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.

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.

Writing Challenge

I always read the ideas on Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie but never get round to doing them in time, so today I’ve pulled my finger out so I can play the game (I think those metaphors together may be dubious, but I’ll keep on).

This is for prompt 2

In 25 words or less, write a story (beginning, middle, and end) about what’s happening in this photograph.

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So my brief story:

The tree reminded her of her mother, a dramatic and looming presence, and she always worked harder beneath its stern gaze.

Link to Saturday flash splash 07.01.17

 

That’s My Face!

“But you don’t understand, they’re using my face!” I shrieked down the phone. The ever soothing voice on the other end crooned,

“That must be very distressing for you sir. Perhaps you could clarify.”

And that’s when I realise I’m speaking to a program, a program written to placate and calm irate callers, but not to fix anything. I angrily put my phone in my pocket (I want to slam it down, but its expensive) and look again at the advert on the Tube station wall: A sunny beach, a happy couple on a sun lounger, and a spotty geeky twat leering in the background. And that twat is me. It’s not the first time this has happened either. I’ve appeared in adverts for toothpaste, shoes; this one is for an alcopop. And I’m always the goofy fool, the comic foil. Maybe if I was portrayed as the sexy one I wouldn’t complain, but still it is my face, it should belong to me alone.

So how did it happen? Well, let me tell you a few secrets. Adverts don’t use real people anymore. They haven’t done for some time, you see real people are expensive and computer programs can do the same job as effectively, more cheaply and without all the fuss of going on location. But the faces that computers create are an amalgam of features, generic representations of personality, age, gender. That’s why they all look more or less the same, even people of different races conform to a generic appearance – you’ll see Chinese people, but not too Chinese. African, but African with just enough Caucasian blended in. They play with the different possible components of face and body and come up with some whole new being. Supposedly.

But it seems like whoever wrote the algorithm is as lazy as the rest of us and instead of inventing properly new faces, they just repeat the same generic stereotypes. And one of those stereotypes is me. And how do you think that feels? To know that I am the spotty generic sad-case?

It makes me feel angry. Not like the kind of angry when you get tricked into watching a ten minute video that promises to tell you Five Foods that are Making YOU Fat, but doesn’t; the anger goes deeper than that. It makes me feel slighted and the rage gets right into my blood. It makes me want to fight back. Because they never expect the spotty sad-case to fight back. They think fighting back is for the generic, tough, good looking ones. They think that people like me haven’t the gumption, they think that I am going to behave within the confines of their stereotype. Well, gumption is borne of rage, and now all I need is a plan.

Short Story: Broken Dreams

Des had the weight of the world resting on his scrawny shoulders while the end days were slow and sure in coming. As the years passed, cities tumbled one by one into the sea and people fled to the mountains. Then over the generations plagues ravaged the refugees as they tried to build new cities, as if they had carried the seeds of disaster in the soles of their shoes, just waiting for the right conditions to grow. Science proved increasingly powerless to predict the dramas and so Oracles like Des became the only ones who could give warning of the horrors to come.

As a child Des had been chosen, trained and attuned in the ways of prophecy. While other children learned the new survival skills necessary (hunting and building, plumbing and electrics) Des had learned to spot portents in his morning cereal; to walk through his dreams with awareness and remember the details. A lifetime spent training his mind meant that he never had anxiety dreams about losing his keys, or bizarre sex dreams about people he could never fancy; his were only huge nightmares, laden with significance. As other children went to a haphazard form of school, Des only needed to sleep and pass on what he saw.

He had dreamt of minor local spats and worldwide political battles. He had predicted that Hurricane Jezebel would rip houses out of the ground, and that a new form of hay fever would pick off the weak and the young and old, and leave even the healthy wheezing. Every morning, Des would wake from the turbulence of signs and symbols flashing as images through his head, and then the Great Council would gather and pick through looking for clues. Sometimes he would wake to find notes scrawled on the pad beside his bed. Even if he couldn’t remember the dream that had prompted them, some part of his brain had been paying attention and guided his hand to write while he slept.

It was Monday morning when Des started to realise that his gift had broken. He woke with only vague memories, but he saw that the top page of his notepad was filled with biro-scrawled writing, scratched out with such intensity that it tore the page. It said,

“Everyone addicted to seeing truck. Taking photos of truck. Sitting in truck. Truck bad.” He did a double take, he read it three times, wondering What is this gibberish? This is an embarrassment, it’s barely a dream at all, just a string of daft words.

This was not something he could take to the council, this would not avert disaster or save lives. It was silly nonsense, he didn’t know such dreams existed. He crumpled up the page and hid it under his bed. He made himself a bowl of porridge oats and stared into it moodily, looking for any hint of troubles to come; he saw only oats. He gazed out of the window, hoping to see messages in the clouds, but there were just puffs and streaks of white, scattered randomly about the sky. He tried to reassure himself that there was simply nothing to see, the world was fine today, his predictions weren’t needed. He spent the day dodging members of the Great Council, switching off his phone and keeping to the backstreets in order to avoid the usual questions about his predictions. Later that day, a sink hole appeared beneath the town hall, ten people were sucked into the ground screaming. Des realised he had a problem, he was facing a new kind of doom: the possiblity that he was ordinary, something he had never been trained for.

