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Hilda sat cold next to him on the sofa facing the window. Body stiff, she was an empty vessel. Her hand numb in his, the love gone, the warmth extinguished.

Franz, Josef and Bella at their feet. Tiny frames as stiff as their mothers. Barren, void of anything that made them them.

Stan cried inwards, howling yet the tears did not/could not fall. Locked within himself, or was he even there?

All five of them sat in their living room. A place usually reserved for laughter, enjoyment and family, now hung in an off grey. The lights were

on but it was not light they emitted.


Stand was dreaming again.




"UP UP UP" Hildas Germanic tones rang up the stairs. The sounds of three tired children dragging their feet to the day ahead sounded off.


Stan was late up, a habit he'd picked up a couple months back. Usually a sound sleeper who rose at the crack of dawn, he had found himself the last

of his family to rise. Often in a bed sodden with sweat. Occasionally with urine. Hilda had not mentioned it but her prefereance of the spare room spoke

volumes.


"STAN! THERE'S TOAST AND JAM FOR YOU. I'M OFF TO CLI...HARRODS!" A slam of the door followed, leaving Stan with the rattle of bowls and cups as his kids groaned

their way through breakfast.


Three children who Stan loved so. 6,12 and 15 years of age.

Franz, his eldest, was captain of the rugby team and head boy to boot. A real jock come teachers

pet. Proper politician fuel who would have no doubt relished in relieving Stan of his lunch money had they been the same age.

Then came along Josef. A lad who was all his mum. Strong willed and blonde of head, he was Stans cause for concern. Thrice suspended, ever in detention

and a serial receiver of yule coal, he couldn't have been less like his father had he tried.

Last but not least was Bella. A child Stan could relate to. Quiet, understated, no fan

of gimmicks or trinkets, just simply happy with her comics. A

hobby both father and daughter enjoyed together on the rare Sunday Stan had free.

Hilda completed the five some. Stans diamond in his rough, the household power house who kept Stans motor ticking in all the ways he could dream of.

Stan was punching above his weight with Hilda and he knew it. Hell, everyone knew it but it mattered none. He had her and all he needed to do was keep her.

A woman of luxury, she liked all things flash, new and expensive, all things Stan could afford (luckily). The reality of their relationship was not lost on

him, but being a man of small stature and less than average prowess, money was his bargaining chip. All he asked of her was to be faithful and he would

provide the rest. Terms which she agreed to.


That was 20 years ago. 20 long years that Stan had hoped would have buried any and all thoughts Hilda may have had of wondering.






Work for Stan consisted of moving money around for those with so much that they knew not what to do with it. Quiet work that required very little interaction

with others from himself. The company had a whole department of schmoozers who wined and dined clients into submission, forcing hands into contracts that

ultimately benefitted the company over the customer. Capitalism with a capital C. Stan didn't mind so much that he was kept "off radar" so to speak.

In fact it rather suited him. To be left in his office for several hours a day, out of sight and out of mind, working some then looking for the latest

hot piece to gift Hilda, or potential universities for Franz, military schools for Josef and comics for Bella, before working some more. Putting money here,

avoiding taxes there, keeping currency away from the eyes of the dreaded tax man and his cronies. Stan was so good at his job in fact that clients often

gifted him various expensive items. All of which he'd no need for but accepted them with a meak smile and wet hand shake all the same.




"Any spare change please"

Stan looked as far as his periferal would let him, unable to turn his head, he saw nothing but the dull grey of a living room that was not quite his.

He'd been here before. But before there was something more. Someone else. Now however, he sat alone. The weight of the other unfelt. In its stead a

different weight. A hollowed, soul clutching weight that tore at Stans insides. An etheral talloned gauntlet striking blows at his heart, filling him with

lonesome dread.

"Any spare change please"

This time louder. Concrete in form and function, Stan tried desperatley to move and get out from under the sound that now consumed him, out from the space

that he filled and filled him.

"ANY SPARE CHANGE PLEASE"



"Stan!"

Now fluid in form, Stan jerked his head up.

"Sleeping on the job are we?"

Stan's boss, Mr Clide, stood over him, sweeping jaw line in an upturned smile, shoulders broad and strong casting shadows down on his worker bee.

"I...uh...sorry Mr Clide, not been sleeping much lately..."

"Hilda keeping you up ey?"

Mechanical laughter meant for brown nosing came from behind Clide, a gaggle of interns each one as eager and anxious as the last. Their shot at the big time

but years of slave labour and absolute devotion in front of them.

"This, gang, is Stan, our mathematics genius. If you ever find yourself in need of hiding a few hundred k then he's your guy"

A fumbled littany of "Hi's" and "Hellos" followed.

