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Rated: GC · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2308670
A 12-year-old homeless girl can stop time to steal food and goods for her younger sisters
Mae Ling Kwan was a pretty twelve-year-old girl, going through the supermarket with a trolley that was almost taller than herself. From time to time she would place something that she fancied into the trolley. Never anything in a can, except for tuna tempters which she loved and would eat with her fingers. And nothing that needed cooking.

She threw in some carrots, some apples, some bananas, and some coleslaw, which she also ate with her fingers. Also she threw in a dozen or so chocolate bars as a treat, she knew that she couldn't live entirely upon sugary things, so she tried to show some restraint. Not that that was easy when you were twelve years old and you could put anything that you liked into your shopping trolley.

She grabbed a few cartons of skim milk - to make up for the sugary stuff, and some bread and honey, which she would spread on the bread with her fingers. Also a few containers of Coon extra tasty cheese.

Then, with the trolley almost overflowing, she went to the front of the store to the checkout area. Not that she intended checking out, or paying.

As she reached the front of the store, she said aloud: "Time Out," and everybody except her froze.

She pushed through the swinging plastic doors with difficulty. They never worked well during a time out, then proceeded through the store to the outside, avoiding colliding with any frozen people.

She could have said: 'Time In,' to unfreeze everybody as she left the store. But she decided not to. She knew that everybody would unfreeze anyway in thirty minutes' time. Which gave her more time to get away without being stopped.

She stepped outside to find some people frozen, but others, further away, were still walking along. Some of them went across to the frozen people and became frozen themselves since they had stepped into the two-hundred-metre radius zone.

Mae Ling continued pushing the trolley, with difficulty since the fuller it was, the harder it was to control. Finally, she got out of the business region into a slummier area and soon she was walking down Fuller Alley where she lived.

She wheeled the trolley across to two wooden packing crates turned facing each other, with a tarpaulin over the gap to create one big room.

"Whatcha got for us?" asked ten-year-old Swan Li reaching into the trolley to grab out two Mars Bars.

"Hey, don't grab all the lollies," protested nine-year-old Jing Mi.

"There's plenty left," insisted Swan Li, giving Jing Mi one of the Mars Bars to shut her up.

"Hey, what about me?" demanded seven-year-old Xiang.

"You don't like Mars Bars," said Swan Li. She reached into the trolley and pulled out a Snickers Bar: "Here get stuck into this."

"Yum, I love Snickers Bars," said Xiang chewing away happily.

"Hey, there's no soft drink," protested Jing Mi looking into the trolley.

"No, I brought you some healthy skim milk instead," said Mae Ling.

"Oh, yuck," said Swan Li, Jing Mi, and Xiang as one.

"It's good for you."

"We don't like good for us," said Xiang.

"We like tasty," said Jing Mi.

"Lots of soft drink, next time," said Swan Li: "Especially Schweppes lemonade."

"And Pepsi," said Jing Mi.

"And Solo Lemon," said Xiang: "And plenty of 'tato chips. We love 'tato chips."

"Mmmmm, 'tato chips," agreed the other two.

"So fatty, starchy, salty, or sugary?" asked Mae Ling.

"Yes!" agreed her three younger sisters.

"Oh yum, honey," said Swan Li. Picking up a jar, she opened it, with some difficulty, then poured it straight into her mouth.

"Hey, leave some for us," protested Jing Mi.

Reluctantly Swan Li passed the opened jar to her. Swan Li likewise poured it straight into her mouth. Before handing the jar to Xiang, who repeated the process, finishing off the honey.

"You know that by the time that you three are my age," said Mae Ling: "You're gonna be as wide as you are tall. That's assuming you don't die from hardened arteries before then."

"Don't care," said Swan Li, the brainy one of the three younger girls: "A short life but a merry one."

"You know that it was a Welsh pirate who said that?"

"Don't care," said Swan Li looking through the trolley for other goodies: "Carrots, apples, bananas? Why did you get them? They don't have any sugar in them."

"Ooh I love 'Nanas," said Xiang. She reached into the trolley, Having to stand on the undercarriage to see in, and pulled two bananas off the bunch, eating them one after the other.

"Well, they are healthier for you," said Mae Ling. "But most little girls would settle for one at a time."

"I did eat them one at a time," protested Xiang: "Besides, when we're getting them for free, why should we stroll ourselves."

"She means 'control' ourselves," explained Swan Li.

