Flash Fiction: Echopraxia

I am sitting at the front of the bus, going anywhere. I didn’t check the number on the front of the bus, I know I’ll end up somewhere. I sit on the top deck, front seat, enjoying the trundle and jolt, listening to phone chatter and the honk of the bus. I could almost hear the bus driver’s stress rattling his heart.

Sometimes people come and sat next to me, huffing and fussing so wrapped up in their own worlds and their need to get somewhere. For a while I live through them, listen to their phone dramas, the chink-chink of music through their earphones. I remain unobtrusive, the only movement is me biting my nails. That’s a habit I’ve had since I can remember, I go through a few weeks without, then I have a blissful afternoon going nowhere and gnaw away to fill my attention.

Then a woman sits down in the seat across the aisle. She starts chewing at her fingernails too. Lots of people do, and it takes a while to notice the oddness: each nail she bites is the exact same as the one I’m biting at that moment. Right forefinger, left little finger. I stop. She stops. I start, she starts. So I play a little. I scratch my left ear, she scratches her left ear. I shuffle in the seat and cross my legs. She shuffles in her seat and crosses her legs. It’s a beautiful thing and I want to catch her eye, but I’m scared to spoil it, so I stare straight ahead. Knowing that through these little moments we are connected, sisters.

When she gets off, I feel slightly heartbroken. No one ever notices me, but she did. She paid attention. In a small way, it was beautiful. I carry on to nowhere.

Flash Fiction: The Face of Nincompoop

I’ve probably watched you. Remember when you were in your bedroom and you tripped up trying to pull on your socks? I saw that. When you got in the shower too soon and stood huddled in the corner to avoid the cold water? You looked ridiculous, I laughed. When you tried to take the pie out the oven without gloves and dropped it? Remember that? I do.

I probably know all your saddest secrets. The faces you pull in the mirror, trying to figure out how to be sexy. Where you keep your diary or your stash of money. The TV crap you consume in secret and tell no one about. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t unique. The reason I know you is because I’ve watched enough people to know that you’re all the same. I’ve seen the hidden face of the human race and it truly is the face of a nincompoop. This isn’t cynicism, I’m not having a bad day; I know. I’ve watched.

I became invisible the day I died. the afterlife isn’t quite the predetermined thing it’s made out to be. There are options. I didn’t pay too much attention to the form, once I spotted the Be Invisible option I was sold. For the first few hundred years all I did was watch. The human condition is a sorry one. Technology grows ever more complicated, but common sense? That never changes. And it started to get irritating. About the same time as my ability to interfere manifested, the never-changing stupidity of my ex-species began to really irk me.

The lottery, Valentine’s Day, friendship cliques, one-up-man-ship, fashion. When you no longer get to play these games you realise how laughable they are, how much time and space is taken up with the futile.

So I began to play a game of my own.

It was just toying really, I happened on an inept young fool and my patience snapped. He couldn’t get anything right. He broke his new kettle because he couldn’t work out how to press the button to open the lid. He bumped into the TV, snapping a wheel off and then couldn’t work out how to fix it, so he watched TV on the wonk. He never figured out how the storage heaters work; they aren’t that complicated, but no matter how many times he read the instructions he got it wrong. He embodied all that was pathetic about the human race, so I began to play.

His books were all in alphabetical order, so I shifted them about a bit. When he was at work, I put his toothbrush on his pillow and bunched up his towels into the shape of sleeping figure in his bed. I smeared his window with butter and I wrote “Idiot!” in the condensation in his shower. It took him a surprisingly long time to notice my interference, but when he did he assumed quite naturally that he was going mad. His frantic calls to his mum were some of the funniest conversations that I’ve ever listened into. Made all the more delicious by knowing I caused that.

So I carried on. I turned all his books upside down. I squirted washing up liquid around the rim of his toilet, so it frothed every time he flushed. Every day when he left the house, I put a small line of crisps inside his door, so that they crunches when he got home and stepped inside. I painted his toenails while he slept.

