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by K. A. Laity

By what a slender thread hangs an ordered life.

I was doing the shopping — doesn’t matter which store but let’s say its name starts with M — and it was just another day like the one before it and the one before that, and however many I can’t remember time out of mind. Tired of my job, tired of shopping for the family who never thank me for what I do. Just moaning at what I fix for tea. I know I’m no Jamie and I’ll never win the bake off, but just a little appreciation — is that too much to ask?

Wandering down the aisle, staring at all the different kinds of porridge and I wondered if there was really any difference between them all, then that song came on. It was a song from back in the day, one of those songs that stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it. I know where I was: in the sweet shop across from our school. Probably in the middle of stealing something small I didn’t need. Could afford it, but stealing was always more fun.

That song came on and I stopped dead. Probably had my hand in the jawbreakers or something. I just listened. Didn’t do anything else. Like in that moment the song imparted some kind of secret code I desperately needed just then. You can’t repeat that moment, but you never lose it altogether. Some songs go right to the bones.

I hadn’t thought of it in years. Could barely remember the last time I’d heard it. Probably some oldies station or some other shop playing out of date songs so you barely notice them. But just then it all came back like magic, like someone hypnotized to be a chicken.

Except suddenly I had become human again. Maybe I had been something else for too long. Or not even something: just a husk of something that had been. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that it was the secret message hidden there all along, ignited like a fuse in my brain.

So, what did I do? I set down my basket and walked out of the store. I had fifty pounds in my pocket. I walked down to the corner and took a bus. Then I took another bus. And another. Then I went to the bus station and got on a bus going to the seaside. It was evening when I got there, but the salt smell made me so hungry I actually wanted to eat.

But first I went down to the shingle and let the surf wash over my shoes. The water was cold, but I didn’t care. It was like being someone again. I felt so happy I laughed out loud. I belted out the song like a crazy person. Maybe I was.

What was I going to do? Anything. Anything I wanted to do.

K.A. Laity is the award-winning author of How to Be DullWhite RabbitDream BookA Cut-Throat BusinessLush SituationOwl Stretching, Unquiet DreamsChastity Flame, and Pelzmantel, as well as editor of Respectable HorrorWeird Noir, Noir Carnival, and Drag Noir. She also writes historical fiction as Kit Marlowe and crime as Graham Wynd. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.