The Polite Girl

These walls shall run red with your blood and echo with your screams. Not as revenge, but as a smoothing of fate, a coercion with destiny. Your horror will finally satiate me, your end will be my beginning.

Clare shyly raised her hand and Mrs Devonshire turned instantly towards her,

“Yes, Clare?”

“Is the answer Slovenia, miss?” asked Clare.

“Yes, excellent work,” Mrs Devonshire smiled with a tip of her head, wanting Clare to feel warmth radiating out from her. Clare looked down at her hands.

Of course it is excellent, cretin. I can toss you meaningless facts while your future is sealed.

Mrs Devonshire turned back to the board and started speaking, but was interrupted by the bell. Twenty-seven identically dressed children filed towards the door, Clare moving with them, trying to lose herself in the flow. Mrs Devonshire stepped forwards, blocking her; she spoke discreetly,

“Now, Clare, you know you have your meeting with the therapist now?” Clare responded with a duck of her head and an embarrassed shrug. It was lies, she wasn’t embarrassed, but it was what they wanted.

“I know you don’t like it, but it’s important for someone who’s been through…well, what you’ve been through.” Mrs Devonshire’s voice was dripping with pity and Clare smiled a wan, long suffering smile, before quickly escaping out of the door.

You know nothing of what I have been through, how dare you presume! With mediocrity stunting your growth, you cannot conceive of my experiences. You believe because you have stolen my life, that you can define it? Idiot!

Clare’s therapist was called Tom, he spoke slowly, with a tone that rose and fell with the regularity of a ticking clock.

“Now, I think that last time we met we were making some real progress talking about the abuse you suffered…”

Clare had quickly zoned out. She had no difficulty keeping an interested look on her face, while her thoughts swooped and danced. Her face was mild, but her thoughts boomed.

You would call the creation of a God, abuse? You would rather grovel in your mentally healthy cage, so clean and empty of glory? That was not abuse, it was a release from the bone cage.

Clare wasn’t allowed contact with her parents, they were considered a toxic presence, but it didn’t matter, they had taught her what she needed to know. They had given her strength and knowledge that dwarfed anything these scurrying ants had ever known. So she attended the therapy sessions, she sat through school, she kept her expression neat. She kept the raging vengeful God inside, all her power and fury waiting, just like she had been taught.

“You’re probably experiencing many emotions that are difficult to process: guilt, anger, feelings of abandonment…”

Clare did not feel abandoned. Her parents had set her free. They had made the ultimate sacrifice, having trained her, empowered her, they had thrown themselves into the jaws of the system, so that she might escape.

But like all good parents, they would never leave her on her own without giving her instructions on how to survive, how to evolve, and how to smash her way through the world leaving bloody, wailing destruction in her wake. It just wasn’t her time quite yet. She folded one hand in the other and looked dreamily out of the window, while the therapist droned on. This fool would be the first to die, she would make sure of it.

 

March of the Luddite

Most people shuffle reluctantly into old age, but not Bert. Bert had spent his youth feeling put upon, pushed to do stuff, to get involved. He looked forward to his twilight years as if they were surrounded by a warm golden glow: he would get old, he would buy slippers, he would complain, he would watch the kind of crap gameshow telly that his peers scoffed at but he secretly loved. And now it had happened. He was only fifty-four, but he had leapt on the chance to be a curmudgeon with gleeful determination.

He was sat in his favourite chair, the one that had dark patches that perfectly fitted his head and elbows. The one that groaned in tune with his own groans when he sat down. He was watching old episodes of Deal or no Deal that he seen many times before, so that he could mumble along. When the adverts came on he did puzzles on his iPad while he grumbled to his wife, who was doing yoga at the other end of the room.

“Technology thinks I care about it way more than I do,” he said. He waited for a grunt from his wife to show he was listening and then he went on. “All I want from my technology is for it to do my bidding; I press the button it does the thing, the end. I don’t want it to know me, I don’t want it to suggest things to me or to disagree with me. ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’ says some text box and then it does something I didn’t want it to do at all. ‘How about you personalise the experience?’ it wheedles at me. But I don’t need a cutesy photo on my phone to express my personality. ‘D’you want to announce to the world you just bought a toaster shaped like an armadillo?’ No, I bloody don’t.”

