Copyright Tabitha Ormiston-Smith 2014
Shakespir Edition License Notes
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The weather was fine and sunny. But then it always was, under the Show Dome. Corporate interests decreed that no rainy days or sharp winds could be allowed to interfere with showgoers’ pleasure.
Barry, Tommo and Russ wandered happily through the crowd. They’d won their tickets by being the top performing shelf-stacking team on the Safeway night shift for three consecutive months. Now, on this, their special day, they were at peace with the world and each other.
“Oy,” said Tommo. “Lookit that wheel!”
They looked. The Wheel of Death whizzed horridly at a forty-five degree angle, its screaming victims trailing a fringe of waving arms and legs. It was impossible at this distance to tell if the screams were of terror or delight. Perhaps a little of both for most people, Barry thought. A lot of stuff that everyone accepted as being fun, when you boiled it down, wasn’t actually that pleasant. Like getting drunk, for example. Where was the fun in puking your guts up in some smelly toilet, he’d like to know.
“Tell you what,” said Russ. “I wouldn’t mind getting into the Premium Enclosure. I heard they’ve got every pleasure known to man in there. Some that aren’t even legal, I heard.”
“Yeah, like what?” asked Tommo, distracted from his fascinated contemplation of the Wheel of Death.
“Oh, I dunno…. drugs, underage whores…. and weird stuff, stuff that you’ve never even heard of. That’s what I heard.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” objected Barry. “If whoever found that out knew enough to know they had stuff you’d never heard of, then he’d know what it was, and then you’d know, wouldn’t you?”
“Ahhh, shut up, clever bastard.” Russ gave him a shove, only half joking. Cleverness wasn’t appreciated in working-class Australia. Being a feature of the Boss class, it was generally resented. “Anyway, the likes of us will never see inside there. Strictly for Bosses only, that be.”
“Tell you what,” said Tommo. “Let’s go in the Sex Tunnel.”
“Later, mate. I want to get some show bags for the missus and the kids.”
“Naah, don’t get that now,” Barry objected. “Get the showbags last thing, before we leave, then you don’t have to lug them round all day.”
“Wonder what kind of showbags they’ve got in the Premium Enclosure? I heard they’ve got ones with real pearls and diamonds in for the ladies.”
“I bet it’s the same overpriced crap as out here.”
“Jeez, Barry, lighten up, willya? This is our special day. Don’t be a fuckin misery-guts.”
“Sorry, mate.” Barry rolled his shoulders and resolved to do his best to make it a good day for everyone. “Hey, did you know the Show used to be all about farm animals?”
“’S true. It used to be called the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show. Back then it was run by the Agricultural Society.”
“It was sort of like a club, for farmers. The exhibits were all cows and sheep and stuff. And exhibitions of cooking and handcrafts and that by the ladies. And then there was contests, anyone could enter. Wood chopping, and they had events on horseback, show jumping, sheep herding, all kinds of stuff. Course, that’s back in the days when there was lots of little farms, all owned by families.”
“Crap, how could a family own a farm? That’s a multi-million dollar enterprise, that is. Only companies could own a farm.”
“They weren’t like farms now. They were smaller and there was lots of them. Farmers used to have cooperatives to sell their produce. It was a different time.”
“How d’you know all this, then?”
“Read it on Wiki. Anyway, after a bit the companies started getting in the game and you got these rides starting, and all the concessions and sideshows and stuff, and gradually it became less about the farm stuff and more about the money, and then of course in 2016, when Abbott the First dissolved the last Parliament, the Agricultural Society was made a proscribed organisation for having subversive aims, and the government took over the show and made it what it is now.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Good?” Barry was appalled. “What’s good about it?”
“Well, like you said, now it’s for everyone.”
“It was always for everyone, Tommo. Anyone could just buy a ticket and go. Not like now where you have to win tickets off your Boss. You could just buy a ticket, whenever you felt like it. And nobody could stop you, as long as you had a day off work you just went.”
