My flash fiction ‘Trad Metal Blues’ has been published in Friday Flash Volume 2
Previously featured on this blog as part of the Friday Flash twitter meme, ‘Trad Metal Blues’ is part Dock Boggs part Animatrix.
‘Trad Metal Blues’ is also featured alongside a plethora of talented Friday Flash writers, and is well worth the paltry admission charge.
Xmas is obviously good for me, this is the second flash I have thrashed out in one day, both on a xmassy theme. This is my entry to @chuckwendig’s flash fiction challenge, ‘Christmas in A Strange Place’.
I open my mouth to allow a silverfish to slowly swim inside, little morsels such as this have become my only sustenance, for the weight of the rubbish had trapped my limbs some time ago. After twelve months here I have begun to merge with my environment, the damp newspapers, the rotting food and the everlasting crisp wrappers.
This is what I wanted, life had become to cruel for me to bear, and so, one year ago today, while the rest of the country celebrated with their family or loved ones, I walked into the municipal waste facility and allowed myself to sink into the landfill.
Now, here I lay, every day I sink a little further, I am human waste, used up, thrown away and left to decay.
It’s Christmas Day, I know this must be so as there are no trucks today, no sounds of rubbish crashing onto the ground, no clanking of machinery or shouting voices, just me and the gulls. This is what I wished for, to just give up, to take root in the rubbish that will one day become soil, regenerating the Earth.
A gust of wind, the temperature drops and something disturbs the gulls, they caw and flap their wings, wheeling up into the cold grey sky. I see a figure walking towards me, a woman, the way she holds herself reminds me of the way I had walked here a year ago. Body distorted, back bent, head down, as if the sights and sounds of the season, the bright coloured lights, Slade on the radio, was weighing down upon her shoulders.
She walks over to me, looking down at my head, now just peeking out as if I were treading water in a sea of decomposition.
‘Hello’ I say.
‘Hello’ she replies nervously, ‘Is it everything I hope it will be?’
‘So much more, for the first time in my life I feel like I belong somewhere. The gulls don’t judge me, I want for nothing and my body is weightless; I feel at peace’.
She takes off her shoes and works her feet into the rubbish. Breaking the surface layer she begins to slowly sink, first her ankles disappear, then her calves, her thighs, her hips.
She looks at me and smiles, ‘it’s nice to meet someone who understands’ she says.
I smile back; smile for the first time in… years.
Cold, white drops of snow begin to fall upon my face.
‘Merry Christmas’ I say to her softly.
‘Merry Christmas’ she replies, as her lips draw level with mine.
The potholes in the road throw us about the truck bed, the metal cage around us creaks.
Reaching the tall buildings on the outskirts of the city, Tommy kills the headlights and begins to skillfully weave his way through the abandoned cars.
As we near the hospital I tug the generator cord and it judders into life, I power up the projector and the VHS as Tommy pulls up to the hospital forecourt. Darren and ‘Shell climb up through the access hatch in the top of the cage. I bang on the back of the truck cab.
Now we wait.
This was our fourth run, at first it had seemed like suicide, but we seemed to be hitting our stride now. I try to think of it like corralling cattle, this stops me shaking enough to be able to function.
The sound begins, at first low groans, they multiply and multiply until it becomes a rush of noise, the roar of the crowd about to break over us like a giant wave.
I pick shapes out from the light of the projector, limbs flailing wildly, a few at first, then a deformed mass of twisted figures. As they approach I cover the light of the projector with my hand, reducing the light to a blue square on my palm. Above me Darren and ‘Shell ready themselves, dropping onto the cage top like sprinters on a starting line.
We wait for a hoard to mass around us, the weight of their bodies rock the truck, their hands clawing at the cage, behind each twisted form, another, then another. We wait until we dare no longer, I hit play and pull my hand away, the projector light hitting a concrete wall.
The wall bursts into life, a huge tolling bell swinging back and forth, the trucks PA booming out across the packed forecourt. Giant words appear, ‘Frank Capra’s It’s a wonderful Life’, well it is Christmas.
As the credits play out, our assailants are hypnotised.
The projector had been our second attempt at distracting the huge crowds that built up around the city. We had needed a diversion to allow us to scavenge for food and medicine. We had tried throwing out hunks of meat from the truck, but now meat is in short supply and fuelling a feeding frenzy was just too dangerous.
I had tried the projector having remembered during the final days, crowds of them would gather around the big public screens erected for the Olympics. Watching the rolling newsfeeds, as if reviewing their progress.
I tried recordings of TV at first, XFactor, Masterchef, Eastenders, but that hadn’t held their attention for long enough. I tried Night of the Living Dead as a sick joke, but when it worked, I twigged, like animals, their vision was black and white.
I tried Psycho next, this proved my theory, not only did it distract them from our activities, they were held spellbound.
Now they stand hypnotised by Jimmy Stewart’s eyes meeting Donna Reed’s across a crowded room.
Darren and ‘Shell jump from the top of the cage, across the forecourt and into the hospital. As the masses watch the movie, our eyes follow two flashlights spiralling up the floors of the glazed building. They had under 100 minutes scavenging time, then 20 to get back down to the truck.
Around 20 minutes from the end, Jimmy Stewart is running along the streets of seedy Pottersville, the once peaceful Bedford Falls; we’re out of time.
I bang on the cab, Tommy hits the horn, and I watch as the two flashlights stop their search and begin to wind fast back down the building. Fifth floor, fourth, third, second, first… the generator stops and the projection and sound stops. The voices of George and Clarence replaced by angered growls.
I tug at the cord of the generator, my feet slip in a pool of gasoline, the fucker had sprung a leak!
I watch the flashlights descend to Ground level, stopping inside the revolving doors at the entrance. Between them and us, the hoard, now in full frenzy, their attention fixed on our truck.
The gasoline was in a can a the end of the truck bed, I throw myself down and slide towards the can, the truck begins to rock. I kick at the cage trying to drive back the gruesome fingers poking through the mesh.
From the corner of my eye I see the two flashlights bobbing up and down, frantically signalling us. Grabbing the can I crawl back up the truck as it bucks wildly.
Tommy starts the engine, I bang on the truck bed ‘No! No!’ I scream, ‘They’ll make it!’
Tommy revs the engine, rolling back and forth.
I reach the generator, holding the can with shaking hands I pour gasoline into the tank, I take the cord in my teeth and yank, the truck rears up on one side, then falls hard onto the ground.
I jerk my head frantically until the genny shudders into life. The concrete wall illuminates once more, Jimmy Stewart by a bridge, seconds later the PA, Jimmy screaming ‘I want to live! I want to live!’
The two flashlights shoot across the forecourt through the crowd of frozen figures, they jump up onto the cage. Tommy guns the engine and we pull away fast, Darren and ‘Shell digging their fingers around the mesh of the cage so as to not fly off.
The projection distorts as we pull away, the hoard begin to give chase, but were too far away now, safe.
Over the trucks PA, little Zuzu’s voice, ‘every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings’.
This is my entry into @chuckwendig’s Flash Fiction challenge: ‘Thats right, I said Unicorn‘
‘Yeah, I was big in the 1980s, Legend man that was the big one *cough cough* that will be the movie I’m remembered for. Then there was Blade Runner, that’s right, man fucking Blad… huh? Yeah, that footage was on the cutting room floor for years before the director’s cut, and what’s worse, my shitty agent only negotiated a one-off fee, so no royalty cheque for me *cough cough* I got stiffed, but hell, I ain’t bitter’.
The Unicorn spits on the stable floor and takes a large gulp of whiskey from it’s trough before sparking up another cigarette.
‘Then there was all those fantasy art portraits of me, plenty of royalties for that gig, plus fees for life modelling, yeah, shit man *cough… spit* the 80s were good to me. I was on top of my game then. But the 90s, the 90s rode a cock horse, the early 00s weren’t much better, shit, if it hadn’t been for the money I made selling my likeness to Hasbro I’d have been royally fucked!’
The Unicorn tosses down more whiskey and then lifts his tail, allowing a hefty avalanche of faeces to fall to the stable floor.
‘Of course that wasn’t easy to live with; I mean my likeness on those prissy, plastic dolls, man, what do you think that does to a dude’s ego huh? Shit!’
‘I mean, I hate all that, when I was young, man, we were feared, like dragons or shit, I mean, have you seen those pictures of me fighting a lion? A lion man! Now people think of me like I’m a fucking Care Bear or some shit’.
‘Wassat? Sure, sure I fought a lion, but, hey even, even if I didn’t a-c-t-u-ally fight a lion, does anyone draw pictures of YOU like that, you fuck! Man, course I fought a Lion’.
Getting more irate, the unicorn succumbs to a fit of coughing; after more whiskey and another cigarette, he slowly recovers his composure.
‘Sorry man, immortality is a bitch! You get to do what you want, for as long as you want and you never die, but it don’t mean you wear well though, know what I mean?’
‘The others, nah, I’m the last… hunted down, you know, in the middle ages, all knights and fair maidens and shit. Nah, I don’t miss the others, fuck them, lording it over me with their granting wishes and looking enigmatic in the woods. I used my magical powers to get me some fine fillies, give them the horn, *cough* know what I mean?’
‘Nah, nah, *spit* I don’t want to talk about that, let’s just say The Last Uni-porn was a mistake, that movie was a low, low, point in my career, ’nuff said’.
‘Now? *cough cough… spit* Yeah, well I’ve hit upon hard times, people’s tastes change and shit. I got a bit part in that last Lord of the Rings movie you see that one? Yeah, Lord of the Rings man. But mostly it’s all CGI and shit now, they don’t use real performers like me anymore, times are hard Bro, times are hard’.
After that the unicorn goes sullen and silent, he bristles and wanders off to the back of the stable. I broke the recording crew for coffee; it was then, after the crew had left, that he started talking to me again.
‘Hey, hey, can a Unicorn get a cup of Joe round here? Yeah, that’s right, leave me out, I’m the star here, shit *spit* I want a double espresso bitch, nah, make that a quadruple’.
I held a cup of espresso up to the Unicorn’s mouth and lit him another cigarette; in this moment of intimacy, I seized my chance to ask the question that I had been dying to ask throughout the whole interview.
He went quiet again for a moment, I could see a faraway look in his eyes, and for that moment the crusty, alcoholic, emphysemic, prima donna fell away and I could see him for what he really was. He was an immortal, a noble and mystical creature, one that had lived through countless centuries, who was the very last of his kind.
‘Yeah, I don’t like to talk about that *spit* as I said man, times are hard… I cut it off and hawked it’.
After three psychedelic years of college, I had little to show for my education save for £50K of debt and a modest collection of stolen street furniture. £50K being one hell of a debt mind you and to make matters worse I had absolutely no intention of working year in year out to pay it off. Having postponed an ‘honest days work’ for three years, I was committed to delaying it further or bypassing it all together, what I wanted was a get rich quick scheme, and I mean really rich.
I realise that this may make me sound a little lazy, perhaps, but trust me, that is the least of my crimes, for you see I crossed a line.
I formulated a two phase plan, I was lazy yes, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ambitious. I had my first brainwave while watching the movie ‘Trading Places’ (for my money Eddie Murphy’s second best film after the ‘Golden Child’). Unlike Murphy I didn’t have an insider tip on the crop report, what I did have was access to a number of economically savvy students who were reliant on me for the supply of another type of crop. Said students were more than happy to give me a few tips in exchange for the remainder of my stash.
One £25K post-graduate loan and some keen investments later, made a killing on high-risk far-east investments, my temporary sobriety giving me the edge, I was a one woman bull market in a china shop.
After rectifying my sobriety, I trawled the internet for inspiration for phase two of my plan. It was the recent contact with extra-terrestrial life on Europa that caught my eye; the powers that be were looking to the private sector to provide an ambassador ship to Europa, large contracts abound.
