had shrivelled around the spike. The fur was scraggy and falling out, leaving bald patches of greying skin. The eyes were completely gone, as was half the nose. Its mouth hung open, dried blood blackened the once ferocious teeth. The tongue was long gone. Pikku was unsure if the flies had got it, or the slum dwellers had.  Her stomach convulsed at the thought.
The bear’s head would remain in front of the castle for twenty-five days, when the Etsija, or best hunter, was found. If Pikku thought the Alku Hunt was bad, that was only the beginning of the true massacre. All the men that went on the Alku Hunt now had to prove they were the Etsija, searching far and wide for the best kill. Some men had travelled across the Jahti planes and brought back the carcasses of the most exotic beasts. Pikku shook her head, it was all pointless.
Only Prince Musta could win.
The solitariness of the narrow aviary tower was overwhelming Pikku. Without the window to look out; the tower was a very dismal place. Pikku left the tower to get water from the well for the birds. At least it’s something to do, she thought, hurrying down the winding stone stairs. Cool wind caressed her face as she made her way into the open courtyard of the castle grounds. As she winched the full pail up from the bottom of the well she thought of the stories of the Etsija she had been told as a child.
‘It was one and four suns after the Alku Hunt and a man came back, but it wasn’t the Prince,’ her mamma had told her one night by the fireplace. ‘It was a great warrior named Soturi. He dragged a huge beast behind him, a Suuri wolf from the Hamara Lands. Only a few people had seen one before, most thought they were only legends. The Suuri wolf was presented to King Vahva and he praised Soturi highly. But when Prince Musta came back three suns later he was not pleased. Some say the great warrior was banished, others say the Prince killed him, but there are those who think the Prince had him cursed, turned into a bird of the night, an owl; one of the greatest, but least appreciated, hunters.’
‘Oh, mamma,’ Pikku had argued, ‘an owl isn’t the greatest hunter, a bear or a lynx is.’
Her mamma gathered her up in a cuddle and said, ‘You’ll see for yourself one day, little Pikku.’
Pikku splashed her face with water. She hadn’t believed her, but after working in the aviary and seeing the brutish prince, she was starting to reconsider.