“I kid you not, mate. And there wasn’t any Premium Enclosure, either. Everything back then was for everybody.”
“Nah, bullshit. I don’t believe that.”
“I’m busting for a piss,” Tommo put in. “Shouldn’t’a had that last tinnie. Where’s the bog? Prob’ly in here.” He darted into a plain, unmarked door on the heels of a uniformed worker.
“Aw, shit,” Russ moaned. He’ll get lost in there. I don’t reckon that’s a toilet, look, there’s no sign or anything.”
“No worries, Russ. I’ll go after him.” Barry shot after Tommo, just managing to catch the door before it swung shut. Tommo was a constant worry with his combination of enthusiastic optimism and subnormal i.q. Barry and Russ were used to having to take care of him everywhere they went.
Inside the door, it was cool, and suddenly quiet as the heavy steel door swung shut, abruptly cutting off all sound from the outside. Barry found himself in a wide, unpainted concrete corridor, stretching off on both sides. There was no sign of Tommo.
He couldn’t have gone far in a few seconds, Barry thought, irritated. He raised his voice and called out. “Tommo! It’s not a dunny, mate. Come on back, we’ll find you one.” Echoes died slowly away down the concrete tunnels, until silence reigned again. Damn. Which way had he gone?
There was a large blue-painted double door set into the inside wall a short distance down the left-hand corridor. AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY, it said, in large white letters. MAINTENANCE. There were no handles on the door, just a thumbprint sensor on one side. Barry decided to try in the other direction.
Fifty metres or so along the other side of the door he’d come in, there was another set of big doors. These were painted a darker blue. AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY, they said. SECURITY. As well as the thumbprint sensor, a camera jutted out above the door. Ahead, the corridor curved round to the left. It must go all around the building, Barry thought, trying to remember what the building had looked like. He had a vague impression of it being roundish, but that was all – unlike most buildings in the Show Dome, it hadn’t been plastered with neon signs and come-here gear, at least not on the side they’d been. He hurried along to be out of sight of the camera. You didn’t want to draw the attention of cops. They were just as likely to beat you into a paste for the sheer hell of it. Ever since the police had been exempted from the operation of the Crimes Act, it had been unsafe to draw their notice. And if they hadn’t met their terrorist quota that week, well…. best not even to think about that. Once, Barry knew from his historical reading, people had asked a policeman if they were lost, but those days were long gone, lost in the unimaginable past, along with things like ‘one man one vote’ and free public education.
Barry passed a couple more sets of doors, painted green (AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY, ENVIRONMENT) and yellow (AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY, ELECTRICAL), before he finally came to a set that weren’t forbiddingly labelled. These doors had glass panels set into them, and a standard handswipe opener. It looked like anyone could go in here. He looked through the glass, and froze in astonishment.
It had to be the Premium Enclosure. Just had to be. The people inside were completely different – jewelled, dressed in exotic fabrics, tall, blond, and with that, Barry didn’t know quite what it was, but just that Boss look about them. Something about the way they moved, it might have been, or the calm way they looked around, as if they’d never had to worry about a police beating or a bad performance report in their lives.
Barry stood staring through the glass for a long time, just looking at everything. A rumble from his stomach finally reminded him of the passage of time, and with a start he remembered that he was supposed to be looking for Tommo. Well, Tommo wouldn’t have been able to resist this, he argued with himself. He’d have gone in here for sure. And in his denim jumpsuit he’d stick out like dogs’ balls among this mob. He’d have to go in after him, he managed to convince himself, against a sick awareness that he had no business in the Premium Enclosure and if caught would be subject to God knew what penalty. But there was Tommo, poor silly retarded Tommo, wandering around no doubt with his mouth open, and more likely to get himself into strife with every passing moment.
Sucking in a deep breath and squaring his shoulders, Barry swiped the handswipe and passed through the doors.
