Archive for the ‘2022 minus new fiction’ Category

Well, here we are… the penultimate post of 2021, and the final piece of new fiction, written on the day, sparked by an image I came across by chance.

Huh.

Quick check to confirm… yeah, this is the 25th piece of new fiction for the blog this year, one a week since July 2021 (I took three weeks off from the blog in October, to recharge.)

Twenty-five stories. That’s enough for a collected ebook, yes? Hmm, well, that’s an idea.

Anyways, for the last time this year, the introduction:

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously.

And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain. So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I carried on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

Today’s story is based on an image I came across by chance… but instead of finding it on Unsplash, my usual practice, I’m using one that I took last year, but came across again this morning.

And so this week you get a story about a considerate man, considering… sparked by the following image.


The River Goes On

I had come home to die.

Oh, they’d dressed it up with fancy language and the doctors had told me again and again, reiterating repeatedly that the chances of the treatment working, though slight, were at least greater than zero. Which is what my chances of surviving this damned thing were without undergoing it.

I stand on the bridge I’d once cycled over, look away from the letter in my hand, and out across the river I’d once been afraid of. The depths look anything but frightening now; if anything, they look inviting.

But then so much looks different, seems different, since the diagnosis. The reactions from friends and family were expected, and had even felt stilted, practiced. They were neither, I knew, and know. At least, I think I know. But as a sometime television extra, watching professionals convincingly pretend for a living, it’s hard to tell what a real emotion is any more.

Especially when it’s your own. I mean, how are you supposed to react when you’re told you’re dying? I don’t think I dealt with it well. After all, it’s admittedly a strange experience, being told that your time on this earth is likely coming to an end. And that’s leaving to one side that whole Anger, Denial, Bargaining etc., thing everyone kept, and keeps, telling me about as if they’ve just discovered the process.

I’ve been going back and forth deciding whether I’m pleased the world will go on without me, that my friends and family will continue to be the lovable, infuriating, wonderful, exasperating crowd I’ve known.

But, honestly, I’ve no complaints. Nor should I have. I’ve lived a full life.

Huh.

I’ve never really considered what that means before.

“A full life.”

Isn’t everyone’s life ‘full’ by the end, by definition? Full of something or other, of necessity? Full of fun, full of joy, full of love, full of wonder… or full of misery, full of pain, full of melodrama, full of… pain. Or full of some mixture of some or all of them.

But full, surely?

What they meant, what they mean, of course, is that I’ve somehow managed to tick off the boxes I’d been expected to fill: education, love, a career, more than one, and children, and grandchildren… and those I loved, and those I’ve lost.

In my case, as well, a modicum of short lived and unwanted fame, merely because I’d once been romantically involved with a minor celebrity.

A bird flies across my view, then lands without grace onto the water; small splashes erupt, the sounds gone in an instant, the ripples lasting longer and attracting my eye.

A grimace, involuntary. I’d thought it so sensible, so wise, to parlay my own moment of note into a business venture, helping others who found themselves thrust unwanted in the spotlight. Looking back, it hadn’t been wise, hadn’t been sensible, at all. And when it crashed, the fallout…

The sun emerges from behind a cloud, its light too bright, and I raise the sheet of paper in my hand to block it out; as I do so, I wince, this time from physical discomfort, a stabbing pain deep within to match the ache of the mental imagery the previous memory had provoked.

And, yes, to be fair, the embezzlement by my business partner hadn’t helped matters.

But that was long ago, so very long ago. I’d made good on the theft, so I’d earned some peace, hadn’t I? No, came the apparent answer.

I sigh. That’s all behind me, in time. As is the hospital in distance; about a mile. And what awaits me in that building brings a shiver to me, despite the warmth of the day.

I look at the letter again. It’s short, blunt and tells me what awaits me.

It’s hard to read.

Even now, it’s hard to understand, despite rereadings.

But then, she’s only four, and she doesn’t understand sentences yet. But there’s a picture of a cat, and her. And me. Apparently we all hold hands. Including the cat. There’s an invitation to come stay with them, forever.

And there are four, very carefully written, kisses.

I’d come home to die. Instead, I was going to live, with them.

As for the rest, it’d be worth it, for her.

I look out across the river one more time. It goes on. And so do I.

© Lee Barnett, 2021
 
 
See you tomorrow, with… something else, the very final something else of 2021.

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 almost here.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Housekeeping note:

It just hit me.

I mean, I guess it should have done yesterday when we hit the ‘minus 10’ but no, it’s getting down to single figures I guess that counts.

We’re under ten days from the New Year, which acts as a reminder of two things:

  1. I better start preparing the latest A Life In Pictures for uploading at some point before 1st January. (Usually it’s done on 31st December and I see no reason to change that this year… yet.)

  2. I better make sure I have posts planned every day for the next week.

Blimey.

