Short Story – “Pod Pals”

Spiderman passed through the decontamination showers in his plain, white jumpsuit. The simple jumpsuit-look had replaced the jeans and t-shirt combination, from the previous century, as the standard for neutral fashion. It began as a necessity, for moving through various zones where you’d be shot by multiple jets of cleansing waters, but over time, people just got sick of changing, and so the new standard trend was born. Spiderman didn’t mind his uncomfortable plastic-wear, but as he had only turned eighteen this past week, his knowledge of the comforts of thread and wool were minimal.

He was the first to arrive inside Pod-216-B-CO, not just today, but ever. The Pod-216 unit was a new development that Spiderman had been lucky enough to make the waiting list of. Last year, when he had turned seventeen, he put his name down for pre-registration. On the off-chance that when he came of age, he would frequent a Pod nearly two decades newer than the one he had shared with his family. As he stepped across the threshold of Pod-216-B-CO, with the pressurised doors closing behind him, he was not disappointed. Spiderman could see all of the modern amenities, including a model of the latest SoundCube™ and metallic, longline sofa covers.

All in all, 216-B was a little smaller than an old-world shipping container, only inviting, and perhaps even cosy. This was the design of most Pods, certainly all of those used by the general public anyway. Spiderman sat down on one of the two opposing sofas and waited for his Pod-Pals. “Pod-Pals”, he hated that term. It was nothing but branding on the part of the government, in order to make spending an hour in a confined space with complete strangers more settling. In truth, it was weird. Spiderman felt nervous just thinking about who could walk through that door. If he was lucky, then it would be a group of eighteen year-olds, so at least they could bond over being new to this situation. He thought that the worst case scenario would be three, newly released convicts, each assigned to the same civilian Pod by mistake.

The pressurised doors hissed and slid apart, Spiderman picked up a nearby Pad and started tapping away nonchalantly.
‘Hey-ay!’ A hyper-feminised voice called out, as the doors closed behind its’ speaker.
Spiderman looked up from his device to see someone older than he had been expecting, a woman with blueish green hair and a broad smile. ‘Hi,’ he waved his hand up before returning his attention to checking his profiles.
‘My name’s Cupcake, what’s yours?’ Cupcake approached the seated Spiderman, tilted her head to one side, and extended her hand out in a greeting.
‘Spider-man.’ His voice broke as he answered, so he cleared his throat and went for round two, ‘Spiderman. My name’s Spiderman.’
‘So traditional, I love it, I love it.’ Cupcake reached for a nearby Pad and shot Spiderman a quick friend request. ‘Looks like we’re Pod-Pals now!’ She squealed with genuine glee, before audibly yay-ing.

Cupcake sat down opposite Spiderman and stared at him with a sparkling expression. He could feel eyes on him, so he glanced upward to see the bubblegum-pop entity smiling excessively in his direction.
‘So is this your first time in a Pod? I mean, apart from your family Pod, obviously.’ She giggled.
‘Yeah. First time alone. You?’ He asked, engaging with the small talk.
She giggled again, ‘Oh no silly, that’s so sweet of you to say, I’m thirty-four, I just got reassigned!’ Everytime she spoke she added an inflection to the final word, as though she were about to break into a cheerleader’s cheer. Spiderman thought this to be extremely odd.
‘Oh. How come you got reassigned?’ He realised as he asked that this might be a sensitive area. ‘Did your old Pod break or something?’
‘Not at all! My old Pod-Pals just found me too happy to be around. Can you believe it?! They thought I was so happy that they voted to share me with the rest of the world, and here I am, Spiderman!’ She giggled again, mostly to herself this time.
‘Cool.’ Spiderman said flatly, secretly wishing that he hadn’t turned eighteen three days ago, and that he was back with his not-so-excitable family.

