Short Story: Soundtrack to Our Lives

Read a short story from a new anthology inspired by music and written by students from Derry~Londonderry

In an article about the composition of his play The Burial at Thebes, Seamus Heaney commented on the difficulty of starting. He needed, he said, ‘the note to which the lines, especially the first lines, can be tuned’. 

Many writers have found that opening note often provided by songs or pieces of music. Sometimes just a phrase or rhythm is enough of a first spark that, in turn, ignites into novels, stories, poems and plays.

It’s no surprise, then, that when the Heads of English in each of the post-primary schools in Derry~Londonderry and beyond agreed to work on a collaborative project that would see pupils from each school contribute to an anthology of short stories, the common theme selected was music.

Every story in this collection is based on a song or piece of music which inspired the writer to write. Sometimes the connection between story and song is very clear; at other times the songs have simply provided the opening notes from which the writers have built, but each story is linked by a love of the track which inspired it.

Love, Latte And Lizards
Christopher Dillon, St Columb’s College
Inspired by 'Who Did That To You?' by John Legend

12 January, 15.47: The coffee shop
Coffee shops are strange places. A coffee shop is the only place on Earth where you would not only consider paying upwards of £3.00 for a cup of tepid brown water but you would also gladly buy an accompanying pastry at a rate so exorbitant that by 2032, coffee-shop pastries will be affordable only to the top 0.02 per cent of the population.

And our Lizard overlords, of course.

Despite the illogical nature of the coffee shop, they are a staple of the modern high street. There are two reasons for this. First, for the majority of the population, the tepid brown water (TBW) is considered an hourly necessity: secondly, they serve as a method of surveillance for our impending Lizard invaders.

This second reason is less well known than the first despite being far more obvious, which has served as a great source of confusion to the Lizard people. Indeed, many believe the tepid brown liquid was the reason they ultimately chose to invade. For this reason, an underground resistance movement was set up in the year 2045. They attempted to travel back in time to remove the coffee shops. They underestimated the human need for TBW and overpriced pastries. Their battle continues. This is not their story. This is my story.

                                                                  **

It’s not easy being evil sometimes. Sure, you get to live in the hollowed out volcanoes and have lasers everywhere – the sharks are cool, too – but ice palaces get pretty chilly, metal teeth are a nightmare when they rust, and don’t get me started on the hours. What’s more, popular culture has painted a very negative image of us super-villains. I’m a ‘bad-guy’, but I’m not a bad guy. I go to the cinema and the supermarket. I laugh, cry and love just like everyone else. I’m a pretty normal person. A pretty normal person with an army of honey badger-human hybrids, admittedly.

You’re probably wondering where this is all going. Well, without further ado, let’s see. I am Malcolm. But people usually call me Gray, Destroyer of Worlds! Only kidding. It’s just Gray, Harbinger of Doom. It’s a silly name.

I should probably start at the start. Not the very start, but I can give you the rough details if you want: distant mother, aggressive father, hairy siblings. What can one expect when raised by wolves?

Anyway, back to the coffee shop. No, wait, I have to give you some background first. I can’t just launch into my meeting the most beautiful woman of all time and expect you to not switch off. I have a gimmicky, quirky backstory. To the backstory, Robin!

1 October, Washington: Transmission to G8 leaders
‘… and if you don’t comply with my demands in the next six hours, I shall release the Kraken on downtown San Francisco. I believe that is all, gentlemen.’

2 October, Washington: G8 response
‘We are truly sorry but we simply cannot afford to keep doing this. Seventy-three plots for world domination this week alone … We regret to inform you that we no longer have a place for you. Good luck in your future endeavours.’

Fired! I was fired! You get good at something and then they tell you you’re too good at it. So there I was, a villain with no-one to extort. A sword without a stone. A honey badger-human hybrid with no-one to viciously mutilate. Not to mention the Kraken was getting hungry…

One San Francisco-sized meal later and the Kraken was one less issue to worry about. I still had a big problem, though. Super-villainy was the only job I had ever known. Well, I could always try politics. Too much melodrama, though. No, there was only one job for me.