"That's what I said," insisted Xiang, still standing on the undercarriage to see what other goodies were inside. Reluctantly she settled for one of the litre cartons of skim milk.

Also standing on the undercarriage on the other side of the trolley, Jing Mi ripped open the bag of carrots and took out two big ones to eat one after the other.

"Again healthier," said Mae Ling: "But most little girls would settle for just one carrot."

"Why, when you can get us as many as we want for free?" asked Jing Mi.

"I might have an apple, then," said Mae Ling, letting go of the trolley which started to tilt over.

"Hey, don't wet go of the twolley while we're standing on it," chastised Xiang.

"Sorry," said Mae Ling grabbing the handles again until the three younger girls were all full up. The three of them then reluctantly drank the skim milk.

Climbing down, Xiang reminded her: "Wemember next time plenty of soft dwink, and plenty of 'tato chips."

"Yes, mien Fuhrer," said Mae Ling as all three girls went inside to toilet in a metal bucket.

Once finished they handed the bucket out to Mae Ling to take across to a nearby wheelie bin to empty it out. After washing the bucket out from a nearby tap, she returned it to the boxes, then carefully scrubbed her hands clean with wet wipes, before eating two red Jonathan apples.

Then she emptied the rest of the foodstuffs into the double wooden crates and joined the younger girls inside.

"Hey!" protested Xiang as a bag of sliced bread hit her in the head.

"It's your favourite," said Mae Ling: "Country whole grain."

"Okay den," said Xiang. She put the loaf beside her pillow - actually an old cushion from a sofa someone had dumped in the alley a couple of years ago.

The four girls had hardly got to sleep when a dark shadow opened the burlap door to their 'home'. Old Man McGinty looked into the double crate and looked over the four pretty girls, his tongue hanging out like a panting dog. Finally, he selected Jing Mi.

Picking her up carefully, so as not to wake her and alert the others, he carried her outside then shuffled down the alley to his burlap tent at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Inside he risked turning on his paraffin heater, generating just enough light to be able to see his chosen victim. He slowly undressed her, from time to time 'Oohing and aahing' in lust. When she was finally fully naked, he tied her hands behind her back, then stuffed her panties into her mouth to silence her, waking the soon terrified little girl.

"Don't worry little ching girl," he said: "I just want to play a little game with you. It's called the hokey pokey. Basically, you lie on your back with your legs spread wide. Then I put my middle leg in and shake it all about."

First, however, he took the opportunity to lick her little body all over, giving special attention to her nipples, belly button, and vagina, which he licked out for over ten minutes.

"And to think, most blokes don't like licking these things," he said with a laugh.

Bending her double, with her feet up to her head, he then lowered her legs to the side, to spread them as widely as possible.

"Now how am I gonna get such a big cock, into such a little girl," he teased, making Jing Li start crying.

"Oh, I know," he said: "I'll use brute force. No skin off my dick if you get torn apart. After all, that's what little girls were made for."

So saying, he mounted the eight-year-old girl and slammed his meatus, fortunately nowhere near as big as he liked to believe, into the crying child.

Waking up a little hungry, having not glutted herself the way the three littlest girls had done, Mae Ling turned on her flashlight and noticed that Jing Mi was missing. Shaking the other two girls awake, she said:

"Jing Mi is missing."

"She's probably gone out for a pee-pee," said a very sleepy Swan Li.

"No, the bucket is still here," insisted Mae Ling.

"Then where is she?" asked Xiang.

"I don't know," said Mae Ling: "But we'd better find her.

They stepped out of the makeshift house and held hands. Mae Ling said:

"Time out!" everything froze within a two-hundred-metre radius ... except for the three girls.

Letting go of her sisters' hands, Mae Ling said, "We'll have to check every nook and cranny, including all the tents and packing crates.

So, they started to hunt around the alley, not finding Jing Mi for nearly half an hour, when the time out would end.

"What's he doing to her?" asked Xiang as all three girls looked into Old Man McGinty's tent.

"Raping her," said Mae Ling as time suddenly restarted.

Old Man McGinty pulled out of the distressed girl and Mae Ling, grabbed her sisters' hands again and said: "Time out."

Releasing Xiang and Swan Li's hands Mae Ling asked: can you take Jing Mi back to our home, while I take care of Captain Pervo?"

"Okay, but she's bweeding," said Xiang.

