Justice in the Age of Bubble Living

“You have never known vulnerability,” boomed the judge, enjoying the echo of her voice. “You have lived a life eased by your looks, and taken it for granted that you could have whatever you want. You have never worked, simply charmed your way to an easy life. And then when faced with an item you couldn’t have, a car you didn’t need but wanted, and that the owner wouldn’t just give you, you stole it!” The guilty man with the dimpled smile looked at her quizzically and then his eyes twinkled as he tilted his head. The judge’s heart hardened, she hated it when people tried to manipulate her.

“So your punishment is to know vulnerability. To lose your ticket to the easy life. To learn what it is to struggle and be rejected. You shall spend the next five years…ugly!”

She enjoyed the horror on his face, the struggle as he was dragged away, protesting and sobbing. The programmers could work out the details: a few warts, a wonky nose, hair in all the wrong places. Judging was so much more fun in these days of virtual reality.

Letter from the Damned

Dear Sam,

I don’t have much time so I’ll keep this brief. Last night I slept for thirteen hours, that’s the longest yet. If I keep going like this, soon I won’t have to wake up at all. My phone has wracked up seven messages while I slept – I know most of them will be from my boss since I missed my shift this morning. It’s difficult to care.

You wanted to know what’s going on with me, you’re not the only one, but you’re the only one that might actually understand, I hope you can. The truth is, I started having these bizarre dreams about a year ago. Every night I would dream that these shadowy demon figures were gathered around my bed, just watching me. Nothing about them was clearly defined, even their eyes were dark hollows, and then when they moved I could see darker streaks shifting like muscles beneath the smoky nothingness. Sometimes they would talk, but I couldn’t understand them. Sometimes they would prod me, even lift up bits of my body, and I was powerless to stop them. I didn’t know if they were bad or good, or what they wanted from me.,  I’ve never talked about it, because you’d have all thought I was crazy, sometimes I’ve thought I’m crazy too. And I kept thinking about them all day, just wanting an explanation, a plan, anything. And then I heard about lucid dreaming. In fact I read a blog about it, about how you could just take control of your dreams, kind of be conscious while in that dreamworld. I thought if I did that I could get them to speak in English, I could get up and prod them.

Like I say, I was never really sure that they were bad, they didn’t do anything nasty, but we’re taught to be suspicious of mysterious shadowy demon figures, they’re in so many horror stories, aren’t they? So when I started the lucid dreaming – writing notes to myself to stay awake, training myself to be kind of conscious while asleep – I was also getting ready to fight them. But they didn’t need to be fought. It turned out they had only come to visit and were working out how to communicate with me. Once I was able to get up and talk to them, it was pretty simple.

“You didn’t respond,” one said, speaking clearly, it turns out they hadn’t known I was English.

“It was as if you weren’t properly there at all,” said another.

“Well, I guess I wasn’t, that’s what dreaming is for us, usually,” I said.

“Ah,” they all said in thoughtful unison, they’re really very mellow. Sometimes we just sit in silence, it’s peaceful, I’ve never really known that kind of peace before.

Thirteen hours doesn’t last long in their world. We have time for a game of chess, a chat about what I’ve been up to and then I wake up. It’s been going on for a few weeks, and it’s made me realise: waking life is such a drag. No offence, but all the rush and the needless drama, I’m sick of it. I want to be where my demon friends are (that’s what they say they are, but demons aren’t bad in the dream world) but it’s ok, because I’m getting there. Each night I’m staying longer, each day becomes more of a token visit. Soon I won’t have to wake up at all.

So that’s what’s been going on. Look after yourself Sam, you’re one of the good guys. If you don’t see me around anymore, then you’ll know where I am.

Joe

Flash Fiction: Sociopath

“Don’t blame me, it’s just who I am,” he says, and I want to punch his stupid chiselled face. He always makes statements like that with a little chuckle, as if the disaster he spreads throughout the world is a little joke we share between us. Seeing how furious I am, he tries to reason with me, cocks his head, wears a gentle smile that I know he copied off someone else.

“People like the drama,” he says, “it shakes their lives up.”