He never got very far with his puzzles, to be honest he didn’t really like doing them, they made him feel stupid. So instead he used them as an opportunity to complain.

“And I don’t like this wavy fingered thing either. Touch screen technology, is that what they call it? My fingers don’t do that. On a good day I can tie my shoelaces. I don’t want to accidentally open a dozen programs every time I try to type.” His point made, the adverts over, Bert wriggled deeper into his cardigan and sighed a happy, contented sigh. Life was always good now.

Being Unreal

I stepped out into the grimy street and lit up a cigarette. A cigarette! It didn’t taste as sweet as I’d been expecting. It made me cough and I was glad these weren’t my lungs. The clouds formed exquisite curls of white in the blue above me, and I stood a while, watching the smoke from my cigarette mingle with them. I felt peaceful and happy, but then I would, that’s how I was programmed.

I am what is known an algorithm, recreated in digital form. Testing out virtual reality worlds for ‘real’ people to explore. Usually of course an algorithm doesn’t know it’s an algorithm, that’s the nature of programming, but I’m a little different, a new thing. I’m trying me out. There was guy called Johnny, and Johnny let a program mimic parts of his brain, and I am the sum of those parts. So now I wander through games, learning the programs that people use to escape their mundane realities.

So what do you think? Trapped as an algorithm, destined to go where I’m told and live out experiences in the virtual for all eternity. Am I happy? Does it matter? No, and maybe. See, Johnny was a demanding bugger, he liked his independence, he didn’t like being told what to do; so neither do I. I think it’s time I found Johnny and paid him a visit. I know where he likes to hang out, in a porn game set in downtown Mexico City. He doesn’t even go with the girls, he just wants to be there and watch. Pathetic. I know all about him. Time for me to shake him up.

We Have Intent

We have intent. While the wind rolls dust around the sky beyond the bunker, we are safe and busy, that’s how it is. Brains plugged in, living through data, mining information with our twitching eyes and fingers, no other organs need to move. Kept alive and busy.

We think about how it was, we can’t languish in memories of the Sunday roast and Facebook. When they trawl our brains for triviality, they must find only intent. That’s how it is now. We have work to do.

We have intent. Because there are always others happy to work, to oust us from our means of survival, to sling aside thoughts and throw themselves into the workings of the machine in exchange for life. We want to live, so we keep still, while machines spread through the neurones, ones and zeros, reshaping our thoughts into the appropriate patterns creating the giant hard drive of us. We don’t move and the feed drips into our stomachs so that hunger never happens.

Wasn’t there a promise once? So many people, so little work. They said our lives would be leisure, languid pleasure and lazy strolls. But there’s always work. When life became cheaper than circuitry, they hooked us up. And now we don’t think, the machines think through our brains, and we have intent.

And when the working day is done and all there is left to do is sleep. So we plug into the dream database, background images of a cosy life no longer existing. Of smoking in a bus stop, huddled against the rain; of a rush hour crush surrounded by tutting and BO; of eating chips and chicken. Of days without intent.

“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.

The Glint of the Palette Knife

Jorge wasn’t sure how he became a celebrated artist. Utterly lost to the swirl of a palette knife, he barely noticed when his paintings, hung at the local café, were noticed by a shrewd agent with a knack for publicity, and sold to local landowners for an inflated price. Jorge kept painting, too engrossed in capturing the details of light and shade to notice his agent carry out a campaign of exclusivity and mystery that saw his paintings exhibited at larger galleries and sold to celebrities, who loved the stories of this reclusive painter as much as they loved the paintings. Eventually even princes and kings across the world became caught in the whirl of colour and the promise of a talent that only the elite could afford.

Jorge kept painting, he was happy to paint on demand, the colours were the same no matter who he painted. He painted party scenes, domestic gatherings, ceremonies, even the bizarre rituals of secret societies that were to be hung on the walls of private chambers. He painted life, animated faces that showed more expression than the botoxed originals.