Once her pail was full she made her way back to the tower, careful not to spill a drop. The tower was quiet as most of the birds slept during the sunlit hours. She filled the troughs, cleaned the floors, and laid out fresh seed, all the time avoiding the window. She was wiping down the perches when she noticed a small, fluffy, white owl staring at her.
‘Oh, hello,’ she said and gave it a pat on the head.
‘Hoo,’ it replied, nipping at her fingers.
She moved to clean the next perch when the little owl landed on it.
‘Excuse me, I have to clean this.’
Pikku picked up the owl and placed it on another perch. It bristled its feathers, and flew straight back to her. That’s when Pikku really looked at it. There was no copper band of Mahtava around its right leg, and it was much too small to carry any parchment. What amazed Pikku the most, were its eyes. They were the most startling blue she had ever seen. No bird had had blue eyes before. They focused on her with an intensity she had never seen in an animal.
‘Where did you come from?’ she asked absently, staring into its eyes as she rubbed its feathery head.
‘Whoo hoo.’
‘You’re not from here, are you?’ she wondered out loud.
It shook its head. ‘Ooh hoo.’
Pikku stopped stroking it.
‘Did you just answer me?’
‘You can understand me?’
It nodded its feathery head vigorously. ‘Hoo hoo.’
Pikku sat down on her wooden stool, and frowned. The owl blinked at her before hoping from the perch to sit on her knee.
‘Hoo whoo. Hoo hoo. Ooh,’ it hooted quickly, bouncing up and down on her knee. It wobbled as it lost its balance. Pikku caught it before it toppled.
‘Sorry little owl,’ she said as she placed him back on a perch. ‘But I can’t understand hoots. I think the sunlight has confused you.’ She patted it on the head once more and resumed her cleaning duties.
The owl stared after her, then flew higher up the tower with a low, ‘whoo.’
It was the ninth sunset of the champion’s hunt, and no hunter had returned yet. Pikku was about to pour water into the trough before she returned to her chamber for the night when she heard a commotion at the top of the tower. She put down the pail and looked up into the darkness. There were several angry screeches and caws, vicious pecks, then a feeble hoot. From the top of the tower fell a white bundle. Pikku let out a gasp as she realised it was the blue-eyed owl. She put her arms up and caught the feathery lump. Its eyes were closed, but its chest still rose and fell, and Pikku could feel its fluttery heartbeat beneath her fingers. She placed it carefully on the stool. It didn’t move.
The sky was darkening quickly; Pikku grabbed a nearly melted candle and placed it close to the owl. Grabbing the pail, she dipped her hand in the cool water and tried to get the owl to drink. Its eyelids flickered. Holding her breath, Pikku quickly pulled her hand away. Its beak opened and closed. Its wings twitched. The sun finally dropped behind the city wall. A sudden whoosh of cold air blew around the tower. The candle went out.
In the darkness, Pikku heard shuffling and scratching. Pained hoots turned to agonised groans. There was a crash as the stool splintered, knocking over a crate of seed. She fumbled on the ground and finally found the candle again. Hastily, she lit the wick with a flint.
Pikku squeaked. Where the little white owl had once been was now a naked man. He lay on the ground, his muscular arm flung over his face. His massive body filled the little floor of the aviary tower, his giant legs tucked up against his broad chest. Scars riddled his body, from his fingertips to his – Pikku pulled off her outer-shirt and threw it over him.
 Pikku hovered around him uncertainly. The birds in the tower were now awake, not bothered by the mysterious man, as they flew from the window to hunt. After a few deep breaths, Pikku nudged the man with her foot. He didn’t move. She nudged him harder. Biting her lip, she stretched over his body and picked up the metal rod used to open the higher windows of the tower.
She held it above her head and said, ‘Hey, man. Get up.’
She gave him an experimental prod with the rod. When the man still didn’t move Pikku picked up the pail of water and emptied it over his head. Jerking, the man let out a moan. She let the pail drop with a clatter and grabbed the rod.
‘I have a weapon,’ she stuttered.
The man ignored her as he sat up and rubbed his face. Pikku’s arms started to ache and the rod drooped.
‘You can put that down,’ he finally said. His voice was deep and rough. ‘It wouldn’t help you anyway.’
Pikku held the rod higher in defiance. The man raised a thick eyebrow at her, his blue eyes glittering. She leant the rod against the wall and crossed her arms to hide her shaking hands.
‘Who are you?’ she demanded, but her voice still wavered.
The man looked around, then down at the shirt that barely covered him. He smiled as he stood up, the shirt falling to the floor. Pikku’s eyes widened. Cheeks burning, she looked down at the ground.
‘I am the warrior Soturi,’ the man exclaimed, ‘and I am here to claim back my honour and kill Prince Musta.’ 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Logged On

Here is the creative piece I wrote for my first Creative Visions assignment, How We Live Now. It is a short story about how as a society we spend most of our time online.