“Some of them don’t have lives to shake up now,” I hiss back, to me this is a truth that obliterates the power of his smug smile; for him, it isn’t.

“And that’s ok too, the world needs a cull, right? It’s overpopulated.” I can see he’s bored now, he can’t be bothered to placate me, he’ll be moving on and lives will be devastated somewhere else. He flashes me another diamond smile and strides away. I wonder if he’ll ever be stopped.

Flash Fiction: Coming of the End Days

I am prepared for the doom that marches upon us. The catastrophe is coming and you’d have to be an idiot to not see it, not to prepare. Although people are idiots and they just carry on with their day to day drudgery like it will all be fine. It isn’t fine! The end days are coming, and I’ll be ready. And they’ll all come to my door wanting my help. I can’t wait.

My training started young, because the knowledge came young. Partly because I observed society slowly collapsing around me, and partly I could sense it in my bones. I’ve always had an old soul.

So I started learning. I learned how to get food without supermarkets. I got my grandad to teach me what weeds were edible: did you know you can make salad from chickweed and hairy bittercress? And you can make soup from nettles? The thing with weeds is that they survive. When the end days come all your fancy vegetables that need special grow lights, they won’t last five minutes in the new climate. Do people know that? No, I’ve asked. Do they care? No. So I’ve been cultivating weeds in my room. Pots and pots of them. I want to cross pollinate them to make new, super, unstoppable weeds, no luck yet.

I’ve trained myself to use weaponry; I have a sword, nunchuks, even poi made of fire. With these I will be able to fight. I am also trained in martial arts: my own creation. I tried karate and judo, but I found the teachers to be fools and realised I could better design my own fighting methods. I haven’t named the art, names are for people who chatter and I don’t need chatter.

I have learned survival skills too: how to tie knots, how to make a fire, how to catch a rabbit. People think that survival is Bear Grylls, they think they can watch a few sensationalised TV programs and then be able to survive in the wild, ridiculous! When the end days come I will need to pass on my skills if the human race is to survive.

Now the time draws near, I’ve started sealing up my room. I’m using foam sealant I got from Wickes, and cling film I got from a drawer in the kitchen, I’ve been sealing up all the holes, so if it’s chemical warfare I can stay in here and I’ll be fine.

“But if you’ve sealed your room, how will you breathe?” asks my mum because she doesn’t get it at all. I don’t think she’ll last long, I will shed a few tears, but it’s for the best. I must be free of dead weight.

When the end days come, they’re going to need me. They’ll be sorry that they misjudged me, that they laughed at me. I’ll be king. I must be strong.

Trial by Fire

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, as layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, liquid foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up or buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and each day her true face was lost once again.

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? Sometimes she’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she would 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? 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 dares and the deals would quickly evaporate as she imagined the horrified reactions, and she knew that she’d never do it.

And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention that she was out standing on the grass in a daze before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. She was about to run back inside, plans of which  tubes and palletes she could grab spinning around her head, but there were too many people spilling out of the front door. 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, and Cat cursed herself for not showing the same quick thinking. 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 keep out of sight, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly edging her out into the light. Until finally, she found herself in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and being wrapped up in blankets.

“Look at you, you’re half-frozen!” exclaimed Mrs Robey, rubbing Cat’s arms to warm them. Cat tried to hold the cup up in front of her face, tried to shrink herself small enough so that no one would notice; but it was strange, because no one was recoiling from her ugliness, nobody even flinched. They acted as if they didn’t care, as if she looked normal; and she started to relax. Mrs Robey added a snifter of whisky to her tea to warm her up, and Cat began to forget her face and all its flaws. Instead she slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how scared they’d all been; or about what they’d been dreaming when the sirens started, and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. She didn’t need to think about her face at all. And it was quite nice.

We Already Invented Pokemon Go

I expect you’ve heard of Pokemon Go. We invented it twenty years ago, with ghosts.