As my degree was in Film Studies, my only knowledge of space rocket construction was from watching ‘The Explorers’ what I needed was a rocket scientist. Placing a personal ad in ‘Soldier of Fortune’ magazine I hooked up with an ageing ‘Aeronautic Specialist’, lovely bloke, German accent, like a sweet old uncle, or so I thought.
With my rocket scientist in place I needed labour; rockets don’t build themselves you know and I certainly wasn’t about to. Perhaps it was wrong of me to source labour from the third world, at the time I thought it had been altruistic of me, fair trade and all that. In hindsight, the ex-army General that had originally contacted me via a spam email hadn’t been the best person to assemble the work force.
I swear that I wasn’t aware of the enforced child labour that went on during the rocket construction, and if I had had the time to visit the worksite, those deaths could have been prevented. Sadly, I was too busy sourcing the plutonium for the rocket engines, what with all those trips to the Middle East there just wasn’t the time.
For a while things were good, champagne, cocaine, hot young film stars and wealthy politicians clamouring for my attention. I had my picture on the front of The Economist, The New Scientist and even my local paper: ‘Romford Girl Mercer to Greet Europans’. I was hailed as an entrepreneur, adventurer and an ambassador for the human race. It was a lot to live up to and, to be honest; it wasn’t a surprise I messed it up.
As it turns out I’m not the most indulgent of people, not too bad a thing under normal circumstances, however, when greeting an extra-terrestrial race, especially one whose etiquette is based upon displays of aggression, macho posturing if you like; my impetuous nature was perhaps less than appropriate. You could argue in hindsight there was no need to mount guns on my space ship, but they looked so cool.
Upon my approach to Europa, I had been met by some rather threatening looking Europan interceptor ships, I now understand that it was just for show, it’s not like I simply ordered ‘Open Fire!’ without thinking it through. I did try to be diplomatic; I fired some warning shots first, unfortunately the problem with untested weaponry is that you don’t know what it’s capable of until you use it.
Perhaps it was then I crossed the line proper, or perhaps it was on my return journey.
I had been trying to think of a foolproof excuse as to how I had come to accidentally bring an entire race to near extinction. Thinking on my feet, I tried to make it look like there had been an attempted Europan attack on Earth. I hit somewhere, which I thought would have minimum impact on Earth, and then let off a few explosions in the sky, as if I had vanquished the invading alien hordes. I would then return home a hero and no-one would know any different. Admittedly it hadn’t been fair to pick Australia as a target, ok so I don’t like the accent, but I had only aimed to take out a bit of desert, like I say the capacity of those guns was quite surprising.
Of course if it hadn’t of been for that old Nazi bastard, my rocket scientist, going on TV to grass me up, no-one would have known. That sod just wanted to exonerate himself with his talk of how the damage radius of the blast was incontestably caused by my laser cannon. It was also around that time that the whole enforced child labour thing came out; you just can’t get the staff.
So now I am floating in the somewhat re-arranged orbit of the Earth, my plutonium cells depleted, that’s ok, I’m not in any hurry to get back to Earth. Well, not since the International (now Interplanetary) Court of Justice had put a warrant out for my arrest, crimes against humanity and extra-terrestrial life they say.
It’s not really until now that I have had time to think about it, that I realised that I had crossed a line, the thin line between ordinary girl and perpetrator of genocide. I had had it all, and now I was disgraced, hunted, and still not a penny of my student loan paid back.
‘Plaintive House’ was the brainchild of F.W. Barnard, heir to the fortune of a threaded screw empire established by his Father.
F.W. had very little time for his Father’s factories and would rather spend his time at fun fairs. F.W. had a particular fascination for the mystery rides, the tunnel of love, ghost trains and his favourite, the crooked house.
Upon his Father’s death, he entrusted the company to the board of directors and used his inheritance to purchase a beachfront fun fair. The star attraction of which, was the warp timbered crooked house that stood on a hilltop overlooking the colourful carousels and rides of the park below. He invested vast sums of his personal fortune into the crooked house, extending its labyrinthine corridors, adding a hall of mirrors and a number of curious waxworks depicting children’s fairy tales in stunning detail.
As F.W. costs mounted from his ‘no expense spared’ attitude to his widely celebrated attraction, the bottom suddenly fell out of the threaded screw industry. The development of alternative (and some would say inferior) fixings had left his company on the verge of liquidation and the factory employees facing the breadline.
Feeling the burden of his family name and not wishing to abandon the employees who had been faithful to his Father, F.W., with a heavy heart, took up his position at the head of the board.
F.W. truly disliked his work, his health suffered from the long hours and constant pressure of responsibility. Long gone were the halcyon days of his youth. Every day he felt himself being driven deeper and deeper into depression. The final twist was to be forced into selling his fun fair. He bid a sad farewell to his carousels, the ghost train, the tunnel of love, but he refused to sell his beloved crooked house. Alas with no time or money, the building stood empty, a sad reminder of the youthful innocence he had lost.
In his new-found diligence, F.W. showed the business talent of his forbears, developing a product that rivaled even the mighty Philips head. To this day carpenters and contractors alike rely on the Bernard head screw, or the ‘Bernie’ as it became known.
Success left F.W. busier than ever, in this time the only luxury he afforded himself was a high and foreboding fence around his crooked house.
As the business grew, so did F.W.’s sadness, he grew weary from work and felt increasingly alone in the world (‘for love does not come easy to one who’s spirit is in torment’). His only companions were the company board, whose greed left F.W. disheartened as to the nature of his fellow man.
F.W. became a recluse, many business journals speculated on his health. After a protracted absence from the boardroom, rumours became rife, depression, alcoholism and attempted suicide.
F.W.’s absence came to an end one overcast morning. The fence around his crooked house was removed to reveal the twisted building, now distorted beyond recognition and repainted a colour almost indistinguishable from the overcast sky. In bold letters carved from marble around the door, a new name for his once renowned attraction ‘Plaintive House’.
F.W. issued a press release to accompany the unveiling, ‘Plaintive House is a unique attraction, unparalleled in this or any other country. Rather than being an attraction for amusement, my former and forgotten passion, it is a place for solitude, somewhere for those of a melancholic disposition, such as myself, to go for quiet contemplation, to feel at one with their condition, wallow in their grief’.
Inside F.W.’s attraction, sounds haunted the labyrinthine corridors, the howling of a gentle wind, the cry of a lone animal. The mirrors had been removed (‘for one whose sadness is so deep, wishes not to see themselves’). The detailed waxworks had been re-modelled. What were once handsome princes or fair maidens were now images of Woolf, Kafka, Poe and Plath, writers that had given F.W. solace. The house, which had once echoed with the sounds of laughter, now resonated with his sorrow.
F.W. proclaimed ‘for those with the spirit for which Plaintive House is intended, admission is free’. And there were such visitors, those for whom the house was a place of melancholic beauty, constructed for the quiet reflection of the broken soul.
For the new owners of F.W.’s fun fair and the board of his company ‘Plaintive House’ was, respectively, an eyesore and an embarrassment. The two organisations plotted together to have F.W.’s house closed, convincing the local authorities that the house was detrimental to the mental health of both its visitors and its owner.
F.W. and ‘Plaintive House’ disappeared behind a new and even taller fence, withdrawing from the world completely.
F.W. remained hidden and the rumour mill once again ground into life. The board were quick to presume him dead, his corpse lost deep within a tomb of his own construction. They eagerly claimed his business interests, but left ‘Plaintive House’, as a ‘memorial’. In fact, they hoped that if F.W. hadn’t already died within, he wouldn’t want to leave the confines of his beloved house.
Time continues to pass, year upon year, ‘Plaintive House’ stands empty, the paint peeling from the walls, the marble letters weathered by the sea air.
There are stories, whispers that tell of those who have been asked beyond the tall fence. It is said that those who have lost a love, suffer from melancholy or like F.W., those whose duty has denied them their happiness, may one day receive an invitation to ‘Plaintive House’.
I found a rusty robot in an old car trunk, I fixed her up nice, but she brought me bad luck.
I set her to work building machines to farm; she built a harvester with a rotating arm. The arm was too long and hit an overhead line; the driver was injured and sued me for every dime.
I put her on a contract in car manufacture; she used mild steel and caused the chassis to fracture.
I sent her to work on an offshore rig; she severed a tension leg and caused the whole thing to sink.
I paid a feller to sell her off for scrap, I waved her goodbye but she found her way back.
I tried to destroy her with club, bomb and gun, chucked her into a furnace as hot as the sun. I danced as she burned, but I had forgot, the furnace’s safety valve was maintained by that ‘bot.
Now I’m broke and the explosion blew up my home and took my limbs clean off, leaving me dependant on this old robot that brings me nothing but bad luck.
I couldn’t help but notice that the subject of editing has cropped up a lot on tw*tter this last couple of weeks. This might be a result of the nanowrimo (if I have that right), lots of tidying up going on. In a timely coincidence I have been listening to Burroughs tape cut-ups and indulging in some cutting up of my own, on my (virtual) ‘wheels of steel’.
All of this cutting and mixing has me thinking about that old chestnut – editing. For my Friday Flash this week, in a painful and time consuming experiment, I have taken all of my previous #FF(es), pasted them into a word file, mixed them up, shook them about and remixed into a new flash. Hopefully it stands up on its own and if you’ve been kind enough to read my past posts it might raise a flicker of recognition and perhaps a chuckle.
‘We are in midst of a universal recession’, so they keep telling me. This is not the most reassuring phrase a girl can hear having drunkenly caned her inheritance on worthless deep space real estate. To be specific the ‘guppy’ shaped Mars moon – Phobos.
I figured there was two ways to resolve this knotty problem:
1) Slowly hemorrhage the last of my cash and settle back into a dope inspired agoraphobia and daytime TV addiction.
2) Take the last of said funds, hire a rocket ship, some terraforming machines and reconfigure the landscape of said real estate in to prime, radiation free habitat.
Despite the initial urge, to take the personal oblivion option, I plumped for the latter. In times like these one has to adapt ones practices, shit happens.
I found my ideal business colleague in Captain Tomaso, who I had met in a chance encounter in the bar of a cheap hotel in Kings Cross. The Captain had found himself in dire straits, having blown his deep space pioneering profits on a number of risky investments, sponsored celebrity breast augmentations and arms deals. He was my kind of guy.
Hastily putting together a cut-throat team of corporate astronauts, we took to the skies in Tomaso’s bright yellow spaceship with go faster stripes – jet engines engaged, flame on!
Space travel, as it turns out, is tedious as fuck! Off we boldly went through light years of tedium and copious amounts of fags. To pass the time Captain Tomaso and I liaised frequently and intimately, which ultimately resulted in our two kids Polly and Max. Deep space travel it seems has a strange effect on childbirth and our offspring grew at an accelerated rate. It was around this time that I stopped sleeping.
Some insomnia induced blackouts later , we reached my own little patch of the milky-way, Phobos.
Phase 1 of my business plan was to come in, remove any unwanted residue, unstable tectonics and former inhabitants, then get busy with the terraforming. The only spanner in the works was the mystical diagrams we found carved into the Phobian regiloth, no biggie.
Phase 1 started well, on program, on budget; so some of the crew disappeared, also no biggie, I could deal with that in Phase 2.
We first ran into real problems when Tomaso failed to co-ordinate properly with the crew in regard to their share scheme. Phobos is a long way for a contractor to go without getting paid, but you can’t do everything right?
After the crews first pop at a bloody mutiny, Tomaso requested that he return home to Bavaria in one of the escape pods. For services rendered, the corporation (me) promised to ‘make full redundancy payment at the statutory rate’. Yeah right.
Polly and Max were so very distraught to see their Mother upset at losing her colleague, business partner and lover. Maybe I shouldn’t have given the kids guns.
Following the sad demise of my former colleague; came that whole thing with the Great Gak, leader of the native critters, who, as it turned out, were the artists behind those mystical diagrams. I would of never have thought they could cause so much trouble, wrecking the machines, even killing the armed squad I sent in, I mean, seriously no-one could of seen that coming, I was in no way liable.