The first thing he noticed was the smell. Gone were the traces of sweat, fried foods and popcorn that permeated the outside. Here the air was redolent with some kind of exotic, flowery perfume. As he breathed it in, shivering with pleasure, he felt his heart speed up and his skin tingle with anticipation. He had to, had to…. had to discover everything, that was what. He scanned the crowd for Tommo, much easier done here where it was far less crowded, without success. Well, that was that, he’d just have to keep looking until he found him. He drifted to the left, moving with the flow of traffic and trying to stay unobtrusive, although in his plaid shirt, khaki shorts and runners he felt like a janitor in the boardroom. No one seemed to take any notice of him, though, any more than they did outside. People like him, workers, were generally almost invisible to Bosses, unless they wanted something, and that didn’t seem to be any different in here.
Over on the other side of the huge enclosure there seemed to be a collection of stalls selling food. Snatches of exotic smells drifted over through gaps in the shifting crowd. Barry moved a bit closer to read the legends above each stall. Lark pies, one said. Premium meat, said another. That was odd, Barry thought. What kind of premium meat? You’d think they’d say, beef, lamb, pork or whatever. It smelled rather like pork, he thought, drifting closer to the big spits. His mouth watered. But he was quite sure he wouldn’t be able to afford anything that was on sale in here.
As Barry moved closer to the food stalls, the scent in the air changed to a sharper, tangier scent, and Barry felt a rush of saliva in his mouth and a wave of almost overwhelming hunger. He paused, intrigued. Where did that come from, he wondered. He’d had a pie and some chips not two hours before. Looking up, he noticed a small vent in the ceiling.
Further along was a section full of tables where strange games were being played. It looked like gambling to Barry. A bit like Crown Casino, although without the sad, tired air of despair that people in there always seemed to have. Barry didn’t like the Casino, and only went there under protest when dragged by his mates. It was hard enough to make ends meet without gambling, and Barry didn’t believe in the big win. He walked briskly past the gaming area, slowing just enough to check that Tommo wasn’t there. Big sigh of relief there. Tommo would probably have lost his shirt, and then he and Russ would have had to share their food coupons with him till next payday. It had happened before.
Past the gaming area, the scent in the air changed yet again; now it was heavier, musky. Barry felt his pulse quicken again. It made him think of…. he flushed uneasily. There was another little vent in the ceiling, and now he realised. These were mood-altering scents being pumped into the room, each one selected to increase the attraction of whatever items were nearby.
He was now entering an area seemingly dedicated to the pleasures of the flesh. Dotted about were cage dancers, both male and female, mostly in an extreme state of undress. Various curtained entrances advertised forbidden pleasures. Barry didn’t know what most of them meant, but could guess; one had pictures of naked children. He shuddered. Were they really…. no, couldn’t be, he told himself. Young-looking prossies, that was all, depilated and made up to look like kids in a dim light, it must be. Sick, all the same. He dodged to the side as a laughing group of men exited one of the booths, not wanting even to brush against them.
Another booth had a picture of a toilet. What? Shit, he’d bet that was where Tommo had gone, he’d been looking for the dunny. Then he read the printing. Your choice of man, woman, boy or girl would…. aw, no. Barry recoiled, almost retching. That was beyond sick.
Barry staggered away, reeling, wanting nothing more than a long, hot shower and a good scrub. He felt dirty just from knowing about stuff like that. He’d settle for a sit down, though, and a good strong cup of tea. He wondered if the Premium Enclosure had anything as plain as tea.
A flock of people in furry animal suits surrounded him. Completely covered in the baggy suits, looking out of their animal masks, they were unrecognisable as to gender. They gambolled and danced around Barry, getting in his way whichever way he turned, linking hands and dancing round and round him, gesturing him towards a section in the far corner which seemed to be sectioned off with ropes and covered with squashy mats. Whatever it was, Barry decided, he didn’t want to play. He was here on a mission, and he had to find Tommo and get out, he’d seen enough of how the Bosses amused themselves, enough for a lifetime.