The large, digital reading on the wall remained still at 60:00. Spiderman knew that the timer wouldn’t start until the fourth Pod inhabitant had entered, but after listening to Cupcake for a minute or two, he wished for a small malfunction.
‘Yay! New Pod-Pal!’ Cupcake squeaked as the doors slid open once more. A slight mist from the decontamination area entered into the Pod, along with a man who looked to be at least seventy. He moved with a spring in his step and still had a full head of grey hair, but his face was haggard and his attire dated, which revealed his age.
‘Hello everyone.’ He called out as he entered the Pod and looked around. ‘Oh, I’m not the last one here. Hell, this is a nice Pod isn’t it?’
‘It sure is!’ Cupcake answered the rhetorical question with all the assurance and joy of a front-of-class student. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Mason.’ The older man responded, as he sat down beside Spiderman. ‘What’s yours?’
‘Well, I’m Cupcake,’ she pointed to herself and then pointed across from her, ‘And this is Spiderman, he’s new.’
‘Spiderman ay.’ Mason said as he turned toward him. ‘Named after the old movie character?’
‘What?’ Spiderman asked, with genuine confusion.
‘Your name- Spiderman, it was the name of an old superhero I think.’
‘Oh, right- yeah. My parents are into vintage stuff, so yeah I think I’m named after a comic man or something.’
Mason looked at him with genuine disbelief, ‘You mean to say you’re named after Spiderman and you’ve never seen a Spiderman movie?’
‘Yeah, like I said- it’s more of a thing my parents are into, so-’
‘-Fair enough, it just makes me feel old is all. I remember going to see Spiderman twelve in a movie theatre, it was a masterpiece.’ Mason looked up into the air, in a reminiscent sort of way.
‘What’s a mo-vie theatre?’ Cupcake asked with a blank smile.

The doors to the Pod slid open one final time, the words ‘I don’t care if your Dad died yesterday, I want that code completed by Thursday or you’re fucking fired, you get me?’ were yelled from the decontamination mists.
The walls of the Pod suddenly turned from a sterile white to a violent red and a blaring alarm sounded, followed by a robotic female voice, ‘Unauthorised communication device detected, please deposit item into decontamination zone lockbox before entry.’
The angry voice replied, ‘Fine, fucking fine. I have to go sis. Code. Thursday. Fucking bye.’ The sound of plastic on plastic was heard, before a middle-aged woman with a high ponytail entered the Pod and the doors closed shut for the final time. ‘What?’ She asked at the now-staring group of three. Her new Pod-Pals quickly looked away, as she sat down beside Cupcake and picked up a generic handheld device.

The feminised robotic voice returned and emanated from the hidden speaker-system, ‘ReOx Processes welcome you to your Pod. Please, sit-back, relax and enjoy the re-oxy, revitalising treatment.’ As the voice tuned out, the large digital clock on the wall began counting down from the starting position of 60:00.
Then, Cupcake excitedly turned to her neighbour, ‘Hey-you, I’m Cupcake, what’s-’
‘-Hi Cupcake. I just want to get through this hour in peace. Don’t talk to me, don’t ask me any questions. I’m Jacqui and I want you to shut up, that’s all you need to know.’ Jacqui then clipped in a pair of Buds, as she started to tap on her handheld device.

After thirty or so seconds, she threw her device down on the sofa in frustration. ‘I can’t work with these generic brands. I thought this was supposed to be a new pod. This technology is primitive. I’m demanding an upgrade.’ Jacqui rose to her feet and walked across the Pod, to the doorway. She eyed a large red button, labelled ‘SOS’, with intent.
‘Don’t!’ Mason called out.
‘Why not? The amenities here are not as advertised. Even you must have a problem with how ancient this tech is old-timer.’ Jacqui snapped back. It was as though every sentence she spoke came free with an armful of daggers.
Mason brushed off the insult. ‘I have an appointment with the doctor, immediately after this. I can’t miss it.’
‘Oh boo-hoo, the old man needs his meds. So now I can’t get my work done because you’re too sick? What’re you doing here anyway? Shouldn’t you be in an elderly Pod?’ Despite her protest, Jacqui stepped away from the button and leant against the desk where the SoundCube™ rested.
‘I’m only seventy-one.’ Mason responded, sheepishly.
‘Only? I’d fucking kill myself if I were that old.’