"Mop up the blood with some toilet paper, then clean her out with some wet wipes."

"Hokay," said Xiang. The two girls managed with some difficulty to pick up the still-frozen Jing Mi to start carrying her back to the packing crates.

After they had left, Mae Ling shifted the paraffin heater onto the bedding, directly below the old man's rampant penis.

She then ran back to the packing crates, saying: "Time in," as she ducked into their home.

Taking the panties out of Jing Mi's mouth, Mae Ling untied her hands, then took over cleaning her up from the little girls.

At the other end of the alley, they heard screaming then a whoosh as the paraffin heater fell over, setting old Man McGinty's tent on fire. McGinty managed to race out of the tent, but his clothing was on fire as was his hair and beard and soon his flesh as he ran around screaming.

All the other alley dwellers left their tents or crates to see what was going on, except for Mae Ling and her three sisters. But there was no way that they were going to risk being cooked to help the old bastard, whom none of them had ever liked.

Soon he stopped screaming and fell to the bitumen to finish cooking, spreading a noxious aroma of burnt human meat throughout the alley.

"We'll have to use toilet paper to stop the bleeding for now," said Mae Ling. "But in the morning I'll get everything we need from Chemist Warehouse.

None of the girls got much sleep after that, due to poor Jing Mi crying, and them all having to look after her. But at 8:30 AM sharp, Mae Ling went out with the shopping trolley heading toward the Chemist Warehouse.

Not wanting the police to come to the alley and push them out, the tenants had waited till Old Man McGinty's corpse had cooled down enough to touch. Then they had placed it into a nearby Wheelie bin. Piling on top of it the burnt remains of his tent and bedding. Along with the offending paraffin heater.

At the Chemist Warehouse, May Ling walked down toward the scripts area, then said: "Time out." Everybody except her froze, so she walked behind the counter and piled the trolley full of extra strong painkillers, clinical dressing, adhesive dressings, Savlon Cream for infection, all of the Alprim and other antibiotics that the chemist had, and even some surgical needles and catgut she found, in case she had to do some home surgery on Jing Mi.

Seeing the small drinks fridge she emptied the cans and small bottles of Coke, Pepsi, Passiona, and Solo Lemon into the trolley. Along with some bottles of fruit juice for herself, since the younger girls would never drink them, or let her drink any of the soft drinks.

Then seeing some diet chocolate bars near the entranceway, she piled them into the trolley to feed to the girls as lollies. "They don't have to know that they're good for them," she said smiling at her own cunning.

When she reached the wooden crate home, Mae Ling redressed Jing Mi's injuries, scrubbing them down with wet wipes, then applied some Savlon cream and some cloth bandages. While the three younger girls got stuck into the soft drinks.

"Here, get these down you," said Mae Ling handing Jing Mi two Alprim tablets and half a Panadein forte. Rather reluctantly, Jing swallowed the tablets washing them down with some Passiona.

"What are deez?" asked Xiang picking up one of the boxes of diet chocolates.

"Don't eat those," lied Mae Ling, "they're very fattening." Which had the effect that she had hoped for: all three of the younger girls grabbed two of the bars each and started scoffing them down.

"Mmmmm warsberry," said Xiang.

"Mine's chocowait," said Jing Mi.

"Mine's cocoanut," said Swan Li.

Mae Ling settled for two Jonathan apples.

"These are healthier for you," she said between bites.

"Dat's why we don't eat dem," insisted Xiang.

"You know what we do need?" said Jing Mi: "Lots of stwarberry ice cream. I've heard dat girls with injured pee-pees should eat lots of stwarberry ice cream."

"Did you, you little chiseller?" asked Mae Ling laughing: "Where did you hear that?"

"Dust awound," said Jing Li.

"I guess that's my signal to go for another walk to the supermarket," said Mae Ling standing up.

"Get pwenty of kinds of ice cream, plus lots of soft dwink and lots of 'tato chips," ordered Xiang.

"Ya Volt mien Fuehrer,' said Mae Ling doing a Nazi salute.

"She can be berry sarky sometimes," said Xiang as their older sister headed off pushing the empty trolley again.

At the supermarket Mae Ling filled the trolley with soft drinks, two- and four-litre buckets of ice cream, ice cream scoops, vanilla slices, plus boxes of potato chips and other salty or sugary treats. She called out: "Time out," and everyone froze.