4 October, St Upid’s College
‘Now, everyone, please welcome your new teacher: Mr Gray.’ Low communal groan from class.

‘Hello, folks, I’m Mr Gray, your new English teacher. I was very sorry to hear about your last teacher … and that unfortunate accident she had. Imagine, mauled by honey badgers. Terrible. But I’m sure we’ll have a great two years together in A-Level English. Now, let’s get started on The Great Gatsby.’

12 January, St Upid’s College: Exam day
‘They call this a Mark Scheme? This is a scandal!’ Mr Gray angrily reached into his pocket for a slightly shrivelled human heart.

‘Mr Gray, what are you doing?’ his class exclaimed as one.

‘I’m releasing the Kraken…’

                                                                   **

Unfortunately, management did not agree with my decision to unleash the mighty powers of the sea upon a certain examination board. This, of course, meant I was in line for a new job. A quick glance in the local rag would surely help in this endeavour. After a quick digest of the local news, filled with an alarming number of bizarre happenings (several involving people appearing out of thin air, which no doubt will later become relevant to the main plot), I reached the Vacancies page. As exciting as it sounded, I decided not to apply for the finance job; I had destroyed enough economies for one year. No, I’d be better off with a nice, normal job, a job where I couldn’t do any more harm. A coffee shop, perhaps. Had I but known …

12 January, 15.47: The coffee shop
And so, here we are. Again. The coffee shop. The strangest place in all the universe. And it was in this particular unassuming coffee shop that the world would change forever. My first day on the job had passed easily enough. I had a little difficulty with customer satisfaction, though. About half an hour in, someone complained that his tepid brown water was, in fact, slightly too hot. My response, naturally enough, was to atomise him, along with the errant beverage. While I thought this a perfectly reasonable response, my manager didn’t agree. It wasn’t listed on the employee guideline tacked to the bathroom wall, for one. Still, no Kraken had been unleashed and everyone had most of their limbs, so all in all, it was a successful day.

I was just selling another outlandishly priced pastry when someone walked and it changed everything. For fifteen seconds, I was the happiest man in the world. I never got her name, where she lived, who she was, what she did, what she had done, what made her her. No, all I ever got from her was, ‘Do you have anything which isn’t brown, tepid and mostly water? Oh, and while you’re at it, any sensibly priced pastries?’

I was in love. Not only was she hauntingly beautiful, she shared my distaste for the collective madness of others. This crazy, lonely supervillain had just found love. And that was when the Lizards came. 

The blinding light was the last I saw of her. After causing so much pain and suffering, it was strange to be on the other end of it. In that moment, I lost the one thing in this world that was truly pure, the one thing I had ever loved. And that was when I lost my redemption. I had never been a ‘bad-guy’, but I was a bad guy. I had killed, unleashed terrible plagues upon this world. My heart had been empty. And now it was consumed with fire.

I don’t remember exactly what happened, but approximately 8.56 seconds later, my world ended, after that first landing party materialised in the coffee shop, vaporising all that I held dear. There was no whimsical method, no ridiculous goal. Revenge, pure and simple. The Lizards would pay. It was time to save the world.

I would bring her back. I knew I would find a use for time travel eventually. Ten years earlier, I had stumbled upon the secret to time travel – while making toast. Naturally, I can’t go into details, but let’s just say I can believe it’s not butter. 

There is just one problem. Time travel isn’t as straightforward as they make it look in the movies. I couldn’t just turn a dial, key in some numbers, throw a banana peel in a fusion reactor, then zoom off and save the
day. No, changing time has… consequences.

Changing time creates paradoxes. Time seeks to correct those paradoxes. And I’m the paradox. When I travel back, destroy the Lizards, save the day and get the girl, my life will end. I will be an anomaly, a quirk in the fabric of time. Forever doomed to repeat the past. Stuck in an eternal loop. Forever saving the day, saving her, and never able to save myself.

But I’ll be damned if that will stop me.

Copies of Soundtrack to Our Lives, published by Guildhall Press, are now freely available from all libraries in Derry~Londonderr.