One Last Sour Apple Split in the Lancashire Holiday Park by Lucy Goldring

The Leisure Plaza is full of cool shit. Fruit machines, American pool (hey guys, you’re welcome), tenpin bowling and interactive squash – but it’s all off-limits to lesser mortals like me. There’s a big red ‘X’ slashed through it on the map in the orientation room. I stared at that X so freakin’ hard, I’m surprised it didn’t burst into flames.

After a while, you work out what the deal is with the X. If you act real friendly, if you stay sharp, you suss the Leisure Plaza’s where the weaponry’s stashed. It’s the freakin’ armoury – crossbows and archery crap from the Outdoor Zone plus guns, knives and riot gear collected en route. That’s not the reason I sneak in here though. I refuse to even think about using that stuff, even though it’s pretty much inevitable we’re gonna have to defend ourselves. Only first-wave youth have legit access to the plaza. Second-wavers have to earn it. And if you’re a ‘straggler’ or – God forbid – arrived as an adult, forget about it. And if you think they’ll make an exception for a half-starved Illinoisan student, who’d only just gotten his messed up head round this weird-ass country, you can forget that too.

Back in the States, I used to bowl. Used to bowl helluva lot. There’s so much I found hard to leave behind, but quitting the league was the worst. Since everything went to hell – back home and in your ‘United’ Kingdom – I think about the league every day. Miss it like freakin’ crazy. Miss any kind of downtime with my buddies.

Gunning for straight strikes is zero fun on your own, so my new jam is engineering these awkward splits. Tonight, I’m going for ‘sour apples’. The aim is to leave pins five, seven and ten standing, like points of a triangle. Pretty sure I’m the only person in Lancashire backwards bowling in the dead of night – maybe even the world.

I take in a big long lungful at the ball return. Kid myself I can smell cheeseburgers and shoe sanitiser and my teammates’ cheap cologne. Exhale: slow and steady. The golden marble – my magic moon of Jupiter – is dead centre of the trough where I left it, flanked by greens and pinks. I slide my fingers into the holes, soak in that second skin feeling. I raise the ball to my chest and hold it tight.

None of this is a dream.

The ball is real.

I am real.

I know the self-appointed alphas are on their way. I’ve considered what my dad – through clenched teeth – would call the ‘sheer audacity’ of my actions, my ‘absolute ingratitude’. But I’ve also considered my mom’s dewy-eyed insistence that ‘everyone needs something that’s just for them’. I’ve wondered over and over what mom and dad would make of any of this crap.

I make my approach, swing my arm like the skinny chain of a wrecking ball. Even at the point of release, I can see I’ve gone way too hard. The ball barrels down the lane and the familiar smack of a perfect strike thunders round the alley. All ten pins roll in the pit, like so many bomb blast victims. The pinsetter clunks down, assembles a fresh platoon. Ready to sacrifice themselves. Ready to fight for another nation’s government that’s losing authority by the hour – and that, mom and dad, was my only other option.

My glorious globe emerges at the ball return. Jupiter’s Io: a volcanic moon, off an immense gas planet, hundreds of millions of miles from here. There are billions of other worlds out there. This one I can feel the weight of. This one I can hold in both hands.

None of this is a dream.

The ball is real.

I am real.

Furious silhouettes are pounding at the door. A chaos of British accents all twisted up in righteous indignation. They’re yelling my name like I’m nothing but a dumbass dog loose in the meat store. A dog that should be sleeping, at the appointed time, ahead of its nightly guard duty… or cleaning disgusting toilets with a shitty old brush… or chopping turnips – endless freakin’ turnips.

I stay fixed on lining up my next approach. Maybe I’m the only person in this world who hasn’t lost their mind. Maybe there’s a fourteen-pound Jovian moon hanging from my fingers. Maybe there’s a big red X slashed right through me.

And as the bowling alley door splinters open, I’m just about ready to erupt.

Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in Bristol. She began writing fiction aged forty, only twenty years after she said she would. Lucy has stories in Best Microfiction 2022 and the National Flash Fiction Day anthologies. In her past life, Lucy worked in the voluntary sector, promoting sustainable solutions. She distracts herself from climate angsting by binging on sitcoms.

Twitter: @livingallover