Friday, 31 August 2012

The river stops

“The river always stops for the guitar's music. It's all an old saying amongst the gypsy musicians," said Carrie. “They believe there was an elemental power in music, if played at the right time, in the right way. A power. A magic in the spirit. I dunno, I heard that in Spain someplace, maybe in a film or maybe my parents told me.” Joel was quiet, in his own space, thinking odd thoughts staring at the cold dark water running by. He was thinking about his guitar, his music. The music he liked to make here, out here by the river. He fingered up a chord and began to pick and strum forming a tune. The hollow wooden box and metal strings cast out sweet sounds, sweet as nuts up in high trees, too high to ever pick. The tune was long and liquid, it followed familiar progressions and then moved, made odd jumps, changes in key and tempo, odd chords thrown in. Carrie was walking away, somewhere else in her own thoughts.

As he played he watched the river currents and water shapes come and go, swell, change and glisten with the music. Fish swam by, creatures and carrion, trees and sticks, twigs and wreckage on the tiny white horses of the waves and water heads. It was a hypnotic moment that stretched for hours. He played and the river paid attention, the river obeyed, the river gave way to the music and allowed the sound and rhythm to pick up an carry those movements, hold and then release the flow. Joel was in there, in the music, in the guitar and in the river. It was that moment he'd dreamed of, that perfect rapport. It had all come together for Joel. Poor Joel.

Three days later the Sheriff's men found Joel's body, carried ten miles or so downstream, he was laid out on a mudbank face down. At the edge the white prowler's blue flashing lights were visible from the road. Some folks stopped to take a look and then went about their business. It was a big river. Granddad identified the body when they brought it back to town, he needed half a bottle of whisky and time to himself before he could talk afterwards. “Three days in the water don't make a body look pretty.” Carrie cried for a week and then went back to school, it was going to be a long winter and the birds were flying real low. They never did find the guitar either. “It just floated away to some other place.” Said Carrie.

Illicit bimbo

Fortified by the olives, a slice of dry bread and a half bottle of Montepulciano, Richard asked himself why it had been so difficult to swop the peach coloured toilet rolls in the upstairs bathroom for the plain white ones that had been put in the downstairs toilet. It was obviously some kind of mistake but he'd had to force himself to make the change and so get things back to normal. Of course as soon as he thought about that it begged the question, what exactly was normal around here? Suddenly he was noticing little things, little things that pricked at him and grew until they became annoying, like insect bites on a summer's evening. Red hot circles in the flesh. He was seeing too much detail in this plainly imperfect world and the amount of work it would take to correct it all was overwhelming. The patterns on the curtains, the towels, the table clothes all seemed to be both soothing and at the same time infuriating. Why on earth had somebody commissioned and designed that design? Who had manufactured it, distributed it and then bought it? What kind of atmosphere were they trying to create or mood did they mean to provoke?

The experimental drugs that had been administered to Richard were clearly having side effects. He was part of the usual kind of live / placebo trial but based on a new male/female contraceptive pill. One that was effective, non hormonal and as a basic feature should not affect the users mojo or libido, a key selling point. These mood enhancing side effects were not welcome nor as far as Richard was concerned, understood. The brief and the trial literature had not mentioned this at all, though Richard would have admitted he hadn't read or listened to everything. He was home now for a few hours whilst the drug kicked in and as a vital part of the deal had sworn to avoid any sexual contact. It was, at this stage of the project all about feelings and most significantly making the mojo work. He had an app on his iPad with which to record these feelings and complete a set of questions, it was all simple enough but those feelings of agitation and masked purpose wouldn't go away.

He looked up from the screen and saw the furniture. I was all clearly in the wrong place, how had he not noticed before? He stood up a gathered and dragged the chairs, tables and couches into the middle of the room and pulled them this way and that concentrating on the shapes and the spaces. After about fifteen minutes of sweat and toil they were all back, back to where they started, but that was OK. The exercise had been carried out. Now the room, the house all seemed too small. He had to get out, he was hungry. He took a photo of himself with his phone, looked at it, deleted it, put on a jacket and headed out.

In the restaurant he watched her across the table. She was all blond and blue and brown running wet water colours and sparkling within a rainbow-like personal aura. She was squeezing half a fresh lime across a piece of roasted herb chicken. The lime yielded a surprising amount of juice, she stared into the meat as it absorbed the tart mixture of pulp and liquid. She tossed on some salt. Then she dug a fork in the flesh and began to eat. Across the table her bulky looking boyfriend or partner was sawing on a steak. Wine glasses were clinking, dull music played and people moved in and out, platters were carried between them and noises came from the kitchen's when the serving door opened. He couldn't take his eyes of her. She saw him, looked away and looked uncomfortable. The steak was still being eaten. She hung on the fork for a moment and their eyes met properly. For Richard it was an electric second but she just looked down, chewed food and opportunity a little and then he thought he saw that secret, illicit smile flicker across her face. That curious smile you may get just once or twice in a lifetime.