Ah well, on with today’s…


Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

This week, a story about a much needed gift, sparked by the following image.


The Gift

It’s the afternoon before Christmas, and all through the coffee shop, it’s not quiet at all. I can see people laughing, chatting, full of the joys of the season, which pleases me immensely. It fills me with the joy I like to experience before embarking on the long night to come.

I drain my cup, place it down, close my eyes, and then open them, wholly unsurprised to see the hot steaming liquid, with just a touch of milk added. The smell fills the air in front of me, which I enjoy as much as the beverage.

(And yes, of course I pay for the coffee; you just never see me do it. No one ever sees me do anything… unless I wish them to. And it’s been a very long time since I’ve wanted anyone to see me do anything at all.)

Sipping my umpteenth coffee of the day, I continue my personal project: taking enjoyment in others’ enjoyment; my own gift to myself, today of all days: The Day Before.

And then I see them, at a table by the window; sitting, sullenly staring at each other in anger and upset.

I start, actually surprised at the obvious but unspoken fury tinged with sadness. Then I realise what’s happening: I’m watching my first Christmas Argument of the season. And oh, it’s a big one.

Damn. Damnation and buggeration. The last thing I need today, but from the look of them, the last thing they need as well. I cast my eye over the pile of shopping at their feet; good quality but not expensive. Nothing expensive, and – I concentrate for a moment, staring at the shopping, at each item, feeling its history and future – nothing for each other.

Oh.

For a moment, I wish I could still act as in the old days, and give them each a tangible present, something to discover when they get home, maybe. But, alas, my talent for that particular joy faded long ago.

But I remain curious; a blink and I’m siting at the next table, a table which of course didn’t exist a moment earlier. The couple never notice; right now they wouldn’t notice if I shrugged off the glamour the elves had gifted me so very long ago and appeared to them at my full height, dressed in the classic the red and white coat. Oh, and Rudolph and Dasher sitting next to me playing backgammon.

They’d never notice anything outside their own suffering right now. Their world has contacted to just themselves: a love that’s rapidly fracturing, their history that alternately burns and salves.

As I watch and listen intently, they travel through the through the whole history of their relationship, from their first date, to their second, to their first night together, to recovering from that disaster, to meeting each others’ families… and to recovering from that disaster…

And they’re done. It’s obvious to them. They know it, they feel it, they know the other wants it to be finished.

The thing is, it’s obvious to me that neither of them want it to be over. It’s not pride that is keeping them apart, nor anger, not really. They’ve just run out of words. Neither has the vocabulary they need to save nor to dispose of what they have shared. They stare at each other, without the words to finish it irrevocably. I can see the anger withheld, the battle inside each of them, knowing that one phrase, one piece of venom, would… finish their relationship forever, while one expression of unreserved love would mend it.

I’m not allowed to intervene; the rules are clear. From midnight on Christmas Day for twenty-four hours, I’m allowed to visit each home and gift them all something precious, something they wouldn’t get elsewhere, or from anyone else: the strength to go on for a little longer; and the ability to forgive.

I can’t do anything but watch their love for each other splinter.

I can’t do any–

Ah, dammit.

I watch as his hand sweeps in emphasis and push it precisely half an inch on its journey. It connects on the edge of the cup, and instantly, her jacket and trousers are covered in brown liquid. It happens so suddenly, neither of them wonder why the drink is suddenly tepid.

“Oh gods,” he says, utterly bereft at his own clumsiness, his face betraying his embarrassment and self-castigation.

A moment, and then she laughs. It’s a genuinely nice laugh, the sound entirely free from the sharp edge that had accompanied it only moments earlier.

She stares for the very briefest of moments at the fluid staining her, before… “Oh, do you remember when mum spilled the gravy? On their new carpet?”

Another laugh.

He instantly gets it, and laughs along with her. “We could smell it for weeks!”

The venom has gone. The sheer, unfettered fury… is fettered, and evaporates before my senses.

After they’ve wiped up, he holds her hand. “I’m sorry…”

Her eyes light on his. She kisses his hand. “Nothing to be sorry for, ok?”

No, of course I didn’t break the rules, I didn’t give them a present.

I gave me a present. That’s allowed. Probably.

They’ll choose to believe any argument was the result of a misunderstanding, though never agree on what the misunderstanding was.

But they leave the place hand in hand.

And I return to my drink and the preparations for the gifts I am allowed to give later tonight.

I can’t always promise peace and goodwill to all, but I do what I can, whenever I can.

And that’s usually enough. At least that’s what I tell myself.

And sometimes I even believe it. I drain my cup, and check the time. One more, I think. One more cup before the long night’s travels…

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 now scarily rapidly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

This week, a story about another last human on earth…, sparked by the following image.


The last human, the last story, the final lie

“Are you ready?” She asked, and waited, patiently, for the answer.

