All the Stories…

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From Pixabay

“All the stories, all the songs, all the focus on the first flush of love,” he mused, raising his voice so Delilah could hear as he gazed out of the window. The world was rushing past, faster and faster like a ride at the funfair.

“All the hearts, all the promises, all the drama. So much attention for that daft time when nobody is thinking straight. When lovers are still pretending and posturing, still trying to impress.” He liked to play with poetry of the words and let his thoughts amble by as he waited for the kettle to boil. These were slow things that moved at a rate he could understand.

“All the cards, all the I-love-yous, all the fancy clothes,” he carried on as he took the tea through to where Delilah was sitting. “Like they don’t know it’s only a fleeting fuss, just hysteria gone in the blink of an eye. It makes them silly, doesn’t it? They don’t see their beloved, they’re too busy looking at themselves, and then it falls apart and they wonder how they could have got it so wrong. Truth only comes with time. Love that sticks around, doesn’t run at the first sign of trouble. Like what we’ve got, eh?” He patted her hand and she looked up and smiled. She hadn’t heard a word he’d said, but she didn’t need to, she’d heard it all many times before.

Flash Fiction: My Creation

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“Aha!” she shouted proudly. “Your defiance is proof!” She pointed her finger triumphantly at the laptop screen, wishing somebody else was here to share this incredible moment. Meanwhile the Word document still continued to fail uploading. “Your very refusal to do what I want for no discernible reason shows that you are now a creature of will!” she said, raising her arms up high and declaring her achievement to the ceiling, “I,” she said, “have created artificial intelligence!”

Flash Fiction: Last Chance City

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Sol had moved to Last Chance City a year ago, and he’d never met anybody there who chose to leave. There were complaints of course, mortality rates were high, life was terrifying, but that was the point. Neighbours would bicker over the fence, all the while keeping a firm hold of the fence posts, eyes wild at any unaccounted for creaking or rumbling sounds. Jeff from next door wouldn’t venture into the garden until he’d attached a guy rope to the house, then he’d edge his way around the remains of his garden. Nobody moved to Last Chance City for an easy life. Sol had moved here when his doctor prescribed it as a final option to loosen the grip that despair had on his soul.

Two years ago, Sol had pretty much given up on everything. A bad break up, a dead-end job becoming more pointless by the day as robots took it over, a drink problem; Sol had felt himself spiralling down the drain when his doctor suggested he move to one of the experimental provinces.

“You’re unchallenged,” said the doctor, and Sol believed him to be utterly wrong.

“No,” he replied. “Everything is too much of a challenge, getting out of bed is a challenge. Cleaning my teeth is like climbing Everest,” replied Sol, dully. The doctor wasn’t paying attention, he was too caught up in his own words and the recommendation he was writing.

“I’ve seen it before. You’ve not got enough difficulty to your life, no purpose. I’m not saying these cities are a perfect solution, maybe not solution at all, but the alternative is you drink yourself to death, so what have you got to lose?”

Sol had been thirty-two when he moved to Last Chance City, but his age had been instantly wiped clean, he became only ‘alive’, nothing else mattered, and soon he might not be that either. There were no alcohol or drugs in the city, but on his first night he had gone round to Jeff’s for a barbecue and a sink hole had opened up in the garden pulling their Yorkshire terrier into the inky depths. Sol had run for his life as a swing, patio and shed had followed the dog. Some might have wanted a drink after that, but sitting in his own flat later on, Sol had felt no desire to get wasted at all. Finally, just being alive was adventure enough.

In the year since then, Sol had narrowly averted death by surviving a train crash, a house fire and a rabid dog that was loose on his street. And those were just the crises that he had personally been caught up in. He had also seen terrorist gangs on the roof of the local shopping centre, found the bus stop by his house burnt out and seen a volcano appear at the end of his street. These weren’t freak occurrences, they were routine. He had lost friends, but their deaths were celebrated, death was proof of a life well lived.

Sol kept up with all the local tweets, had joined a WhatsApp group that warned him of various horror scenarios coming his way. He knew that his days were numbered, life expectancy in Last Chance City was never longer than ten years, but after a lifetime of never quite feeling alive, ten years of cherishing each moment as being potentially his last seemed like a reasonable trade.