The epitome of awkward silences entered the Pod, and lingered until the clock read:

54:37

‘How come we, like, can’t see the Oxygen?’ Cupcake asked sincerely.
‘Is she serious?’ Jacqui asked Spiderman, the only person in the Pod that she hadn’t directly offended.
‘I think so. I don’t really know her that well.’
‘Oxygen is an invisible gas,’ Mason offered an answer, ‘All of the nutrients and vitamins they pump into us during the hour have all been rendered invisible.’
‘Wow,’ Cupcake said. ‘That’s so real.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Jacqui interjected, ‘You mean to say you’ve been receiving this treatment your entire life, and you had no idea how it all worked?!’
Cupcake cowered, ‘I’m a slow learner.’
‘Yeah. Clearly.’ Jacqui looked over at Spiderman again, and visibly tutted whilst pointing at Cupcake.

51:23

‘Let’s have some music shall we?’ Mason cut the second bout of silence. ‘Sound Cube, play Eminem.’ The opening, echoed strums of Lose Yourself began to play through the sound system.
‘What the hell is this?’ Jacqui seemed offended by the music.
‘It’s a classic. Came out the year I was born.’ Mason said, defensively.
‘Just because something’s old, doesn’t mean it’s worth listening to.’ She stared directly at him as she spoke.
‘I think it’s fun!’ Cupcake offered her viewpoint with her usual gleeful tone.
‘You would.’ Jacqui turned her nose upward as a white man rapped over the speakers.

49:41

Spiderman stood up from the sofa and started to pace around the opposite end of the Pod. He felt as though every flicker of the digital reading lasted much longer than a second. He was clock watching, and hated the fact that he was doing so. The pacing only helped a little, but it was visibly vexing his “Pod-Pals”
‘Do you want to sit down son?’ Mason asked, ‘You’re starting to stress me out a little over here.’
‘Sorry.’ Spiderman said, as he stood completely still and leant against the desk. ‘I just get a little- claustrophobic.’
‘You have got to be joking,’ said Jacuqi in an unhelpful tone.
‘It’s mild. It’s just, I’m usually with my family so they calm me down most of the time.’
‘We could calm you down!’ Cupcake leapt to her feet and spoke without a hint of calmness in her voice. She approached the SoundCube™ and started to hover her hand over the various faces. This created a colourful light show on the ceiling of the Pod. ‘Is there any kind of calm music you like?’ She asked.
‘I usually just listen to ocean sounds, that sort of thing.’
Out of habit, Cupcake looked away from the SoundCube™ and spoke into thin air, ‘Alrighty then. Sound Cube, play Ocean Sounds.’

After a slight pause, what can only be described as electronic, synthesised hardcore death metal began blaring from the speaker system, along with the screamed “lyrics” of “We all die, we all die together in ritual suicide.”
‘Sound Cube off!’ Jacqui screamed, the antagonistic music ceased play.
Cupcake turned to Spiderman and said ‘I don’t think that’s very relaxing music.’
‘That’s not what I meant. I meant actual sounds of the ocean. You know, whales and stuff.’
‘Ocean Sounds were a popular band in the mid-30s,’ Mason offered an explanation to the mix-up. ‘They really broke new ground on the nu-electro metal scene. Some tracks are a little hard to get into, but there’s some real genius in their early work.’
‘Thanks for the history lesson granddad, but I think that’s enough music for one session, can we please just get through this in peace?’ Once again Jacqui’s venom poisoned the air. The patience leaving Mason’s body was palpable.