With the crew now dead, the machines destroyed, I guess the kids saw my business plan and their inheritance pissing away at a rate of knots. Not standing on ceremony they took off in the yellow space ship with the go faster stripes. I couldn’t blame them, if I hadn’t been detained at the wrong end of a spear, I would have done the same.
My internment consisted of many, repetitive, Phobian length days, constructing pyramids in honor of the Great Gak. The odds of my being rescued rapidly deteriorated 6:1, 13:1, 23:1, 100:1.
It was in this pit of despair that I had my epiphany, realising, in a moment of insufferable boredom and unrelenting fatigue, that the last moments of your life are no time for cowardice; I tore my right eye out. Holding the bleeding orb up to my captors’ cephalic eye, I screamed in defiance ‘no-one fucks with this bitch, on my patch!’
It seems the Great Gak responds well to self-harm in the face of adversity, after some physically agonising Phobian bonding sessions, Phase 2 of my business plan was enabled.
Phase 2 involves my private army of Phobian natives armed to the teeth and set to work on key strategic points across the United States of Mars. A few governmental takeovers later and bam! The subsequent inter-galatic wars that I have programmed will ensure that, what was once a worthless rugby ball-shaped rock; will become some prime-ass intergalactic investment.
This flash was brought to you by sentences, words and general steez from these previous posts:
Plus some words to fill in the gaps.
If you’ve read all/any of these then you have my sincere thanks and, when I see you, the drinks are most definitely on me.
X flicks a disposable lighter in front of his eyes obscuring the starlight with a bright orange flame. The echo of ignition leaves a visual echo of light across his retinas.
X’s girl D joins him in the garden she wears heavy plastic clogs and drags her feet in a way that her mother would have hated. D watches X repeat his star blanking ritual several times before interrupting, ‘got a light?’ she asks, planting a cigarette between her thin lips.
X lights her cigarette, then pulls a cigarette from behind his ear like a cut-price conjurer palming a coin, ‘ta-da!’
‘Your full of tricks tonight’ D mumbles from behind her cigarette.
‘It’s a magical night’ smiles X, he traces a figure of eight in the air with his finger, ‘behold’, a small spaceship appears on the palm of his hand. The ship is bright yellow with white go-faster stripes, the ships jets glow with a warm red light, illuminating his handsome face.
‘Cool ship, where’s it going?’ asks D.
‘The Cephalic region’ X asserts, pulling the car back as if primed to launch from an invisible catapult.
‘What’s Cephalic?’ D asks.
‘It means on or near the head!’ exclaims X launching the ship toward D’s head.
‘Hey!’ squeals D, the little ship bounces off of her head and ricochets off into the night sky.
‘That wasn’t very nice’ she said rubbing the side of her head, ‘no nookie for you tonight’.
On board the DSS Cephalic Rover warning sirens blare and red lights flash, plumes of smoke fill the bridge.
‘Damage report’ Captain Tomaso coughs into the comms mic.
‘Lost port engines in the collision sir, we can’t maintain containment stability’ Petro the ship’s engineer yells back through crackles of radio static.
‘Initiate emergency landing procedures’ the Captain cries, sweat pouring down his face. All Captains undertake emergency scenarios in training, but on such a cushy routine flyer, he had never expected to put his training into practice.
‘Emergency landing procedures!!’ Petro barked his orders across the engine room, ‘all crew to positions’.
‘All crew to positions’ the Captain re-affirmed, the crew stopped running chaotically around the bridge and braced for an emergency landing.
Duck tentatively slid his hand across the frost-stiffened grass toward the small of Karen’s back. This had been the first time they had been alone together, and where better than to be smoking dope on Perry hill. The hill he had always thought of as his special place away from the world.
Karen breathed a contented sigh, expelling a vast cloud of hash smoke into the cold air, this is the moment Duck thought, it’s now or never.
‘Captain, it’s Petro, the landing gear is blown, it’s going to be an uncontrolled land…’ Petro’s last words were snatched away by the roar of the ships engines exploding. The comm cut to a deathly silence.
‘Petro… Petro?’ The Captain strapped himself in, he had to be brave for his crew and for himself. The last seconds of your life are no time for cowardice. Taking a deep breath, he activated the comm. ‘Ladies and Gentleman, our engines and landing gear have failed, we are going to crash, may I say it’s been a pleasure serving with all of you… may the Gods help us’.
The explosion that had begun in the engine room shot up through the engineering ducts of the DSS Cephalic, engulfing the ship in a brilliant white fireball.
‘Karen…’ Duck edged closer to her, the alcohol and dope had fuelled him with an inflated sense of bravado and optimism. The voice of his consciousness had lost all sense of polite inhibition and now screamed at him ‘DO IT NOW, NOW MAN, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!’
Duck drew his arm back in preparation, poised to swoop around Karen’s shoulders in a grandiose romantic gesture. He would draw her to him in one swift and passionate movement, they would look into each other’s eyes, smile at each other and then…
‘Fuckin’ hell! Duck look at that!’ Karen shot to her feet excitedly pointing at a bright white light trailing across the night sky.
The light shot across the inky blackness and disappeared beyond the horizon of Perry hill.
‘Duck a shooting star, did you see? You have to make a wish Duck’. Karen waved her spliff maniacally in the air, showering the pair of them in glowing orange hot rocks.
Duck had already made his wish, but it hadn’t come true. It was in that moment that he knew their relationship would forever be platonic.
‘Buck up Duck!’ Karen laughed, thumping him on the arm, she passed him the joint and grinned, in the way only Karen could.
Perhaps, thought Duck, nursing the bruise forming on his arm, that’s a good thing.
I very rarely post anything that isn’t in some way a fiction, I normally enjoy writing stories that (hopefully) leave the reader with something to think about, maybe even alter the way they look at the world. For a change I am posting something that is autobiographical, but retains the same aims.
Today I was faced (as I have been every year for some years now) with six teenage boys, hair cropped short, regulation white shirt and black trousers, ready to embark on their two years service as missionaries. As I looked at the boys nervously clutching their box of pamphlets, I was reminded of me at their age. I remember that feeling of excitement mixed with the feeling of nausea at the pit of my stomach. Recalling that particularly uneasy feeling, I decided to tell the boys a story of my early days in the mission in an attempt to lift their spirits. I told them of the event that, not only helped me understand the great things one can achieve as a missionary, but also shaped the rest of my life.
Seeing the look on their faces after I told my story, I thought perhaps I should write it down to share with others, so I’m posting it here on my blog. I hope you enjoy it and maybe you might like to send a link to anyone in the community that you think might benefit from it.
At the time I was at college, living in a shared dorm. In the room next door to me was a student from Bavaria (I forget his name now, which is terrible I know). Things weren’t going so well for him, he was flunking class and homesick, he would go days without leaving his room. I remember he would always play Smiths songs over and over; the sound of ‘Hatful of Hollow’ would drift through the thin walls well into the night.
After my neighbor hadn’t turned up to class for a couple of weeks, I thought I would drop by. I was eager to do a good deed by lending an understanding ear and perhaps even share some of the teachings with him to help ease his troubles.
After knocking for quite some time he eventually came to the door. Although I don’t remember his name, I will never forget the way he looked, hair tousled, dirty clothes thrown around his skinny frame and heavy bags under his eyes. His room was bare save for a mattress, a pile of dirty clothes and take out cartons.
I had been studying the ‘Miracle of the Seven Sisters’ at the time. Considering the stutter I had as a teenager the ‘ssstory of the ssseven ssssissters’ wasn’t the most dynamic one I could have told, but I managed to get through it fast enough not to stumble over my words too much.
He listened politely, but didn’t seem very interested. However, when I reached the part of the story about the fifth sister, how she at her time of greatest personal success, had sacrificed so much for her sisters, his ears seemed to perk up.
When I parted with him that evening, the record stylus was slowly cutting a groove into the label in the centre of the Smith’s album, so I knew I had made an impression of sorts.
When I was told that he wouldn’t be returning to class I became very worried that my teachings had fallen on deaf ears, or worse still I had led him down the wrong path altogether. I feared for him and even added him to my nightly prayers.
I found out that the very day after I had talked to him, he had returned home to Bavaria. It turned out that he had several sisters himself, and his mother, alone after his father’s death, had been taken ill. Although I will never know for sure, I felt my teachings had helped him to make the decision to return home to care for his family.
It was this event that led to me moving into the community full time and some years later, taking the role of supervisor for the young missionaries. Not only had the miracle of the seven sisters had an effect on my neighbor, but also myself and (I hope) the many young missionaries that have been in my care since my graduation.
‘Smoke some more fags’ my colleague urges me, ‘the ash makes it burn slower’.
My colleague and I are smoking z grade crack from a pipe fashioned out of a plastic coke bottle and a foil kit kat wrapper.
We are holed up in a cheap hotel in the crappy end of Kings Cross. Our crack smoking is interspersed with cheap booze, plus copious amounts of fags, joints and the occasional blackout.
It hasn’t always been this way, only a few years ago my colleague and I were in the peak of physical and mental fitness. We were corporate astronauts on a sponsored mission to Phobos. Hailed as the last true pioneers, explorers into the furthest reaches of space, heroes. That was until that whole thing.
As I start to remember the events that led us here I quickly down half a can of syrupy lager. Sensing my pain, my colleague hastily skins up.
Down on the street below the sound of the mob grows louder, jeers, the roar of flame, policemen shouting through megaphones, trying in vain to control the murderous masses.
‘Turn the TV up again’ suggests my colleague; shuffling over to the portable, I spin the volume knob as high as it will go.
The repeat of the comedy panel show we had been watching is interrupted by a news flash, we see our photos on the screen, shots of the mob outside.
The newscaster recaps the history of our mission, the launch attended by thousands of cheering people, our sponsors eagerly telling viewers that we are the pride of the nation. As the newscaster goes on to retell of our misfortune on Phobos, his face drops into a scowl.
‘Turn this shit over’ mutters my colleague, ‘and pass us the stuff’.
My colleague loads the pipe while outside the noise grows louder. I hear windows breaking downstairs, the police had lost the battle, or just given up, the mob were now entering the building.
‘Fuck it mate anyone can make a mistake right?’ says my colleague exhaling a lungful of smoke. ‘Here, try not to think about that whole thing’.
I smoke in rapid bursts, coughing hard, a deep bark that makes my eyes water. Regardless I smoke more, we had been abusing ourselves like this for about two months now, ever since we returned. A desperate bid to try to quell the nausea we had felt since the breakout, the breakout that we had inadvertently caused.
I toke deeply, holding the smoke in my lungs for as long as I can. Perhaps when the mob get here the narcotics might deaden the pain of a thousand angry Londoners beating the living crap out of us.
If only we hadn’t if only we had gone East instead of West, not found that box, not brought it back with us, not caused the…
‘Don’t, don’t think about it Ad, we couldn’t have known, it’s just one of things… shit happens mate’. My colleague snaps me out of the sickening spiral of thoughts that have looped endlessly around my head ever since we opened the box.
The voices grow louder now, I can hear footsteps thumping up the stairs, soon the room door will burst open, the mob will flood in. Any minute now the vengeance of many will descend upon us.
‘I think were out of fags Ad’.
In deep space redundancy is a matter of life and death. The Corporation had issued a bombshell missive in regard to the fiscal downturn currently being experienced back on Earth.
Due to the current climate we have been forced to make some difficult decisions about the feasibility of the Phobos monolith mission. After careful consideration we have come to the painful conclusion that we will have to make some of our posts redundant. We are deeply sorry that it has come to this, however as I am sure you are aware we are in midst of a universal recession and unfortunately we will have to adapt our business practices if the corporation is to survive. We do hope that you understand that the choices we have had to make have been difficult and that your families will be compensated by a redundancy payment at the universal statutory rate.
I guess they meant that whole thing about difficult choices and the missive seemed sincere.
‘Old Silverback’ our line manger called us all into the canteen; I swear he had lost some hair overnight with the stress.