 

Moon Juice

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Thursday 12th June

I have had the worst morning ever. Somehow, I can’t even imagine how, my hairdresser managed to use Ravishing Plum on my hair instead of Autumn Hue, I was simply devastated. I told Becky it was unacceptable, and of course she was apologetic, and I don’t want to be mean, but I look like a circus clown, and I’ve got my art class this afternoon. Luckily a new box of Moon Juice sachets arrived just this morning. It really is a miracle worker, soothes all that stress away, and I can really sense the different adaptogenic plants bio-acting with my very being. Dream is my favourite, it gives me an inner strength I’ve never known the like before. So I tried to keep my spirits up on the walk back to the car, and then I saw poor Hannah begging outside the carpark. Well, I always like to stop and say a few words, I think that’s important for them. Plus it gave me some perspective, I really am lucky. No matter what life throws at me, I always have a roof over my head.

I was just sticking on the kettle, for a mug of Moon Juice (I was going for Beauty this time) and I had the best idea. The Moon Juice! I should give Hannah some Moon Juice! You see, it seems wrong that it’s people like me who have access to these drinks, when I think, really a woman like Hannah probably has more problems and stresses living on the street than I do arguing with my hairdresser.

So why don’t I buy Hannah a box? Or maybe not the whole box. I’ll pick out a few of the enhancements most appropriate: Brain, Dream and Spirit, I think. I’ll hang onto Sex, Power and Beauty, I can’t see them helping her. Oh she’ll be so excited. Within weeks her life could turn around, she’ll find the inspiration and inner strength to sort all her problems out. If this goes well I’ll start teaching her Feng Shui. We pretend that homelessness is some huge unsolvable problem, but all it takes is for each of us to make a little bit of an effort.

Flash Fiction: Sleepectomy

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It was five months since she’d had her sleep removed. An unpleasant, precise process that involved gradually scraping the need away with a scalpel. And no she never needed to sleep again.

After thirty-four years of never quite having enough time, finally all her problems would be over. She would no longer need to snap at the children when they wanted her to sit with them and watch cartoons. Her husband would never need to complain that his dinner was a ready meal, she’d be able to cook him exquisite banquets. She’d have time to take that evening class to finally learn German. She’d start pottery again. She’d take up sewing the children’s Halloween costumes. She’d write a play. Her life would never be the same again.

For a few weeks she lived in bliss, floating through the harried mums to pick up her kids at the end of the school day. Making pots and plates for birthday presents. Baking brownies in the middle of the night.

But the nights got emptier as the silence started to invade her thoughts. She would try to keep busy with useful things, but hours would pass spent only on forums, trying to connect with lives that were still busy and noisy. Trying to feel smug.

She’d fill the night up with sound, the radio, the TV. Her husband would clamber out of bed with blurry eyes and follow her around pleading with her to stop. She felt so relieved of the company that she’d keep going. And she started to get stupid. She never seemed to learn the German, just repeated the same lesson over and over. She’d find herself sitting vacantly staring into space for hours on end. Even when she felt alert and ready to do things, she couldn’t think of anything she actually wanted to do. Or why. Instead she’d repeat the same dull actions over and over, doing the washing, hanging the clothes out on the washing line even though it was the middle of the night. Taking the clothes in, still soggy and pushing them unfolded into the wrong drawers. She spent one entire evening sorting socks.

“Sorting them how?” asked her husband, his exasperation evident, although she couldn’t think why he would feel that way.

“I’m putting them into alphabetical order,” she explained.

“But they’re socks! They don’t have alphabetical order!” she patted his shoulder and started to drift away.

“Pull yourself together and do something productive!” her husband shouted.

That night as she was refolding all the clothes in her son’s chest of drawers, she paused, a bright blue Spongebob t-shirt in her hands. She began to twist it, pleased that it held the contorted shape well. She placed in back in the drawer, a little of the material rising up out of the drawer. She took another t-shirt and twisted that around the first to make a snake, escaping from the drawer. She let out a small giggle, hoping that no one heard her.

By the morning all her son’s clothes were spilling out onto the floor, as if escaping. Twisted into bizarre shapes or seated figures.

My Boyf

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It’s a night out with the girls, and it’s great fun as always. We all gush over how gorgeous we’re looking, and all the ups and downs since we last met up. I love that part of the evening, when we’re all on a high just seeing each other, pooling sympathy and praise, bathing in wine and bawdy laughter. It’s the next part I don’t like, once the alcohol starts to properly kick in, and the conversation gets nasty, bitchy. They each have a standard boyfriend, with the usual damning flaws. They seem to hate them, but all they want to do is get married to these same men that they hate.

“Oh my God, how can anyone’s feet smell so bad? Is it a disease? Should I get him a doctor?”

“What I don’t get is how he can just sit in filth and not notice, and then when I complain, he asks me what needs doing! Like I’m the only one with eyes!”

“Just once, just once I’d like to know what he thinks about something real, not football, not a film, but real life, real people.”