44:22

Spiderman had spent the last few minutes attempting to control his phobia. He had always thought his fear of enclosed spaces to be mild, but now that he was a man out in the world, he could see comparatively that his fear was crippling. ‘Guys, I really think I’m going to have to press the button. I’m not doing so well.’ He had turned pale as he looked towards the rest of the group.
‘Don’t you dare!’ Jacqui blurted out before he could make any kind of movement towards the button. ‘We’re fifteen minutes into this nightmare and if you press that we’ll have to start over again.’
‘I know how it works, I’m just- I need some air, you know?’
‘Please don’t push the button Spiderman.’ Mason asked with undertones of sympathy, the kind that can be elicited from children and the elderly. ‘I really can’t miss my appointment. Come over here, sit down and we’ll talk about something.’

Spiderman obeyed, he wrapped his own arms around his body as he walked, as though he were in the middle of a blizzard.
‘Are you the first child to leave your family Pod?’ The older man asked.
Spiderman nodded, keeping his own arms around his torso like a security blanket.
‘I see, so no older brother or sister to give you tips or tricks to surviving the Pod. They really don’t prepare you for how much human interaction is required.’ Mason shifted his tone to a hushed whisper. ‘Seems like some of our Pod Pals haven’t interacted with too many real people lately.’ He gestured at the women.
‘And what exactly is that supposed to mean?’ Jacqui snapped at Mason.
‘It means-’ Mason went on, raising his voice to a normal level again, ‘It means I find you to be rather rude and insufferable. Once this session is over I shall be putting in a complaint about you and requesting a transfer.’ Mason folded his arms and leant back, he seemed very proud of the fact that he had spoken his mind so clearly.

‘Is that so?’ Jacqui replied, surprisingly calmly. ‘Please, we’re all only here because we haven’t clicked with any other Pod-Pals already. I mean, look at Princess Buttercream over here.’
‘Erm- my name’s Cupcake.’ She said, with helpings of sass and a slightly nervous smile.
‘See, eighteen minutes with her and I already want to claw my own ears off. And what’s your deal anyway old man? Do you just complain about everyone else and get moved around from Pod to Pod because you, coincidentally, don’t get along with anyone else? Have you ever considered the fact that you’re just as insufferable as the rest of us? That you’re the real problem?’
‘My family burnt to death and I was the only survivor.’ Mason rolled up the sleeve of his off-white jumpsuit to reveal a series of scarring caused by burns, all up the length of his arm. ‘I’m seeing the doctor later to have them checked out.’ He rolled his sleeve back down, avoiding eye-contact with everyone else.

36:19

If the previous silences had been awkward in any way, then the silence following Mason’s revelation drowned them all out into a static. Spiderman managed to stop himself from standing up and walking around the Pod, instead he took to twiddling his thumbs nervously. During the silence, Cupcake looked as though she might say something. On several occasions she took that sharp intake of breath, the one that’s usually followed by a well-thought-out sentence, only to exhale into the noiseless chamber. Jacqui simply bowed her head and pretended that she couldn’t be seen by anyone. She was known for her venomous tongue, it was the reason she found herself in yet another new Pod, but usually she managed to hold it for a month or two before the poison seeped in.

Finally, Mason broke the silence by sighing the sigh of an older gentleman, and standing to his feet. ‘Okay. If this is how it’s going to be. I’ll press the button and we’ll go through the complaints team.’ He slowly made his way across the Pod, each foot-step echoed.
This startled Cupcake in one way or another, as she suddenly became very alert. ‘Don’t do that!’ She exclaimed, ‘What about your appointment?’
‘Screw the appointment.’ He said, without redirecting his trajectory. ‘I’ll put myself on another waiting list if it means I don’t have to spend another half hour in here with you.’
‘Me?!’ Cupcake asked, clearly taking offence.
‘No. Not you. The dragon in the corner over there.’ Mason gestured to Jacqui.
Cupcake legitimately looked at the corner of the Pod behind her, over her own shoulder, before saying, ‘There’s no dragon in the corner.’ This made Spiderman audibly chuckle.
‘No-’ Mason said, laughing a little himself, ‘I mean-’ He stopped himself as everyone apart from Jacqui attempted to hide their laughter.
‘No. Please, go on.’ Jacqui looked up at the other three. ‘Clearly you’re all having fun at my expense, and if that’s how we’re going to make it through this, then fine. Just don’t push that button, we’re almost halfway there.’