Steak Eater got up from the table and disappeared into the gents. For Richard it was now or never. Like a silently whirring mowing machine he moved between the tables and planked himself in steak eater's chair and grinned at her. Whatever he was giving off was powerful and reciprocated, with just a few words they were up and gone. On his return Steak Eater looked for her for a few moments, questioned a puzzled waiter and returned to his meal and sawed into more steak. He mouthed a “WTF?” to a watching diner across the field of glacier topped tables.

In the taxi, in the alley, in the room, in the inner room, in themselves; they were all over each other. The night was a blur for both. They awoke together in the sack in Richard's quickly rearranged apartment. She was laughing, tired, the world was such a small place, tiny and filled with happenstance and coincidences it seemed. Irony and encounter fell out of every vacant space. She reached into her handbag and pulled out her iPad. The drug test questionnaire wouldn't fill itself in and there was the full closure fee to consider.

“The approach used appears highly effective and is fully reversible, at least in the relative short term. The oral version used and trialled on a discrete group of adults is also preferable to the injected version we've been using on rodents. We're gathering more up to date data at the moment.”

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Long walk home

“Oh blow!” Judith snorted, she was looking from the hairdresser's window, the rain was coming down in sheets. Heavy, unseasonal and potentially destructive towards the new hairdo that was nearing completion. “I'm that this wasn't forecast, this is freaky...” She mumbled more under her breath, the assistant and the hair dresser both ignored her and carried on with a mixture of small talk, tiny talk and infinitesimal talk. She remained oblivious and cursed her luck with the weather. She'd left the car at home that morning, deciding to take a stroll, enjoy the pampering at the salon and then via a few well chosen shops and cafes meander back to the flat in time for Simon getting home. It could have been the perfect day off and day out, now Mother Nature was intervening.

She paid the bill and looked out into the gloom. “Have you an umbrella I can borrow please?” The receptionist looked up from the desk and shook her head. “Sorry duck, we don't. There's a shop two minutes to your left.” She added helpfully but in a disinterested tone. Judith thought, “Why do people even bother to try to help when they've no actual intention of being helpful? Next time I'm going to that Italian sounding place in the mall. At least I'll get back to the car dry. I'm not walking again, I'm not walking into this stupid town again.”

She took a quick look at herself in the mirror, it was a good cut, the colour tones were just right, the blow dry was sweet as a nut. She imagined Simon running his fingers through it, sniffing the clean salon smell, breathing her in, remarking on the softness. Those products they'd used with that perfume you could never quite replicate anywhere else. Simon would love this hair. Now the weather was going to spoil it all. She stood in the doorway and gingerly leaned up and down the street, trying to for a strategy, to piece together route, from here to that shop (which better bloody be there, even a Poundland would do) avoiding the rain. The shop fronts however conspired against her. No obvious shelter or refuge. People were dashing by or staying put.It was a horrid afternoon. Desperate measures were called for, like hailing down a passing stranger for help.

Judith began to look for strangers. Most were some way of, all walking the comical way people do when avoiding rain, stepping across puddles, trying to make themselves small, stretching umbrellas across two or three people or a baby carriage. None of the techniques seemed to be working. Judith looked up at the sky, a dark brooding mass of grey cloud like the Throne of Odin was gathered up across the town – doing it's business on everything. No kind stranger was headed her way. Then, apparently from nowhere, lights blazing and reflecting in the wet asphalt there came a long, black Mercedes. It mounted the pavement a few yards down the street and came to a halt right outside the salon and a few feet away from Judith. A rear door opened and a voice called. “Get in Judith, get In!” Judith was puzzled, she hesitated for a moment, she didn't recognise the car or the voice but it was warm and dry inside. She took a quick step forward and in a second was inside the car, her hair still perfect.

The back seat was wide and empty, the soft tan leather melted around her. In front there was an opaque screen, the driver's head blurred by the smoked security glass. A voice emerged from the speaker system, she assumed it belonged to the driver. “Are you comfortable Judith?” “Yes I am,” said Judith, “now tell me who are you and how do you know my name?” “That's a very good question Judith...” The car door closed and the locks snapped on as the car drove off, lights still blazing and splashing through the rain and roadside puddles and was gone in flash. The hairdresser receptionist saw the whole thing through the shop window and nobody else ever saw Judith again.

The receptionist was doing her nails when the police came. She wasn't chewing gum but she spoke as if she was. Her face an odd mix of dull expression and a comic, made up coloured mask. “She stood outside for a minute, I think she was a bit worried about her hair. Then this big black car pulled up, I just thought that she was a bit posh, you know, she'd called up her car or taxi.” The policeman said nothing. “Funny though,” continued the girl, when that car came along the power in here just blipped, the till went off and then all zippy, my computer screen blanked and my phone's still not right. Funny like.”