"Just cos he's sleeping on the job doesn't mean you can. Stan here has proved his worth, whilst you are all worthless. Am I clear?... Now let's go see

Jane in printing, and whatever you do, don't stare"


Stans hand shook. He shouldn't have been asleep, he shouldn't have been caught. If Stan knew Clide (and he did), then this wasn't going to be the end of it.


A claxon set off from within his drawer. "THE WIFE IS CALLING. THE WIFE IS CALLING". Stan answered.

"Hello dearest"

"Let's lunch. I'm outside"



There was nothing like hurtling down tarmac at 100mph, weaving in and out of traffic with the roof down to wake you up. Stan, something of a yellow

bellied individual, was not keen on getting the Merc, he had always preffered the elevation and safety of larger vehicles; the way they ambled through

traffic with their presence ever known, never sneaking up on anyone, too large to risk tangoing with, yes Stan was a man of road safety. Hilda however,

well Hilda was not. She was all about speed and luxury. Stan had tried to convince her that a Range would give her plenty of speed and oodles of luxury,

but she was not one for listening.

So Hilda got her Mercedez.


"You know..." Hilda said, her head turned to the left, leaving floral scents of rosebud and citrus in its wake. "I think we should go to Goucho's"

"Goucho's?" Stan was in no mood for the likes of Goucho's. His head hurt, his mouth was dry and...

"You stink by the way" Hilda's upturned nose, pointed at him as her head swivelled.

"Oh I don't think I could stomach Gouchos today love".

"But it's only up here. I'll pull us in for a bite?"

Stan nodded, his mind returning to the dreams he'd been having.

They were strange. Nothing like he'd had before. He usually slept soundly. Any dreams he did have were often of misfiled returns or being asked to speak at

the company christmas awards. The dreams he'd had before were always recognised as dreams upon waking. In the moment they were tangible, real, but after

some sun in they eyes and fresh air in the lungs, Stan would recall them for what they were.

But last nights dream and the one from the office, they did not follow suit. The harshness of their realities were yet to wear off. The emptiness in his

chest still plagued him. The dread still followed him. The fear, the cold, the lonesome nature of it all, was still very much there.






Laughter filled out Stans dining room. Family, friends, collegues, associates and others stood or sat, with cups in hands and smiles on faces. All

displayed happiness and merry spirits, all gathered as part of Stans 25th anniversary of employment.

A suprise party sans suprise. Stans watchful eye over the families expenses had picked up a littany of suprise party esque purchases. He prepared himself

and acted shocked all the same, doing his part to add magic to the evening. Give the guests something to tell the folks at home.

"My oh my" was his respones when everyone revealed themselves from the shadows. "Quite the startle". It was always a joy to watch his Hilda host.

Her attire, her mannerisms, her ability to glide without sound from guest to guest, turning smiles, looks, and awe as she went. All of it with such a

natural ease, Stan swore she was born into it. Franz had the same capacity for entertaining as his mother, with the added advantage of an Englishmans silver

tongue. Like butter wouldn't melt, he spoke with a directness that was without confrontation or insult. His suggestions were seldom met with question or

query. In fact, there he stood now, shoulder to shoulder with Mr Clide, similar in stature and appearance, Stan could not help the pride he felt watching his son grow into such a man.


"Daddy" A tiny hand tugged at his sleeve and at his heart strings. A bundle of atoms that was flesh, blood, sinew and bone, looked up at him. His creation,

his gift to the world, his Bella. How one thing could make him feel the way he felt when he was with her was beyond any school or university could teach.

The outpouring of love came from a place so deep that he knew not where it was.

Dejavu, something reared its head.

"Daddy, can I sit on your knee?"

That dread he'd been feeling...It's origin...

"Daddy?"

"Sorry darling, yes of course you can"

Stan lifted his daughter to his knee and held her tight. Looking at her with a smile that was not forced or material, but real and heartfelt.

"Have you seen the latest Spiderman comic yet dad? I seen it with Tom in school..."

Stan listened, kept his ears open, let her words pass through him. He held her and felt her weight, made sure it was real, made sure she was there. An

overpouring of love washed over him. This was life, surely? This was the point of the great game, to have those that loved you near and dear. In one corner

Hilda poured wine for a group of laughing guests. Both sons were full and smiling, his daughter rocked gently on his knee, all around him was his home and

his friends and family. Surely, of all things, this was the prize.



"Any spare change"

The voice was familiar. Stan looked for the one who spoke. An empty street to both sides. Still. Dull. Silent. Etheral. The place was a non space. Stan

felt a sensation of nothingness, a state of limbo that softly choked him.

"Any spare change please"

Closer this time. Too close.

In front was a window full of life and noise. Impossibly bright it cut through the hanging grey of the street and offended Stan, standing there all alone,

without company in the flesh or soul.