Jacqui sounded almost (almost) sympathetic for the first time in the half hour they had all spent together inside the Pod. She sounded nearly human.
‘She has a point,’ Spiderman said. ‘If we stop now, nothing so terrible has happened that they won’t just make us start over. Half an hour of awkwardness really does sound better than three times that. Plus, is it getting hot in here? I can swear that it’s getting warmer.’ He twitched a little, before wrapping his arms around his body once more.

Cupcake leapt up and sat in the now-empty seat beside Spiderman. She put an arm around his shoulders and offered a comforting smile. ‘It’s okay Spiderman,’ she said with a genuine warmth, ‘If anything’s going to kill you, it’ll be because the doors won’t open and they forget about us until we die, all slow and everything.’ Her words were followed by a second comforting smile, as though she hadn’t even registered the words that had come out of her own mouth. Spiderman turned a ghostly white. He looked away from Cupcake and towards Mason, who was picking up and inspecting the SoundCube™.
Jacqui also caught a glance at his new complexion. ‘Oh no,’ she said as she moved her feet up onto the sofa, ‘If you puke in here I swear to God-’
‘He’s not going to puke,’ Mason said, before he had even looked over at Spiderman. Upon placing the SoundCube™ back on the table and making eye-contact with a worried Spiderman, he promptly re-assessed his evaluation, ‘That kid’s gonna hurl.’

The other three scurried around the Pod, as though they might suddenly find a sick-bag, or a bucket in this blank canvas of a room. Meanwhile, Spiderman was turning a sort-of green, as he attempted to hold back his up-chuck.
‘Just hang in there son.’ Mason said, as he looked underneath the desk.
‘I swear, if he pukes, I’m going to puke, and I just can’t deal with that right now.’ Cupcake’s voice started to crack as she spoke. Unbeknownst to the others, she started to shuffle toward the big red button, making those fiend-bawkes that over-expressive people tend to audibly produce. ‘I just- I can’t even. Oh god, the smell will be-’ She reached out her hand with clear intent, before Jacqui intervened by grasping her wrist.
‘Don’t you dare.’ Jacqui hissed out. ‘We’ve made it this far, we can make it another…’ She looked up at the large digital clock. ‘Twenty-nine minutes? Really!? Is time just standing still here?!?’

‘I’m okay.’ Spiderman spoke from across the room. He was now laid out on his back, sprawled on one of the sofas and taking deep breaths. ‘I think if I just lay here, I’ll be fine.’ He paused, as the other three slowly made their way back over to the sofa-area. Then, through green-gills he asked ‘Would they really just forget about us?’
‘Of course not.’ Mason said, reassuringly. ‘Cupcake was only joking.’
‘I was?’ Cupcake asked, followed by a sharp jab on the shoulder by Jacqui. ‘I was.’
‘See, there’s nothing to worry about. This is the most basic medical procedure in modern society.’ Mason said, with a smile that was reciprocated by Spiderman.
‘Besides,’ Jacqui sniped her way into the discussion, ‘Without your time in here, you’d die anyway, so really, this is the healthiest possible environment for you.’ Everyone was pleasantly surprised by how constructive her statement had been. Spiderman was convinced at least, as he sat upright once more.