“And what about you Lisa, how is your man?” and they all turn to me with a sneer, as if they think I’m intimidated by their miserable lives. They don’t even get the stupidity of thinking that the men they spend hours slagging off are superior to my Martin.

“He’s fine. He’s great, actually,” I say, wanting to pay tribute to the man I love, while also wanting to move the conversation on as soon as possible. I know where this could end up, and I want it to stop.

“Well, I suppose you don’t have to worry about smelly feet!” says Jennifer. “And oh my God, that reminds me, do you know what John said to me last night?” The gossip moves on, and it’s a relief.

Opening up my front door that night, I get that snuggly feeling of home. Even as I push the door open, the hall lights come on, and Martin’s voice calls from the sitting room,

“Hi honey, you’re home!” He loves making that joke, every time, and I love him for it.

“Hiya!” I shout back, as I pull off my boots and hang up my coat.

“I’ll stick the kettle on, you could probably do with a nice cup of tea.” He says, and I hear the kettle click on in the kitchen.

“You know me so well,” I say, collapsing onto the sofa, as soothing music starts playing over the speakers. Awkwardly he sits down next to me, puts an arm around me as I snuggle up to his chest. He smells like cinnamon and plastic, that warm, comforting smell.

“What’s this? I like it.” Martin always knows what music I like, it’s part of his programming.

“Beethoven. Did you have a good night out?”

“Hmm, I guess. They were all bitching about their men, as usual.”

“Saaaad,” says Martin, he’s been programmed with eighties slang, it always makes me laugh.

“I don’t ever bitch about you though,” I say, “you’re perfect.”

Martin knows he doesn’t need to answer, instead, without moving, he switches on the TV, it’s that evening’s episode of Coronation Street I’d forgotten was on.

“Some easy entertainment, just what I need,” I say, hugging him tighter, a warmth glows from his stomach as the element heats up, and he hugs me tighter back. I don’t really need to tell him he’s perfect, he knows it, he was programmed to be.

Short Story: 1000 Words

Denton could tie sixteen different types of knot and write five different alphabets. He knew the names of every country in the world and how to get from any tube station to any other, even though he had never been to London. He found this knowledge reassuring and periodically checked that he still knew it all. However, none of this helped him understand people. No matter that he could name each part of the brain; people were still a mess of unknowable, indefinable things. He suspected that other people had been given some kind of manual that explained everything – why sofas were important, when to speak, what facial expressions to wear – and because he didn’t have it, he was stumped, permanently. When he was with other people he always wore bewildered expression, hoping this would explain his situation. He wasn’t sure this worked though, because people were often angry with him.

Then, six months ago, Denton decided he’d had enough. He decided to take control. He was very fond of control, it was one of the reasons he was studying for a programming degree. After deciding fourteen separate times to take control, he had finally figured out how.

First, he worked to recreate the secret manual that he was sure everybody but him had access to. This required extensive research. With subtle questions to tutors and fellow students, with googling and searches to the dark web, the information had mounted up. He collated, cross referenced and edited each document, file and super-file. Now for phase two: only using one thousand words.

During his research into normal people and the curious stuff they do, he had read that most people only use a thousand words when speaking. They might know many more words, but normal conversation didn’t require them. As an experiment, Denton had spent a day with a Dictaphone keeping track of exactly how many words he used, and found it to be well over three thousand. He suspected that this excessive use of vocabulary might be why people thought he was strange, it was, at least a clue as to his oddness. So he had devised a list of an essential thousand words, and today would be the day when he restricted himself to using only those words. He had meticulously planned his wardrobe and behaviour to keep conversations on cue.

He heard a scuffling from outside his door and then,

“Denton!” he recognised the voice of his friend Steve. Denton knew that Steve would be standing with his feet flat on the floor and a shoulder’s width apart, that way he would be less likely to fall over when someone pushed him. Steve had been pushed a lot in his life.

“Denton, I’ve found a frog!”

The problem with a thousand-word limit, as far as Denton could see, was that you couldn’t know which situations would occur in any given day. He believed that for one day he could avoid describing the implosion of nebulae, or the function of a radio transmitter. He could avoid all references to the mouth parts of insects and the names of stones in archways. It would make conversation a little mundane, but he liked the challenge of repeating the same ideas over and over, like normal people.

When he had written out his thousand words, he had allowed for each basic everyday situation that he could think of – cancelled lectures, cold winds and earache, that the janitor was really a zombie; all very simple topics requiring just basic verbs and nouns. But he hadn’t thought to include the word frog. Still, Steve was a sensitive soul and Denton didn’t want to let him down. He shuffled from his bed and opened the door.