That night he did everything to prepare himself for dreams. He ate cheese, he meditated, he held onto his Dreaming Talisman of woven straw. He told himself Tonight I will see the future. That night he dreamt of the Apocalypse. As the dream started, Des’ dreaming self felt relief wash over him. This was the kind of melodramatic nightmare that would please the council, that could be discussed and argued over. Perhaps it would reveal the underlying cause of man’s destruction, perhaps he would be given clues as to how to avert further disaster. In the dream, he stood in a fire-ravaged landscape as thunder claps and screaming erupted around him. He paid close attention to the details, using all his lucid dreaming skills. Behind him he could hear the rumble of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse entering the scene. As he turned, the rumble diminished and the four horsemen rolled in on squeaky wheels with scratched paint and chipped nostrils. Famine was wearing a party hat, Death had a wonky wheel and was veering off to the side. As he watched in disbelief at the triviality of the scene, a giraffe floated by.

He woke up sweating and clawing at the sheets, the new doom was here to stay.

Short story: Adventures in Daring

Cassie was always vivacious, with a laugh that turned heads and a smile that filled her face up with teeth and excitement. I hadn’t seen her since school, but those things hadn’t changed. We sat in the restaurant and barely noticed the food as we shared news of old friends and new jobs; we talked about travel and cars. We downed two bottles of white wine and took it in turns to flirt with the waiter. Then she leaned over the table conspiratorially, grinning that wicked grin and speaking with uncharacteristic hush,

“So I’ve joined this website,” she said, “it’s like a sex site. You talk to strangers on the site and make plans for all this crazy hook-up shit. Like I told this one guy he has to go to work wearing women’s knickers and then I’ll show up at his work and give him a blow job. It was crazy, he actually did it!”

I felt jealous at her daring, she felt no fear, she never had.

“And this other guy, I told him to meet me down at the public toilets in the park by my work. I said he had to just wait in the end toilet with no clothes on ‘til I got there. I kept him waiting an hour, and then when I turned up, I gave him the best sex of his life. It was totally wild!” She started laughing, delighting in her mischief. A waitress brought the puddings over, and as the conversation paused, my friend stared out the window, her face suddenly sad and lost.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, I couldn’t remember ever seeing her look sad before.

“It’s just, it’s been a lot of fun, but it’s made me realise what dogs men are. You know? I mean, I’ve met up with maybe twenty men and not one of them was interested in a long term relationship, they just wanted sex.”

“Oh,” I wanted to say something helpful. I wanted to say that maybe men on a sex-with-strangers website weren’t the kind to look for love. That maybe a dating site might be more effective. However, Cassie’s sadness had vanished and the wicked smile was back,

“Anyway, I’ve decided fuck-em, I don’t need men anyway. I’ve joined this new site just for women seeking women. I got my first contact yesterday, she wants to meet me in Trafalgar Square, and she told me I had to bring some handcuffs. It’s going to be wild!”

Short Story: Finding Home

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Jorgan was thirty two when he realised he was in the wrong place. He was living with his wife Betta in the suburbs of a neat, clipped town, where his neighbours spent their Saturdays perfecting the garden to eradicate all signs of nature, and their Sundays cleaning the car. Jorgen wasn’t unhappy, but he was itchy with disquiet in his blood; he felt a constant desire to squirm out of the tight confines of the manicured streets and escape, but he didn’t know where to.

Then a distant aunt he’d never met, died. He wasn’t upset by it, he only bought the train ticket out to her village on a whim. She lived in the mountains  and he’d never been higher than a hill. Betta was irritated, she didn’t like whims, but the thought of spending a day without Jorgen’s restlessness had an appeal, so she stayed quiet.

As the train clattered its way between the valleys and up towards a craggy peak, Jorgen felt his lifelong unease vanish, the higher the train trundled the more delighted he felt. The air was pure and easier to breathe, all the world seemed to be spread out before him; empty, gloriously empty. The funeral was no more joyful than was typical, but Jorgen had to fight from smiling all the way through. As they stood at the graveside, he could see mountains all around, rising up like monsters, clouds clinging to their sparse vegetation. It was breath-taking.

Returning home, the train weaving its way back to the tight-fitting streets, he felt as if his skin had shrunk and sand had caught between the layers of skin. He now knew where he needed to be and the suburbs was not it.

“Betta come with me and see it, you will love it, I promise,” he pleaded for the fifth time as she tried to watch TV. “You always complain about how much you hate it here, when you see the alternative: the snowy peaks, the distant valleys. You’ll love it.” She relented finally,

“Ok, ok, we’ll try a week. Now go manicure the lawn.”

For Betta the holiday was awful, while Jorgen’s soul lifted and swooped, Betta felt her own cower and twist.