Growing up my twin sister and I were isolated by geography, we lived on a farm in Cornwall, in the middle of nothing and nowhere. Our dad was intent on going off-grid, becoming self-sufficient, and with his fervour, he took his new bride out to the arse end of oblivion and set up home. Piecing together his notes from the time (the ones he didn’t burn before he died) he believed that if he joined nature, it would welcome and enrich him. It didn’t; he got hayfever, he was bored (this was long before the Internet), most animals eluded him, his attempt at agriculture failed.

He gave up.

He quickly fell into a depression and it was up to our mum to take over. She turned a small corner of the farm into a vegetable plot. She had no idea what she was doing, but did a good enough job. Our vegetables were mostly edible; wonky and you had to pick out the grubs, but otherwise fine. She learned to fish, to bake bread. Smart woman our mum.

Anyway, all this meant that me and my sister looked after ourselves. We made our own entertainment and we searched for ghosts. And they were everywhere. Not the pale, flimsy wraiths that you get in horror stories, ours were all shapes and sizes. Some were fat, some had tentacles, some had many feet and others had none and slithered along the ground like snakes. There were colourful ghosts, solid ghosts, ghosts that span in circles and ghosts that could do tricks.

We’d be sitting at dinner, mum would be busy reading while she ate, dad would be staring at his dinner mournfully. We’d have to stay quiet, but we didn’t need words, we could signal with our eyes: look over there, by the sink! A lesser purple-splotched wriggling turkey ghost! And we’d point our ghost catching devices at the ghost (the devices were actually calculators, but the fancy kind with sin and cos) and press the right buttons and the ghost would be ours and we’d write it down in our notebooks.

Or we’d be out on the hill behind our house. Staring up at the clouds and then we’d hear a rustle in the bushes, we’d whisper so we wouldn’t scare it away,

“A jumping, three-eyed lumpy sprat ghost, quick!”

Me and my twin don’t talk anymore, we’ve already said everything there is to say, but still when Pokemon came out I sent her a postcard, on it I said: hey, didn’t we do Pokemon already?

I thought about adding a smiley face or putting a couple of exes, but we’re not that kind of family. She hasn’t replied.

That Night I Walked as a God

That night I walked as a God. I ditched the petty pesterings of a puny world. I became huge. I strode through the stars mixing constellations, and laughing as the horoscopes jumbled, as mortals fumbled to fit the new demands of their shifted personalities. I meddled and I smited. I demanded adoration from my unworthy minions. I stood on cliff tops and called on the wind to ruffle my hair, and fire to dance at my feet. I felt no fear or doubt; logic was an abomination and I crushed all who used it. I leapt from rooftop to rooftop, omnipotent and nimble. I stared into bedrooms and living rooms, observing blasphemous and unholy ways. Knowing that this was not spying, but righteous judgement, I rained fire and brimstone from the light fittings.

And then I looked in your window and saw you eating crisps and cutting your toenails. Such tiny feet. And I knew I wanted to be a God no more.

A Life Caught in Rain

“Listen out for the rain, I don’t want the washing getting wet,” she says.

“Sure mum, don’t worry; just keep watching the film. Look, this is your favourite bit, isn’t it?” my mum’s eyes flick back to the TV, where Richard Gere is lifting Debra Winger into his arms and for a moment her face lights up, the old glint of joy in her eyes. While she’s distracted I get up to tidy away a few plates, pull back the curtains, check that she hasn’t unplugged the fridge.

“Listen out for rain,” she says, her face fretful again, disturbed by my movement.

“It’s alright mum, there are clear blue skies, look,” I point out the window where the sky is more of drab grey than blue, but she only glances vaguely, then sinks her thoughts back to the TV.

I turn my back to pick up a few cushions that have fallen on the floor, dust them off, plump them up so that it will feel more like home. I want her to feel safe here, that the room fits around her and she’s where she’s meant to be.

“Listen out for rain, I don’t want the washing to get wet,” she says. It’s what she’s been saying for years, latching onto the thought that makes sense, something to remember in a murky sea of confusion.

I don’t tell her there’s no washing out. I like that she has a focus, a small tie to this world, keeping my mum tethered with this thin thread of worry. I want her to feel safe in this room, but I’m scared I might lose her to it altogether.