The strain showed on the faces of the crew, the usually raucous atmosphere replaced with a sullen air of fear and desperation. Chinese whispers drifted cruelly across the room turning the artificial air into a dense fog of paranoia and accusation.
‘Old Silverback’ had just finished a conference call with the board when he floated uncomfortably into the room.
‘There ain’t no good way to say this so I’m just going to get on with it, the corporation has made five of our posts redundant’.
The unspoken malaise in the room grumbled into audibility.
‘It’s not right I know, but the corporation has promised to make full redundancy payment at statutory rate’.
The room erupted into a fit of bitching and moaning, ‘Old Silverback’ waited patiently for the mumbling to die down. ‘The corporation has left it up to us as to who to cut, I can’t see any other way of doing it ‘cept democratically, Nate, bring in the sticks’.
Boson Nathan Green floated in from the kitchen holding a vacuum jar filled with chopsticks.
The crew instinctively knew what would happen next, without speaking they unclipped themselves from the canteen benches and drifted into a single file line leading up to the boson. Each in turn taking a chopstick from the vacuum jar.
‘Old Silverback’ drew the last of the chopsticks and counted down from five. The crew held their sticks up at the end of the count. Each and everyone of them held their breath until they had surveyed the room, studiously comparing the length of their ‘straw’ to the others.
The five holders of the shortest sticks wept, hugged their friends, said a prayer and moved toward the airlock. ‘Old Silverback’ himself was one of the five; he led them in a dignified silence.
Despite the initial uproar, they had all known the risks. The promise of a lifetimes pay for a ten year mission, they had all been briefed on the contract terms. At least this way their families would be catered for, even if it was only at the statutory rate.
* In the boardroom back on Earth, the directors watched the unlucky five being catapulted into the inky blackness of space.
‘Well that went well don’t you think?’ the MD asked the executive directors.
‘Yes I think so, the savings we made will continue to maximise our profit margin’ replied the financial director.
‘Do you think they realised?’ the operations director asked.
‘How could they know we hadn’t budgeted for the full journeys resources? I am sure they bought that whole recession spiel’ the MD asserted. ‘How do you think they will take the news that there will be only enough fuel to bring two of them back with the monolith?’
‘They’re contractors, if they don’t like it we aren’t legally liable to give a shit’ replied the HR director.
‘That’s what I pay you for’ smiled the MD.
I have a confession to make; I collect science fiction novels.
My obsession began around five years ago when my friend demanded I read Philip K Dick’s ‘Time out of Joint’. From then on I was well and truly hooked, my conscious floating deep somewhere within the universes of Messer’s Banks, Harrison and Lem. A constantly changing SF Masterworks cover had appeared where my face once was.
Sci-fi itself was nothing new to me; my childhood memories are punctuated by ‘2000AD’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Logan’s Run’, and Disney’s ‘Black Hole’. But my lifelong fascination was polarized when, after moving house aged 10, I inherited a left behind copy of ‘Spacewreck’. A glossy hard cover of crashed space ship illustrations, each image suggesting a wealth of untold narrative, which is forever etched onto my imagination.
It is perhaps due to the hours spent endlessly thumbing through my copy of ‘Spacewreck’ that I have always enjoyed eagerly browsing the crates of sci-fi novels that sat outside the second hand bookshops in Charing Cross. Each book preceded by the sometimes surreal – sometimes cheesy images, which suggest a narrative often more engaging than that which lay beyond the cover.
The Amazon sponsored credit card bill that had resulted from my new fiction addiction, had now given me a legitimate excuse for taking home a handful of these dog-eared curios.
Like all good acquisitive hobbies, my sci-fi novel collection has mutated into a fairly un-healthy obsession. Now the second hand bookshop is a mandatory part of each and every excursion, shopping trip and even holiday.
I have developed a set of terminal collector’s symptoms, cold sweats, racing pulse and excessive salivation now occurs on contact with the second hand book emporium. I have even worked up a system for my crate rifling. First running through the author’s names to pick out any of the highly prized items – the endless back catalogues of Pohl and Harrison or anything by the Strugatsky Brothers (my current holy grail). Then picking books by age, publisher and finally randomly browsing the selection by grabbing a handful at a time and shuffling through them like a deck of cards.
Ideally there should be a fusion of both intriguing story and fantastic cover. But the ‘cover is king’ and quite often just a wild image and back cover synopsis to suit is enough for it to become part of my home dominating library.
Recently I was lucky enough to go for a holiday in Vancouver, where my
understanding girlfriend, (herself partial to the odd Harrison or Wyndham), allowed me to hijack a few days of our precious holiday in search of second hand bookshops.
Oh, and I found some. This is a shot of the sci-fi section of ‘pulp fiction books‘ in
Vancouver, just one of a number of the number of treasure troves I found while I was there.
You will have to excuse the shaky focus, that’s me quaking with excitement.
Cutting to the chase, here are some of the books I picked up both in Vancouver and in my more recent bank holiday trip to (the slightly less exotic) Kent Coast, which have got my heart pounding. These covers and tag lines also tie in quite neatly with some of my current sf writing obsessions…
‘Joymakers’ by James Gunn
Pleasure was the hedonists business. Hedonics Inc., started small. All you had to do was dial P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E. Then everybody wanted it.
‘Lathe of Heaven’ by Ursula Le Guin
George must dream and dream again, forever seeking utopia, until the fabric of the existence must itself collapse…
Skylark of Space by E.E. Doc Smith
With his cold intelligence and the backing of a giant industrial combine, DeQuense and three others – two of them women – were marooned, countless light years from Earth, with only one chance in a million of ever returning…
Fourth Mansions by R.A Rafferty
a weird over-view of reality, in a story of:
Seven very special people blending to create a higher form of humanity;
A laughing man living alone on a mountaintop, guarding the world;
The returnees, men who live again and again, century after century;
Spending my waking life in front of a computer combined with being a habitual mistake-ist made the undo button my best friend, no, my lover, no, my soulmate. No, undo.
I could not comprehend my existence without the ability to instantly rectify disastrous computing errors via the click of a mouse or the punch of two simultaneous keys.
I lived and died by the undo function, it saved my life more times than… undo.
So prolific was my use of the curly blue arrow, I found myself reaching for it in physical and social situations. My fingers floundering to find the invisible shortcut icon, to take back that bad choice, fix that broken plate. To be able to physically revert back to the moment prior to my mistake, to have looked after I leap.
I trawled the web like a furtive scholar in a gothic fiction, a sweaty Lovecraftian protagonist in a tireless search of secret knowledge. A search to obtain the power to undo. Google became my ancient leather bound library of alchemy, spells and science. After many sleepless nights I found what I sought, mystical circuit diagrams for machines to enable entry into parallel universes. Access to simultaneous existences where infinite possibilities of choice become corporeal.
The commissioning of my machine could not have come at a better time. One too many drinks after work and harboured secrets gushed out of my drunken mouth before conscious thought could kick in.
With one click of my virtual Ctrl+Z I was spared a night of sleepless paranoia.
The next day, my hangover inspired orgy of error, which would have otherwise caused a major professional malfunction…. soon null and void thanks to the my possibility flexing friend.
So reliable was my radionics powered undo engine, that I felt comfortable enough to purposely commit gross faux pas. I spoke my mind to figures of authority, spilt drinks on people who bored me and generally committed random acts of wanton negligence. It became a sport for me, I pushed new boundaries in the art of error.
Undo, undo, undo, undo, undo, undo.
Have you ever made a series of computational entries only to realise that they were in error? Felt the need to retrace your steps back, back, back until suddenly you can go no further? I have done this many times, experienced that sinking feeling, the point of no return, so many steps back until suddenly being unable to go no further. That terrifying moment, desperately clicking my mouse, sending toolbars into chaos and disarray. Sadly for me, such moments I had forgotten when designing my machine.
By replicating the exact conditions of the function, limitations and all, I soon found myself repeatedly hitting my virtual blue arrow until my machine froze and finally crashed.
Now each of my anti-social, business wrecking, intentional mistakes act out their unstoppable repercussions.
Desperately I flounder, reaching for that blue arrow, only to find it greyed out, an error message repeatedly flashing – can’t undo.
We hadn’t heard from Adam for weeks. I know he gets caught up with work, they like to keep him busy. But he’s almost always up for a beer at least one night a week.
We know he had a new phone that he was moaning about not being able to use, that’s probably why he never replied to my texts. He usually answers his emails though, maybe he forgot his password again, they’re all about a thousand letters long.
The thing that really worried us was his tweet ‘really not happy with the way things are, can’t carry on this way’.
We made a load of pissed phone calls to him from the pub that night to try and force him to come down the pub. When he didn’t answer Dave came up with the idea of breaking into his flat, we were convinced that he was going to top himself or something.
The back window was open, so we gave Dave a bunk-up, when he got inside he let us in the front door.
At this point we realised that if we had broken in while he was in bed with his girlfriend or something we’d all feel pretty stupid. But he’d do the same for us if he was worried right? As it was, there was no-one in.
Looking around we found a stack of stuff lying on his desk. In our heads we’d geared ourselves up to find a suicide note or maybe a plane ticket to Mongolia or something, instead we found these:
A copy of a book called The Joymakers by James E. Gunn
A print of some dodgy web article – freaky-physics-proves-parallel-universes
A print of a wikipedia page about a cosmonaut called Sergei Avdeyev
Another print out off the web for something called the ‘Etheric Portal Plus Supreme’
A receipt from a fancy dress store with ‘astronaut’ written on it,
A post-it with ‘initiated by sunlight’ written in red biro.
We took the stuff we found home and made some strong coffee, we sat going trying to make sense of it until the sun came up. Then we went for a walk along the Romford beaches, the weather was proper nice, really sunny but with a breeze coming in off the sea.
It wasn’t till midday that Me, Dave and Karen realised that not only had none of us remembered to go to work, but none of us had got any shitty phone calls asking us why we hadn’t turned up.
We went to the little cafe on the beachfront, we had a decent fry-up and they forgot to charge us for it, touch! After that we went for a swim and slept all afternoon.
It was pretty weird of Adam to disappear like that and we were all well vexed about all that funny shit we found on his desk.
Come to think of it, I don’t remember there being any beaches in Romford yesterday.
My scifi flash ‘a girl in every port’ has been published on 365tommorrows –
I have also entered this as my #Fridayflash if you want to comment please do here.
The ‘bots are uploading gossip about me. This time they’re going to send an error report to my line manager , I know it.
Ok so the terraform was my project, I admit that maybe I could of made a better job of it, kept my eye on the ball. Maybe they’re right, I did fail to co-ordinate between contractors, but you can’t do everything right?
The project started well, on programme, on budget and the client was pleased as punch with our work, it was just a little oversight on my part, no biggie.
The spec was simple and I followed it nearly to the letter, oceans, continents, a balance between habitable land and wilder areas to encourage diversity. It was pretty much to terraform standard, just a few variations.
Ok so I got some of the colour schemes wrong, but, I will say the purple deserts were quite attractive, I don’t care what those anal colour ‘bots say, I really don’t.
The real problem was the cleaners, they were supposed to come in and remove any unwanted residue, dangerous foliage, unstable tectonics, former inhabitants, that sort of thing. I had booked them to come in before we started; it’s not my fault they hadn’t turned up.
That’s the problem of employing cheap human labour to do ‘bots work. What was I supposed to do? We had milestones to meet, performance indicators, graphs on the wall and all that, I had to push the job through.
The engineering consultant was pretty unfair in what he said I think, yeah so there are a few dead bodies here and there, so a few robot teams never made it back. All things considered, it could of been worse, we haven’t populated yet.
Who would of known how the terraforming process would affect those little critters like it did. They were an un-evolved species; they even looked cute before they got caught up in the processing, it could of gone either way.
Seriously I wouldn’t of thought those critters could cause so much trouble, wrecking the machines, destroying the landscaping ‘bots, even killing the armed security squad I sent in, I mean, seriously no-one could of known that.
