Mark: October

by Ali Luke on October 27, 2011

This is the third of three short stories set prior to the first Lycopolis novel:

© Ali Luke, 2011 – Do not reproduce in any form without permission

Mark put his head round the living room door. The kids were engrossed in cartoons; Hannah was ironing. He was safe for fifteen minutes, at least.

“Want a cuppa?” he asked, loudly.

“I’m a bit busy right now.” Hannah looked pointedly at the pile of un-ironed shirts.

He ignored the hint. “Okay.”

In the kitchen, he boiled the kettle and clattered around, before glancing back into the hallway. Still clear. After pouring his tea down the sink, he opened the door through to the study – which had long ago been taken over by old toys and two computers that he kept meaning to fix.

The junk drawer squeaked. He flinched. No-one came in. He eased out the new envelopes from underneath the clutter. Payment Due was stamped on each, in red. He braced himself, and opened them.

Shit. Worse than he’d hoped. Still, they could cut down on things for a month or two. He just had to figure out how to tell Hannah.

No, it was best he didn’t. He’d pop these payments on the credit card, and it’d work out fine.


The next morning, he parted himself reluctantly from the duvet. Showered. Shaved. Ate cereal. Ignored the kids, who were jumping on the sofa.

“Denny! Megan! Stop that.” Hannah hurried past, carrying an armful of laundry. “Mark, could you get them ready? Denny needs that homework sheet thing, and Megan–”

“I’ve got to go,” he said. “Early meeting.”

The car was blissfully empty. If only he could just turn onto the motorway and drive, and drive, and leave everything and everyone behind…

Of course he wouldn’t do that. He wasn’t a teenager now: he was, to his slight astonishment, thirty-one. He had a wife and two kids to take care of.

At work, he flicked through some web comics, made a coffee, and investigated the communal biscuit tin. The team had gone through an unusually productive spell last month – tackling the backlog of emails from disgruntled users and reporting a string of minor software bugs. Everything was working just fine now, which didn’t leave much for Mark to do.

Which was why he’d been so sure of that promotion, until last week.

He loaded up Messenger, and thought about logging into Lycopolis too. No point, though – all the other players would be at work or school or university, or having a lie-in. God, when had he last had a lie-in?

A window popped up on the screen, from Seth. “Good weekend? I didn’t see you around in Lycopolis much.”

“Had to visit the in-laws.”

“Ah. Are you busy right now?”

“No. Work’s dead. Bored out of my mind here.”

“Excellent. Well, not excellent, but at least it means we can chat.”

“Fire away.” What did Seth want to talk to him about? He was curious, and slightly flattered.

“I’m working on something new for Lycopolis, and I’m rather hoping that you might get involved.”

“Absolutely! What do you need me to do?”

“For now, just a bit of roleplay preparation. I’m not kicking off with anything dramatic till the end of the month. Lord Cyrric needs a few rather less-than-legal supplies. Cue Roderic.”

Mark had played Roderic Revelry in a dozen different games before Lycopolis: it was easier to stick with the same character each time, rather than coming up with something new. Roderic led a charmed existence, always wriggling out of sticky situations.

In real life, Mark never had any luck.

“Okay,” he typed. “When?”

“Some time in the next week or so. This evening, if you’re around.”

“Should be.”

“Good good. Anyway, I should let you get back to work.”

“I’ve not got anything to do,” Mark typed. “I’m just stuck here, all day, every day.”

“That sounds rather tiresome. But you were expecting a promotion, weren’t you?”

“Some bastard got it instead of me. He’s the boss’s nephew.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, well. It’d still have been a shit job.” Except he’d have got an extra £371 a month, after tax – he’d figured it out – and that would have been almost enough to pay the bills.

“So what do you really want to do?” Seth asked.

There were plenty of answers which might, once, have been possibilities. But not now. Not with bills piling up. “Anything but this.”

“Then don’t.”


“Leave. Quit. Walk out of there.”

“I can’t. I mean, I have responsibilities.” It had all somehow happened. A mortgage. Children. Holidays. Expenses piling up around him. “I’ve got Hannah and the kids to support. I don’t exactly have a choice, do I?”

“There’s always a choice.”

It was easy for Seth to say things like that – Seth, with his Cambridge degree, his own business, and no family to take care of. But as well as the anger at Seth, Mark felt a gripping sense of … fear? Excitement? It was his life, after all. And this wasn’t a prison – it was just a job. He could hand in his notice and leave in a month’s time.

“Look, I wish I could just leave. But what would I do?”

“Find a better job? Look after the kids while Hannah works? Travel the world? Hell, I don’t know. Whatever you want.”

When was the last time he’d got to do what he wanted?

“Mark, all I’m saying is that there are possibilities. Don’t be too quick to dismiss them.”

His pulse was a steady thump in his ears. “But what on earth would I tell Hannah? She wouldn’t understand.” He was hearing the conversation in his head already: What were you thinking? You should’ve found something else first…

“She doesn’t need to know.”

His breath caught in his throat. He closed his eyes for a second. Because maybe it was that simple. Maybe Seth was right. Maybe it was time to stop being such a doormat, and stand up to life.

“I suppose not,” he typed.

“Look, can I say something?”


“You could do a lot better than this. Seriously. And you deserve to. Just think about it, okay?”

He thought about it all morning. The worries began to fade. After all, he had plenty of marketable skills. If it hadn’t been for work sapping all his time and energy, he’d have found another job long ago.

He knew he’d talk himself out of it as soon as he went home, as soon as he looked at those bills again. He’d convince himself to stick with safety. And Seth would think he was a spineless idiot: pushed into a dead-end job, too weak to even stand up and leave.

Mark wrote his resignation letter and left it on his line manager’s desk.

For the first time in years, he felt free.



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