How We Live Now:
Logged On


Vannixed: Hey.
Gamer22: Hey.
Vannixed: Wanna shoot some zombies?
Gamer22: Always.
Vannixed: I downloaded a new map
Gamer22: The abandoned town?
Vannixed: Yeah.
Gamer22: Awesome let's play that one.
Player1 Vannixed
Player 2 Gamer22
Vannixed: You ready?
Gamer22: I'm so ready.
Gamer22: Let's barricade that house.
Vannixed: Which?
Gamer22: Second on the right, blue door and the dead body in the window.
Vannixed: Oh yeah, gotcha.
Gamer22: Hurry.
Vannixed: Watch that door.
Gamer22: On it.
Vannixed: I'll take the windows.
Gamer22: Okay, here they come.
Vannixed: Ready.
Gamer22: Let's do this.
Vannixed: They're coming fast.
Gamer22: I know.
Vannixed: Watch left.
Gamer22: I know.
Vannixed: There's a runner coming.
Gamer22: Got it.
Vannixed: Headshot! Nice.
Gamer22: Thanks. They're coming, get ready.
Vannixed: Nothing's getting past me.
Gamer22: Cocky bastard.
Vannixed: Jealous?
Gamer22: Just concentrate.
Vannixed: One, two, three, four, five, what a kill streak!
Gamer22: It’s not so special.
Vannixed: Says you.
Gamer22: Concentrate!
Vannixed: What? Oh shit. Revive me.
Gamer22: Yeah, yeah, I'm coming.
Vannixed: Thanks
Gamer22: Now kill zombies and not yourself.
Vannixed: Yeah, yeah, expert.
Gamer22: This is the furthest we've ever got before.
Vannixed: Yeah, new record.
Gamer22: Don’t fuck it up now then.
Vannixed: Hey I have 247 kills.
Gamer22: Compared to my 263.
Vannixed: You got lucky with that grenade.
Gamer22: Now who's jealous?
Vannixed: Shut up and shoot zombies.
Gamer22: I’m trying, there's too many.
Vannixed: Hold on, I'm coming .
Gamer22: Aaaah I’m down! Revive! Revive!
Vannixed: Oh shit! I’m out of ammo
Gamer22: …And I’m dead.
Vannixed: They've got me too.
Gamer22: Aw man.
Vannixed: That sucks.
Gamer22: At least we got a new record.
Vannixed: Something to beat tomorrow. Oh shit it’s late, I gotta get some sleep. My boss’ll kill me if I’m late again!
Gamer22: Later.
Vannixed: Bye.
Ben struggled to wake up in the morning. His alarm only just made it through his sleep-addled mind. He rolled out of bed, sleep still heavy on his eyes. Rubbing his weary face he glanced at his clock: 8.45.
He jumped to his feet. Sniffing at his armpits he decided he could go another day without showering and pulled on the first pair of trousers he could find. His shirt was buttoned up wrong as he sped from his flat. His boss was definitely going to kill him.
‘Late again, Mr Evans, why am I not surprised?’ his boss, Mr Hardacher, said looking at his watch when he caught Ben hurrying to his desk.
‘My alarm didn’t go off,’ Ben mumbled to his shoes.
Mr Hardacher rolled his eyes. ‘I’m sure.'
Ben switched on his computer, pointedly ignoring him. He stood over him for a moment, arms folded, lips tight. Ben stared at the screen, clicking on random icons and opening files. Finally, Mr Hardacher sighed and left.
'Don’t let it happen again,' he said over his shoulder, and slammed his office door.
Ben let out a breath. Wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers, he started tapping away at his keyboard. He couldn't believe his luck; he'd got away with only a minor scolding. Or so he thought.

Just before lunch, Mr Hardacher dropped a tie on Ben's desk. Green, orange, and red squares interlinked to form the most garish pattern Ben had ever seen. He looked up at his boss.
‘Can I help, Mr Hardacher?’ Ben asked in his most polite tone.
Mr Hardacher sneered down his nose at him. ‘It may surprise you to know that we do in fact have a dress code, and sweat-stained shirts aren't part of it.’ Ben resisted the urge to check his armpits again. ‘At least a tie will be some improvement. Now, put it on.' A sadistic grin spread across his face.
With a grimace Ben picked up the tie. He looped it around his neck as the rest of the office pretended not to watch. Mr Hardacher stood over him, his bald head gleaming in the fluorescent light. Ben didn't know where he’d found the tie but it smelt of vomit and mothballs.
Once it was tied Mr Hardacher let out dry laugh. 'Now you look like a proper grown up.'
Ben clenched his jaw. 'Thank you, Mr Hardacher.'
'Oh, but your buttons are done up wrong,' he added.
This time Ben did check, cheeks burning with shame, but mostly with anger.