Back at the station the report was typed up, usual format, usual detail. Detective Inspector Ian McDonald read through it and placed it back on the pile, the flat screen went back to sleep as he eyed himself and whispered to his reflection in the office window opposite. “How big is this bloody universe, how hungry and greedy are these people?” He looked down at the report title. 2012/08/25. 14:35. Incident report. UK Time Travel Kidnap Case No.353a Warwick High Street, Warwickshire.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Too many bananas

23rd August, the day I found out I'd eaten far too many bananas for my own good.

“I've always liked them, always had an appetite for them. Maybe I overdid it with them once in a while. It started in the early morning, I had one sliced up on corn flakes. Then one for elevenses, then a banana sandwich for lunch and so on, all through the day, just my normal snacking and better than endless donuts or chocolate or biscuits or caffeine and stuff like that. I thought that I was being healthy, keeping myself right and there was I on the normal side or normal on the grid of measures about being normal.

I didn't realise that it was building up, in me. There like an oil well or a geyser or a time bomb, all that material, that chemical, trace upon trace, mingling and getting into everything. Worming it's way. If only I had had a worm, that might have helped. Tidied up the slack, acted as an antidote, digested all that surplus material. But of course I never saw it coming, that's what they all say, after the event. “Oh, you know I never saw that coming, not at all”. Yes that is what they all say and I was a typical example of not seeing some inevitable, terrible event coming.

The doctor said it was the Potassium of course. It had built up, I'd ingested it, it was everywhere, I was saturated, despite what I thought was a good balance, well what do I know about balance? What you see from the inside isn't balance, you need someone else to do that, to tell you, from their own reference points, “you're out of balance son.” Best if it's not too late, best if it's not...a doctor.

So I suppose nobody was as shocked as I was when it actually happened. Spontaneous combustion. A phenomenon, a mysterious and misunderstood phenomenon that baffles the worlds of science and crime. I just burned up, all of me, gone in a blue flash and fizzle. I don't suppose it smelled very nice and it was funny how nothing much else in the room was damaged, just a little smoke staining I believe and then there was the carpet of course. So all I did was drink a glass of water, next thing I'm on the ceiling looking down at a doctor and a policeman looking down at, well, what was me. I heard their voices and listened to their theories and then they sort of faded away and now, well I'm here in this foggy place, just thinking these thoughts and recounting as it were the events of my recent and as it would seem at the moment tragically concluded lifetime. Makes me feel hungry really, all this thinking and going over past events. I would love a nice ripe, yellow banana right now.”

Friday, 24 August 2012

Jimmy Jimmy

“I am getting smaller, look at my wrist, look at my wrist watch. See how loose it is!” Jimmy had always had a thing about his size. It started when at age seven or so the Undertones brought out the song “Jimmy Jimmy” all about “Poor Little Jimmy”. The pop song turned quickly into a sour sing-song playground taunt, an easy hook for fun, for bullies and for anybody in hailing distance to catch onto for cheap laugh and a pointy finger. Poor Little Jimmy. Jimmy however refused to stay little, he grew, he grew to six foot two. A useful height but all the time, sleeping and buried inside, Jimmy was still a little “Little”.

In over thirty years a lot happens but sometimes not very much changes. Jimmy had grown up, got a job, married, kids, divorced, in here, out there, playing the scene, then with time and tiredness curving downwards now, headed over the other side of the mountain where, waiting at the foot was “Little Jimmy”.

So despite their differences when Little Jimmy met big, full size Jimmy, there could only be one outcome. Little Jimmy returned and absorbed full size Jimmy. The memory, the fear, the taunting and the doubts rained down again like yesterday's bad weather. Dark water pouring into each gap, soaking each crack and fissure, returning to be absorbed and re-energized into full size Jimmy, bent on making him little again. It was like a slow acting poison, eating from the inside and now shrinking him, eroding him, melting him away. First his thoughts (easy meat), then his clothes, his house, his job, his car, his friends and family, nothing fitted anymore. Big and little don't ever fit. Funny when you can't seem to fit into your own life anymore, where do you go then?

So here he is now, tiny and alone. A misfit? No big bold font, no capital letters, no uppercase, no inverted commas. There's no need for that, now it all fits, all fits nicely on a small piece of paper. The words that make up the name that describe the pain and the shame, they all fit, neat and tidy and tiny.

So Little Jimmy was here once, I do remember him, but see when that shrinking process begins, once you're on that slippery slope there's not much you can do. He just slipped and shrank and after a while we couldn't even hear his voice, couldn't understand him or know quite what it was that he wanted. It was at that point they came and took him away. It was all straightforward, not much effort needed, no resistance and a small white clinical vehicle was adequate for the task, at least that's what I heard. You never really know do you?

Star Trekish

Although I don't quite no what that small thing is, I know that there is always some small thing wrong within Star Trek. Recurring small things, issues (if you will) in the script and in the characters. I can only watch it for so long and then I start to squirm, as if wearing itchy underwear as each awkward slip or unscientific conundrum unravels. Even the passage of time cannot change this, I am not able to see beyond the plot holes and threadbare nature of each story and the flaws in that supposed world of the future. I am doomed never to get it.