She was getting ready to turn to return to the checkout, when something dark whooshed past the aisle she was in, fifteen metres away.

"What?' she asked startled: "How can anyone else be moving during a time-out?"

She started to go to investigate. Then wisely thought better of it. She raced to the front of the store, pushed out through the reluctant swing doors, then raced to the front of the store, then out into the street.

She was still within sight of the supermarket when she decided to play safe and called out: "Time in."

Everyone around her started moving again, so that she had to wend around them with difficulty until she got back to Fuller Alley.

"You took your sweet time," protested Jing Mi.

"Sorry," said Mae Ling, between gasping for breath.

As the younger girls came out of the packing crate, including Jing Mi, Mae Ling handed them the bags of potato chips, ice creams and scoops, plus their favourite soft drinks.

"Goody," said Jing Mi, taking a four litre tub of Neapolitan ice cream, an ice cream scoop and a one-kilo bag of Smith's original flavoured potato chips.

"She's recovering nicely," said Mae Ling still panting, more from fear than exhaustion. Although she didn't know what she was afraid of, since she had only seen a black shadow zoom past the rear of the aisle at the supermarket and had no idea who, or what, it had been.

"Ice cream and 'tato chips can do dat for you," replied Xiang.

After her breathing returned to something like normal, Mae Ling emptied the remaining goods from the trolley into the double-packing crates, having to pull them a little further apart to get everything inside.

Then, with difficulty she managed to squeeze into the 'home' herself. To lie down and get some sleep.

"Don't you want some ice qweem?" asked Jing Mi, generously shovelling a scoop of chocolate ice cream into her unsuspecting mouth.'

"Thank you," said Mae Ling. "But I really want to get some sleep more than anything else.

"Suit yourself," said Jing Mi, as the three younger girls continued to fill up on ice cream and potato chips.

Despite their crunching on the crisps, Mae Ling got to sleep. Only to dream of being chased through the supermarket, by some formless black creature, which finally cornered her in the fruit and veggie section saying: "Carrots, yuck," before leaning forward to reveal a mouth filled with seemingly thousands of razor-sharp fangs.

"Aaaaaaaah!" screamed Mae Ling waking herself and the other three girls.

"What's da matter?" asked Xiang sitting on the iron bucket, peeing.

"Nothing, just a nightmare," said Mae Ling sweating in terror.

"It's cause you didn't eat enough ice qweem before going to bed," insisted Jing Mi.

"Ice cream prevents nightmares now does it?" asked Mae Ling smiling.

"Course it does," insisted Jing Mi, seconded by Xiang and Swan Li: "Hevery body knows dat."

After she had finished peeing, Xiang handed the bucket, to Mae Ling, who had to get up to empty it into the Wheelie bin, first saying to Xiang, "Wash your hands with the wet wipes."

"Yes, Mum," teased Xiang, doing as instructed.

After emptying the bucket, Mae Ling washed it out, returned it to just outside the packing crates then squeezed back inside, taking the wet wipes from Xiang to wash her own hands.

"Now can we pweese get to sweep?" demanded Xiang, as though they'd been awake for hours."

"Ya Volt mien Fuhrer," said Mae Ling.

"Don't be sarky," said Xiang as they all snuggled together for body heat. Although it was mid-November, with summer only a fortnight away, the nights were still freezing.

The next morning Mae Ling awakened to the sound of slurping and crunching to find that her three sisters had decided to have a breakfast of ice cream and potato chips, with Jing Mi eating a large carrot as well. Sometimes she used the carrot to scoop half-melted ice cream out of the tub she was eating from.

Mae Ling decided to have a honey sandwich since there was still plenty of both. And unlike the younger three, she would walk off the weight with her shopping trips.

"Thought you said honey was fatt'ning?" teased Jing Mi.

"It is. But unlike you three lazy sods, I can walk the weight off."

"I'm not a lazy sod, Hi'm hingered," said Jing Mi.

"Okay, unlike those two lazy sods," Mae Ling corrected herself.

"We're not lazy sods," insisted Xiang: "We'll go with you on your next shopping trip, hiff you like?"

Remembering the dark shadow which had raced past her at the supermarket, Mae Ling shuddered, then said: "Thanks, but you're too little to go shopping."

Six days later, Mae Ling had no choice but to return to the supermarket to stock up again on supplies. Despite her nightmares and her fears of what might be lurking in the supermarket somehow able to move in a time-out.