“I don’t think so, not quite yet” replied the man, who was sitting, his feet dangled over a cliff, staring out towards the horizon, enjoying for the final time the sea breeze and the merging of brilliant and subdued colours as the sun slowly set.

“It’s ok,” she said from behind him, “we have a little time yet.” She moved so he could see her and stretched her arms up towards the sky, hands linked. It was entirely performative and both of them knew it. But it was a kindness that he appreciated nonetheless; as the last human alive, he was grateful that she’d taken the form she had. It felt less… cruel somehow, this way.

“When…” he started, then paused, gathering his thoughts. He hadn’t thought it would end this way, after all.

She tilted her head slightly at him, and he was reminded that she was not truly human. Had she been, there’d have been an eyebrow raised as well. Come to think of it, he realised, there’d have been an eyebrow to raise. An odd absence but one he’d not previously noticed.

He started again. “When… it happens, will it hurt?”

“Only briefly and you won’t remember it, so…”

“Oh,” he said, then, “But what will I remember?”

“Nothing,” she replied and then held up a hand to forestall interruption. “Nothing unimportant, that is.”

He grinned at her “…and just who decides what’s unimportant, or otherwise?” His smile faded, not completely but just a little . “Yeah, ok, silly question.”

“You will be transformed. You will be healthy. You will continue. You will be… you.” She was programmed to be kind, and she was.

He didn’t understand her words fully. But he was dying and in pain, and no longer cared to know more than that.

He stood, suppressing a groan as he did so; the pain of an old injury that had never quite fully healed merging with a new pain, that of hunger and deprivation. He stared down at her.

He closed his eyes. Took a deep breath, then another, tasting the air, really tasting the flavours and strange scents and thickness of the atmosphere. Then he opened his eyes.

“OK.” He said, the firmness of his voice surprising him. He’d expected to be nervous. He’d expected to be scared. He was wrong. He was neither. “I’m ready.”

He’d expected to have died a long time ago. The last human. He’d suspected it of course, but she had confirmed it after she appeared, all shining metal at first before she took on the appearance of a woman he’d once known. Of course it was an idealised version; she couldn’t replicate the sores and the blood and the desperation in her eyes when she’d died, hungry and so, so tired. The offer was too good to be true; to continue, out there in the stars.

“I’m ready,” repeated the last human alive on the planet. It was the last thing he ever said.

She was programmed to be kind, not honest.

She had lied of course; he wouldn’t remember anything because he’d no longer exist. And she had lied about the pain, for experience had taught that they expected some. But there was no pain; it happened too fast for that. One moment there was a broken, shell of a man, attempting to stand straight, then there there was the briefest of bright flashes, and then there was ash briefly floating on the air before it spiraled away on the radioactive laden winds.

She reverted to default settings: humanoid, but all shining metals. She scanned for a moment, then levitated and aimed herself approximately two dozen kilometres southwest. there was another last human on the planet to remove.

She had been at the task for, as the last humans measured time, three years, eight months and six days. She had removed a little over twenty thousand ‘last humans on the planet’ thus far and had — she consulted her internal scanners’ — approximately forty seven thousand last humans on the planet to go.

And then there would be peace in this sector.

Ground passed beneath her, what used to be roads, buildings, homes.

They would be again, once the place was made fit for habitation by her masters. Until then, she flew on.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 less slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

As always, the story is as long as it needs to be; not a word longer than I want it to be, nor a word shorter.

And, as sometimes happens, the story that results is shorter than I anticipate when i start it. This is one such tale.

This week, a story about contractual… honesty, sparked by the following image.


The Deal

The first thing you need to understand is that it hadn’t looked looked like a typical demon. It was pleased when I mentioned that.

I guess that’s why I hadn’t treated it seriously. It seemed silly though It was honest about being a demon.And honest about other things as well. Which, yes, surprised me. But there were no horns, no tale, no smell of sulphur. Merely a normal looking man, offering me a workaday contract to sign, for something I no longer needed.

I mean, I had no idea what I was giving up, of course. A soul? What was a soul? Could I measure it? See it? Even know it was there? No, of course not, so why would I need it?

Hell, I was getting the better end of the deal: success, money, everything I wanted… for this… thing it wanted, a thing I didn’t even know I possessed.

My soul. And I didn’t even have to hand it over at the time, just at the end of the contract. So I signed.

And it delivered; I can’t argue with the results, can I? A few days after signing, I won the lottery. And then won it again the following week. Even though I never played it before. The women fell at my feet. And the men. Any time, anything I wanted, anyone I wanted.

For almost three decades I lived large; everything I wanted was mine with no effort. And then it was over.

The contract expiration date, a date I knew was coming even if I didn’t know when precisely it would arrive, merely more than ten thousand days after signature.

As it was, I made it to more than twenty-eight years, almost a full year more, Turns out it’s decided randomly. Some get no more than the ten thousand. Some get more. Some get a lot more.

Oh, I didn’t die, no… Lucky? I suppose.