“I can’t breathe, how can the air be so thin? There’s animal poo everywhere, goats, sheep, foxes, no hygiene. All those jagged mountain tops, I feel they’ll cut me.” Jorgen couldn’t believe she understood so little, how could she get it so very wrong? Why was she fussing about pointless details and ignoring the majesty? He didn’t understand that everybody has their place, and this wasn’t Betta’s.

“Even the flowers are small here, crouched against the ground trying to hide,” she said.

While Jorgen stood at the window, gazing out at the mountains in bliss, Betta sat huddled in front of the television, pretending that the endless sky didn’t press against the walls outside.

She flicked from one channel to another, all the world glimpsed in fragments. She flicked from dirty, smelly cities where no one looked up, to beaches, pretty but dull. And then she flicked to a film about the foreign legion. Saw the soldiers staggering across the desert, sand swirling around them in a landscape that stretched out the same as far as the eye could see. And suddenly Betta knew, with a certainty that chimed like a bell, her place wasn’t in the mountains at all. She needed to be there, where the ground is formed by the wind, where the heat bakes the day and cold freezes the night. Where you can walk for days and see no change at all. She wanted the desert.

“Jorgen? Jorgen?” she called. “I know where I’m meant to be.”

Flash Fiction: How Much More?

But really, how many designer shoes do we need?

How many more different sizes of technology to connect us to the world?

We’ve already filled up the sky with bricks and lines, splitting the horizon into tiny segments, isn’t it enough yet?

How many new ways to wash your hair? Or clean your teeth?

New ways to excercise, new management restructuring,

Can’t we just leave it all for a little while?

Curl up in the crook of a tree,

And sleep?

Living in the Shadow of my Genius

People think that I’m boring and harmless, I love that. They call me mousy. They see my pimples and my chubby midriff, they see that I pull my t-shirt down to cover it like I’m embarrassed, like I could ever be embarrassed. They see my inexpertly applied make up, and they think, Aw, poor thing, she’s insecure.

It staggers me to think they can’t see it’s all an act. Even though I put the effort in, it shouldn’t be possible to fool all of the people all of time, yet I do. Hours spent in front of the mirror trying to get my make up just wrong, practicing the nervous tics and twitches. Every time one of these witless cretins tips their head in a magnanimous gesture of pity, I want to wink. Just a brief duck of the eyelid, enough to leave them wondering. But I won’t, I am the consummate professional. My vanity is not a weakness, my ego enables me; I have achieved perfection. Not only in my harried and feeble appearance, but in my art.

Of course, my art is not for the masses, only handful of brilliant minds see my work and marvel. It is exclusive. But for them I shall create my masterworks, my genius displayed in spattered blood and shattered bone.

I can slice meat from bone with a single cut, slice a jugular with one deft swipe, insert a needle into the spinal column in the lower back and suck out the juice. I have mastered the art of the false clue – wearing the wrong shoes, dropping the wrong ticket. There are no supersleuths to outwit, it isn’t difficult when there are only thugs in uniforms. No lightning fast computer mainframes, only slow databases, created so ineptly that nobody can be bothered with them.

And just like everyone else, they think I’m too dull to do anything as exciting as murder. So even if evidence sends them my way, their eyes just skim straight past me as I stammer through the interview. They believe me the ultimate innocent. And I love that.

The Vanishing Station

William took the same train every day. Before his face had fully woken up, so that his jaw hung slack; before his stomach had steadied enough to eat, he would catch the train. He would gaze bleary eyed, as each day Bromley South, Bickley and St Mary Cray stations whizzed past on his way to Blackfriars. There, he would shuffle out with every other groggy commuter, bad moods huffing about them, mingling with the pollution.

Then one day the train didn’t stop at Bickley. William barely noticed, he had only a vague sensation that he got to Blackfriars too quickly. The next day his eyes were staring thoughtlessly out of the window as Bickley was flung past again, too fast, as if it wasn’t there.

It was three days before he remembered to look properly out of the window. What he saw was a dead town. The train didn’t even slow down, so it was struggle to see, but he saw: windows charred, cars flipped over on their backs like dead beetles. He tried to catch the eye of his fellow passengers, but they were each lost to technology, the real world was of no interest.

Over the days William put the flashed blurred images together in his mind to create a whole of what Bickley had become. There were no people, no movement, no birds. Once a pigeon was flying alongside the train. As they reached Bickley station, it dropped to the ground like a stone.

He tried googling the station, but was asked, ‘Do you mean Buckley’ as if Bickley didn’t exist at all. Without the Internet to help him, he wasn’t sure where to go. He didn’t know anyone in Bickley. He tried asking guards at Blackfriars, but they looked at him blankly,

“What? Hinckley?”

William wondered if he should go there, get off at Bromley South and walk. Then he remembered the bird. So he stopped wondering. When Bickley station drew close, he would fold his attention to his phone and keep it there.

As months passed, Bickley was slowly erased. The Bickley signs came down. The platforms disappeared. Then the houses. Soon where was once was Bickley, now was a fence and Japanese Knotweed growing. Reclaiming.