Shoving through the capering fursuits, Barry encountered a solid wall of backs. Boy, there must be something interesting in the next exhibit. By dint of very careful pressing and a lot of patience, he made it through to the front row in just a few minutes. The exhibit was a large one, decorated in sombre shades of brown, and headed with the legend ‘CRIME AND PUNISHMENT – CONFESS YOUR SINS’. It was presided over by two nuns, the old-fashioned kind in the black floor-length habits, with no hair showing under their long veils. On one side was what looked like a confessional booth. On the other, a low opening shrouded in black curtains. As Barry watched, a middle-aged man in a conservative suit took his ticket from the booth and mounted a short flight of steps up to the platform. He was taken into the ‘confessional’ by one of the nuns.
Barry was Catholic, of course – the Religious Freedom Act of 2024 made it a criminal offence not to be – but somehow, he felt, this didn’t seem right. Surely this couldn’t be real? Apart from anything else, women had been barred from ordination, and from holding any public office, by the Gender Equality Act of 2039. How could they be hearing confessions?
Another ‘penitent’ mounted the steps and stood waiting. Presently, the first pair emerged and he entered the confessional with the second nun. The first nun led her charge to a tall steel frame on the platform, and waited while he shed his coat and shirt. Fastening his wrists to the upper corners of the frame, she chose a whip from the adjacent rack.
Barry felt a little sick. She was flogging him. It wasn’t just play, either; he could see the red lines rising on the man’s back with every stroke. Where two lines crossed, a thin trickle of blood started. Meanwhile, the other penitent emerged from the confessional and was conducted to the black curtains. The opening was not high enough to walk in, and he was forced to enter it on hands and knees. As the black curtains gaped open, the interior showed, lit in flickering red. The nun passed through behind him, flashing a glimpse of scarlet garter belt as she hiked up her habit to crawl through. No way could they be real nuns, Barry thought, but still. But still. Then, from beneath the platform, the screams started.
Barry had had enough. He turned away, blindly shoving against the press of humanity, desperate for a breath of air. Once clear, he turned back for a last look. The exit from the thing was behind it, he realised, watching a woman emerge from it. Whatever went on inside there, Barry thought, it couldn’t be much fun. She was staggering blindly, caroming off people in her path, her face white and greasy with sweat, her expression a ghastly, fixed stare. As he dithered, torn between offering help and keeping a low profile, she went to her knees, then flopped onto her face and lay still, twitching slightly.
Before Barry could make up his mind to go to her assistance, a team of white-uniformed staff jogged up, carrying a stretcher. Paramedics, Barry saw with relief, wondering who had called them, and how they’d managed to get there so quickly. They loaded the woman onto the stretcher and moved off at the double, vanishing behind a stall selling confections of exotic fruits.
He cast around, wondering which way next. Ahead was a large archway that, oh joy, looked as if it led outside. Barry headed for it without thought, just to breathe some clean air that wasn’t infused with God knew what kind of substance.
He came out onto a beach. No shit, Barry thought. There really wasn’t any limit, was there, to what you could do with enough money. The sand, the waves rhythmically beating and retreating in little foamy lines. Even the smell of Coppertone in the air, although no doubt that was fake, and being pumped out of little hidden nozzles. Despite knowing it was all fake, Barry felt his shoulders relax, and a smile wreathed unbidden onto his face. He’d always loved the beach. You just couldn’t improve on nature, he thought rapturously.
Just when he was contemplating sitting down right there to enjoy the artificial sunshine and the little artificial breeze that played gently about his face, he saw Tommo.