No, I won’t die for a long, long time yet. Something about ‘the local star’ or something,

But now I spend my days doing deals. All day.

Every day.

Because that thing I didn’t need? Turns out having one is what stops you buying other people’s souls.

So, ten thousand days of success… are you interested? You are, aren’t you? Even if you don’t believe the cost.

Why no, I don’t look like a typical demon. That’s very kind of you to say…

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

So, this week, a story about a hero, doing what is necessary, sparked by the following image.


The heroic ideal

From more than two thousand feet in the air, the hero pondered. He was not a vain man; he knew beyond question that his alien mind and his thinking processes were far in advance of the humans below. That was just a plain simple fact. he liked facts. And yet his plan, based upon those same facts, was failing. He could not understand why.

Humans were, he knew, a species with greatness inside them. Horror as well, of course; he had seen too much over the decades not to understand that.

But he had planned for that.

Decades earlier he had commenced, in secret. And yet… and yet. It was failing. They were failing.

The man in the cape knew it was impossible for him to have made a mistake, even more so back then, and so he thought deeply on what information he must have been lacked. Logic and reason; the two cornerstones of his sanity.

The decision that he had reached decades ago was logical, he was convinced, with the information he had then possessed. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, was that he had, somehow, lacked further better, more relevant, information. Or time, of course. He might have miscalculated the time necessary for his plans to come to fruition. It was possible. Not probable but possible.

He considered the four of them once again.

The first, he knew, was now a CPA; an accountant of all things, concerned with numbers and with spreadsheets and with balances. The man in the sky would have chuckled had the situation not been as serious. And had he possessed any measurable sense of humour. The accountant was married, with two children, and was…happy. Well, as happy as ordinary people ever were.

That made no sense to the hero. The subject of his present thoughts wasn’t even particularly strong on law & order policies, nor in making things better for people. The first subject of his experiment was content to provide for his family, his fitness regimen was merely to play soccer at the weekends with friends. And he spent his working life converting the mess and muddle of other people’s bookkeeping into something more acceptable to the taxation authorities.

Rotating to face north, the man half a mile above the ground considered the second of his experiments. The second of his failing experiments he was loathe to call him.

The second of them had gone into politics, and was at this very moment — he scanned the building far below with vision that could detect a blade of grass out of place — explaining a detailed policy on plastic recycling with knowledge and passion. And yet that was the limit of his public service: politics, with its compromises and hidden deals. At least the politician was honest. As much as he could be, anyway, and do well in the political arena.

Thirty hours ago, the man in the sky had spent almost an hour outside the man’s house slowly, with great patience, looking through the walls, and had been disappointed once again: no secret rooms, no workshops, not even a costume. And yet the man had seemed pleased with his lot and his family.

Once again, the hero rotated 90 degrees and faced east: considering the third. An apparent wastrel but that was not in itself damning. What upset the flying man was that the ostensible waste of privilege and money was exactly what it seemed: there was no secret cave below his large house, no interest in science and technology. Merely a wasted adulthood spent in hedonistic pleasures. He was happy – that was obvious – but no more than that.

The fourth of them though was the greatest disappointment. When the hero considered the template, it was almost painful, though it had been decades since the man in the sky had felt true pain, after his skin had gained its full invulnerability and he had come into the full intelligence his alien heritage had granted him.

There was nothing objectionable about the fourth subject; nothing objectionable for there was nothing special about him at all, thought the hero. Married with several children, one of whom was blind. He gave up two evenings a week to help his wife with various charities. He was the manager of a sporting good store; one of the smaller stores, in a large city with three other stores of approximately the same size. But outside his family, he made no real friends, no real enemies, no real problems. He was, however, content with his life.

The hero lowered himself to the ground, unable to understand why these four, his early favourites, had so disappointed. They all had so much potential.

Decades earlier, the hero had noticed that so many of his contemporaries were getting on years; also the lack of new heroes to take their place. Every generation of heroes was smaller, more disappointing. He had noticed one thing they had all shared in common, however, apart from the various injuries and bruises: they were all orphans.

Each of them had lost their parents, and moreover, had lost them to violence.

The next step was obvious. And logical. And entirely rational. FGor a whole year, every Sunday night, all over the country, he had murdered six of parents of children who were nine or ten years of age. It hadn’t been difficult once the logic had revealed itself; quite the reverse. A mugging here, a murder there… on several occasions the people simply vanished, with just a smear of blood and bone left to remember them by.

But now, twenty years later, almost none of them had chosen the heroic life; instead they valued their families, not people as he did.

Unless, maybe, that was it. He’d left them alone to create families. Maybe more tragedy was what was needed. It would take more work, more deaths, more decades, the hero knew.

But it would be worth it in the end.

The hero now knew what he had to do, for wasn’t that what a hero did? What was necessary for all?

He’d start this weekend.