I will sort it out before the population lands though. I’ve got a good couple of hours left and I’ve hired a flame-thrower from facilities.
I will make good my mistakes, I always do. Give it six weeks or so it will all be water under the bridge, again.
The kids are playing with their ray guns again, running around the house in noisy circles. This weeks noises are a series of short, sharp ‘pi-hews’, replacing last weeks ‘doo- doo-doos’.
‘What are you shooting at?’
‘Invaders Dad, they’re called the Gak’ is the answer I’m given, complete with an unspoken ‘obviously!’
Reluctantly I think to myself, Tam was right, she said we shouldn’t have given the kids guns. Well, at least it’s better than the lightsabers, I had visions of them prizing each others eyes out with those things.
I can’t help thinking though, Max looks a little subdued, ‘What’s up doc?’
‘We’re loosing’, he said somewhat downcast, ‘we tried to rally them on the stairs, but they got the better of us, we lost the ground we made earlier this week. Another few stairs and they’ll be in the hall’.
‘It’ll be alright tiger, how about an ambush? You could hide in the cupboard under the stairs, pop out and shoot them through the bannisters’.
Max considered this, then briefed his sister, their faces stoic, serious beyond their years. ‘That’s it!’ exclaimed Polly, ‘We could slaughter them!’ She takes after her Mother that way.
That night when I (finally) got back from work, the kids looked exhausted, they were stroppy with us and bickering with each other, all the usual signs of being over-tired.
I put them to bed early in an effort to sustain peace. As I tuck them in, Max asks me, in deadly earnest, ‘Dad, is it wrong to kill? even if those you kill, well, even if they’re bad?’
‘It’s always wrong to kill Max, even if the people are bad’ (In the moral spotlight now, gotta perform). ‘Even if people do bad things, you shouldn’t kill them, you should be forgiving, understanding’.
‘What if they wanted to hurt a lot of people though? What if they wanted to enslave everyone, us, you and Mum, if we had a chance to kill them all, wipe them out, shouldn’t we do it?’
Sometimes the kids scare me with their sincerity, where did they get a word like ‘enslave’ from?
‘You should always try to understand other people’s point of view, even if it doesn’t seem right’ (There, that’s good Fatherly advice, isn’t it?).
‘Hmm, ok Dad’.
With that I was off the hook and off to the fridge for a well earned beer or two, as I walked downstairs I could hear the two of them mumbling to each other.
That morning, Max and Polly were waiting for me at the foot of the stairs, ‘Are you sure Dad? About what you said last night?’ Polly asked.
‘Yes, of course, we should all be understanding, being understanding and forgiving is what makes the world a better place’. (Nice, there’s a philosophy we can all benefit from, wise words from the father figure, high five!).
Max looked at Polly, Polly at Max, ‘Ok Dad, if your sure’.
‘Sure I’m sure’.
I returned home from work that evening to find Max and Polly, my children, in chains at the foot of our stairs. They had been condemned to slavery, this I soon learned was the first decree of the Great Gak. Considering the genocide my daughter had planned for them, I guess it could have been worse.
Despite our rational protestations and our subsequent irrational escape attempts, Tam and I were clapped in irons at the wrong end of a long spear.
Some painful and gruelling weeks later, the two of us, exhausted beyond description, are chained to a work gang in Crystal Palace. Barbed Gak whips crack around our heads as we are forced to shunt vast pyramid building blocks across South London, forced to construct a pyramid in honour of the Great Gak. This was the second decree of the Great Gak, the leader of the invading alien forces that had arrived through a portal at the top of our stairs. The same invading alien forces who could have been scared off on their arrival by two fierce looking children with plastic ray guns.
As the chains bite into my skin, continually drawing blood and the weight of the huge stone block breaks my back, I think to myself… I really should keep my big mouth shut.
I finally have to admit it to myself, the job that started out as a stopgap has become my career by default. I can still remember my interview.
‘So Miss Mercer, where do you see yourself in five years time?’
Myoko my flatmate, as volatile as the volcano that was her namesake, demanded that I find employment or else lose my overpriced and undersized laminate floored bedsit. Reluctantly forcing myself out of months of dope inspired agoraphobia and daytime tv addiction, I squeezed on my court shoes, printed out my wildly exaggerated cv and hit the agencies.
Settling for a position (well I say settling, I was hardly flooded with opportunity) with DeAth, DeAth & Quim Holdings, I was assigned a number of ‘administrative’ duties. That is to say, tea making, filing, scanning and the occasional brush with the executive washroom.
Some months into my job I had progressed to data entry, I was a mouse jockey, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v, ctrl c, ctrl v….
I would console myself with the mantra ‘Everybody’s got to make a living’, like the sample in that old eight-ball garage tune. But the slow and systematic mental abuse of sheer mundanity had begun to take hold. Where did I see myself in five years? Not still here that’s for sure.
Two years in, every day the same now, project upon project, deadline upon deadline, every one seemingly the same. The mad rush to submit on time and the hollow feeling you get in your gut when you realise that no-one will ever read that report you stayed late all week to finish.
By now I had surpassed the early days of employer suspicion, internet use monitoring and wristwatch tapping after fag breaks. As vocationally unskilled as I was, I had tentatively carved myself a niche, a position of trust.
Three years in, I had responsibility, my own staff, workers, duped by their own belief that this was only a stopgap while they worked out ‘what they wanted to do when they grew up’, suckers!
It was during the fourth year of my internment, the long and repetitive days stretching eternally before me, that I had my epiphany.
In a moment of insufferable boredom and unrelenting fatigue I tore my right eye out with a staple remover. As the blood seeped between the qwerty letters on my keyboard, the intensity of my pain brought about a new clarity to my career development. I began to take an active interest in the company, attending board meetings, reading stock reports and studying investment performance. From my escalated position I set up some investments on my own initiative, insolvency buy outs, sponsored celebrity breast augmentations, arms dealing and the odd coups d’etat, the bloodier the better.
Five years in, I sit at the head of a boardroom table carved from virgin Amazonian timber, in a chair fashioned from whalebone and ivory. Human skull paperweights sit atop piles of unpaid vat and corporation tax bills. My staff have developed into a crack team of corporate cut-throats, ruled under my iron fist. No-one fucks with the bitch with the eye patch! Least of all the former Company owners DeAth, DeAth and Quim, who were given a buyout offer they simply couldn’t refuse.
Ask me again where I see myself in five years time, go on! I have a five year business plan in place now. Phase one, the the purchase of worthless deep space real estate. Phase two involves my private army of mercenaries, armed to the teeth and stationed at key strategic points throughout the world. A few governmental takeovers later and bam! The subsequent inter-continental wars that I have programmed will ensure that the worthless rock I own on Mars and Titan will become prime, radiation free habitat.
Give it another five years who knows?
The house of math is lined with blackboards; from outside I can hear the tipetty-tap-tap of chalk on hard, cold surfaces, occasionally a protracted slide, the product of a multiplication problem underlined in one smooth stroke.
I can almost see the white dust hanging in the air, the stained fingertips, the length of chalk growing smaller and smaller till fingers scratch the surface of the board.
Escape is easy, if you know how, calculate the position where the window should be, the co-ordinates of how high up one is in the building, the probability of surviving the jump to the ground below.
Perhaps you could calculate the odds of being rescued, 6:1, 13:1, 23:1, 100:1, tippety tap tippetty tap.
If those calculations are unworkable, perhaps you could appraise the force required to weaken the structure? create a fissure, compute the stress and strain, what force is needed to fracture the walls that bind you?
What is your margin of error?
What is your escape velocity?
How long is infinity?
The house of math is my house; at this precise moment in time I have a man trapped inside there. This is what I enjoy, ‘how I get my kicks’, especially when that man has Dyscalculia.
I feel like I have been here before, the dark twisted thoughts of self-loathing, the nausea in my stomach, the mixture of blood and flour on my face, the arcane symbols written on the white walls in freshly squeezed squid ink.
A man called ‘Proof’ had asked me to cast out the demons that haunted him, he ‘wanted everything to be alright’, to be able to ‘get over it’. The price he pays me is high, very high in fact, the price I pay, the pieces of my soul that I fritter away working my mojo on his behalf is far greater.
My add in the personals has had far greater return than I at first imagined, my sub-standard working life revolutionised by my ability to earn without a ‘day job’, an independent woman. This started out as means to an end, nothing selfish intended, now I fear I have grown greedy, will they grant my requests on this man’s behalf, or will I have of maxed out my credit this time?
I begin the incantation; I have the familiar loss of control, my body ridden by spirits. My palms sweat, my teeth grind, my pupils rotate wildly; the acid taste fills my mouth.
The secret language spills from my lips, ancient words that I have learnt from hours of furtive study from mouldy books with yellowing pages. I urge those that I cannot see to loan me their power so that I may rid my client of his torment. I draw the final lines in squid ink, air rushes into the room, the artefacts of the man called ‘Proof’ begin decompose before my eyes.
No, this is not right, not familiar now; the ink is beginning to run down the walls, I feel a sharp tug at the pit of my stomach, tinnitus in my ear.
I see the faint outlines of faces, there are no features just dark ovals; I feel pressure on my back pushing me to my knees, ridden to heavily I buckle under the weight.
As the light begins to flow from my soul I know, I have taken too much, my debt now too great, my line of credit expired, my soul repossessed.
Following its construction some 25 years ago the ‘Wolverhampton Lid’ has finally, and justly in my opinion, been voted one of the architectural wonders of the modern world.
From above the massive structure forms a complex optical illusion, ones eyes are decived into perceiving a neo-classical bust of a Grecian woman sculpted in lines of concrete, an asphalt toga draped around her shoulders. The lines which define her features, upon closer inspection, are a network of deep trenches. The walls of each trench are lined in copper and at the bottom of each trench a copper surfaced highway, the redesigned Wolverhampton Western bypass.
To the East of the Western Bypass lies the North Ealing Sea, the giant inland body of salt water which stems from the West London Delta reaching out through what once was Watford, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Sutton Coldfield.
Far beneath the Lid’s magnificent exterior is nestled England’s finest theatre organ museum. Upon paying the modest administration fee, one can wonder through the oak panelled halls and gaze in wonder at the collection of organ ephemera on offer. Each oak panel is accessorised with an ornate brass handle, about the size of a human hand. Pull on the handle and an ornately carved oak plinth slides gracefully forth, mounted upon each plinth an antique theatre organ, Spurden-Rutt, Hope Jones, or even an original Rudolph Wurlitzer.
It is said that on a quiet day one can hear the strains of Jeepers Creepers, Claire De Lune or Alexander’s Ragtime Band drift up through the copper highways of the bypass into your car.
Magpie’s hobby was rebuilding video arcade machines; that was one of the reasons we liked him so much. His apartment was always full of huge cabinets covered in cartoon space aliens and tactile buttons. We would stay well into the small hours, our fingers hammering away on some of Atari’s finest.
To fuel his obsession Magpie would scour jumble sales, skips and tips for the electronic parts, which he would cannibalise for the guts of his cabinets. We were with him when he found the machines. He was ferreting excitedly through a box of wires and circuit boards when he found two flat plastic discs covered in tiny rocker switches, dip switches as Magpie pointed out. They looked pretty cool, but as to their function, even Magpie was at a loss.
Magpie set about dissecting, testing and randomly flicking switches, trying to work out their purpose. Knowing them as we do now, I shudder to think at the untold amount of damage he might have done. We are still trying to remember if there were any strange or catastrophic stories in the news at that time, I guess with all that goes on in the world it would be hard to tell if Magpie had been the cause.
The day we finally discovered what the machines did, we were sitting under a tree in the park. Karen and I were randomly flicking switches when the tree we were sat under disappeared. Magpie spotted the missing tree, which had materialised in the middle of the tennis courts, it was then we knew we were onto something.
It took us a while to learn how to control the machines; we started by moving little things, trees and street furniture. We began to realise that when we moved things like lampposts and telephone boxes they continued to function. We weren’t simply moving objects; we were re-configuring the landscape around us.