A Hole Where Her Soul Should Be

As soon as I met Narinda I could see she was missing something. She was friendly, funny obviously very smart; but there was a hardness to her, a lack of concern for anyone. Art college was a fluffy, hysterical place and we all wailed our way from one drama to another while Narinda stayed back, calm and quietly scathing.

We lived three doors down from each other in halls, and spent polite time together, but she wasn’t someone I could go to with howls of indignation that my latest project had only got 54%, even though I’d poured my soul into it, or tell her the sexy dream I’d had about Brennan from our pottery class. She made me feel childish and emotionally messy; and to be fair I was. Anyway, I didn’t know what set Narinda apart until one drunken night when the truth spilled out of her. I say ‘spilled’, it was more of a controlled release. We were talking about our families. I said how mine was like a zoo: you know, everybody trapped and pacing. Narinda replied,

“My upbringing was like a psychological experiment. In fact, I think that’s what it was. My parents never hugged me or gave me praise. They didn’t like playing with me, never took my photograph even. I thought that was just how they were, and then my sister was born. You should have seen how they were with her: constant kisses and affection. Little gifts that they’d buy her, they’d tie ribbons in her hair. And we had photo albums filled with pictures of her stupid smiling face.”

“Why?” I asked, aghast.

“I said earlier, it was an experiment. It took me a while to work it out, but it’s how they deal with everything. They experiment with food, trying out new recipes and putting odd ingredients together; they buy from different shops and compare prices and quality, writing it all down a notebook. They experiment with TV programs and technology. Once my dad wired a Furby up to the vacuum cleaner. They want to play with things, see how they turn out. My dad wanted to be a chemist, but he couldn’t pass the exams.” She shrugged as if she didn’t care, her voice even and with the slight sneer that accompanied all her words.

We never talked about it properly again. I think with all the other emotions flying around our classes, her measured sadness wasn’t loud enough to be heard. And I didn’t forget what she’d said, but I didn’t think about it either.

The night Narinda vanished, it took until midnight to notice. From there the situation quickly escalated. There was the neatly written note explaining that she’d decided art college wasn’t for her, the measured request for no one to come looking for her. Within a few hours her parents had arrived from Stockport: two nervous, wide-eyed people who held on to each other and fretted. I’m not sure how I ended up looking after Narinda’s father, feeding him tea and awkward sympathy. There just isn’t much to do when someone goes missing, mostly you sit and wait. So he sat on my scabby armchair that I’d found in the street, huddled over a chipped mug and unable to stop talking. I think guilt had caused his mouth to spring a leak.

“We tried to be good parents, we really did. I expect she told you we didn’t care, but we cared, we tried,” he paused, looked at me pleadingly, then shook his head and looked at the floor. He let the words spill again,  “We knew we weren’t giving her what she wanted, but we didn’t know how. We never understood her. She acted as if she didn’t want to be our daughter, right from a baby she was bored with us. It was as if we couldn’t connect. She wouldn’t hug us, didn’t want dolls. I remember I tried to tie a ribbon in her hair once, she pulled it out and threw it in a puddle and stamped on it. She found everything we did an irritation. In her high chair she’d sit and scowl at us, as if we were wasting her time. I thought it was us, but then her sister came along, and well, she was a delight, we could make her happy. But Narinda, it was as if she had something missing. You know?” He looked up at me, his face a cacophony of guilt, sadness, bewilderment and loss. I nodded, because I did.

Footsteps

I got inspired by another mindlovemiserysmenagerie prompt.

The image and first line given were:

Footsteps echoed eerily in the fog.

fog

And here’s my flash:

Footsteps echoed eerily in the fog, and she kept an exact pace so that her soft padding through the wood could not be heard. For three nights now she had followed the steps, but never caught up with the spectre that made them. She could see the footprints as they pressed into the ground and vanished, she could see the breath of the ghost as it mingled with the mist like curls of smoke, but she never saw its face. Footsteps echoed eerily in the fog, and she followed, tonight would be the night she reached out and touched death. She couldn’t wait.