The hero smiled, pleased at his logic and his decision, and his selflessness. And started the experiment again. As he had so many times before.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

So, this week, a story about a man and a child and a meeting, sparked by the following image.


A meeting, at first

He was known to those who needed his services as The Investigator. And woe betide any who were foolish enough to refer to him as a detective; he scorned the very concept.

“Takin’ the easy way out,” his closest companion later recalled him contemptuously describing the occupation. “Pathetically looking for what has been left out almost in plain sight for plodders to find. The only skill such a person needs is persistence.”

And now the child had made the same error, asking him if he was a detective. “I do not detect,” he explained. “I investigate. I discover what others do not want me to find. I uncover what others would wish to remain hidden. I then think, and I then conclude, and I then reveal, to those more stupid than I…”

He paused, turning his face to the window, looking out of the headmaster’s study onto playing fields that he had once played on, and the child was foolish enough to complete the statement with what seemed to be the obvious words “…the truth?”

The tall man whirled at once, furious, though whether at the audacity of the child or the stupidity was impossible for the child to glean.

“The truth?” He almost laughed at the absurdity. But he restrained himself; he’d never been seen laughing, by anyone, and did not wish that to change. “The truth?” He asked more calmly. “There is no such thing. Truth is mutable, malleable and pliable. Facts are none of those. I reveal facts. Whether they are regarded as true depends on who is interpreting them.”

He got down on one knee. “Do you understand?” He asked, almost gently.

“I do, sir,” the child responded, pulling his school blazer around himself a little tighter.

“Good,” said the aquiline figure. “So you will please explain to me why you killed the English master. I know that you did in fact kill him; I’d like to understand why.”

The child started to speak, and then stopped as the tall, thin man, held up a single finger. “Before you reply,” the man said, not unkindly, “I wish you to consider the following: 1. I know without doubt, beyond peradventure, that you did indeed kill your English master. 2. I can prove that you did without any difficulty whatsoever. 3. I know why I would have killed him; indeed, why many would have sought his death, but I am curious, I confess, as to your specific motive. 4. I require nothing but the accurate recitation, without embellishment. And finally, 5. What you tell me, and what I tell the police inspector who will soon be arriving, may be two very different things indeed.”

The child looked up at the tall man and considered his answer carefully as required. He had trusted the taller man at once, and implicitly. He could not have said why at that moment, nor in the years and decades that followed, when he became in turn the Investigator’s most reliable companion. But trust him he did.

“I killed him because he had to die, sir. To protect the others, to protect the other children. And,” he paused, summoning some courage, “…and because no one else would do it.”

“Why do you aver that?” shot back the Investigator, his demand sharp and short.

“Because if anyone else would have eventually… someone else would already have done so.”

The Investigator started. The logic was flawed, the conclusion equally so, but the facts bore his explanation out.

“Sir?”

“Yes?”

“There are some children here that will not sleep soundly tonight nor tomorrow, becuase of the master’s existnce and actions, but they will soon, because he is no longer around to… to…” The child’s voice tailed off and the man saw the boy’s hands start to move, then cease.

The tall man stood then, bid the child to remain silent and paced around the room for seventeen minutes until there was a knock at the door.

“Come!” The man said and the door opened to allow Detective Chief Inspector Strange to enter.

“Ah, you’re here. Well?”

The tall thin man’s voice was certain and clear, betraying nothing but the conclusions of obviously serious and logical thought. “The English master was killed by a paid assassin, of Hungarian origin. He will already have left the county, and by the time you block the ports, he will have left the country itself. I will supply you his name within the week, and should he ever return, the evidence necessary to convict him.”

“Damnation,” said the policeman. “Damnation and…” he stopped as the other man indicated the child, and then apologised for his language, before raising an eyebrow, for he was not a stupid man, merely unimaginative.

“He… wished to meet me,” the Investigator said, with a stern, thoroughly convincing but disapproving look. The policman nodded in exasperation, then left, muttering something about ‘bloody kids. never understand them’ under his breath.

Many people, in the decades that ensued, asked the child who became a man how he met the man who became a legend. He would only ever reply with the words “at school”, and leave them to ponder the details.

But late at night, when he considered his own and his friend’s actions over the decades, he looked at others in their circle and wondered about them. Yes, he wondered, and hoped that none of them wondered about him quite as deeply, or for the same reasons.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

So, this week, you get a story about some new tenants, sparked by the following image.


The tenants

He recognised them instantly, of course. They’d been kind enough to send photographs before the appointment, but the pictures had hardly been necessary. Everyone in his trade knew their names and likenesses.

The old man with the grey hair and the pink complexion smiled as he handed over the keys and hoped that it was convincing. Inside, he shivered slightly and stooped just a little bit more than necessary.

The woman took the keys, giggling nervously, and asked the question the old man had been expecting: whether the small house was haunted. The old man would have been mildly disappointed had one of the two not asked the question, since he might then have had to steer the direction of the conversation to prompt it.