Tommo was one of a group of people clustered about one of the new genetically modified animals. This one was a dragon; about ten feet tall, sitting up as it was on its haunches, with leathery, bat-like wings flapping about. It couldn’t possibly fly with those, Barry thought. The wingspan couldn’t be more than twenty feet, tops, and the thing looked like it weighed as much as a cow. Its skin was a uniform pearlised lavender, and it had what looked like emeralds set about its forehead.
There were various other GM animals roaming freely about the beach, Barry now saw, but none was as spectacular as the dragon. There was a group of tallish, well he supposed they were dogs except that they had curly green fur, and some long, low things that might have been based on ferrets before they were grown three feet long and given feathers and little twisted horns. The dragon, though, that was the real deal. Barry couldn’t even imagine what had gone into it.
Never mind the dragon, though, he thought. He’d found Tommo, that was the main thing, what he’d come in here to do all those hours ago.
“Tommo, you bastard! Been lookin everywhere for yez, mate.”
“Aw, Barry. Get a load of this dragon! Awesome, innit?”
“Listen, Tommo, we gotta get out of here. This is the Premium Enclosure, we’re not supposed to be in here. We get caught, there’ll be trouble. It’s a bloody miracle we’ve got away with it this long.”
“Yeah, alright mate…. lemme just…. oh hey! Lookit that!” And he was away, running down the beach in pursuit of God knew what. Cursing, Barry slogged off after him, his runners filling with sand.
He didn’t get far, though. The beach had looked like an ordinary beach from where he’d started, stretching out in a great curve for miles and miles, but this had of course been an illusion, and before he realised what was happening, Barry was jogging in under another (the same?) big arch. He’d lost sight of Tommo, he was dripping with sweat and half mad with thirst, and his shoes were full of sand.
Bugger this for a game, he thought, disgusted. Tommo could bloody well look after himself. Running off like that. He was going to take care of number one for a change. Get himself a drink at least, and then find his way back out to the main dome.
There was another of the padded-floor areas not far away, and Barry headed over to it to sit down and get the sand out of his shoes. There didn’t seem to be anyone in occupation. Perhaps he could even take a short nap before heading out. He was feeling terribly sleepy all of a sudden. He flopped down on the nearest mat, which had a pleasantly springy feel and a soft covering, and started to tug at his laces. A warm breeze puffed at him from somewhere, wreathing him with a milky, vanilla scent, at once comforting and oddly familiar. He’d just close his eyes for a few minutes and get his breath back….
Barry drifted back into consciousness with a vague sensation of a long time having passed. He was no longer alone on the springy pallet. Surrounding him at very close quarters were the same group of fursuit-clad mimes he’d encountered earlier. Or perhaps different ones; one couldn’t recognise anything behind the animal masks. They seemed to be giving him some kind of massage, and he felt as if they’d been doing that for quite some time. Every muscle in his body felt loose and quiescent. How had he not woken immediately, he wondered vaguely, not caring very much. Everything seemed remote, dreamy, as if he were still asleep, and dreaming these gentle, stroking touches….
Wait on, though, a small part of Barry’s mind objected. That wasn’t quite…. that was going a bit too…. he struggled to wake himself up. Somehow he’d nodded off again. There was a definite erotic purpose to the furries’ actions now. Barry’s mind revolted even as his body relaxed further into bliss. They shouldn’t be – no, dammit, somehow when he wasn’t looking they’d got his shorts off! Barry lurched upright, arms flailing, brain desperately snatching at consciousness. He shook his head, trying to clear away the fog. That bloody vanilla scent, that was what it was. Some kind of thing that sapped the will…. He snatched up his discarded shorts and struggled into them, hopping on one leg, and fled incontinent before they could drag him down again. Perverts.
Barry paused to get his breathing under control. He had no idea how much time had passed since he’d come in here, but it felt late, very late. Barry was accustomed to get up at five for his work shift, and he felt as if he were up long past his bedtime. It had seemed to be early afternoon on the artificial beach, but of course that was all artificial, and it would go on being early afternoon right around the clock. He thought it must be long after midnight, though. He was, he now realised, swaying on his feet, and he had that drained, drifting sensation that comes from missing more than one meal. If he didn’t get home soon, he’d never make it to work on time, and the boss would dock his pay, perhaps take his whole pay. The Workers’ Fair Rights Act of 2018 allowed him to do that.
