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!”

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.

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?