There were traditions to uphold, after all.

But no, the woman had obliged on cue, just as the keys had passed from his hand to hers. Her hand was warm, and as pink as his. The woman’s companion smiled at her question, but the old man could see the curiosity in his eyes also. Even without foreknowledge, he supposed that in prior days, he would automatically have assumed he was her husband, but those days were long past, if they had ever truly existed.

The old man waited a moment before replying; he knew his trade well, and was equally certain that the pause was expected of him, as if he was carefully considering his response, bringing forth all his formidable powers of reasoning to produce a considered and reasonable answer.

Again, tradition.

“Well,” he said, commencing a small speech he had prepared dozens of times over the years, “there’s some who say it is, and some who say it ain’t.” He sighed, mostly for effect, but partly to catch his breath, for he was no longer young and the years had taken their toll.

“I’ve been the agent of this place for more years than I care to remember, and my family was before I came along” – that was true at least – “and I’ve heard all the stories: the tall tales about this house being built on an ancient graveyard,” [true], “those of the latest architect who redesigned it being insane”, [untrue – the old man remembered the fellow well; eccentric as were all professionals, but perfectly rational], “the multiple murders over a single three month period, a century back” [completely true, though the murderer, a neighbour, had been captured almost immediately], “and the ones about the unfaithful mistress bricked up behind the kitchen wall…” [He knew that tale to be false, as the kitchen had been entirely refurbished and rebuilt six years previously, and the only thing found behind the wall had been rotting insulation.]

He gave another sigh and finished up. “So I’ve no idea whether or not the house has ghosts…” he paused again and wondered whether to use the joke he’d been saving up, then went for it. “…but if there are spirits in there,” he tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially, “I think they come in bottles with screw tops and are best drunk out of decent glasses.”

He laughed loudly, alone, then bid his farewells. He waved at them and walked off to his car with an odd shuffle, as if one leg was slightly shorter than the other.

The old man usually had a theory about each set of tenants, and was content to allow each set of tenants to add to the data set and either confirm his conclusions or otherwise. His theory was this: that those gullible fools who believed the spiel were the people who ended up disappointed with their experience in the small house, while those who went into the house sceptical were most often the people who exited that same small house as true believers in the legends.

But he knew from the moment that he met them that his theory did not apply to this pair. He didn’t look back at the couple on the small porch of the small house. He no longer wanted to even think about them, though he knew he had no choice in the matter.

And when he returned to his office, he opened the safe, and pulled out the thick file that he’d inherited from his father, who’d inherited it from his own father. And so on and so on, back through the generations. The thick file, with the new tenants’ names on the cover, their names written in firm copperplate. And the date, similarly elegantly inscribed: 13th April 1734.

Every trade has its trad… no, now that he was back at the office, he could be less cowardly, more honest: every trade has its own superstitions. And when that couple want to rent somewhere to haunt and have their fun, you let them, unless you wished to be haunted to the grave yourself.

It wouldn’t take too long, he knew. The end of the week maybe, but definitely by the end of the month, and the small house would be empty. It was strange, he realised: he had liked them. And as that sank in, he similarly registered that only she had actually spoken; he had merely nodded, and smiled, and uttered the occasional ‘huh’ or ‘hmm’. He’d never heard that about them before; he wondered why.

Still, soon enough they’d be gone, and he’d have to redecorate – he groaned at the likely expense, and wondered with no small amount of dread how much blood there’d be.

For the first time in his long life, he was grateful he had no grandchildren living locally.

He leaned forward and pressed the intercom, summoning his son from the main office. It was time, long past time, to tell him the tale, as he had been told those many years ago in this same office.

He left the file open. The pictures would convey more than the words. Well, the replica daguerreotypes, anyway.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

And I’m continuing to live up to the promise to my old friend, whose birthday it was this week.

So a story about birthdays, kind of, sparked by this picture.


Lost dates, lost people

Oh, it’s today. Again.

With a sinking feeling, I follow my practice of choice and open my calendar app on the phone and select the calendar I’ve marked as ‘Lost’. The names and dates appear instantly on the screen, and I pause for a moment, just a moment. I close my eyes. And I remember.

I miss paper diaries. I liked paper; I liked its invention. I mean, I wasn’t there for it, but every so often, I wonder what I’d have said to the person who invented it.

And I miss the personal nature of a paper diary; my diary was my diary. Sure, there were a few thousand out there that looked the same from the cover, but it was unlikely that anyone else would have a diary of the same dimensions, the same thickness, the same colour, the same typeface used for the year shown on the front.

I’d pick each one up a few days into December, and relish the ‘new paper’ smell as I cracked it open, enjoying the stiffness of the pages, the blank pages waiting for me to fill them.

I’d examine the opening pages, smile at the page waiting for me to complete my name, contact details, address, telephone number and email address in later years.