It was a good few months before his hinges started to become properly loose. Nearly a year before they fell off altogether. It happened while he was running away from the small collection of insects I had put in his bed. It sounds like a trivial thing, but by then I had push his mind to breaking point and it only took a tiny nudge to finish the job. He ran out of the front door, into the traffic and got run over by a bus.

And I thought to myself Well now, this is fun, why didn’t I think of this before?

Flash Fiction: Humblebrag

I tend to drop things. Yeh yeh, I know, everybody says that, everybody likes to think they can drop things, but for me it’s true!

Some people work hard for years trying to drop things, but for me it’s a gift, I don’t need to work at it. Sometimes I drop things without even trying. I’ll be carrying my shopping down the road, or on the phone, or even juggling, and then suddenly I’ve dropped something!

Today I’ve dropped: my coffee, three pens and a potted fern.

I feel for people when they say they just can’t drop things. I can’t imagine what that’s like. Just going through life holding onto everything, how dull!

Maybe it’s a spiritual thing, I’ve always felt connected to mystical beings and I believe that angels may have given me this gift. Or it could be my determination, I always say if you truly believe in yourself then you can do anything, but maybe that’s just me. 🙂

Flash Fiction: Snug

He curled up snug, while the wind howled elsewhere. Smelling a little of feet and vinegar, chortling while he hunkered down to his duvet, marvelling at the all the joys a life could hold.

He found it safer not to own anything worth stealing, to keep his surroundings stable. He made sure to avoid reaching out with delicate tendrils of affection that could so easily break. His heart had been broken once, an unreturned smile that he had proffered to a stranger and snatched back too late. Never to forget. He kept his heart wrapped in wodge of fat, a parcel made of a thousand, thousand fish finger dinners and chips.

He kept his attention still, a tiny kingdom without much thought where he could rule supreme. The television kept him busy. He had all he could ever need.

Flash Fiction: Dilemma

“It’s a gesture, I’m wary of gestures, it’s how somebody treats you when no one is looking that shows their true feelings,” she said airily, with a flick of her hand.

He lowered the flowers sadly and since her attention had already wandered, he walked away. As his feet scuffed the gravel and his shoulders slouched, his mind was ticking over the conundrum: how can I do something that isn’t a gesture?

“I know you”

The teapot had a Buddha painted on it and he poured the tea with great reverence. A ritual that had clearly repeated throughout the years unchanging. He carefully arranged the cups in their saucers, lovingly swirled the tea leaves around the pot, and didn’t speak until the tea was poured and he had added the milk and sugar. When he did speak, the words rolled across his tongue, heavy and husky, and she knew that these words were also a ritual, often repeated with every girl he enticed back to his flat.

“I know you, I know what you are,” he paused to let her soak up the significance. “I know everything about you, from your fears to your needs. I know with what I like to call my uncommon sense.”

She hadn’t the heart to tell him she didn’t take sugar in her tea, instead she sipped it dutifully, while he went on to explain her thoughts.

