They Shoot Horses – Final Instalment

I’ve enjoyed reading your comments about this, so keep them coming and let me know what you think of the ending.  For instalments one to three, please scroll down.


A minute or two later the lights stop flickering and stay on; and straight away the queue halts, the shouting begins and Q-runners charge up and down yelling ‘Who goes home?’ The rest of us find a spot to sleep and get out food, drinks, blankets; whatever we need. I find a patch on the steps of the arcade and lay out my sleeping-bag. I spin out my evening ritual for as long as I can; slowly getting out my sandwiches, my water-bottle, my reading-book, my diary and pillow, and when all that’s done I sit on the pillow, trying to get comfortable before I order my cocoa. The night-time negotiations are still going on around me, and will continue for a while. It’s hard to find a Q-runner you can trust: the best way is to pay something in advance and the rest in the morning, so that they don’t abscond. Q-runners are supposed to be monitored, but that’s a joke: prices are rising all the time and if a runner absconds there’s nothing you can do. But if one of us doesn’t pay up, we’re history.

When it’s all over I make a start on my sandwiches and pop across to the vendor to get my evening cocoa. Then I settle down and get out my phone.

During the first week or two, I actually had visitors; real flesh-and-blood people dropping by to wish me well, to bring me food or presents. But it’s been a while now; and each day it gets harder to stay on. You start to feel like everyone’s forgotten you – and so I look forward all the more to my messages. I settle as comfortably as I can, take a sip from the cocoa and swipe my inbox. As I thought, two of the three calls are junk, but the third is from Julie. Julie! My heart gives a little skip as I swipe the icon, and there she is, smiling and waving: I smile and wave too, even though I know she’s just a group of pixels. Underneath there’s a tiny captcha: it’s only two words but I play them over and over.

Nearly there!

Julie was always crazy-optimistic.

The bars and restaurants are lighting up and people are moving: office workers going home after a drink, couples coming out for the night. In an hour or so the clubs will wake up and the muffled heart of dance-trance will beat under our feet. I can feel it when I lie down like the thump of an insane idea: boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom. Friday nights are the worst: we get kicked, pissed on and even vomited over. I send up a prayer of thanks that today is Monday.

The evening passes: people eat, drink, read, play games or watch the Screens. As I’m finishing my cocoa the siren goes off loud enough to pierce your ears. Ten o’clock. My sleeping-bag feels thinner every day, the closer it gets to winter.

I curl up as small as I can on the steps. There’s a heating-vent, so I shuffle closer to that; then I lay my head on my pillow and try to sleep. Maybe tomorrow we’ll catch a glimpse of the Studio. Maybe I could even get in! Just think – tomorrow night I could be sleeping in the corridor! I wriggle a little to stop the steps cutting into my ribs, and hope for a better night. The screens are softly crooning; trying to sell us Sweet Dreams as we go to sleep…