22:23

‘Do you think there’ll be a time when we don’t have to go into these Pods?’ Cupcake asked, with genuine intrigue.
Jacqui and Mason gave each other a look, it was the sort of expression that’s often shared between parents of a curious child, as though they were telepathically deciding who should take lead on this one. Finally, Mason spoke. ‘Those times have been and gone I’m afraid, Cupcake.’
‘Why?’
‘Fucked over mother earth sweetie, now she’s biting back.’ Jacqui said, revealing why she perhaps didn’t lead the conversation.
Mason sighed before furrowing his brow, ‘You know, I remember when they introduced these things.’ He seemed to readjust his body language, as though he were settling himself in for story time. ‘I was twenty-two when the first Pods came out. They weren’t mandatory for the first decade, they were just used by the rich as a new-age cleansing treatment. It was only after some medical research, and the globalised acceptance of climate change, that governments realised they’d have to invest in these things, or risk public safety. Of course, that was all too late, the damage had already been done and now they have to crank these things up to eleven, once a week, for every single citizen. It’s a damn shame, the public money that could’ve been saved if they’d only listened to the scientists a few decades earlier. Cupcake here could’ve had a proper education.’
‘Hey!’ She said, with a laugh.
‘Sorry. But I don’t know-’ Mason continued, maybe because nobody else had anything to say, maybe because they were all genuinely interested. ‘I remember all the older people the most. I was young so I was up for this new, shiny, exciting technology, that’s how we all were back then I suppose. But the elderly?’ He chuckled to himself as he spoke. ‘It’s funny, I’m now around the age that they were back then. That’s crazy.’

Mason seemed to be dancing around the edges of what he was trying to say, as though he were mentally editing some of the harsher realities of what he wanted to speak up about, before failing to actually do so. ‘They just- died. It was weird. I mean, not weird, it was horrible- and- and nobody really talks about it these days either. It’s one of the darker aspects of our nation’s history. But I remember the bodies.’
‘I admit I got a little curious at college and read into it.’ Jacqui stepped in as Mason trailed off. ‘Millions of people, mostly the old and uneducated, just refused to enter the Pods. There were other reasons, but for the most part it was just good-old conservative nature; they didn’t want a change. Only this time it wasn’t social media, or changes in equality, it was life or death.’

Mason nodded in agreement and continued on ‘There were rallies, marches of solidarity from those of us who realised the necessity of the Pods. We were begging, pleading for them to reconsider, we wanted them to live. But it was all futile, I reckon they’d already made up their minds. The left blamed religion for their deaths, but you know, I think only a fringe group thought that world was trying to delay the rapture. For most people, they were just too scared. I mean, look at these things.’ He lifted his hands in the air and gestured to the Pod. A Pod that now seemed larger and emptier than ever. ‘They’re so commonplace to us, but if you were old when these first became mandatory, they’d look terrifying. At least scary enough to make you want to cash your chips, instead of continuing on in whatever society these things are a part of.’

17:54

All four of them seemed to hang their heads in silence for a minute. It wasn’t pre-planned, it just felt right in the moment.
‘Jesus Mason.’ Spiderman said, in an attempt to lighten the mood, ‘You’re making me want to push the button for entirely different reasons now.’
‘Yeah, sorry I asked about that.’ Cupcake said, with sympathy for a now solemn Mason.
‘That’s okay. I think it’s important that we talk about these things from time to time, that we don’t forget the unpleasant sides of our history.’
Suddenly, and without provocation, Jacqui uttered two words that were entirely unexpected from a person such as herself, ‘I’m sorry.’ Everyone turned to look at her, but nobody said a word. Given the nature of her acid-tongue, it was clear from the expressions on their faces that she would need to provide a little more than a simple apology. ‘It’s true. I don’t play well with others. That’s why I’m here with you losers now.’ She winced as the words came out of her mouth. ‘Sorry. Old habits. Look, you all seem alright and if you’d give me a second chance, I’d be okay spending an hour a week with you all.’ The smile she gave to the rest of the Pod was more like a grimace, but the intentions were pure.