“You're a sore loser Captain!” Kirk hadn't enjoyed last evening's card game particularly, he liked to win at Poker and today he was still smarting, down on the season's tally. He was telling himself to let it go but he wasn't listening to himself either. At least there was something distracting happening on the bridge. So Captain James Kirk sat back and into the bridge control seat. His stance aggressively deliberate as if caught up in an elaborate strategy to defend his position. His hands clasped the chair arms, his knuckles white with the tension of the moment and the increasing grip, all signs of insecurity. He was mumbling, still talking back to himself. Spock arched an eyebrow and looked away into an engineering scope display, distracted by an amber band running across a scanner warning screen. Kirk was staring at the main observation view. The image was slowly moving in on an unidentified craft, caught in the Enterprise's tractor beam. Kirk squinted, looking for some recognisable feature or piece of detail.

“Sensors are still negative.” Spock repeated his previous comment. “I'm guessing that there is a certain degree of resistance here, a type of cloaking system that I don't believe I've encountered before. Not one of our regular visitors I suspect.” Kirk was dissatisfied, “they are deliberately antagonising us by hiding their intentions, I'm hailing them again.” He thumbed the speech detector's trigger. “Unidentified craft, you are under Federation surveillance from Starship Enterprise. We request that you cooperate fully with this repeated request that you identify yourself and make clear to us your origins, flight plan and mission.” The auto-trans system immediately churned out a broadcast in 15 million galactic languages, a communication safety net set up for clarity and understanding, as was standard practice. Every life form known should be able to get some part of it. There was no response.

The screen image was now clear and the craft had been wrestled out of a back lit camouflage system. It was a smooth, silver cigar shaped vessel. Unmarked and anonymous. It's course coordinates had been hidden by the back lit system and now it was drifting, offering neither resistance or communication. “Get a party ready for boarding” barked Kirk, “this beast is irritating me and I want answers, what in the name of Great Galileo are they doing out here?”

The silver ship intrigued all on the bridge, the design was unfamiliar, old, slender and smooth, almost featureless. It didn't quite belong in this space, in this part of space, set under the thundering bulk of the on coming might of the Enterprise. “Still no sign of life forms on board.” Spock spoke almost automatically whilst running a number of specialised checks across the management system. “There is data here, it's emerging but it's not...logical.” Kirk bit back. “Damn it, I need something substantial, I've a report to file!”

Spock buried his head again in the read out, numbers and calculations flashed across, the figures were duly crunched. The scanners couldn't tell a lie. “I have a read out now.” Said Spock. “She's only 1000 yards away so this had better be good, that damned know.” Spock looked up and walked across the bridge. There was the faintest trace of a smile, maybe even a smirk passing across his face. It had been strange day. “Captain.” Spock was leaning into Kirk's side and speaking in a very low voice. “Captain, the cigar shaped object, the unidentified vessel. We've run it through all the sensors and data banks and rechecked our findings, it turns out that it is...a cigar, in fact it's a Cuban cigar.”

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Nothing... just nothing.

Lay me down to sleep

Sometimes in life you're the last one, last in line, last person to know, that sort of thing that just happens to you, strange really. So now there's never quite enough coffee in the pot to keep me going, to keep me writing. Here I am, the great so-called diarist, the watcher of the skies, the final man on earth documenting the thoughts, needs, movements and observations of that final, lonely human being on earth. I look out across these land, sea and town scapes, devoid of any human or animal life, empty sky with no birds, no insects, nothing moves unless the wind blows it over, or the water cracks it or some of the spindly weird vegetation gets to it. Rain falls once in a while, I gather the water in cups and drums, to filter for later. The rain when it comes is thin and dirty, it catches the dust and particles and feebly tries to clean the air, the air that did such damage, the air we traded for time. The time that we had an squandered before we understood the consequences.

A while ago I passed the points of madness and philosophy, I spurned religious and other fantasy answers, there were no answers for anybody. I read some science fiction looking for a familiar plot that matched our bleak reality. Of course there were plenty of dystopian destroyed worlds, people and horrors, things eating themselves, tyranny and mutation and the structural decay I was now witnessing. But fiction is fiction no matter how well written and apparently influential or bent to shape it is to match the current perception of reality, still the whispers of fiction's memory persist. Nothing to worry about any more now. I couldn't hear the final whisper.

I couldn't read, I couldn't listen I could only write. I was thankful that the power reserves were holding up, the laptops and building systems still hummed. I'd never expected there to be power available in the last days but it was still there, crackling and sparking out from time to time. Once in a while a tremor would crack a cable and there would be a sound and a flash, I'd look up and maybe see the smoke drift away, maybe notice the light has gone out but maybe I'd not. Things went on.