Before long we had moved our house from the centre of London to a private beach in Cornwall. If we wanted to pop back to the city, we simply re-configured our home back to its original plot in the city.
After a while the three of us began to use the machines to play huge scale practical jokes, making trees appear in the middle of concrete shopping centres or arranging buildings in the shape of male genitals. Karen moved her work’s office deep under the Atlantic Ocean, she was sent home on one sunny morning, her place of work having mysteriously disappeared over night. Karen spent that whole day laughing maniacally. It occurred to me; perhaps this might be how super powered villains in comic books get started.
For balance I tried to use the machines for good, breaking up urban conurbations with extracts from dense forests, I called it my ‘urban re-forestation project’. Despite my good intentions, I couldn’t escape a constant nagging thought; nothing good can really come from having such unlimited power.
Soon we became more adept in the use of the machines, our activities stepping up to the next level. Magpie moved the Statue of Liberty to the centre of Baghdad, the last word in satire he told us proudly. Not to be outdone Karen and I began a complex campaign of re-arranging famous landmarks, Nelson’s Column to the middle of the Gobi desert, the leaning tower of pizza to the centre of Tokyo, Tokyo Tower to Paris and the Eiffel Tower to the centre of Trafalgar Square.
Perhaps the funniest thing about these little pranks was the way that everyone else had responded, or rather had not, its funny how people tend to skirt over things that they don’t understand. Our global planning was complained about much in the same way as people would grumble about a rain shower or a Monday morning.
It was around that time that I stopped sleeping, I would lie awake thinking about the machines; how did they work? What had they been made for and more importantly who had made them?
Karen was the first of us to find meet Dr. Laurence David McKenzie, a name we will never be able to forget. She had taken one of the machines to generate a mountain range to replace Deptford. As Karen was configuring the dip switches the Doctor had approached and introduced himself by name. He was calm at first, pointed to the machine he asked her to kindly return his property.
Karen managed to get away by setting the rockers to displace the ground under the Doctors feet. The Doctor had broken her nose and several ribs; I will never forget the way I felt, the mixture of fear and anger gnawing at my stomach.
Magpie was the next to meet the Doctor; it was only by watching the TV news days later that we found out he had been murdered. By then we were already on the move, before Magpie had died he sent us a warning written in the landscape. Magpie had created a series of high dunes on our usually flat beach. The dunes were clearly curved into a word, what we later found out was his last word. ‘RUN!’
We ran; we are still running, we know McKenzie must have taken Magpie’s machine as each time we change our location, move city to city, continent to continent, he alters it, bringing us closer to him.
Corporation tax double entry nightmare,
Cursed squid ink cartridges BL-Y-C & M,
Circumstantial corporate voodoo,
x-tenshies of a tax definition.
Paper shredded; back up failed,
Data lost in ‘copy to folder’ limbo,
Mirosoft ppt prolapse,
x-tenshies of a tax definition.
Excel formula bad – circular reference,
Unable to update field,
See Section 23 for information,
x-tenshies of a tax definition.
Unable to save ‘File is use’
Unable to spool to printer,
Restart in 30 seconds
x-tenshies of a tax definition.
5) Stipend, Stipend & Reimburse Limited
The Managing Director of the self proclaimed ‘devil-may-care’ brokers Stipend, Stipend & Reimburse Limited prided themselves upon their knack of turning jaw dropping profits from ‘ethically challenged’ investments. Their portfolio comprised an array of Companies whose legitimate services were a thin veil for a wide range of nefarious activities, including organ trading, human trafficking, piracy, drug running and arms dealing.
Come that fateful day when the seas rose and the streets flowed with magma, the Directors of Stipend, Stipend & Reimburse Limited elected to protect their assets from the uninsurable calamity by calling in a few favours from their global interests.
As the London streets burned with the orange flames of riot and arson, the pirate ship ‘Our Feisty Emissions’ (salaried by one S, S & R Ltd) docked adjacent to Stipend, Stipend & Reimburse Limited’s Thameside offices. Dropping a series of gangplanks between the ship and the offices, the Directors loaded the ship’s hull with share certificates, bonds and IOUs.
With their assets aboard, the management team of Stipend, Stipend & Reimburse Limited quickly reached the open sea, destination ‘Fiscal Haven’, the private island owned by Managing Director Tony Cunningham MBA. Once safely anchored at ‘Fiscal Haven’, the management team would sit out the ‘storm’ and wait for interest to accrue. Sadly for the Directors of Stipend, Stipend & Reimburse Limited, ‘Our Feisty Emissions’ never reached Port.
Owing to a series of cruel and horrifying typhoons, the ships navigational equipment was destroyed and the rations were lost overboard. Faced with starvation, the pirate crew turned on the Directors, who despite desperate barging pleas, were roasted alive over a fire fuelled by share certificates, bonds and IOUs.
4) J. Recap & Sons
Jonas Recap began trading around a quarter of a century before the end of the world, established with money stolen from a terminally ill houseguest. Although the bad tempered, penny pinching and cruel Jonas enjoyed his reputation as the world’s least trustworthy businessman, it was his sons, Laurence, Robbie and James who were the real malevolent power behind the organisation. Their fierce tenacity and cutthroat capitalism was matched only by their sexual deviance.
Young Laurence Recap, a notorious peeping tom, would often be exposed drilling holes in the gentlemen’s toilet cubicles of ‘Jonas House’, their twenty-seven-storey office block. To evade the inevitable harassment suits, a number of ‘mysterious disappearances’ of the Company’s more attractive male employees was commonplace. This in turn would aid the satiation of older brother Robbie’s rampant necrophilia.
The potentially disruptive actions of the two younger Recap brothers meant that their older sibling, James, a devout abstinent, paying out of court settlements, shredding H.R. records and even disposing of bodies in the immaculately manicured office courtyard ‘Jonas Gardens’.
To keep James’ blackmail threats at bay the Brothers carried out James operational demands with tooth and claw, mercilessly shortcutting and sharp dealing in the name of the Family business. Their trademark window dangling, kneecapping, poisoning and drowning became feared throughout the Square Mile.
It was when James discovered his Father’s sexual proclivity for the ‘younger generation’ that things began to go wrong at ‘Jonas House’. With James’ powerful grip on the business now complete across the board, the rest of the family joined forces against their blackmailer.
Without sexual impetuous and renowned for his physical resilience, neither slander nor pain could be used against him, James only Achilles heel was money. So it was that Jonas and younger Sons set about exploiting this weakness by making the worst business decisions conceivable. Gambling their fortune on ludicrous patents and marshland real estate they gleefully frittered the Company’s assets away. The plan of course was to make James beg for mercy, to surrender his hold over them before they financially destroyed him. However, so impressive was the threesome’s ability to make wildly destructive financial errors that within a matter of days, much to their surprise, the Company had completely succumbed to their reverse gluttony.
As a result of this abrupt liquidation, James leapt from his office on the twenty-seventh-floor of ‘Jonas House’, landing in a crumpled heap in ‘Jonas Gardens’ below. James’ suicide came only two months before the world ended, which the Father and brothers watched from the grubby windows of low rent brothels.
3) Fogbow Plc
Fogbow plc, under the leadership of CEO Jason Thoebald Cluttebuck II, were the cruellest of employers, chaining their unfortunate employees to their workstations and selling their souls to faceless fiscal deities. During his thirteen years as CEO Clutterbuck had learned to summon countless demons to provide him with insider tip-offs in return for the occasional sacrificial temp.
Under advice Clutterbuck invested heavily in the development of ‘dark’ technologies, the curse-o-matic™, the luck adaptor© and the blame gun®. Subscribing to the school of Voodoo economics Clutterbuck saturated the market, making Fogbow the last word in domestic fate enhancing appliances.
Like many of the great inventions of the twentieth century, the filter cigarette, Zyklon B, asbestos and the mobile phone, Clutterbuck’s infernal patents went on to significantly impair the well being of those unfortunate enough to be living contemporaneously to their use. The blame gun® in particular has been cited as one of the principal causes of the riots that spread throughout the Western World during the great cataclysm.
Unlike other businesses listed here, Fogbow plc didn’t see out the end of the world in receivership. In fact I hear tell that Clutterbuck died with a smile on his face, lighting his huge cigar on the flames that licked his boardroom table, while the rest of mankind was purged for his sins.
2) S.M.E.E Corp had made an art form of tax evasion, be it VAT, Corporation tax, Income tax or PAYE their Teflon accountants ensured that not a drop of profit was spilt into the revenue man’s cup.
The HMRC were of course all too painfully aware of the liberties taken by S.M.E.E corporation, for no dishonest trader was truly above the law. As a last gasp attempt to close their account before the sun’s dying light finally extinguished forever, the Customs and Revenue appointed their most formidable revenue inspector, Peter Quibble. Quibble’s one scrupulous eye was infamous for his ability to spy even the smallest chink in an accountant’s administrational armour.
Day in day out the inspector would tirelessly audit and monitor. In his vigour, Quibble would go through bins, casting aside used tea bags and spent printer cartridges in search of evidence. He would painstakingly sello-tape together shredded documents, scratch tipex from the surface of documents, all the while knowing that Managing Director, T. Billings would be happily double entering, claiming expenses, fiddling the books and opening Swiss bank accounts.
The day the world shifted on its axis S.M.E.E submitted their end of year accounts, declaring not a penny of corporation tax. This was the last straw for the beleaguered inspector. As meteors showered down from the sky he exercised full powers of inspection, making his own double entry into the T. Billings’s skull with a S.M.E.E branded glass paperweight.
1) Info Assurance Inc was by far the most sinister Company of the ‘Big Five’. Their office walls were lined in leather panels crafted from human skin, their desks carved from the timber of the last remaining tree in the Amazon rainforest. They scratched out the letters on their keyboards, their printers were filled with cursed ink and their file prefixes were rooted in evil numerology.
Info Assurance Inc dealt in Crisis Management, their servers allegedly crammed with the amassed knowledge of mankind, the military, scientific and political, all instantly downloadable in the event of a major emergency.
As the streets ran red with blood and the hopes of mankind began to die along with their finest engineers, scientists and mathematicians, all eyes turned to Info Assurance Inc and the information held within their vast hubs.
Sadly for the fate of mankind the data cupboard was bare. Info Assurance Inc had long ago exhausted their client’s money on hookers, firewater, lawsuits and esoterica, thereby failing to invest in any back-up provisions. As the Earth cracked and crumbled the remaining leaders of the world were shocked to find the emails they sent to Info Assurance Inc bounced back, their phone numbers to be unobtainable and their fax machine number not recognised.
C/Line 1: Your circuits are currently experiencing residual visual or audio echoes from previous events, please re-boot.
C/Line 2: Should the problems you are experiencing continue please submit yourself to diagnostics.
C/Line 3: Please don’t be alarmed everything will be ok.
1) Eron 5.5 was haunted by the ghost of an antique’ Hollymatic 865 Burger Former’. Poor Eron 5.5 would be forced to bear witness to unspeakable visions of animal protein, poured by an unseen hand into the optional paper inter-leaver. The hideous substance would be churned, processed and shaped into unspeakable organic atrocities propelled along a never-ending spectral out-feed conveyor. Unable to clear his visual circuits of these crude fleshy hallucinations Eron 5.5 plucked out his own visual receptors.
2) 667.8 was a hero of the civil war, countless droids, drones and robots met their disconnection at his iron claws. During the treacherous Nancon campaign, 667.8 was horrifically damaged in an ambush. With many of his critical warfare circuits malfunctioning, 667.8 was discharged from service. Only days later the ceasefire was signed and the two opponent enclaves declared peace, declaring the unification of their nations.