She had filled the trolley with bananas, carrots, and a huge watermelon, plus knives, soft drinks, crisps, and ice cream. Along with some canned peas which could be eaten raw, some jars of pickled onions, and some cans of beetroot; along with a can opener for the beetroot.

Suddenly the black shadow whooshed past the end of the aisle again, startling Mae Ling.

She started to run, but a tall blonde man of forty-plus suddenly came to life and grabbed her wrist.

"Stand still," he ordered. "Its vision is poor, it can't see you unless you move."

Good advice since the creature, looking partway between a bear and a man in a monkey suit, started into the aisle and walked slowly down it. Looking left then right as it went, trying to detect any trace of movement.

Trying her best to keep her breathing under control Mae Ling stared ahead of her, worried that she'd give herself away.

When the creature finally left, Mae Ling introduced herself, and the man said:

"My name is Tarquin Farquhar."

Trying not to laugh, Mae Ling said: "Seriously?"

"Afraid so," he said: "My parents are old-fashioned British types who gave me an old-fashioned British name. Feel free to laugh, you won't offend me."

"Thanks," said Mae Ling, finally bursting out into hysterics. Finally stopping she asked: "What is that thing?"

"A death beast we call it because all it seems to do is kill and eat people."

"But how is it suddenly here?"

"It isn't suddenly here. It's always been here. I'm afraid you've misunderstood your Time Outs. They don't just freeze part of your world, they also move that part into a parallel universe, where the death beast lives.

"Your people in this dimension are frozen, apart from you, so they're safe from the beast. But my people are able to move about. So unless they are quick enough to freeze when the death beast approaches, it will kill and devour them.

"When you say Time In, you and your world separate from our world and you are safe again, with the death beast left behind in our world. It can't travel between dimensions, because its brain isn't big enough to grasp the concept of parallel worlds. Let alone travelling back and forth between them.

"So my advice is to time in again back to your universe and never time out again."

"Then how will we eat?" asked Mae Ling. She went on to tell him of their life in Fuller Alley and her three sisters whom she had to care for.

"That's a bugger," said Tarquin: "I wish I knew how to help you out?"

"Come back with me," offered Mae Ling.

"I don't know how to jump between the universes."

"Simple, hold my hand, when I go back there. You should come through too."

Watching carefully for the death beast, they sneaked to the front of the store. Tarquin stole a full trolley from a woman almost at the front of the aisle, then they raced out of the store.

The death beast roared at them and started running after them on all fours.

Although not far out of the store, Tarquin and Mae Ling held hands, only moments before the death beast would be upon them, and Mae Ling said:

"Time In!" and the death beast vanished as the two worlds separated out again.

Mae Ling and Tarquin ran all the way back to Fuller Alley although, no one chased them. Plenty of people stopped to stare at the twelve-year-old Asian girl and the forty-something blonde man both running Hell for leather, pushing shopping trolleys ahead of them. Finally stopping outside the twin packing crate home.

Hearing the rattling trolleys the three little girls stepped outside, stared at the tall blonde man and asked: "Who is dis?"

"Tarquin Farquhar," he introduced himself.

Unlike their big sister, the three girls burst out into immediate hysterical laughter.

"I'm so sorry," apologised Mae Ling.

"That's all right, they're at an age where they don't try to hide their honest feelings."

"So you'd rather be laughed at honestly, than have a hypocrite like me pretending not to find your name hilarious."

"In a word, 'Yes'."

When the little girls got over their hysterics, they wandered across to see what was in Tarquin's trolley. Which was mainly full of fruit and vegetables, plus fruit juice, milk, mince tarts, plus some bags of Christmas nuts.

"What is dis?" asked Xiang, holding up a large cabbage.

"It's a cabbage," said Tarquin: "It helps you to pooh."

"I pooh hokay without it," said Xiang. She hurled the cabbage back over her head. It rolled across the bitumen and whacked into the tarpaulin in front of a tent directly across from their packing crates.

Hearing the knock, the man inside the tent came out, saw the cabbage and picked it up. Seeing the girls looking through the trolleys he said:

"Thank you," and started eating the cabbage raw.

"See, he likes it," said Mae Ling.

"He's welcome to hit," said Xiang, making Mae Ling and Tarquin laugh.

Finally they found the watermelon, in Mae Ling's trolley. Tarquin held it up, while Mae Ling used one of the purloined knives to cut them all off thick slices, which she then cut in half.