Short story: The Lottery King

Another lottery, another king, and I’m sick of it all. On the screens I can see their faces, shiny with excitement, drooling with the possibility, whispering,
“It could be me!” And it could.
Anyone of those thick, unimaginative yokels could be making up laws by the end of the
week. Or promoting their cat to be foreign secretary. Like last time.
Nobody remembers how it used to be, the dignity, the order, the logic of it all. Instead a
random serf takes my rightful place, and I’m supposed to celebrate them, bolster their
ineptitude. Behind me there’s a cheer as the balls spin and the machine spits out another number. Soon, somewhere around the country some schmuck will shout with glee,
“It’s me! It’s me! I’m the ruler now.”
And we all hail our new leader, however much of a fool he may be.
Nobody else remembers aristocratic rule. I was taught about it in secret, I couldn’t show my
peers those gilt-edged picture books that explained my importance. I tried to instill their
adoration with subtle manipulation, but they had been brainwashed with delusions of equality and understood nothing. Instead I would hide with my books and dream of the life I should have had; how the eyes of the proles would shine, how they would doff their caps in an instinctual movement. Instinctual, because this is the truth they try to deny: hierarchy is not some arbitrary human notion, it is an evolutionary need, seen in every species. Gorillas,
elephants, wolves; animals have been practising genetic modification for millennia. Alphas
breeding with alphas to create strength. No king was ever an accident, they were destined.
And we took this fine, natural system and wrecked it, forced ourselves to walk this crooked
path. Turned power into a lottery that anyone can win.
I watch the screens and nod thoughtfully, as if I care. I have to pretend, I am a member of the supreme council, an overseer. They’ll tell you that nepotism is no longer a thing, but I am proof that is wrong. A member of my family has always sat on the supreme council, because they have to give us something, a cheap token of respect.
The final ball has fallen into place; the cheers have reached a new pitch. One of the
number-crunchers is checking and rechecking until he comes up with a name,
 “Frankie Arlett,” he says blankly. He doesn’t need to pretend enthusiasm, it’s not expected of him.
“Frankie Arlett!” says John, a fellow council member. “Isn’t that just a name you can trust?
Frankie Arlett, he’ll be the best ruler we’ve had.” Nobody points out that since all the other
lottery elected rulers have been so hopeless, Frankie can’t be any worse.
“He sounds wise, don’t you think he sounds wise?” says Penny, clasping her hands together.
“Wise, but not too lazy,” adds Brett, with a tinge of doubt. Sometimes I think Brett has a little more spark than the others, the ability to see a hint of truth through the demented fog of optimism.
“I can just sense his presence, can’t you?” that’s John again, dribbling his emotions all over the place.
Frankie Arlett’s name has already been sent to every piece of Internet-linked merchandise in the land. Coffee mugs now say ‘King Frankie!’, Balloons flash the words ‘All Hail King
Frankie!’ On screens in every street, on every motorway around the country, the words ‘King Frankie, long may he rule over us!’
We have half an hour of platitudes before a number-cruncher pipes up,
“I think Frankie is a woman. She’s a queen,” before he hurries away. Panicked reprogramming of merchandise ensues. My colleagues realise that perhaps relying on feelings alone is unwise, and start checking Frankie’s details.
Of course there are restrictions for who can be chosen. No one under the age of eighteen. No one who’s in punitive stasis. No one senile. Still there are always new issues appearing, we had a leader some years back who had a thing for little girls. While he was busy changing
laws to lower the age of consent and releasing all his paedophile friends from stasis, we were frantically trying to fill out the right forms to get him de-throned.
I flick through Frankie’s details, 26 years’ old; part French, part Armenian. A sales assistant, the masses will like that, they feel cheated when anyone close to aristocracy gets in. Of course they don’t see the irony that the only people they don’t want in power are those with the ability to rule running through their blood.
Queen Frankie has appeared on the screen, she’s hooked herself up to her webcam and is
giggling hysterically. I give her two weeks before the giggling becomes a breakdown. I’ve
seen her kind before; they accuse my ancestors of interbreeding, but look at what cross
breeding gets you. Her genes are all over the place. There’ll be another lottery in a few
weeks.
A few days later…
As I walk towards the throne room where the new queen awaits, the effort of restraint pounds my head. I keep my feet light and my face polite. Reduced to this: a pleasing minion, careful not to offend. This is not right. This is a travesty of civilization. We have become our own satire.
It may be my job to nurture and coddle the new rulers, but it is my moral duty to unseat these weak pseudokings. To trick and confuse until they tumble from the throne. I don’t know how many times I must do this before they finally see the pointlessness of their system. A hundred? A thousand? My patience will outweigh theirs, it’s in my genes.
And there sits Frankie. The giggle has gone. Her face seems as guarded as my own. As
Penny, John and Brett bow and scrape adoringly, I stand back a little. As an advisor to the
throne, I will be seeing plenty of Frankie. Until her reign crumbles to dust, I will facilitate,
but also I will push and trip, I will sneak.
I keep a bland smile on my face to show willing, no doubt she’ll be too involved with herself
to notice my lack of subservience.
John is fussing about her culinary tastes, what kind of pillows she likes to use, does she have any dietary requirements? It’s ridiculous, what could a serf know of the range of quality bed-wear available? Somebody introduces me, I can barely summon a nod. But maybe that’s as well, to wobble Frankie’s confidence a little. She listens to my name and then looks thoughtful,
“Ah yes,” she says, “the royal bloodline. I’ve been reading up about you.” And there’s a
glance, betraying something shrewd, as if she spots the glint beneath my polite façade.
“I see all the previous lottery winners have failed under your guidance,” she says. Her eyes
narrow, she smiles sweetly, then leans close to me and whispers,
“But not me, sunshine.”