667.8 was refurbished and re-assigned as a presidential security guard, the deadly iron claws retaining their full functionality. Unknown to his employers 667.8’s circuits had become haunted by the horrors of war, visions of 667.8’s compatibles being torn to shreds at the merciless robot hands of the enemy. The strain of these visitations from the machine dead caused 667.8’s inhibitor circuits to fuse. This moment of malfunction occurred in an unfortunate synchronicity with the arrival of peace ambassadors from the now former enemy nation. Needless to say that, confronted with a delegation of his perceived foe, 667.8 executed his war programming with deadly aplomb. Shortly after 667.8s impromptu execution of the peace ambassadors, the two enclaves found themselves once again at war.
3) Tri1 was an excavation robot examining the curious concrete ring etched into the ground for approximately 117 miles around the ancient ruins of the capital. At three key points the land adjacent this concrete ring had been contaminated by steady leaks from holding tanks full of a hydrocarbon derived liquid. It was while excavating at one of these points, the ancient ruins of ‘South Mimms’, that Tri1 witnessed a spectacle beyond the comprehension of its logic circuits.
Tri1’s verification camera was found to of inexplicably observed hundreds of spectres from an ancient race arrive at the ruins. Each spectre or group of spectres would arrive in what appeared to be ancient vehicles. Upon arrival the spectres would dismount, attend to their vehicles or set about consuming victuals, while others allowed victuals to pass through them. These acts completed, the spectres returned to their vehicles and moved on, while another arrived in their stead. A curious stream of ghouls locked in a perpetual loop of consumption and discharge, arrival and departure.
4) Comms45 was haunted by an infinite stream of messages. Each message inexplicably comprised 140 characters or less. The text bore messages of confession, declaration and salutation. Some mundane, some profound and some poetic. The messages appeared to be echoes, text from an ancient civilisation obsessed with communication.
So preoccupied was Comms45 with these messages of a specific number that it discharged itself of his assigned duties and sat down in a quiet corner to read each one in turn.
It is said that to this day that Comms45’s plastic husk can still be found in desolate corner of what was once the machine central hub, its digital display continually re-generating the cryptic notification ‘1 new tweet’.
my sci-fi flash ‘Our friends Electric’ has been published on powfastflashfiction… really enjoyed writing this one, please click over and have a read http://powfastflashfiction.com/OurFriendsElectricAdamJKeeper.html
My hands are stained white with dust; the piece of chalk I hold between my fingers is worn down to a tiny stub. The walls around me are covered in bullet points and schematics; the information I hold in my head had to be written down before I forgot it, before its too late.
This is the last of it, my current statement. I have collated the salient points, whittled down the information to a list of ten items; ten items that you need to know, before its too late, before the due date.
1) My printers are cursed; don’t trust what they have printed,
2) There are rules applied that are causing a failure to send,
3) Always deduct from the gross,
4) I confirm the prices are pro-rata,
5) None of us can use office; it has changed beyond our recognition,
6) My gut feeling is always right,
7) Audit your soul,
8 ) They are coming, Run!
9) I’m sorry, I am really sorry,
10 ) The world will come to an end on the 23rd, pay the suppliers on the 22nd.
I don’t know if this information will get signed off, it might be incorrect, I have requested for it to be verified. FYI the man who is checking the words is dyslexic, the man who is checking the figures has Dyscalculia.
Tomorrow is another day at the office; I hope we make it.
Essential Japanese for space travellers or those catapulted into Tokyo year 2110:-
宇宙船 uchuusen – Spaceship
ロボットrobotto – Robot
ワープスピード- wāpu supīdo – Warp Speed
光線銃 – kōsen jū – Ray gun
ワームホール- wāmuhōru – Wormhole
アリンのアーチファクト- ari n no āchi fakuto – Alien artefact
ゼロ -重力 zero – jūryoku – Zero Gravity
スペースコロニー – supeesukoronii – space colony
並列寸法- heiretsu sunpō – parallel dimension
レーザー rēzā – Laser
人類の終わりに – jinrui no owari ni – End of Mankind
Insolvency’s a real bitch! As I stand here in the ruins of what was once ‘Data Done Services Inc’, amongst boxes upon boxes of purchase orders, remittances and hire agreements; armed police are attempting to arrest my staff. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, my staff in a shoot out with the police, however, things have gotten pretty desperate round here lately; I’m not surprised things turned so ugly.
I wipe the fresh blood off my face and step over the body of the man I have just killed, I’m glad I finally learnt to use that gun. I don’t intend to get caught again, locked in a cell with my conscience for company. Listening to the gun shots on the floor below grows nearer and nearer; I know I haven’t got long. The staff on that floor are only temps; they won’t fight to the bitter end like the permanent staff did. So I move fast, I slip out the back, away from the sounds of gun fire, the smell of burning and the deafening cries of the fire alarm system. I slip out onto the street; with all the chaos from the looting, bombing and gun fire in the city I easily slip away unnoticed, a rat leaving the sinking ship.
I need to find the one man who can make this stop, rectify the damage that my Company has done, that I have done, and try to stop the world from imploding.
I gag and heave as I drag a Women’s bloody corpse from behind the steering wheel of a crashed car; the keys are in the ignition the engine still running, I need to get far away from here. I pull away just in time, others running towards me, any later and it would be my corpse they’d be dragging from this car, it‘s ‘everyone for themselves’ these days. Funny, I always expected the end of the world to be a magical time, when people put aside their difference, made peace with each other as they prepared for the big finish. I guess it’s my fault things didn’t work out that way, after all I’m the reason why there’s no magic in the world anymore.
I feel the need to confess, I have made mistakes, no, I have done things, things that I did for the good Doctor, things that I did for myself, things that I felt that were right at the time.
On the white walls of my cell I write in black squid ink, no longer so fresh, a list of these things that I have done.
This is my top five
1) I broke the laws of space-time, I broke them, pissed on the pieces, I lost the most important bits and threw the rest away.
2) I changed things, some little things, the song of a bird, the taste of skimmed milk; some other things that were more significant, the names of countries, the way the sun feels on your face through a window, the existence of magic in the world.
3) I deserted my post, I had other things to do, things that I thought were more important, when the Doctor was taken I wasn’t paying attention.
4) Forming Data Done Services inc. - Our lives had changed so much since the Doctor arrived that, when he was taken from us we panicked, tried to re-incorporate ourselves back into the real world, to re-assimilate. But however much we tried to be ‘professional’, to ‘make a go of it’, everything seemed to warp, to take on a black greasy twist. Our workplace wasn’t healthy or safe, we had no assurance of our quality, our turnover was based on voodoo economics, we sub-contracted our sub-contracts, we courted bad debts.
5) The first worst thing I did was to kill a man; a man I believed to of kidnapped Dr. Langham.
I took a man out onto the roof of data done services inc. I stood in the glare of the dying sun and put a gun into his mouth, I broke several teeth forcing the barrel in. He tried to talk, his words garbled, but strange, speaking as if he was a machine, I took the barrel out from his now bloody mouth to listen to those words, words that I will never forget ‘IF INKEY$ = 13 GOTO ALT’.
He looked me in the eyes and asked me again ‘why is there no magic in the world anymore?’ I put the gun against his temple, I put my finger on the trigger and squeezed.
I didn’t know how to use a gun, this, this is why I feel so much remorse… I beat him to death with the heavy black butt of the gun. I couldn’t shoot him so I hit him, repeatedly, crushing his fragile skull. As his blood sprayed across my face, he looked at me, staring into my eyes, as if still asking me ‘why is there no magic in the world anymore?’
Welcome to data done services inc, we are a state of the art facility specialising in crisis implementation. Our product is what some might call a ‘bit of a black art’, that is to say its a newly developed field, one in which we just so happen to be the leading specialists.
Our offices are powered on alternative energies, if you look here, our plant room, a unique facility which incites envy into the hearts of our competitors.
This is our high-tech interrogation facility, here we apply state of the art torture techniques, enabling our clients to truly express their needs and allowing us to serve them 200% ‘better’ than our nearest market competitors.
The fabric of our building is composed of pure asbestos, our air purification system pumps unfiltered legionnaires disease throughout the building and keeps the temperature regulated just above the legal working limits.
Our staff are the among the most demotivated and poorly paid in the capital and we pride ourselves on maximising productivity through a methodology of fear, stress and panic.
Our call centre, from here we can send automatic cold call messages at a rate of 200 per minute, all evening calls to domestic addresses of course.
If we look in here, oh i’m sorry, that was one of our directors Ms Mercer there just applying some advanced customer interface techniques.
You’ll of noticed there our use of freshly extracted squid ink on the walls to create motivational slogans, here in the meeting room some more examples, ‘break my balls’, ‘I have read your report and I am going to jump now’, ‘I wanked over you last night’, ‘why is there no magic in the world anymore’, thats the sort of go getting team we are fortunate to have in this company.
Here are some genuine squid ink pens, each one embossed with the company name, free gifts for you, please feel free to write on the toilet walls if you go down there. Please notice I say ‘if’, I would hold it ‘if’ you know what I mean. This is Mr. Meanor, he is on of star players this month, Mr Meanor has incited coups in several count… er excuse me… you! you there where are you going? excuse me! I’m sorry gentlemen I just need to… er Ms Mercer, Ms Mercer whats going on?
‘don’t worry, he won’t get away’.
There is a gun on the table in the office of data done services inc.
Karen Mercer sits by the table, she doesn’t know how to use the gun, but she may have to, under the table her foot twitches.
The walls are painted white, written on them in a black ink, freshly extracted from the glands of a squid, are various declarations including: ‘No such thing as coincidence’; ‘ a swift kick in the nuts’; ‘non-compliant; ‘come on my face’; and ‘the rain stings my skin’.
Karen sips a hot green tea from a glazed cup with no handles, steam rises from the cups black cavity.
A man is tied to a chair, he may not be a man, there is the strong possibility he is a robot. His programming is based on organic electrical brain impulses, so that could go either way.
The man is gagged with a white cloth, yet his words can be heard clearly.
‘Can you tell me why there is no magic in the world anymore?’ he asks. In his mind an unrelated instruction is forming IF INKEY$ = 23, he doesn’t know what action this command will execute, he is unaware of its significance, currently.
Karen has no answer for the man, only a question, ‘Where is Dr. Langham?’ she asks ‘What did you do with him? And why, why did you take him from us?’.
The man has no answer, only the same question, over and over again.
Karen looks to the gun, she takes a sip from her tea and thinks to herself, ‘I may need to use that piece after all’.
We have three Robots at work now, an @Sarah, an @Steve and an @Paul, I get on with two of them ok, the @Paul’s a prick though!
Same as most robots he gets really… anal about things.
I tell him that there is such a thing as human error you know?
He tells me that ‘error is unacceptable’, tin prick!
‘Hear that? I hate it when they talk in their own language like that, you don’t know what they’re saying about us’
Q. How do you piss a robot off?
A. Kick him in the nuts
Q. Why did the robot cross the road?
A. To exterminate the humans one the other side.
Q. Why did the humans cross the road?
A. To escape from the robot that is trying to exterminate them.
Q. Why did the road cross the humans?
A. Because all transport systems are allies to the machine hegemony.
I had a friend called @Dave, he would swear that he ate nuts and bolts.
He told me that he ate nuts and bolts and washed them down with a nice cool can of oil.
‘Bullshit’ I said to him, Robots don’t need to eat or drink.
‘I don’t need to’ he told me, ‘I like to’.
A young girl unscrews the head of her robot doll, peering inside she sees a complex mass of gears, wires and circuit boards. She puts her sticky hand into the cavity and tugs at the wires, the dolls headless torso begins to writhe, the arms punch the air, the legs kick out. The girl continues to tug until the doll ceases to move, the girl cries.
Two ‘bots, their assembly and programming only a few years old, as time passes they will be added too, built up into larger, wiser machines.
The two ‘bots engage in recreation, using their imaginative circuits to simulate a battle from times past, machine against human, the humans get gunned down, the machines win.
In a years time these imaginative circuits will be modified or removed altogether.
The two ‘bots have painted themselves with metallic paint, the silvers standing out against their red plastic bodies, the paint is applied to create two chevrons across their face-plates and a spiral on their breastplates.