I was in Ibiza, a white hot island in a warm blue sea. I had arrived there early in the rumblings, looking for a refuge. Everybody else was leaving, running home or away or into the sunset. Some people stayed, they were like me, stoical, determined, unattached, lazy. We worked and went about business, we watched the disasters play out on TV, we saw the webcasts, heard the radio and the messages. The final days were strange, we sat in the sun, in a bubble of sunshine as the bad air bit across the world, as the slow sleeping and choking and unconsciousness happened. There was this slow motion panic as the bits and pieces fell down. Sometimes a camera would be broadcasting, then the dialogue would cease and it would sit, pointing to the horizon or a blue screen, vacant. After a while it would time out and then just disappear, a blank new correspondent. The Chinese Channels went first, they had the worst air and the worst strategy. Slowly it moved West. Our satellite disk tracked the changes.

Aeroplanes and vehicles stopped quite quickly, the wrong mix or air in the intakes, limited adjustment, no internal combustion, movements and escapes were thwarted. There were tales of desperate battles over sail boats, here in Ibiza most had already sailed. We considered those left in the harbour, where would we take them anyway? They still sit at their moorings. The anecdotes about escaping rogue boats slowly stopped arriving as the air moved across. Short wars and pointless riots. Broadcasts became rationed, time was precious and human energy weak, too weak to bother with blame. Then after some short and uninformative official messages in English and Spanish the media shut itself down. We were alone. Spinning still.

For some of those on the island the realisation and acceptance of “alone” wasn't easy. There were fights, suicides, people disappeared, a little looting went on. After about a month we believed that there were about a hundred people left in circulation, sometimes I heard gun shots in the distance . We discussed the future in local groups, we agreed to agree, we tried to honestly list our resources and holdings, there was sharing but there was fear and mistrust. A strange new society stayed stillborn. Then a second wave of sickness came upon us. It was all over quite quickly. I went to bed, I woke up the next day, nobody else did. I took and bicycle, some water and a gun. I traveled along the coast, nothing nobody. Inland, nothing, nobody alive, not north not south. I took about a week to cover the island, there was only white noise on the radio. I returned to to my house, I sat on the veranda, I blocked the thoughts of the dead in their homes, the eerie stillness, too many people to check or bury. The dead animals, the vegetation creeping back, the crippled air that I alone could still breath. Why that was still possible I didn't know, science doesn’t have an answer for everything. Everyday I expected not to wake, as it had been for the others, but I was always waking up and breathing. Crazy.

I had an idea. I propped up a mirror on the nightstand, I took out some paper and charcoals, put on a collar and tie, I sat for myself. I started to draw myself, as a caricature in profile. I spent some time, I wasn't a quick worker, crayons broke and were sharpened. I took time and tried to get a likeness. It seemed appropriate, a silly, jokey, maybe cruel representation, a picture of the end, the last man. I shook it out and sprayed it with Spray-Mount so the crayon would stick. I posted it on the pin board and looked at it. I had a glass of wine and toasted the drawing with a silent speech. I was somewhere, sad and happy, my mark made on the paper. Me, on my own, a self portrait. It seemed to mean more than a web cam shot or anything techy, this had a final, human hand made connection.

So I stay on the veranda and write, eating out of cans, slowly drinking up the remains of the wine cellar. The sea comes and goes, she still obeys the moon, the sun circles us in 24 hours as always. Sometimes a cloud comes and I mark the calendar and take more notes. When the sky turns dark and the Mediterranean night falls you cant light a candle, I feel my breathing getting harder, the chest gets tight. The power back up might be squeezed for a last little light and a buzz but I let it go out, I close my eyes and sleep that blank sleep of resignation filled with hollow dreams I cannot recall. There may be more to come, this may be the end. I hit the save button on the document software, descending to 55% says the graphic at the top. Now I lay me down to sleep...

Dangerous individuals

The evening had followed the usual pattern. A pleasant if minimalistic meal, a few glasses of wine, a recount of the day so far and then, as the alcohol and tiredness kicked in. “You have to grow out of it sooner or later, you can't spend the rest of your life taking offence if somebody passes a thoughtless remark or looks at you the wrong way, not everything in life is there to be taken on board. The world is not stacked up against you alone, not every day, just take it, walk away, suck it up.” Denise never took Henry's response to her problems very well. She was now a little more upset, firstly at recalling this afternoon’s incident and trotting it out and then, as ever, at Henry's reply.

“You never, ever see my side! Do you think I'm unable to take a mature view of things? You think
I'm an emotional retard? Her voice had risen an octave and she was wagging her finger. The pointed red nail on her index finger seemed to add inches to the digit and confirm the ferocity of her comeback. Henry had heard it all before and recognised the proximity of the tipping point. Denise saw the same thing and rather than mount a rescue mission pushed further across the line. A series of familiar, emotional and insulting terms left both of their lips, their bodies arched and held poses like cats strutting and battling for territory. They closed up, circled one another, scored imaginary hits and points, then moved back.

