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We were asked to write a story about a hunt for something. But the exercise was really about beginnings, so we had to concentrate on the beginning of the story so as to give a narrative hook to entice the reader in and to set the scene.

I cheated with the beginning...

If you are going to steal material, always steal from the best!

Pride and Parking

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a car entering a multi-storey car park must be in want of a parking place.

Muriel drove the car up yet another ramp. "How many is that now?" she asked her husband Bill.

"I don't know," he said gloomily. "I lost count ages ago. This place just seems to go on and on forever."

"If we go any higher I'm sure we're going to need oxygen masks," said Muriel.

Suddenly Bill spotted an empty space. "Quick," he said, "over there on the right."

Muriel carefully manoeuvred the car into the narrow gap and turned the engine off. "Thank goodness for that," she said. "I thought we were never going to find anywhere to park. You go and get a ticket from the machine while I get the shopping bags out of the boot."

"OK," said Bill. He wandered over to the ticket machine and pressed buttons. The machine disgorged a ticket which Bill stowed carefully in his wallet. He'd need to show the machine his ticket again when he wanted to go home. The machine would compare the current time with the time of arrival printed on the ticket and tell him how long his car had been parked. Then it would demand an exorbitant fee before it would allow him to leave.

When he got back to the car, Muriel had the shopping bags ready. Bill looked over the edge of the building. "Hey," he said, "I can see clouds down below us. Watch out for low flying aircraft!"

"Oh stop messing about," said Muriel. "Come on, let's get out of here and go and do the shopping."

They took the lift to the ground floor. As it slowly descended, Muriel said, "Why do car park lifts always smell of wee?"

"No idea," said Bill, zipping himself up.

They waved cheerfully to the attendant in his cubicle as they left the building. He glowered suspiciously at them and then returned his attention to the magazine he was reading. The donkey on the front cover didn't look like it was enjoying itself, and neither did the two bikini-clad nuns, but the dwarf seemed to be having a wonderful time. "Doesn't the attendant glower well?" said Muriel. "I bet that's the part of the job he enjoys best of all."

Bill and Muriel spent about an hour and a half doing the shopping and then, with arms full of heavy bags, they summoned the lift to take them back to the car. Muriel surveyed the array of buttons on the control panel of the lift. "Do you remember which floor we were on?" she asked.

"No," said Bill, "I don't. All I know is that we were very high up."

"I don't think we were on the very top floor," said Muriel thoughtfully, "we'd have noticed if we were. So we'd better start with the floor next to the top and work our way down floor by floor until we find the car."

"That sounds logical," said Bill. So that's what they did.

The floor next to the top appeared to  have every car in the city parked on it, and so did the floor below that. It was a depressing sight. Bill and Muriel wandered up and down every row looking for their own car. They quickly became very adept at identifying cars that didn't belong to them, but they utterly failed to find a car that did. The shopping bags got heavier and heavier as they walked along. After about an hour and a half of searching Bill said, "At this rate we'll die of hunger and thirst before we find our car. We've only done two floors and we've still got umpteen more to go."

"Nonsense," said Muriel briskly. "We've got shopping bags full of food and drink. We'll be fine."

Bill brightened. "That's a good idea," he said. "Let's stop for a snack. That way the shopping bags will get a bit lighter and maybe my dislocated shoulders will pop back into place."

"We don't have time for a picnic," snapped Muriel. "Let's go and see if the attendant can help us. Perhaps he's got CCTV footage of us parking."

They went back to the lift. As it descended, Muriel said, "You've got shopping bags in both hands. How did you manage to unzip yourself?" Bill just smiled.

The attendant was reading a paperback novel now. There was a picture of an ornate bathtub on the cover. A well built blonde lady was sitting in the bath surrounded by steam and soap suds. The attendant put the book down as Bill and Muriel approached him, but not before Bill caught a glimpse of the title. Lady Chatterley's Loofah.

"We can't remember which floor we parked our car on," explained Muriel. "Can you help us?"

The attendant looked at them dumbfounded. "You can't be serious," he said incredulously.

"Yes we are," said Bill. "We're very serious."

The attendant began to laugh. "Show me your parking ticket," he said, his shoulders heaving with mirth.

Bill put down his shopping bags and took the ticket out of his wallet. He passed it to the attendant who held it up and pointed to the top right hand corner where the words Floor 18 were printed in large, friendly letters.

"Oh," said Bill. "Bugger."

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