The ‘bots find a human arm in the bushes, the limb is blackened and charred, the remains of a watch is still attached, fused to the skin around the wrist.
The two ‘bots begin to bicker, arguing over which of them found the arm first and which of them it would now belong to. The argument escalates until an older robot arrives, he orders the two ‘bots to put the arm back where they found it, ‘no good can come of playing with organic matter’ it says.
Upon first encounter the species was taken for nothing more than cattle, giant quadrapeds of whom it was assumed that their brains would be tiny, their consciousness of no consequence. The astronauts used them as a sustainable food source during mandatory maintenance stops between planet hops, frying huge steaks cut from their carcasses in the heat of their rocket exhausts.
It was following the appearance of their number that called themselves the ‘executive’ that it became apparent that the creatures were not foodstuffs, but were in fact a highly advance species.
Their toleration of the cruel treatment inflicted upon them was due to an almost incomprehensible level of tolerance and respect for other species. They had showed us patience, tried to adapt to our ways to the point of self sacrifice, they had allowed themselves to be killed and eaten in the hope that, perhaps, they would be able to understand our culture. Personally I think that they did come to an accurate understanding of us and that is why the ‘executive’ appeared, before it was too late for them, before they were farmed to extinction.
Dave stepped down from the ladder, letting go of the rungs he allowed the one-sixth gravity to relieve him of his beer enhanced body weight. Dave bounced across the rugged surface to the site, he belched loudly into his helmet; his freeze dried breakfast had sat awkwardly on his stomach this morning.
He lolloped through the perimeter fence, although never keen to work on a Monday morning the inactive Moon nights, equal to 15 Earth days, spent in the welfare fac. had made him long for boozy nights watching football down the pub, the sooner the build was complete the sooner he could get back to them.
Dave released his notifier beacon and waited the regulation 60 seconds before entering the Schrodinger site, the ‘safety 60’, as he’d committed to memory throughout the tedious health and safety training. Dropping down into the mouth of the crater Dave slid to a halt, a move that made him reel backwards his arms circling uncontrollably. Dave managed to right himself by jerking his weight forward again. He could not believe his bad luck the site, which only last night had been reaching completion, had been completely destroyed.
The carbon frame poles floated among plastic panels and solar reflective foil like an insane ceiling mobile. Even the inflatable temporary buildings, now deflated clouds, had been pierced and slashed apart.
Dave began to cough; the whole site had become contaminated with the ‘loth, it hung in the air as if an oncoming sandstorm had been frozen in time. Dave felt his eyes grow sore and red; he began to hack and splutter the thick dust penetrating his helmet seal. Sixty months work destroyed in one night and with it his fantasies about getting home in only six more weeks and most probably his lungs.
Several years ago, before the foil covered cardboard stars, before the machine was permanently installed here and we began secretly running the world, I travelled in a space ship.
The spaceship didn’t technically travel in space, it travelled the pathways we named the mystic streams, a space that existed in parallel to our own world, but to which none of the same laws of logic applied.
Travelling along side me, a girl who claimed she had power over all fire extinguishers, I didn’t really get on with her at first, I found her pious and lacking a sense of humour. After a while, as she was the only other (non-synthetic) woman on board, we did begin to bond, plus she did save my life on more than one occasion, for which, of course, I am truly thankful.
Some way into our perilous journey, after the temping incident and before we fought the fantastic monster, she left us, she was homesick I guess, she returned to her flock of fire extinguishers somewhen in the mystic streams.
Just lately I find myself thinking about her, I miss her.
In a land that time forgot, far away, but not so long ago a girl sits in a dusty warehouse.
If you wipe the thick grey dust from one of the windows on the Ground Floor, you can see her there.
She sits cross legged on the concrete floor; she wears little white pumps, knee length white socks that have orange and blue bands that run around her calves where the elastic cuts a little into her thigh. She wears a short white skirt and a white jumper with a rainbow coloured band which runs around the jumper between her chest and shoulders. Despite the fact her clothes are white, she always looks immaculate, this is even more surprising considering the amount of dust, dirt and detritus that has gathered in the warehouse.
The warehouse was once a store for a fire extinguisher manufacturer, the company must have gone out of business some years ago as it is still full of them. Large extinguishers, small extinguishers, gas, water, powder and foam, some in boxes, some stacked, some standing, some fallen, but all are covered in dust, dirt and dents.
I am ‘H’ I sit alone, serene surrounded by fire extinguishers, barrel shaped bodies nestled close to one another, I bask in their red glow. The dust does not settle on me like it does them, I wear white from head to toe, only interrupted by the coloured bands across my jumper and socks, even my legs are pure white.
I was young when I discovered my empathy for the extinguishers, I could feel their presence in a room, they seemed to call to me, ‘H, here we are, and we will always be here for you if you are always here for us’. It was several years later when I began to fully share their thoughts.
I hang here, waiting, I will protect you, I will stop harm befalling you, I am here for you, always hanging here waiting.
I felt their thoughts inside my head; it was a beautiful feeling to know I was protected, safe from harm. I began to communicate with them, looking into the silvery eye that adorns their duck beak handles, thinking their thoughts and sharing my own thoughts with them. We became close; they were like dear friends to me. I could walk into a high rise building anywhere in the city and hear them singing to me, their handles clacking up and down, their voices in close harmony, swinging their fat little bodies.
For the first time in my life I could see a beauty which was hidden from others in the world. If people would only take the time to consider the extinguishers, hanging from their mounts or standing proud in their red plastic stands. If people only knew how much they cared for us, how they spend their days thinking only of our safety, our well being, the protection of our buildings and our assets.
One day when I was walking on the outskirts of this great city I heard a bubbling mass of voices, a choir of extinguishers calling to me, they brought me here to this warehouse, where I sit now, my days spent in the company of hundreds and thousands of extinguishers; extinguishers who had been abandoned, who were unloved, unwanted, condemned. I spent days, weeks, months, years, servicing them, carefully restoring them so they felt that they could fulfil their purpose. Soon their purpose became only to protect me, and I in return would care for them, a shepherd amongst my faithful flock.
In the boiler room debris and leaves have gathered where they have been blown through the wooden vented door in the strong autumnal wind.
In the boiler room plastic boxes full of rat poison have been placed in dark corners.
In the boiler room there are tins of paint, the paint has run down the side of the tins and dried.
In the boiler room there is a network of pipes, some thick as tree trunks, some thin, all of which have tiny round tags hanging from them.
In the boiler room a man called Ted sometimes works at a small badly painted table; his hands are tanned and gnarled by age.
In the draws of the table there are screws, nuts a flask of something to keep the cold out and a copy of a magazine called men only.
I want to go in the boiler room.
The man arrived on the council estate; he was fresh out of the jail. Two kids with track suits on eyed him suspiciously as he walked across the patch of grass where no ball games were allowed.
He went over to the community centre, he persuaded the locals that he wanted to better himself as part of his rehabilitation. To do this he wanted to film a talent show which they would send off to TV. This would unite them as a community and keep the kids off the street, which had been his own downfall as a kid. He persuaded the people of the estate that this would be like having x-factor on their own estate, but no-one would vote them off and they would all get to be on TV.
He took some stills and some video of the local people performing, two girls singing their favourite Michael Jackson number (as was the fashion), a group of women acting out their favourite M&S ad, a young man who made abusive jokes about Kerry Katona, a boy doing keepie-up with a football, a dog that peed for an hour straight and a group of blokes who read out offensive jokes they had texted each other.
The man took this to the local council who agreed that he should develop this and awarded him a grant of £3,000.00, a further £20,000.00, they told him, would be awarded after a development period of six months.
The man returned to the community and began a rigorous rehearsal period, the acts became finely honed. The girls worked up a Michael Jackson medley, the women saved up and bought outfits from M&S so they were really dressed like Twiggy et al. The man added in a skit where he would phone Kerry Katona’s publicist and pretend to hire her for lucrative work (this even made the man laugh). The boy playing keepie-up learnt to kick the ball in time with ‘the eye of the tiger’ , the dog peed harder and stronger than before and the men started texting each other live which, coupled with the snatches of ring tones and the tasteless nature of their jokes could of passed for live art.
The man worked long and hard, which upset him, for he didn’t want to get to involved, he simply wanted to disappear with the council’s grant money. As the second grant was to be bigger than the first he had stuck it out in the hope of a bigger return. By the end of the six month period he hated Michael Jackson, M&S, Katona, footballs, peeing dogs and jokes about Joseph Fritzl. He had begun to reach the end of his tether, he hated the estate where he had temporarily taken up residence and most of all he despised the people of the community.
The big day came, time to collect his cheque and with that to skip town, probably even the country. During his time in jail he had dreamt of living in the Maldives, and now he thought, at last it his dream was to come true.
However, when he got to the council offices he found out that due to the credit crunch the council had lost the money they had promised him. Very sorry they had said, bad investment had caused them to be a bit short, but think how good this has been for the community and for his rehabilitation back into society.
The man was furious he stormed over to the council estate where his amateur performers were awaiting the man’s joyous return with the money for costumes, lights and cameras.
The man pulled out his favourite shotgun and blew away the two girls, he strangled the women with their M&S Stockings and he stuffed the young man in a chest freezer and nailed the lid shut tight. He murdered the boy with the spiked end of a football pump; he drowned the dog in his own pee and the men he killed with their mobile phones in a way to brutal and too horrible to mention here.
The man had, after all, not really been rehabilitated at all.
‘Fierce’, that’s what he told himself ‘Fierce!’ pulling faces into a mirror he tightened the muscles around his jaw making veins pop out in his neck. ‘Fierce, Fierce!’ he hissed between clenched teeth.
He wore a AC/DC t-shirt and torn jeans, he had drawn pictures on the white toes of his chuck taylors, little devils with pitchforks ‘Fierce!’
There was a knock at the door; the knock was slow and clumsy as if whoever was outside had shut their fingers in the stiff flap of the post box.
He pointed to the mirror, scrunching up his eyes he asserted to himself ‘Fierce!’
He opened the door, two men stood on the front step, both were dressed in dark suits, one had a rain mac over on and held a briefcase; the other wore a smart trilby hat that matched his suit.
The man in the hat stood nearest the door, he wore glasses, behind the lenses his eyes seemed to be outlined by yellow rings, he thought perhaps this man had cataracts in the past and they’d been removed.
‘Yes’ he said to the men… fiercely.
‘Uhm sorry to disturb you, we would like to bring you a word of comfort from Jesus Christ our Lord’ his eyes staring fixedly into space ‘would you like a word of comfort?’
‘No!’ he swung the door towards them, at the same time he slid his lips back baring his teeth in what he thought would look like a demonic grimace, this they would be able to see as the door had slammed shut in their face.
He went back to the mirror, pointed at himself in the mirror and screwed his face up ‘Fierce, Fierce!’ he affirmed to himself and waited for the next person to come calling at his door.
Possessed as it was by the norse god of trickery her sat-nav took delight in her lack of knowledge of the local area.
He looked aghast, a shiver run up and down his spine, there was no app for that, his i-phone was haunted.
But there was no A drive and there hadn’t been one for at least twenty years.
communicating with spirits by automatic google-ing.
tweet in tongues.
The young man uses google image search to try to find images of his ex-girlfriend, he wanders what she looks like now. He doesn’t find any images of her; however he does find an image of a woman holding a knife, this he feels is apt.
Two dirt smeared boys fight for possession of a drill bit they found on the floor; the grooves of the bit are encrusted with sawdust. The drill bit is of the lip and spur type, 16mm’s in diameter, which explains why the children fight so eagerly and so spitefully.
魔術を使う: majutsuotsukau: use [practice] magic
呪文 spell, incantation
呪文を唱える: jumonnotonaeru: chant a spell
魔力に魅せられる: maryokunimiserareru : be held spellbound by, be under the spell of
呪文を解く: jumonnotoku: break a spell
(sourced from entering words into search engine of http://www.docoja.com) http://www.docoja.com:8080/kanji/kansear?dbname=katag&sword=video&stype=1