The pages showing ‘a list of major world events’ I’d skip at that point. But at some point, certainly before the start of the year, I’d read them carefully, for an hour or more, looking for anything that would surprise me. Oh, the events didn’t change, but sometimes my memory would fade and it would be enough to provide a corrective.

I’d skip to the back of small book, and the maps. Whatever else was in a diary, the maps always bemused me. I’d resist the temptation to correct the names to those I’d known in the past, and it saddened me that with every year that passed, with every new diary, the resistance was a little easier to summon.

And, then, I’d open this year’s diary, and next year’s, place them next to each other, turn the pages together, and start transferring the names and birthdays across onto the blank pages.

And with every date, there’d be names that this year, finally, I didn’t transfer.

That’s a problem with immortality, you know, that they never teach you. The major administration things, oh, you learn them fairly quickly. You learn to move on, to leave so much behind, to leave a life behind, when it becomes… necessary. No, that’s a lie. You may have learned to leave a life behind when it becomes necessary, but after a few hundred years, you start to leave it behind when it becomes convenient.

You learn how to manage finances and back accounts and investments and the best places to hide and to vanish and those in which you can thrive in almost anonymity.

But deciding when to stop mourning a loved one? That’s a tough one. To stop grieving? Oh, it would shock others how short a time; maybe four hundred years before your grieving process can usually be measured in days if not hours.

But the mourning process? When you stop remembering everything about them? When you stop smiling at the thought of their face, their eccentricities, their loveliness? When their absence ceases to be sad, and transforms into merely idle memory.

Paper diaries helped. I had a firm rule, developed when I was about 700. 700 and something, anyway. Fifty years after their death; that’s when I stopped transferring their birthdays and death days to the new diary. Wives, lovers, children. They all got fifty years. Apart from my parents. I don’t remember them any more; I don’t remember their having birthdays. But the dates got transferred anyway. My father would have been 2500 a couple of years ago. He didn’t make it to 40, not as the years are measured now, anyway.

I miss paper diaries. When that decision was made every year: this person’s details were transferred over, this person’s wasn’t. This person I’d remember at some point during the year when I saw their name, that person I wouldn’t remember unless something else happened to cause me to pull out an old diary for some reason.

I open my eyes and look at the screen again. They’re modern marvels, these mobile phones, astonishing. I never cease to be amazed at the wonder of technology. I don’t have to do anything; the names and dates and details and photographs of people transfer over to the new year by what the tiniest part of me – the part that thinks of the old days, and I mean The Very Old Days – still considers a form of magic.

The convenience is beyond previous imagination. As is the cost.

I sigh and start scrolling down the names attached to today’s date. So many. So, so many. Wives, lovers, colleagues. Children. Grandchildren. Great grandch… you get the idea.

I don’t know which is healthier. The paper diary with only 50 years’ of deaths, and maybe double that of memories. Or seeing hundreds of years’ worth of the names of people who I cared about, who I loved, and who loved me.

I don’t know which is healthier. Or better. Or stranger.

About half way down the very long list, I see the name I was expecting. Happy birthday, father. I wish I remembered more about you than the date.

I miss paper diaries.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

So, I came across this picture by chance.

And here’s a story about unexpected pain and the pain being worth it.


Coming Home

I opened the door to the apartment with my key and cursed gently at the noise it made. They’d be in bed now. Only someone with a genuine reason to be up late would still be awake at half-two in the morning; she’d long ago got used to the hours I kept and the job I did. She’d be in bed. He, of course, would have been put to bed as the sky outside turned from overcast to night.

I took my shoes off in the dark; she hated me tracking mud through the place. I was dressed in civilian clothes, of course, rather than the costume, and I was bone tired. I’d had a long day and I don’t know how the other major leaguers managed it. I always smiled at my son’s comic books when he begged me to read them to him. What would it be like to be one of his fictional omniscient heroes, and not to need sleep but just to take it for relaxation?

I needed sleep. Both in the general and, especially tonight, in the specific. I was tired, weary, and I needed to go to sleep.

I put my foot down on the carpet gently. Not only because I had no wish to be stabbed by a toy my four year old son had left around, but because like any father I didn’t want to tell him that I’d broken what would, I was convinced, happen to be his favourite toy of the moment.

Yeah, sure I had an invulnerable force field like the newspapers report, but it comes both at a cost, and from my gauntlet. And I have to direct it. I could be, and had been, injured just as much by my feet being speared by a toy soldier as by an energy weapon taking me unawares in battle.

I stopped dead, suddenly struck by a memory. a couple of years back. We’d all just returned from Inner Earth, and were having a debriefing [ok, a bite to eat] back at The Clubhouse. Somehow we got talking, as sometimes happened, about injuries and wounds we’d suffered, and I’d a laser whip was nothing, nothing!, compared to stepping on a lego brick.