At lunchtime he logged on via ZOMBIEKILL.COM. It was one of the few sites that hadn’t been blocked by the company. He’d have to wait until he was at home to check Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

Gamer22: Fired yet?
Vannixed: No, luckily. Just humiliated.
Gamer22: Oh?
Vannixed: Long story, my boss is being an asshole and made me wear a bloody awful tie. Gamer22: He sounds like a right dick.
Vannixed: Yeah he is, kinda looks like one too.
Gamer22: lmao
'Mr Evans what are you doing?' Mr Hardacher stood behind him, his voice cold.
Ben jumped. 'It’s lunch break, Mr Hardacher.'
'Lunch break ended five minutes ago.'
Ben checked the clock on the wall. There were still twenty minutes left.
'Yes, sorry,' Ben said as the screen flashed, Gamer22 had sent him another message.
Ben tried to close the internet tab but wasn't quick enough. He watched with horror as Mr Hardacher’s eyes flickered over his conversation. As he read, his hand crept unconsciously to rub his shiny, hairless head. His face turned red, then purple. A thick vein throbbed down the middle of his forehead.
'Mr Hardacher…' Ben started.
Mr Hardacher turned on him so fast Ben thought he was going to punch him. A hush fell across the room. The rest of the office was watching slyly over their computers monitors.
'Get out,' he breathed, so quietly Ben almost didn’t hear him.
'Mr Hardacher I can explain-'
‘Get out!' he screamed, spittle flying from his lips.
 Ben leapt from his chair, jabbed the computer’s power button, and ran from the office. Everyone was gazing intently at their computers, fingers tapping away at keyboards, smirks on their faces.
Ben spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the shops. He browsed through the DVDs and games at HMV before deciding they'd be cheaper on Amazon, then drifted back home just before five. Walking through the lobby he noticed his post-box was stuffed; he hadn’t checked it for a couple of days. He unlocked the box and pulled out its contents. Bill, bill, another bill. He thumbed through the rest quickly. All brown envelopes, except an Indian menu.
He'd just thought about ordering a number 37: Tikka Masala for dinner when a woman entered the lobby.  He had only seen her once or twice before but recognised her long blonde ponytail. The first time he had seen her she had reminded him of Metroid’s Samus Aran in her Zero Suit, and that was a hard image to forget. She went to her own post-box and pulled out a bundle of letters. Ben tried to catch a glimpse of her name; it was something like Anna, maybe Hannah. He read Miss Beatrix Hayden across a letter. Or maybe not. Looking up, he caught her staring at him. He knew she was taking in his rumpled shirt and hideous tie he’d forgotten to take off. Awkward silence hung in the air. Ben fiddled with the letters in his hands. He finally decided to say something.
'Alright?' Having not spoken in a while his voice came out in a rough croak.
She blushed and smiled gingerly. ‘Hello.’
After another silence Ben left the lobby quickly, head bowed. That was why he didn’t like talking to new people.


Gamer22: Hey, what happened earlier, you went offline?
Vannixed: My boss caught me. He read everything.
Gamer22: …shit.
Vannixed: Yeah.
Gamer22: Sorry man, you fired?
Vannixed: Dunno, figure I’ll just go back on Monday and see what happens.
Gamer22: Good plan. Wanna kill some zombies?
Vannixed: ‘Course, I’ll pretend they’re my boss.
Gamer22: Awesome.
Ben sat in his darkened living room playing ZOMBIE KILL day and night. His playing time was at an all-time high of 389 hours, 42 minutes and counting. He ordered too many takeaways and barely slept. By Saturday he’d forgot all about his job, Mr Hardacher, and the outside world.