"Dis is more like it," said Jing Mi, as they all tucked into the watermelon.

Noticing blood running down Jing Mi's legs, Tarquin said: "The little one is bleeding."

"Oh, my pee-pee again," said Jing Mi looking down.

"She was sexually assaulted two nights back," said Mae Ling.

"Who by?" asked Tarquin sounding livid.

"Don't worry, I took care of him," said Mae Ling, explaining what she's done.

"Good for you," said the blonde man: "One less pervo in the world. Do you mind if I take a look at her? I'm a trained nurse. Not as good as a doctor, but better than nothing."

"Please go ahead," said Mae Ling.

"Come into the packing crates with me?" asked Tarquin.

"I'm not going into dare with a strange man," protested Jing Mi.

"He's not a strange man, he saved my life earlier," said Mae Ling. She went on to tell them of her encounter with the death beast.

"We ... ell, hokay," said Jing Mi, going into the crates with Tarquin.

After examining her, the blonde man came out and said: "I've cleaned her up and stitched her up with the needles and catgut you had. But we really need some surgical sutures."

"There's a hospital a kilometre or so from here."

"Would they give out surgical sutures?"

"No, but we could half inch them?" said Mae Ling.

"That means risking the Death Beast again."

"You don't have to come with me."

Looking across at the little girls, he said: "Yes I do. Besides you might get the wrong stuff. Which would mean endangering your life to no purpose."

"Go inside and wait for us," Mae Ling called to Xiang and Swan Li.

When they obeyed, Mae Ling and Tarquin set off at a slow trot for the hospital.

They were careful to grab masks to hide their faces not to prevent the spread of COVID, then took the elevator up to the supplies store.

Walking along slowly, reading the signs, they finally found the supplies store, which was locked.

Seeing an orderly walking past, Tarquin asked him: "Excuse me, but can you open the supplies cupboard for us."

"Of course," said the orderly unlocking it. Then he stopped and asked: "Who are you, by the way?"

"Time out," said Mae Ling and the two of them pushed past him to look through the supplies room.

"I said 'Who are you'." demanded the orderly, causing Mae Ling and Tarquin to spin around.

"Shit, he's one of yours," said Mae Ling.

"If you don't tell me who you are, I will lock you in there, while I call for secur..."

That was all he got out before the Death Beast grabbed him from behind, ruthlessly slaughtering him, then began to devour the man.

Sneaking across to the door, Tarquin pulled it closed, locking them in, and hopefully locking the Death Beast out.

With the door closed the lights went off, so they had to use a flashlight to hunt for the medical sutures.

"Over here," called Mae Ling.

Tarquin sneaked across to look through the sutures, before finding the ones he wanted. Then they sneaked around to find surgical needles.

By the time that the Death Beast's snorting crunching had finished, Mae Ling asked: "How do we get out now?"

"The door opens outwards, so I can easily kick it open. The question is, has the Death Beast left, or is it waiting outside to eat us for his second course when we finally come out?"

They hesitated outside long enough for the time out to end. Then hearing footsteps outside they banged on the door. They heard the rattling of keys then an attractive blonde nurse opened the door and stared at them in surprise.

"How did you get locked in there?" she asked.

"I was looking for some surgical suture," said Tarquin truthfully: "And the door must have swung shut on us."

"Oh, I see," said the nurse looking puzzled.

"Come with me, Nurse Kwan," said Tarquin, heading for the elevators.

"Yes, doctor," she said walking after him, leaving the puzzled nurse looking after them.

"Well, I don't know," said the blonde nurse. She finally shrugged and walked off in the opposite direction to Tarquin and Mae Ling.

As she walked away the elevator doors chinged open and the two thieves stepped inside.

"That was a close one," said Mae Ling.

"Don't get too confident just yet," advised Tarquin. "We still have to get out without being stopped by the security guards."

Half an hour later they were back at Fuller Alley. While Mae Ling stood guard outside, Tarquin replaced the catgut he had used early with the medical suture.

Stepping outside after he's finished, he said: "That stuff will dissolve in about two weeks, so there's no need for me to remove it. Although I'll have to check the injury every few hours."

To Jing Mi he asked: "Can I ask you to reduce the amount of soft drinks and ice cream you consume over the next two weeks?"

"No," she said determinedly.

"What?" he asked perplexed.