Flash Fiction: Tragedy of a Trailblazer

The man looked impossibly sad and lost, a ring pierced his frowning brow, he clutched his skinny latte, leaning forward on the student canteen sofa. Sabil could see life had cheated this man; he had set out on his journey through the years with optimism, and fate had rewarded him with mockery. He had the appearance of someone who had clawed his way through life, battling the powers of darkness while fate chuckled from the shadows.

“What happened? What happened to you?” asked Sabil, wanting to reach out and comfort him.

“You see that?” the new acquaintance said, rolling up his sleeve and showing the Japanese characters that snaked down his right forearm.”

“Nice,” said Sabil dutifully.

“When I got that done, no one had Japanese characters. Just me. I was a pioneer, a trail blazer. But now? Now everyone has them, so they call me a sheep, an uninspired copycat. But I was first. They copied me.”

The weight of his bitterness weighed heavy in his words as he said again,

They copied me.”

Sabil made a sympathetic noise in his throat and thought for a moment.

“And of course that would be considered cultural appropriation now,” said Sabil. The man’s horrified gaze said it all.

BI Blog: Sleep

There is loads of information online about what to do when you can’t sleep, so you don’t need me to reiterate it.

Here are two excellent websites that talk about sleep and BI

Sleep Disorders and TBIs

More about sleep disorders

However, there are a few things I had to figure out for myself, so I’ll put those here in case they’re useful.

  • Doctors don’t like prescribing medication for sleep – and they are absolutely right to be reluctant. Strong sleep medication is addictive, and quickly becomes ineffective. However, taking strong medication for a short period of time (maybe only a few weeks) can be enough to get the body over whatever barriers it has created (fear, habit, whatever). Once you are through the initial barriers, it’s important to stop taking the addictive medication and move onto something gentler, then deal with remaining issues through other means.
  • If you have a tendency to wake up a lot in the night – DON’T LOOK AT THE CLOCK. If the desire to do this is too great, hide the clock before you go to bed. By looking at the clock when you wake, you are programming your brain to wake at that time. That might sound odd, but try it for a few days.
  • Stress about sleeping can stop you sleeping. It’s true you need to take lack of sleep seriously, but once you have come up with methods for dealing with it, you need to try and let the worry go.
  • If noises wake you up, then get a noise machine (although some people hate the sound of these). They make a constantly whirring sound like a fan.
  • As I said, there is plenty of conflicting information online about how to sleep, but one thing seems fairly universal – spend at least an hour before you sleep not looking at any kind of screen (TV, laptop, kindle). Instead do something restful, not exciting, not stimulating. If reading is difficult, then maybe drawing or listening to an audio book is better.
  • Don’t pay attention to your dreams. In this culture there is some focus on dreams as being important and oracular. With PTSD, dreams can become intense and seem important, but paying attention to them, especially writing them down, makes you more likely to wake up after having them.