The other three all exchanged various looks of suspicion, thankfulness and pity. It was a real cocktail of facially communicated emotions for three people who had only just met. Without saying a word, they solved the Jacqui conundrum by committee and they were in agreement. Cupcake leaned across and wrapped a warm arm around a reluctant Jacqui’s shoulder, ‘We forgive you. I know I won’t be putting a complaint in.’
‘Me neither.’ Spiderman smiled at her, before everyone turned to Mason.
He knew they were expecting him to forgive her, but there was some clear turmoil within his expression. ‘Look,’ he said, with intent. ‘You said some pretty hurtful things about me that disrespected my-’ His voice cracked but he composed himself, ‘-my family. I don’t think I can forgive you yet. But I’m willing to tolerate you until I learn how to do that.’
‘Does that mean no button-pushing?’ Spiderman asked, once again attempting to lift the mood.
‘Oh, I don’t know if I can promise that.’ Mason said, with an obvious wink, as he stood up and walked towards the big red button, Cupcake was the only one who looked remotely worried. He stopped beside the SoundCube™ and hovered over the power-button. ‘May I?’
‘Of course.’ Jacqui responded with a genuine grin, as the Pod was serenaded by one, Marshall Mathers.

9:45

If you had told Spiderman half-an-hour ago that he would be engaging in a dance-party to vintage, turn-of-the-millenium music with the three individuals he found himself trapped in a Pod with, he would’ve called you a damned liar. I thought process that surely would’ve been mutual.

3:21

As the final beats of Just Lose It faded out, the brand new Pod-Pals sat back down on the sofas and looked up at the clock. Mason powered the SoundCube™ down with an audio command and began to breathe heavily.
‘What’s the matter old man? Dancing too much for you?’ Jacqui’s tone was much more jovial than it had been earlier in the hour.
‘I’ve still got a few years left in me yet,’ Mason said between breaths, ‘Don’t you worry about that.’
‘How’re you feeling Spiderman?’ Cupcake asked.
‘Much better thanks, it helps that we only have a couple of minutes left to go.’
‘Hopefully we can, like, make you as chill as your family made you.’
‘I think y’all already have.’ The words felt sickly sweet as they exited Spiderman’s mouth, but he was glad to have spoken them.

‘Fuck!’ Jacqui exclaimed suddenly. She had picked up one of the handheld devices she had previously branded as antiquated, and signed into her social accounts. ‘Those idiots managed to screw up the new security codes. Oh somebody is getting fired in about-’ She looked over at the clock, ‘A minute and thirty-seven seconds.’
‘So nothing about this last hour has changed how you approach anything?’ Mason asked, his brow furrowing again.
‘Hell no. I’ll be civil to all of you, but I’ve got an image to maintain out in the real world.’

0:57

Spiderman stood up and walked towards the door.
‘Everything okay?’ Mason asked.
‘Absolutely fine. I just- I need some air as soon as possible, you know?’
Mason nodded as he relaxed back into the sofa.

From his view beside the door, his Pod-Pals looked just like a family. Jacqui was the strict, no-nonsense matriarch, and Mason was the surly, but kind, grandfather. He couldn’t decide if Cupcake was the psycho sister or some kind of deranged aunt, but either way, he was glad for her presence. He felt compelled to say something. ‘You know-’ He addressed the Pod and the other three looked up towards him. ‘I know we’ve only got thirty seconds left, but I’m genuinely looking forward to spending time with you all again next week. We’re like a family, none of us are perfect and we’re always going to fight, but we care about each other. And I want to thank you guys for that. You’ve genuinely made me feel comfortable here.’ He took a step backwards and leant against the wall, looking up at the clock that now read 0:07.
‘NO!’ Everyone else cried out as they leapt to their feet.

It was too late, the timer stopped at 0:04 seconds, alarms blared and the Pod-doors opened. The automated female voice sounded through the speakers, ‘Please remain seated inside the Pod, support staff will be with you shortly. Automated Re-Oxy process will begin again in fifteen minutes. Please remain seated-’ The voice continued to repeat the message, as everyone glared metaphorical daggers into Spiderman, who had now realised exactly what he had done.
‘I’m sorry! It was an accident!’ He declared, as he moved away from the button he had leant on.
Mason stood to his feet and walked towards him, as Jacqui let out profanities and Cupcake started to sob. He put his arm around the young man and said ‘I think you’ll find this won’t be a friendly neighbourhood anymore, Spiderman.’

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