In a momentary gap in the swirling crowd, Barry caught a glimpse of a security man letting himself out through a glass panelled door. If he could slip out behind him, he’d be back in the concrete tunnel, and he could just go back out the way he came in. He dashed for the door, no longer caring about drawing the attention of security personnel. He’d take his beating if he had to, just to get free of this awful place. He skidded to a halt on the heels of the departing security man, who didn’t look round, but as he snatched at the edge of the swinging door, it slammed closed with surprising speed. Barry just managed to snatch his fingers away in time, and watched in despair as the door faded out, not even a faint crack visible. It must have a chameleon circuit, he realised, and those bulky packs hanging off all the service staff’s belts had the override. For a wild moment he envisaged clubbing a worker unconscious and stealing his utility belt. But after all, they were just workers like him. Privileged workers probably, Class Eight or even Seven, but workers all the same. Sighing, he turned away, considering his options.
He could find another security man, attempt to explain his predicament, and hope for mercy. Barry shivered. That could be a last resort. He could keep on truckin’ and hope for a break. Surely somewhere there must be an exit. All these bosses wouldn’t stay forever; there must be an exit somewhere, probably directly out onto the street or the train station. Yes, that would be best. If he kept looking, sticking to the walls, he was bound to come to it sooner or later. After all, the enclosure didn’t go on for ever; they’d been right round the outside of this building before.
Yes, that was best, Barry decided, relieved to have a plan of action. He’d grab something to eat, freshen up in the washroom, there had to be one somewhere about, and follow the wall right around until he came to the exit. He couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t thought of it before. All those weird scents must have muddled his thoughts. Barry normally prided himself on his clear thinking, and was considered shamefully clever by his workmates.
Back in the food court, he looked about, weighing his options. Whatever he got it was bound to be way expensive. He might as well live it up, he decided. Protein was what he needed. Get something solid in his stomach, and he’d feel a lot brighter. He’d try that Premium Meat, whatever it was. Well, once he ate it, he’d know what it was, he supposed. He sidled up to the counter, uncomfortably conscious of his sweaty armpits and no doubt greasy, dishevelled hair.
“Help you, sir?”
“Um, yeah…. what is Premium Meat, exactly? What kind of meat, I mean?”
A little ring of silence crystallised around Barry. What had he said? People were looking at him funny, and edging away, leaving a vacant ring around him. The server had backed away from the counter, and was muttering urgently into a communit. Shit. He’d given himself away somehow. Through the crowd he glimpsed a pair of dark blue uniforms heading purposefully his way. Oh shit, shit, double shit. Barry turned and ran.
By the time he staggered to a halt, drenched in sweat, dizzy, breathless and rubbery in the legs, Barry had no idea where he was in relation to where he’d come in. He seemed to have shaken off any pursuit, that was all he cared about. He sank down onto a bench, barely noticing the two women who got up and moved away, expressions of disgust twisting their painted faces, and put his head down between his knees, taking deep breaths and trying to force his whirling thoughts back into order. A faint memory of coming in here in search of Tommo brushed across the surface of his mind, but he shrugged it off. He was concerned with survival now.
As his breathing slowed and the erratic thumping of his heart settled back into a normal rhythm, Barry decided on a course of action. He’d accost the first service worker he saw and just ask the way to the nearest exit. He hoped he wouldn’t have to reveal his unlawful entry here, but if forced to, he would confess the whole thing frankly. It no longer mattered to him what penalty he might incur; probably a beating from the SecPols at the very least, he thought, but never mind that. It wouldn’t be the first time and no doubt it wouldn’t be the last. He could stand a few bruises, if only they’d let him out of this terrible place. And then he’d go straight home, have a hot shower and a strong cup of tea, and hope he could make it into work on time for his shift. A wave of faintness swept over him, and he longed for his tiny, airless apartment with every particle of his soul.