The temperature in the room seemed to rise, Henry loosened his collar, Denise removed her cardigan and angrily tossed it across the couch. Both were equally animated to the point that a mushroom cloud of pouting, hissing steam was almost discernible between them. As a critical mass was reached the pair paused and each slugged a glass of wine as if it was both ammunition and lubrication. Each took a few moments to process the liquid and then the action resumed, roughly in the same place they'd left it. Of course it was beyond any structured or rational argument and as if to underline the stupidity of the situation.It was a routine bust up over something neither one was quite clear about.

DRRIINGG! The doorbell's shrill tone interrupted. Without a word Henry broken off from the proceedings and headed for the door, Denise was in his wake acting as if she didn't quite trust him to answer the door properly. Ready for just about anything Henry unlocked the door and opened it up in a rather dramatic fashion and lunged out towards the door bell ringer. There on the doorstep stood a bearded man in a grey tunic, he had a serious look on his face. The look stopped Henry and Denise in their tracks, mouths open they said nothing and held a frozen pose awaiting the stranger's words.

“Henry, Denise.” Said the man in a heavy, brown, foreign sounding accent. “Please allow me to introduce myself, I am the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of the World.”

Henry laughed immediately and almost spat out his response, “Go away!” Denise marvelled at Henry's restraint but found her own words, ready in her head had frozen and she couldn't quite speak. Henry was lowering his voice, responding to the lack of any response from Jesus. “OK sir,” said Henry, “what is the cause or the charity, I'm always happy help.”

“Henry, Denise.” Jesus looked at both of them, he held out his two hands, palms open. “I bring my peace to you and your household, I bring a blessing.” “OK sir,” said Henry attempting a second turn around, “I... err we appreciate the visit but please excuse us...” Jesus seemed to ignore Henry's words gazed at them both and was suddenly beside them in the hallway. Denise thought he seemed to be floating, she thought of her wine, now her head was fuzzy. Jesus was moving around the hallway, like Jesus would. Henry and Denise were moving also but unsure what to do and both strangely unable to counter or redirect the divine interloper.

Ten o’clock the next morning, first Henry's mobile phone rang then a few seconds later it was Denise's. Henry listened as a colleague asked why he was not with his clients at the meeting and was everything OK. Denise's assistant was wondering why she hadn't shown up for the pre-audit briefing. Henry was calm, serene almost, he was sitting on the carpet, legs crossed and beaming. Denise was also sitting on the floor, her back straight against the lounge wall, her hands were in her lap and she seemed to be staring at her toes. They were still in yesterday’s clothing and oblivious to both time and location. Their return phone conversations were perfectly synchronised, the words being almost identical and both delivered in a slightly toneless and unemotional manner. “Everything is fine, I'm fine, don't worry but it's unlikely that I'll be a work today. I'm busy, in fact I'm at home, at peace, sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus.”

“Denise, I really do love you.” “Henry, I really do love you too and now that we both have Jesus in our lives...”

In the kitchen the radio was on a local channel burbling away at the tail end of a news bulletin, neither Henry or Denise were in earshot. “Valley residents are warned to beware of a con-man rumoured to be working the area. He may well use a hypnotic technique, a disguise or a costume to fool the public and so gain entry to your house and possibly rob or assault you. This man is a very dangerous individual wanted on a number of incidents, if you any information please contact the local police department immediately. Repeat...”

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Penelope Fortyfour

“Hello” she said, “my name is Penelope Fortyfour, I'm your new boss.” I knew my new boss was a lady, I knew that she was starting work today, I didn't know that she owned the rather peculiar name of Fortyfour. I smiled and shook her hand and allowed that thought to pass for a moment. She was a very pretty, crisply dressed for the office, hair up, perfume discernible and not overpowering, eyes bright and clearly sizing me up. I put up with a contrived little pause and introduced myself. “Gavin Slaven, Senior Consultant.” My job title sounded grand and I liked saying it but I knew she was Head of Division and probably unimpressed with my meteoric rise to the middle of nowhere in particular. She cleared her throat with a gentle cough. “Here we go,” I thought, “her opening gambit, firm but fair, open door policy, people are our greatest asset.” She may have said some of those words but I missed them, missed them all, my jaw slowly dropping open as she spoke.

“Gavin, whilst I am you're new Head of Division there is something you should know about me first of all. You see I'm different from you and everybody else in this building, I'm quite different and I'm not about to apologise for that, I'm going to explain. Gavin, I'm going to be open and tell you that I'm not a woman, not a person, not even human being at all, well not as you understand the term. I, Penelope Fortyfour started my career as a Flikr Account set up by a lady called Geraldine Carrick, she's big in research, digitisation and cryogenics. Quite why she chose the Penelope44 name I don't know, anyway she began to upload images and texts and created me back in 2007, it was the golden time of web development. My fictitious life was built up, pixel by pixel, jpeg by jpeg. I went on holidays, tried on clothes and hairdos, had nights out, had friends, boyfriends, family, pets and cars, she put all the pieces together and gave me a life and adventures. As my account grew I became friends with other users, I moved onto Linked In, Facebook, Twitter and I developed a regular blog site. I was all over the place, well read and connected, my statistics were high, hit after hit and like after like landed on my images, words, emails and tweets. I was very active on all fronts.”