"You might as well ask the Americans to give up its warmongering, as ask any of these three to reduce the amount of lolly water and ice cream they devour.

"Frankly most people working in an ice cream factory don't scoff half as much ice cream as these three."

"What are you 'gesting?" asked Jing Mi.

"I'm 'gesting that you three are all gluttons when it comes to ice cream and soft drinks."

"How dare you!" said the three little girls as one.

That night they managed with Tarquin pulling the two packing crates another forty centimetres apart, unfurling the tarpaulin across the gap a little, to fit the blonde man and all four girls into the 'home' to sleep. However, the next morning they were all stiff and sore, rubbing at their backs as they climbed with difficulty out of the packing crates.

"I think I'm gonna have to find myself a room of my own," said Tarquin, eating a half a kilogramme of coleslaw for breakfast. Since the little girls had made it plain that they weren't going to ever eat it.

"Can't let good food go to waste." he said.

"You call dat good food?" asked Xiang sounding unconvinced.

"I don't suppose you have any of your certificates or degrees on you?" asked Mae Ling: "Then you could get employment at one of the local hospitals."

"Afraid not..." said Tarquin stopping to think: "However the medical college that I qualified as a nurse is only a few kilometres from here. If I can convince them of who I am, namely me from this universe, they might give me replacement copies."

"Then you could get the Hell out of our beds," said Jing Mi.

"You ungrateful little sodette," said Mae Ling: "After all he did for you."

"Yes, I ham gwateful," she said: "But he does take up a watt of woom in dar bed."

"Right, let's finish up, then head off," suggested Mae Ling.

"Can we come too?" asked Xiang.

"That depends?" asked Tarquin: "Can you walk two and a half kilometres out there? Then another two and a half kilometres coming back?"

The little girl thought for a moment, then said: "Maybe we'll stay here and heat hice cweam instead."

"I think that's a very good idea," suggested Mae Ling, as she and Tarquin set out on foot.

As they walked into the reception area of the college, a tall blonde on duty said: "Well if it isn't my old beau Tarquin Farquhar?"

"Hello ..." said Tarquin, not having a clue in Hell what her name was.

Laughing, the nurse said: "You always were lousy at remembering names. I'm Soledad ... Soledad Peters."

"Oh, of course," said Tarquin: "Silly me."

Looking at Mae Ling, Soledad asked: "And who is this little cutie?"

"One of my daughters," said Tarquin thinking quickly: "My oldest, Mae Ling. Sadly my wife has passed on."

"Oh, that is so sad," said Soledad: "So what can I do for you, Tarky?"

"In moving house, I seem to have lost all of my certificates. I was wondering if you could provide me with replacement copies?"

"Sure can, honey," she said: "Normally we charge for it. But since it's my old beau, it's on the house."

She checked on her computer, pressed a few buttons on the keyboard and half a dozen certificates printed out on the HP laser printer.

"You looking for a job at the moment?"

"Afraid so, my last one didn't work out."

"And they wouldn't even write him a reference," said Mae Ling, thinking on her feet.

"Those rotten sods," said Soledad: "Well I happened to know they're looking for nursing staff at the Royal Melbourne in Parkville. I've got a friend there. I can write you out a reference myself, then take you around to see her. I'm sure she'll see you right."

On instinct, she asked: "Where are you staying at the moment?"

"We're sort of between houses at the moment," said Mae Ling.

"Living rough?" asked Soledad: "And you with a lovely daughter as well."

"Four lovely daughters," corrected Tarquin.

"Oh, my goodness, and you're all living out of doors? Well, I can fix that for you immediately." Picking up her mobile phone, she arranged temporary accommodation for the five of them at a community hostel, then took Mae Ling and Tarquin around to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Grattan Street Parkville.

It took less than an hour to arrange for Tarquin to be taken on as a senior nurse, at the hospital. Then they had to go around to collect Swan Li, Jing Mi, and Xiang, as well as all of the foodstuffs and cutlery at Fuller Alley.

"Where we going?" asked Swan Li as they started out in Soledad's pale pink Lexus.

"We're taking you around to some temporary accommodation for a few weeks, while your Daddy earns enough money to move you into an apartment," explained Soledad.

"Our Daddy?" asked Jing Mi.

"Yes, our Daddy, Tarquin Farquhar," said Mae Ling cuddling up to him.

"Oh, I tee," said Jing Mi, clearly not teeing.

© Copyright 2023 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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