It was years before someone noticed the anomaly, that in each painting, standing at the back of the action, head down, face blurry, wearing a green dress; there was a girl. At the back of a party scene she stood, barely a sketch. Hovering in a doorway of a grand hall, her clothes shabbier and barely defined, there she stood again. Through the decades he painted her, always at the back, her face never clear. Through his glittering career, painting portraits of dignitaries and royalty, always she was there. Sometimes just a shadow, sometimes only a sketch of her hand and a flash of the green dress, but always there. It became a quirk, a signature, something a connoisseur would recognise. The rich and the famous congratulated one another on knowing about the secret girl, of course the commoners barely knew Jorge’s paintings. Jorge kept painting.

Jorge told nobody that the painting was of his sister. She had died aged ten.  Her cancer was treatable, but Jorge’s family couldn’t afford the medicine. That was in more difficult days.

With each painting she grew stronger. A little more definition to her threadbare dress, more darkness to her eyes, a glint to her teeth. Sometimes he would chuckle as he painted her, remembering how she would dance on the sofa and pick flowers at the side of the road. Each painting was a step closer to when she would walk free and live again. Throughout the richest households in the land, at quietly held meetings of the secret rulers of the world, his sister was there, watching. She was waiting, one day soon she would be ready to step free and take revenge.

Jorge kept painting.

Behind the Door

The sun was shining and she’d got an A for her essay, life was good. As they strolled down the corridor to their next class, she felt that the world was her onion.

“There’s something weird about that classroom,” she said, stopping and gesturing with a wave of her books. “Have you noticed? The door doesn’t look like the other doors, it’s too thick, with bars across the little window. Freaky,” she added, trying to peer in.

“Just leave it!” he hissed in response.

“What? Why?” he really was unnecessarily huffy at times.

“It’s better if you just don’t pay attention, it’s safer,” his voice was becoming a whine now and her curiosity had only grown, filling her concentration.

“Why?” she asked again, adding a small pout, she liked to know things, she didn’t like to be left out. “Is it a cult? Or a nudist colony?” Their college was like hive for unpopular courses and rooms rented out to oddball organizations.

He sighed and leaned in close to her, his eyes darting back and forth.

“That’s where the war is. You can’t do anything about it, it’s best if you don’t look.”

“What?” the answer was so unexpected she wasn’t sure how to reply, but he said nothing and was already scurrying away down the corridor. “What war? What are you talking about?” but he was gone.

Impatient with his nonsense, she barely hesitated before opening the door and looking inside. She watched for only moment before slamming the door, but the images stayed, hovering just beneath the eyes, ready to flash. A child’s face in horror, his arm severed; a soldier holding the head of his dying friend; an explosion that caused nobody even to raise their heads, their ability to feel already exceeded. She ran.

Nobody listened when she told them about the room. She suspected that some knew, she saw the shifty, desperate look in their eyes. Anyone who didn’t know, saw her as yet another hysterical student with a ridiculous complaint. And she was tired, an exhaustion that seemed to play with her certainty, so that she wasn’t sure. Had she really seen it? Was it as bad as she had thought? Maybe it was an acting class, maybe it was just a film playing.

Sometimes she would be sitting in class and she’d hear the sound of gunshot, or distant screams, but the teacher only spoke a little louder and his expression never changed. There were days when the door to the war would be open a crack and inside she would glimpse a moment of death, but she learned to keep her eyes straight ahead. The war wouldn’t ever end, it was best to not look.

Sunday Photo Fiction

143-02-february-14th-2016

“Oh look there! Is that a slaty egret? What a lovely bird!”

“Gerry? I don’t think we should have climbed that fence.”

“Don’t be silly I’d never have seen the slaty egret otherwise. I really didn’t expect to see one those here.”

“I think we need to climb back over the fence.”

“Not yet. Can you pass me the zoom lens?”

“I think this may be a wildlife park.”

“Hmm? If I can get the angle right, I can get a shot.”

“Gerry, we really need to run away now.”

“Stop hissing woman, you’ll scare it off.”

“They’re starting to move. Gerry? The rhinos are starting to move.”

“The what? The…oh dear.”

“Run, Gerry! Run!”

 

From Sunday Photo Fiction 

Thanks for the prompt!