She paused and I was conscious of my open mouth, my inability to speak, my desire to laugh and the very real flesh and blood person that I was seeing before me, talking bollocks, as I thought.

I looked up and met her eyes, her very real looking, brown, sparkling and soulful eyes. “As I was saying, I had become very active and rather well connected, in fact I was connected much more than I realised.” I gulped and swallowed. “You see Gavin,” her hand brushed against mine, soft and warm and I inhaled a little more of the perfume as she drew nearer. “ I was so well connected that they decided, as an experiment to synthesise me. They captured my essence, all the blocks, the colours and textures, all the pixels and digits and they processed them I am. A successful experiment. Penelope Fortyfour. And now, to prove their systems, processes and theorys they've sent me out here, out into the big bad world, to work for a living and to be...your boss.”

She stood up, I stood up, we faced one another. There was nobody else in the office, no sounds or movement in the corridor. I was alone with her, with it, this virtual pixel maid, this robot or whatever. Without thinking I spoke, “Penelope, as you are who you are, not human you say, do you have free will or are you under control?” She looked at me strangely, I was listening for muffled mechanical noises or for the sound of giggling behind a door or curtain as the wind up reached it's climax. “Your asking if I'm being operated remotely? Like a puppet?” I was playing this straight, no fun, no messages just obvious questions. “It's a very reasonable thing for me to ask you considering what you just told me about yourself.” Her eyes stayed on me as she stooped down and rummaged in her handbag. She searched for a few seconds and produced what looked like a TV remote control. She handed it to me. “Go on,” she said, “press the blue button and see what happens next!”

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Tidy up

She felt dim, stupid, her words had fallen wide of the mark, missed by miles and now she was alone with her thoughts. The way it always seemed to end. She looked across the room and found herself hidden in the mirror, there, tortured and weak. She stared into her own eyes and tried to recognise herself in the shapes and in the dull sparkle. That was always the hardest part, looking in and facing that thing that was neither a lie nor a truth but a wraith and fogy piece of existence that sat undefined and unlabelled looking back. Looking back for all the world like some rare animal caught on camera in the jungle, captured by the intrusive lens, frozen in that moment and then hidden away in the black box until the shining image was released, days later at some more civilized spot where the animals were held at safe distances. So she tried to out stare herself, watching and concentrating, freezing and goading herself not to blink, or dip or look away. Just to stay, ride in the equilibrium of the moment and be that wonderful, tragic, ghost of a person for seconds longer, for as long as time counts and makes time a real thing. She held the look until exhausted and madly hungry, till the pain took hold and then she allowed the excitement, the shame and the remorse to roll over her like a great troubled sea with all it's uncontrollable waves and currents. She fell back as if accepting the impact of a bullet or the recoil of a weapon, backwards she fell, into sleep and the swimming world of the unconscious, her body's moves making no sense, so out of control and wounded she slumped and began to just hang somewhere. Suspended in the suspense. It grew dark and time passed, she was aware of other things now, “time to tidy up”, she thought.

Gravity sends you out

“Gravity sends you out”. Said Wayne, “And in your re-entry manoeuvre gravity will send you back, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, in fact you are our one thousandth traveller, welcome to the future and your future!” Tom steadied himself and held on tightly to the travel belt, at the same time he heard the countdown in his ear piece, 10, 9...he heard white noise intruding and closed his eyes. The countdown continued, his eyes still shut tight but now behind the visor that had descended to cover and protect his face and shoulders. It was a funny feeling, at one moment there was a floor beneath his feet, then it was gone but there was no sensation of falling, more like floating, standing on a mountain top, or even walking on water. The kind of thing the Young Gods had done back in the other seasons, when it was safe, or so he'd heard.

A long time passed but Tom was stoical, stuck, obeying the last orders and waiting for the next, for clearance, for the re-entry. Finally it came, the accent was foreign and hard to make out. “Traveller One Thousand, you are he, the Mister Tom from the past. Welcome to your new future. Please keep you visor on until the sanitisation process is complete, please remember and recall your briefing material. Do not be anxious, be steady, you have arrived safely but we must complete our processes.”

Tom waited, alert, ready to see. It was warm and there was a strange humming sound that surrounded him. From some place Tom could not perceive a long silver needle emerged. For a spilt second he panicked, he saw it coming but there was no time to think. As the visor unlocked and rose mechanically the needle twirled and entered the middle of Tom's temple killing him instantly.