As always any additional information in the comments is much appreciated.

Short story: Coma

Last night I woke up clawing the walls again, my nails broken, my eyes open but seeing nothing.

I must have been looking for you.

I don’t know why I thought you’d be there beneath the wallpaper, just as I don’t know why I thought you’d be under the desk, or trapped behind the fridge. It’s the logic of dreams, something unfathomable to me. That’s what you’ve become now too. Watching your stillness, I think: I used to know you; how you liked your tea, the sound of your feet on the stairs, what made you laugh like a seal. I knew your love of having your neck tickled and who your childhood heroes were. How can I have known so much, but not have learned how to find you and bring you back?

Today I brought a different book to read, a murder mystery. You’ve always hated them, but I’ve been thinking: if I only read you things you want to hear you’ll have no reason to wake up. So I’m trying this. I may even leave off the ending, taunt you with the unsolved mystery. It’s not nice, but it’s tough love. No other kind of love seems to work.

Watching your stillness. This isn’t you, you were never lazy. You must hate lying there for weeks on end. Affecting nothing. You used to affect everything, a whirlwind of trouble, causing havoc. Now the havoc is only in my head.

It’s time to get up.

I don’t know how to say those words so that you’ll hear them – should I shout? Should I whisper? It’s time to get up now, you’re late for the party.

Everybody’s waiting.

Maybe I’ll find you tonight, I’ll grab your hand and pull you through to consciousness. You’ll be in the last place I look, and I’ve looked almost everywhere.

Watching your stillness, I wonder: do you even hear these stories I read you? They tell me you can hear, but maybe that’s a kind lie to keep me sane, to keep me tethered to the waking world. It doesn’t keep me sane and the tether is fraying. And I keep wondering, maybe I can’t find you because you’re hiding.

Maybe you don’t want to come back.

When I’m not dreaming about you, I don’t sleep. My restless brain ticks through scenarios, things I could have done differently, signs I could have noticed. I knew you weren’t looking after yourself well enough, but I also knew your pride, that you’d hate to have me interfere. I should have interfered. I let you down. I let you get lost. I let the fits claim you, cut you out of this world and steal you away. Watching your stillness, watching you lying there, day after day I wonder what it’s like to be so peaceful. Maybe I should be jealous, I think I am, a little.

Maybe I should come to you.

I’m not doing so well here. My exhaustion makes the daytime blurry and jumbled, my thoughts fractured. I drop things, I forget things. I put the kettle in the fridge, I’ve broken three plates and your favourite mug, I’m sorry, I cried about that for an hour. Sometimes I ramble on. Sometimes the only words I speak are to you, speaking them into this void. Waking life is a mish mash of frayed hope and bungled practicality. And then I dream, and the images are sharp and clear. I dream I’m searching for you, pulling apart our home, scouring the streets. One night I dreamt I was wandering the desert; I could feel the sand oozing between my toes, feel the heat of the sun as it sizzled my skin. I think I’m starting to cross over. Day by day I loosen a little from reality, maybe soon I can join you in nowhere, in the bone cage that holds you.

Would you know me there?

Can we carry on our lives there? I think I’ve changed, become brittle and vague. Maybe you wouldn’t like me now, maybe you wouldn’t want me tainting the peace. Maybe now I’m the whirlwind.

The nurse is pestering me, visiting time is nearly over and I’ve not even started reading the book I brought, too busy trying to explain everything to you. I can feel my blood humming, my breath barely skims my lungs. I don’t think I even replied as she fussed around your bed. She thinks you’re here, she thinks this is you, this lump beneath a blanket. She thinks this is me, with the startled expression and the shaking hands. She doesn’t see my stillness as I start to dislodge from this tacky world of sharp edges and bright colours. She wants me to go, but I’m not ready.

How can I leave, when I still don’t know where you are?