There’d been a moment of silence before the laughter came, then cries of ‘no, wait, what about when she twists your ear?’ And ‘oh deities above, when he head butted me in the groin…!’

And more laughter. I’m not sure that’s the exact moment when my colleagues became my friends, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I crept into his bedroom and grinned. Even before turning on the infra-red vision, I could see that he wasn’t there. The bedclothes were slung back and, switching on the vision, I tracked his footprints as they left his room and went into the main bedroom. I shook my head in wonder at the evidence that his feet could be warm enough to leave traces on the carpet.

They certainly didn’t feel that warm when he crawled into our bed at six in the morning and placed his ice-cold feet on my back to wake me up for breakfast.

I looked in on my wife and son. They were both sleeping and I left them there while I walked into the main room, seeing a small flashing light. I’d have hovered over but I promised her when we moved it: no obvious use of powers in the apartment unless lives were at stake.

The light on the answer phone was flashing. Not the normal everyday one, but the one that my son knew as “Daddy’s phone”. I mentally sent the signal to play the messages and heard a half dozen auto-messages from The Club, as well as a message asking me to renew my Readers’ Digest subscription. Wow, I thought, have you got the wrong number.

There was some unopened mail for me which puzzled me for a moment, since my wife usually opens our mail. Then I saw that it was fan mail and understood why it had been left unopened. She used to get a kick out of, but changed her mind on the subject a while back. Even though secretaries employed by The Club usually scanned the mail in advance, they’d once let a death threat slide through and she’s avoided looking at the fan mail ever since.

I put the kettle on and made a coffee while I read some of the fan mail. It was the usual: two requests for help, a half dozen requests for a fly by , a request or two from children asking me to beat up the local bully. More proof that childhood experiences stick with you. I still remembered the names and looks and preferred tortures of my own school bullies. I had, I’ll admit, been tempted more than once to follow up in person in the past, but I’d usually found that a quiet word in the childrens’ teachers’ ears did the trick.

I put down the mail and opened the freezer. I knew there was some ice cream there, and I had a sudden banana-split attack. I wasn’t sure to be aggrieved or proud to find the carton still there, but with a piece of frozen paper attached upon which was written in spidery childlike writing. “sorry. I was hungry.”

I turned out the light and went into the bathroom. I caught a look at myself in the mirror and looked at the small cut above my eye. Ouch… I remembered the energy rifle blast that caught me. I’d had the cut checked out back at The Clubhouse, but the docs couldn’t say whether it would scar or not.

So far I’d been lucky. No scars in visible places, although my back was a mess of scar tissue and the skin over my kneecaps never tanned. Not any more. Not after that time I was thrown out of that car on the freeway. An invulnerable shield three feet in diameter could only protect so much.

I rubbed my chin. I needed a shave but it was too late and I was too tired. When my powers first appeared, I’d tried to pretend I was Superman from my son’s comics… and shave by burning off the whiskers. Never again. No, really., never again. Not only did the bathroom stink from the stench of burning hair, but I had heat blisters all over my face. Took them three days to go down. Never again…

I stripped off and dropped my dirty washing in the basket. She had few rules, but that was one of them. I quickly washed and the cut bled a bit just as I dried it. I walked into the bedroom and, taking care not to wake the boy, sat on the edge of the bed. I kissed her head and she stirred.

“Umm,” she said, “what time did you get in?”

“About half an hour ago,” I whispered.

“Everything OK?” she asked sleepily.

“Yeah,” I replied, still whispering. “Dr Radium’s back in custody, the shuttle took off on time, and I even remembered to post your mother’s birthday card. Everything ok here?”

“The credit card statement arrived,” she said.

Oops.

“You never said you bought some new computer equipment.”

“Ah…”

She smiled, and my heart warmed. And I knew I’d gotten away with it. There have to be some advantages to being a costumed hero, after all. “Let me put him next door and then I’ll come to bed.”

I stood up and scooped our son into my arms.

I took him into his room and as I put him into his bed, he woke up a bit. “Daddy!” he sleepily cried. “You’re bleeding!” He was worried but calmed down quickly when I told him it was no worse than a shaving cut. He gave me a hug and then snuggled into his bed, his head firmly on the pillow, his favourite teddy bear by his side, held tightly.

I kissed his head and then went to leave. A quiet voice asked “Daddy? Are you a super-hero like Superman and Batman?”

I turned to him and spoke quietly. “No, son, I’m not like them. They’re real heroes. I’m just someone people call a super-hero.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Daddy, you’re my real hero.”

My eyes watered. I looked at this four year old with his own power: the power to make everything all right again, and my heart filled with love.

“Daddy?”

My reply of “Yes, son?” was filled with pride, with love, with…

“Daddy? Can I have a drink of water please?”

I trod on a damn Lego brick as I went to the kitchen. It was worth it. The work of a hero father is always worth it.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.