“That is another milestone for us.” Said Wayne over the coms link, “a thousand products safely delivered, ready to be harvested. Useful organs and spare parts for retail and the rest tastes just like chicken.”

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Cougar 4 Sale

Life is a constant struggle between conflicting appetites and needs. The bright shiny things, the practical requirements, the voices of good sense, stewardship and reason. Things I don't want to say, things I don't want to listen to, ideas I'd just rather not have. But they are there and they exist and you can stumble across them as you casually search, thumb pages, click and peer into the electric gloom and see beyond the dull image and find a life and a passion that goes beyond, that transcends something, that is not ordinary because it's formed from the dreams of others as they meet the dream and aspirations you now own in all your weak, simple and fragile essence. I am of course referring to that pure and painful moment when you stumble across a fine looking and well maintained low milage Cougar hidden within the deep recesses of Autotrader and on sale tantalisingly close by but unfortunately in Glasgow. I think of my credit card, my balance and my numerous other issues and commitments and walk slowly away. “Best left where it is” says a still small voice that may well be either God or the Devil himself.

Shadow of the smoothie

It was an inspirational moment, he was caught up in that great white beam of madness and genius as the impact and wonder of this creative process washed over him, overwhelming and rendering him senseless. Everything was adrift and moving, there was traction but no friction, the experience was like gliding on ice over fire under water in space into a clear glowing sun that was all giving and and all consuming. Heaven or as close as it comes. It was of course vanilla, cream, banana and passion fruit. He had now invented and tasted and been transported and nourished by the world's greatest ever smoothie experience. It can happen, it should happen and it probably will happen, one day, but maybe not to you.

Saturday, 4 August 2012


We were watching sea, watching from our open boat, we floated with no direction. A journey made of imaginary circles, we copied the sun and the planets, we shaped ourselves on orbits and arcs but without taking aim or having ant sense of where we were. Bobbing like a thrown away champagne cork on the deepest and blues sea, caught between skies and water in a huge peaceful sandwich in lazy currents and waves generated far away and now lost without a destination. How strange to be lost a sea, of all places. No reference in the day other than the sun tracking across the top of the blue mirror. At night we saw the shapes of things and the glinting star light of the lost planets and Milky Ways. Shooting stars missed us by thousands of miles as they burned bright for on last time. We listened for their splashes or ricochets but they were already over another continent. When the sun rose we watched the sea some more looking for signs, hoping for wonders.

I closed my eyes and imagine people ashore, noisy pubs, endless talk and chatter, the roar of traffic and background music. The pull of the moon and shadows of some big city, brighter lights that shut out the stars. Maybe conversation, walking home alone, the smells and sounds and the grip of claustrophobia, hectic lives and pursuits, passion and petty crime and all going about their business. I can't really imagine any of this, the effort is exhausting, we are afloat, too far away for things to be real, in too deep. Too much water under us, too much sky above us and land is a distorted memory. One day we shall drown, all of us, lungs full and choking before the black honesty falls upon us and our names leave us, until that day comes we will dip our fingers in the water, enjoy the cool splash and just drift away.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


Rory leaned back onto the wall, he was alone in the room, the room that was no longer steady, no longer a room attached to a building attached to the ground attached to the earth. The room was no a trampoline, on a gyro, slowly turning, groaning almost with the effort of a new movement and carrying Rory around with it. Rory felt the room move, the spin speed increase slowly. He tried to focus on a spot on the wall, on the water cooler, on a PC screen, on the carpet tile, but they all wee spinning, a fluid and unstuck, all at odds with each other, defying gravity and other natural laws.

Rory was going with the flow, standing still but now moving, transported like a leaf or a feather or a Pooh Sticks stick stuck in the currents. Rory held his ears, as if pressing on them would fix the problem, then he held his chest, as if breathing regularly would calm the spin. Then he held his tummy, his crotch. He bent over and held his knees. Then he stood straight, tall and gripped the wall with his palms, eyes closed, eyes peeking, eyes open. He was on the wall, like a fly on flypaper, stuck to the spinning wall. Like a wall of death without the bike or speed or centrifugal force. Travelling still but getting nowhere, that's Labyrinthitis for you. A chronic condition, a force of nature, Rory was caught.

He closed his eyes, he sucked up the dark, time was passing, time was travelling around him, here he was wherever, here he was going, deeper into himself. Deeper into the illness, further into the condition, into the lair of that dark insect bite itself where sleep is stolen, peace is shredded and pain and discomfort settle on each shoulder and hold a conversation across the top of your head. He heard a snort, he felt the animal sweat, he opened his eyes slowly, the disease gripped him, all over. Chronic and putrid, the fear came and manifested itself, here comes the night, here comes the beast. There are the yellow eyes, hungry as the ancient beasts and the wolves of the forrest. Half bull, half man, all wild exposed and real. Here is the Minotaur, here in the Labyrinth.

Rory awoke the next morning, he was hurting and his nose was twitching. “What's that smell?” he thought, “bullshit I guess.”