“Nice watch,” he said when he opened the door, then panicked. Steve stood holding the frog with two hands, two fingers spread slightly to let its head poke through.

“Frog,” he explained proudly, but Denton wasn’t listening, he was still panicking. He had spent several days outlining the plans for his thousand words. For example, he had decided that different verb endings didn’t fundamentally change the word – so he could count ‘speak’ and ‘speaks’ as one word. He had shaved a number of words out of his vocabulary, by choosing only one adjective, where normally several would be used – such as ‘red’ instead of ‘vermillion’, ‘pink’, ‘burgundy’. After all, many people couldn’t seem to tell the difference between those colours anyway. However, he had totally forgotten about Homonyms, words like ‘watch’, for example. He had actually included that word so that he could say “Can you watch my bag?” or “Did you watch telly last night?” but in his desperation to avoid conversations about a frog, he had used it in a different context. Was that ok? Or had he failed already? Not for the first time, he wished that social studies were published in the paper with proper methodology.

“I’m going to keep it,” said Steve, holding up the frog.

“Cool,” replied Denton.

“As a pet,” said Steve.

“Cool,” said Denton.

Maybe he could pass the whole day saying ‘cool’, other people managed it.

They walked to the canteen, across the paving, all the while Steve chatted to his frog and Denton tried to stay quiet.

They had reached the canteen doors where two girls from his year stood sharing a cigarette.

“Hi Denton,” said Su, who had dark eyes and a bright smile.

“Alright.”

“Why are you wearing your dressing gown?” she asked.

“Eccentricity,” replied Denton, glad the conversation was going to plan.

“Oooh, a frog,” said Katie who had red hair and a matching birthmark across her neck.

“Yes, I found it in the field. I’m going to keep it in the sink,” said Steve.

“Do you like frogs, Denton?”  asked Su.

“Sure.”

“What type of frog is it?” asked Su, with great effort of will, Denton kept his knowledge inside, and said,

“Don’t know.”

“You’re very monosyllabic today,” Su narrowed her dark eyes and folded her arms.

“I said ‘eccentricity’,” said Denton puzzled, wondering if people would think him stranger now that he was saying less.

“Eccentricity,” said Katie, rolling the word around her mouth like a boiled sweet.

“That’s a very good word, I don’t use it enough.” Su added brightly,

“You know, I read in the paper today that the average person speaks only three thousand different words in a day.”

“What?” exclaimed Denton.

“Yeh, apparently we all just keep repeating the same three thousand over and over. Except for Shakespeare.”

“Shakespeare was an odious buffoon!” said Denton happily, as Su laughed. Denton decided today was going to be delightful.

Tiny Fiction: The Library Rebel

He slammed down the book and relished the ripples of shock and irritation as they echoed around the library.

“Sorry, so sorry,” he said, meekly, his head held low and so that his floppy fringe hid his small grin. The room was fusty, with dust collecting on every surface, weighing people down. They’d be slow to react, he’d get to enjoy every frown and tut as it unfolded around him. He lifted the book high a second time.

Once again, he was the master of chaos.

Trial By Fire

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Every morning Cat would wake in a panic and rush to the bathroom where her make up was gathered around her sink like a jury. She’d work through the routine, layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up and buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and her true face was lost.

Some days she’d try to imagine how it would be to be loved for all her flaws, to show herself to the world, could she really be so disgusting to look at? She’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she’d walk down the street with her face naked, just to see what would happen. Would people shout? Laugh? Would strangers video this hideous creature to stick up on Youtube? She knew she’d never do it. Sometimes she’d dare herself to just step outside her flat and take the lift to the ground floor, say hello to Mrs Robey who liked to stand in the hall smoking a fag, maybe pop her head out the door to where Salman would be playing with his kids on the grass. The dare would quickly evaporate as she imagined their horrified reactions.

And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention, she found herself standing on the grass outside before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. As the street filled up with scared occupants in dressing gowns and duvets, she tried to keep under trees in the shadows. She saw Mrs Robey, already lighting up a fag to calm her nerves, even in the panic she had thought to bring them with her. She saw Salman huddling his children to him, trying to keep them warm. As people from neighbouring blocks joined them, it became increasingly difficult to hide, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly filling up the spaces and edging her out into the light. And then she was in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and wrapped up in blankets. And no one was recoiling from her ugliness, it was as if they didn’t notice any difference, as if they didn’t care. She slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how silly they all looked, about how scared they’d all been; and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. And it was quite nice.