The plan was a good one, or it had seemed to be, but it was unaccountably difficult to put into operation. After what felt like about three hours, Barry, by hanging around the backs of the more complicated-looking exhibits, had spotted seven maintenance workers. But when he tried to get their attention, he seemed to have become invisible and inaudible. Even clutching at the last worker’s sleeve hadn’t succeeded in getting his attention. The man had just ignored him, looking straight ahead and forging on until Barry’s fingers slipped from his sleeve.
The service workers weren’t the only ones who seemed not to be able to see him, either. In desperation, Barry had tried to ask a few of the barkers who were calling people in to different attractions. They couldn’t see or hear him either, it seemed. It was as if he no longer existed. He could smell himself alright, though, Barry reflected gloomily. If he could at least find a rest room he could clean himself up and get a drink of water. He pinched the back of his hand and watched the telltale slow crawling of the skin. Yes, he was quite badly dehydrated.
There, he’d spotted some more of those health workers in their white suits. They had some poor mug on a stretcher and were jogging towards the inner wall. They’d be going outside, to the sick bay or whatever. He put on as much speed as he could manage and caught up with them just before they reached the invisible door that he knew had to be there. He’d grab onto the edge of the stretcher, he thought, then even if they ignored him in the same weird way that the maintenance chaps had, he’d be able to go with them through the exit. Once he was back in those corridors he’d easily get out. And go home. He was so consumed by the thrill of desire that washed over him at the thought of his greasy little apartment that he almost failed to recognise Tommo.
Tommo, to be fair, Barry thought, was hardly recognisable. He lay still on the stretcher, his face a dirty white, lips faintly tinged with blue.
“Crikey!” Barry blurted out, clutching at the medic’s sleeve. Is he gunna be alright? I’m his mate. Listen, I’ll come with you. Where are ya taking him?”
But he was still invisible, and his hand fell from the white sleeve as he watched, hurt and shocked, as they carried Tommo away. At the last moment, he lurched forward, snatching at the tail end of the stretcher as it disappeared through the door, but the door whooshed shut in his fact, activating its chameleon circuit and disappearing from view, leaving Barry stranded once more.
At least he knew Tommo was safely out, he comforted himself. He looked bloody crook, but he was in good hands with the ambos, they’d see to him. All he had to worry about now was getting himself home.
This, however, seemed to be easier said than done. Barry tried half-heartedly to accost a couple more stray workers, but he was losing confidence, and it creeped him out the way they seemed not to see him. He didn’t dare to try to speak to any of the bosses. Even in extremity, he was too strongly conditioned to keep his place to dare to interfere with one of the privileged.
One long-standing inhibition, though, he did overcome. Barry made up his mind to ask a policeman.
Having made up his mind to go directly counter to every bit of wisdom he’d ever possessed, however, Barry found there didn’t seem to be any SecPols around. He didn’t seem to be able to see as well as usual, though. His vision kept blurring, and his heart was pounding like a jackhammer. He felt weak in the knees, almost as if his legs were collapsing, and then, with a dull, distant horror, he realised that they actually were, his knees were giving way and he was subsiding onto the floor in a crumpled heap, and he couldn’t cry out in alarm or even care very much because everything was very far away and in fact was receding down a dark tunnel.
He roused as his shoulders were lifted, and opened his eyes to see an angel. Well, not an actual angel, with wings and that, he thought muzzily, but it might as well have been. As the white-uniformed workers surrounded him, he closed his eyes in bliss. It was all over, he was safe, he was going home, he’d been rescued. Tears of relief and gratitude formed in the corners of his eyes, and he let them spill over as the stretcher lifted and started to move.