Heavy legs carried Stan to the window. Legs that he did not move nor control. Pillars of concrete below that swung him to panes of rose glass. Forcing him

to see inside...


"STAN!"

Hilda stood above him. Her eyes all fire and brimstone.

"YOU'VE PISSED YOURSELF. GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT"

Eyes still at half mast and mind still reeling from whatever it was he had just been woken up from, Stan failed to notice the puddle of sugar puff stinking

piss now soaking through 5 grands worth of cashemere and silk.

"GET OUT!" Hildas voice had never hit decibels such as these before. Her vocal chords screaming bloody murder, each one under strain seldom seen. Pure

unadultered rage coursed from Hilda into the surrounding matter, giving Stan some seriously bad vibes.

Unable to respond, Stan stood up without comment or protest and began to strip the bed.


Whispers followed Stan around the breakfast table. His breakast table. A place he had once sat at with pride smiling at his kin. Now, he daren't look at

any of them. Hilda had already left with Bella. Franz sat with a coffee and a newspaper, eyeing his father with suspicions, whilst Josef struggled to

contain a grin.

"So, Franz, any news on the debating finale?"

Franz looked up from his paper and found his fathers eyes.

"No, St Mary's dropped out at the last minute"

"Bet they wet themselves with nerves ey?" Josef quipped.

Franz looked back at his paper as his father sank in his chair.





Ah, the British Virgin Islands, Stans haven. A place where one could put money and rest easy knowing it was untouchable and untraceable. A place Stan had

never been to despite owning several companys there. A laudromat in paradise. He was safe here, in his box with his 0s and 1s on the screen. Dictating

a whole manner of actions with the ten digits he commanded. Tap tap tapping behind a pixelated screen that would one day rob him of his eye sight. But

for now at least, it kept him happy and sustained.


"Oh Staaaan" A cheery Mr Clide popped his head round the door, bursting the relative safety of Stans sanctuary, wafting in familar tones of rosebud and

citrus.

"Hello Mr Clide. Anything I can help you with?"

"I've been thinking about your sleep problem and..."

"My sleep problem?"

"Its no secret to me that you've been struggling with sleep lately. Stress no doubt. Oh don't worry about it, it happens to all of us... anyway, I've

got you an assistant, an apprentice in the dark arts if you will. CLIVE! Clive will help you in any which way that he can"

"But, but I don't really need any help..."

"Yes he'll be here to help you and in return, if you could show him the ropes and... well... I guess we'll take things from there. Ah here he is. Clive,

meet Stan. Stan, this is Clive"

"Thankyou Mr Clide. Mr Stan, it's a pleasure to meet you"

Clive, the latest model in the worker drone 3000 line to roll off the university campus and pass through Burtons, held a clammy hand out to Stan.

"But Mr Clide, the programs I'm running contain some very sensitive ..."


It was no use. Mr Clide had left Clive alone with Stan and was already softly whistling his way down the corridor.

"So, Mr Stan, what's first?"




...A family of five. His family. Hilda, Franz, Josef and Bella. A family of five without the fifth, all smiling, all singing, all laughing. A disturbance

from behind them got them all up and cheering some more, as another entered the room, his room, his family but no him, no Stan. Only Clide...




"I CANT DO THIS ANYMORE STAN. NOPE THATS IT. BETWEEN PISSING THE BED AND EVERYTHING ELSE I'M DONE"

Hilda was screaming again, dragging Stan back from the realm of horror to the realm of reality, although where the difference lay was at present, lost.


Stans protests were lost to the howls of very aggresive Deutsch.

"ITS EVERY NIGHT WITH YOU. GET A FUCKING GRIP"

Confusion was setting in amongst the fatigue as urine seeped from falice to bed sheet. Stan was still urinating as he tried to untangle himself from the

bedsheets.


"YOU KNOW WHAT. I'M DONE. I'M OUT STAN. PACK YOUR BAGS AND LEAVE"

Cock still seeping, Stan stood up and began to pack.



Stan held a firm grip on the steering wheel. His eyes weeped, his shirt was creased and his head hurt. What had happened? What was happening? Why was all this now happening to poor ole Stan? Head nodding he struggled to keep his focus on the road. Soon he would be back in his box, virtually surfing the waves of the virgin islands, moving money here and finding new comic releases there. Hilda would come back around after a few days apart. A weekend away in the south of France would do the trick, maybe a new ring. A fiery woman who was easy to please. Yes, soon things would be ok...

"Any spare change please?"

Stans head lifted up and saw nothing but a row of vehicles, all waiting to pass on.

"Any spare change please?"

From left to right, Stan saw nothing other than vehicles carrying their drivers somewhere else.

"Any spare change please?"

In Stans mirror sat himself, tattered and batteredm, a man ruined, a man broken, holding out a cup, alone.


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