Gamer22: And we thought level 37 was good.
Vannixed: This must be some sort of record.
Gamer22: That’d be awesome.
Vannixed: Oh wait, I read about this kid on the internet that was too ill to go outside so he got really good at computer games. I bet he’s got the record.
Gamer22: Stupid kids.
Vannixed: Yeah, I know. Watch your left, zed coming. Hey, watch it. Hello you’re getting mauled!
Vannixed: Help now they’re after me! Hey help!
Vannixed: You still there? Hello?
Gamer22: Sorry, got distracted. My neighbours are having a party and their music is so loud.
Vannixed: Inconsiderate.
Gamer22: Tell me about it.
Vannixed: While we’re on a break, I’m gonna get a drink.
Ben shuffled over to the kitchen and grabbed a can of cola from the fridge. He pulled the tab and downed it in one. Chucking the can in the bin he let out a loud belch. Away from the volume of the computer, Ben could hear the thumping bass of music. He listened for a moment and recognised the popularised beats of the music craze Gangnam Style.
Vannixed: My neighbours are having a party too. Listening to the overused tune of Gangnam Style.
Gamer22: Weird. So are mine.
Vannixed: The same song? Coincidence? 
Gamer22: It is popular.
Vannixed: We should tell them to keep it down.
Gamer22: Yeah right, I’m trying to kill zombies here.  
Vannixed: I’m seriously gonna do it, I hate Gangnam style.
Gamer22: Good for you! I’ll do it too.

Ben hadn’t said anything, but he’d had the thought that they could be living in the same building. But, what were the chances that Gamer22 lived in the same city, let alone the same building? None-the-less, his heart was still racing at the prospect of meeting Gamer22; he’d finally have a likeminded person to chat to, and they could even watch downloaded films, order takeaway, and laugh at funny cat videos on the internet. As he climbed the stairs his stomach was churning; he shouldn’t have had that last cola. The music was much louder on the third floor and the door of flat 3a was decorated with balloons. Ben reached the door when someone else walked down the corridor; a man with messy brown hair and stubble.
                ‘Gamer22?’ Ben blurted out.
The messy-haired man stopped and looked at him, his eyebrows furrowed. That’s when Ben saw the Bluetooth headset plugged into his ear.
                ‘Oh nothing,’ said the man, ‘just some weirdo talking gibberish at me. So, are you coming to the party or what?’ The man knocked twice on 3a’s door and was let in.
Ben waited for five minutes then left, feeling like a coward for not telling the partygoers to quieten down, and like a fool for ever believing Gamer22 could live so close.

Vannixed: I didn’t see you there.
Gamer22: Sorry, couldn’t find my keys so haven’t left yet. Found them now, try again?

Ben made his way up the stairs a second time, feeling sicker than ever. The music was still blaring but the corridor was empty. He knew it was stupid. He turned to leave when a voice called out behind him.
Ben whipped around. Standing in the middle of the corridor was the blonde Samus Aran look-a-like from the lobby.
                ‘You’re Gamer22?’ Ben asked.
                Beatrix blushed. ‘Weren’t expecting a girl, then?’
                ‘Honestly, no.’ Ben’s mouth was dry and his head felt empty. He shoved his shaking hands into the pockets of his jogging bottoms.
                ‘I guessed it might be you,’ she said with a small smile.
                ‘When I saw you in the lobby wearing that tie, I thought surely there couldn’t be two ties that hideous in existence?’ she laughed.
                Ben couldn’t help it; he let out a laugh and felt instantly relieved. He was glad he hadn’t taken the tie off straight away after all. She didn’t seem to care that he was wearing jogging bottoms and an unwashed t-shirt. In fact, she was wearing an oversized hoody, with a cola spill down the front, and leggings. Slowly, he pulled his hand out of his pocket and held it out to her.
                ‘I’m Ben.’
                ‘Beatrix,’ she said and shook his hand. She held onto it even after the handshake ended. ‘Do you want to come back to mine and kill some zombies?’
                ‘You sure?’ Ben asked, his heart thumping in his chest.
                ‘Yeah, I really want to kick your ass in person.’ She squeezed his hand before letting go. ‘Then, maybe in the morning we could grab some coffee, I know a great place.’
                ‘That sounds great.’