He opened his eyes again as he heard the door whoosh closed. They were back in the wide concrete passage, moving at a fair clip back the way he’d come that morning. Or yesterday, or whenever. He recognised, with a surge of happiness more usually conferred on a long-lost lover, the big yellow doors (AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY. ELECTRICAL), then the green ones (AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY. ENVIRONMENT), the dark blue (AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY. SECURITY) and finally the lighter blue, the first ones he’d seen (AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY. MAINTENANCE).
The workers kept going in the same direction. Round a corner, down a longer, narrower corridor, at the end of which a single pair of white-painted doors filled the entire width of the end of the passage. Soon, Barry gloated, he’d be sucking up the rehydration fluids and energy pills, and then he’d be on his way, going home at last, forever grateful to these wonderful, wonderful men and women, who worked so tirelessly to save him and others like him, just as it said on the propaverts.
And then he registered the writing, starkly black against the white doors, and he tried to sit up but he couldn’t, and he tried to roll off the stretcher but nothing seemed to be working, and he cried out then but nothing emerged from his parched throat except a strangled croak, and as the white-coated workers jogged silently through the double doors he saw the light shining off gleaming stainless steel surfaces.
AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY
Also by Tabitha Ormiston-Smith
Dance of Chaos: Lazy, frivolous, conceited and totally self centred, Fiona MacDougall is not an asset to the workforce. When she applies for a transfer to the Infotech department of her company, she does so only in order to get an afternoon off work.
Can she succeed in her challenging new job?
Can she save her little brother from the consequences of his evil deeds?
Will Moses do something embarrassing to the vicar’s leg again?
Laugh till you drop as you watch the hapless Fiona at work and in the bosom of her dysfunctional family.
Gift of Continence: With the perfect wedding dress, what can go wrong? A great deal, as Fiona McDougall rapidly discovers. From the wedding from hell onwards, Fiona successively discovers that her new husband is stingy, bad-tempered and an adulterer.
HEALTH WARNING: do not attempt to read this book while drinking hot liquids, as they may shoot out of your nose.
Reader’s review: If you love Aussie humor, you will love this gem of a book! Lots of laugh out loud moments. You could call it, “My Big Fat Aussie Wedding”. There are a few “F” words, but it wouldn’t be a true Aussie yarn if it didn’t have a few profanities thrown in from time to time. Give it a go – and after you’ve read it, you’ll agree that it has to go straight to the pool room along with all your other little treasures. (Patti Roberts, author of the Paradox series)
Perspectives on a Dragon: An old king with three sons. One brave, one clever and the other one is Lorn. Who will rescue the maiden? Who will vanquish the dragon? Who will inherit the kingdom?
The Last Dragon: Ever wonder what happened to the very last one ever?
User Pays: What if we took our political leaders’ rhetoric seriously? What if we implemented their dodgy policies in real life? In this chilling parable, the User Pays doctrine is examined as applied to a typical Australian family.
Grammar Without Tears: This short collection of dialogues will solve the most frequently experienced problems of the grammatically challenged.
Tabitha Ormiston-Smith nails simple grammar with humor, creativity and easy-to-understand language. A witty and instructional read that will entertain the readers while they learn! – LMHansford
Excuse of the Day: In this hilarious short story, a young woman explains to her boss why she is very, very late for work. Winner of the Gearpress Short Fiction challenge.
Sophie’s Revenge: Sophie was sweet and kind – until the day someone messed with her. Winner of the Gearpress Short Fiction challenge.
Professor Tomlinson’s Last Experiment: Professor Tomlinson thought he had it made. His new invention was bound to win him international acclaim and a Nobel Prize. But there was one thing he failed to take into account….
Nigel’s Holiday: Brought to a standstill by writer’s block, best-selling romance novelist Nigel Hawthorne seeks inspiration in a walking tour of Romania, but finds more than he bargained for.