Archive for the ‘57 minus new fiction’ Category

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 this blog run, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. So, since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the story telling parts of my brain.

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

As often as not, I have no idea why the image appeared in a search for something else, and equally as often as not, I have no idea why that image sparked a story while another didn’t.

I came across the following image the other day, while searching for something else entirely, but this sparked the slightest gem of an idea.

And here’s what it inspired.


Day 391

There were eleven of us left. Eleven, from a crew of two hundred and thirty-five.

The captain was the lucky one, I suppose. He died from an accident, on the fourth day. A faulty connector on his oxygen supply. At least that’s the official story. And there’s not one of us who believes it; personally, I think it was suicide, but he could have been killed.

And if it was murder, it would only have been the first. Murder, accident, suicide. These words seem to belong to the past, to a way of thinking that long ago ceased to have any relevance to us.

For the past month, the death certificates have had one cause written upon them: The Hole.

It’s there right now, outside the ship; a neon arsehole hanging in space. It ripped us out of the metaspace highway,, and parked us here, at this precise position in space; a dozen died from the sudden deceleration. I remember their names. I remember all the names.

A little over 1.6 trillion metres away. Never changing. And no one has a clue why it hasn’t taken us. We’ve seen asteroids taken in by it. Two weeks ago, it swallowed a planet. A whole fucking planet. With the most powerful scanners we carried, we could see the ships trying to escape from the orange and green sphere. None of them made it.

And we’re here, not knowing why. In a little over a year, we’ve learned precisely three things about The Hole: it’s there, it never changes in size, and – we can thank the surgeon’s interest in ancient history for this, for no one else knew the archaic measurement – it’s exactly one million miles away.

We can thank the surgeon for something else as well: the small foam pad on top of which is a smaller green pill; one per cabin. They appeared three weeks after we were captured by The Hole. It’s painless. Apparently.

A poison that leaves no trace. That’s important. Obviously. The surgeon came up with it.

Oh, wait, I’m the surgeon, aren’t I? I forget that sometimes. I blame the gravity, but it could be the home made brew someone in engineering created in the eighth month.

I open the ship’s medical log and reread the last week’s entries; I have no idea why I’m keeping it. Training, I suppose. There’s nothing to write of importance; nothing but the date, a damage report to ship and crew, and the number of us who are left. I have no idea, given the gravity waves, whether the date is correct.

The damage report is just a lengthening list of problems that can never be solved; we ran out of supplies six months back. And now I record one more death. Death in the line of duty, of course. Cause of death: The Hole. I should have done it yesterday. I thought I had, but apparently not.

A soft tone rings. Lunchtime. The captain’s last order had been that we maintain Earth time. It matters less since we couldn’t maintain the lights. But food times are important, I think. At least I think I think.

I close the log, and look around my cabin, once again cursing the lack of supplies. I walk over to the back wall, and slide open the drawer.

Second petty officer Johnson. I remember his sense of humour. And his booming bass. I thank him for his sacrifice.

And start preparing lunch for those of us left.

 
© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. 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 this blog run, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. So, since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the story telling parts of my brain.

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

As often as not, I have no idea why the image appeared in a search for something else, and equally as often as not, I have no idea why that image sparked a story while another didn’t.

I came across the following image yesterday, while searching an image of glasses. I meant spectacles, but this sparked an idea.

And here’s what it inspired.


The watching, the watcher, and the watched

I’d picked well. I knew it within moments of walking through the door.

The pub was almost empty, but that was good; that was what I’d hoped for. Hoped for, not planned. There was no point in planning it; I’d learned that lesson long ago. It only ever led to disappointment, for people are often unpredictable. Unpredictably so. So, I never planned it but I hoped for it. Oh, I hoped for so many things.

The only thing I was certain of was that I would get what I wanted. I would get it.. It’s all I’ve wanted since I started. And they do say that if you want something enough, that with enough hard work you can get it. And I really want this, and, oh, I’ve put in the work.

Getting there relatively early meant I had the pick of tables to sit at. I walked to the bar, ordered a large rum and sunk it immediately, the heat spreading through my body with a welcome familiarity.

I ordered another, and took it with me to the empty table I’d spotted the moment I’d entered the place. Of the four lightbulbs above the table, two had blown; that was good. I could sit alone until I chose otherwise, and equally importantly I could sit, long experience had taught me, entirely unnoticed.

My back against the far wall, I was well satisfied. For the moment, at least. I was close enough to the bar to see and hear everything, but just far enough away to be wholly ignored until I chose otherwise. I could see every part of the pub from my seat. OK, with the exception of the toilets, But it would do. It would definitely do.

I sipped at the drink, barely noticing it now as more people entered. An older couple, followed by another couple still older. My heart thumped. Maybe I was wrong. It had happened on occasion, and it meant that yet another night would be wasted. I knew that a fleeting mark of concern marred my features, and I cursed my weakness. But it soon vanished with concentration; hours of practice in front of my grimy bathroom mirror had helped with that.

I closed my eyes briefly; only briefly, I didn’t want to miss my chance when it came. My breathing slowed and my eyes snapped open as the door creaked and a crowd of well dressed people of my own age entered. This was more like it. The crowd? No. The age, yes. Late twenties, early thirties. Arrogant with the promise of years to come, of experiences not yet encountered.

An hour passed, and I nursed my drink, and the pub gained more patrons,. No one quite right though… and then the door swung wide open one more time… and He entered. I’d started capitalising them in my head a long time ago, and it felt… right to do so. A mark of respect before respect was even needed or due.

He was the right age, was dressed the right way, and walked almost with a swagger as He moved across the room. He had a face and body that women notice, and sure enough they glanced up, noticed Him and their eyes tracked Him as He passed them on the way to the bar.

I studied Him. Would He do? Was He the next one?

His hands looked strong, but not too strong; He stood up straight. All good. His eyes swept the room, and momentarily paused occasionally, but then continued. They swept over me and continued. Good. I didn’t want to be noticed. Yet. Very soon, but not quite yet.

He ordered a fruit juice. Odd. I expected a spirt from Him. I side eyed my run.

He drank the juice and ordered another, and drank that just as fast.

Then a third. And it was only then, as the new glass appeared in front of Him, that He suddenly looked in my direction. He smiled at me. I smiled back.

And with a small move of my hand, I gestured towards an empty chair by my side.

He smiled again. I smiled again.

Luring someone is difficult. Luring a victim is harder.

The conversation was brief, and He heard what He wanted to hear. As did I. I examined what I could see of His body. If not perfect, it certainly seemed adequate for my purposes.

He mentioned that hHe was alone, that He lived alone, and wasn’t expecting anyone else to join him. He lived nearby. All just about perfect. His eyes looked hungry. I wondered what He saw in mine. Whatever it was, He was at the very least interested. Good. It’d be easier if He was willing.

When He spoke of His job, I ignored it. I didn’t care. What he had planned later that week? It was wholly irrelevant to me. It was meaningless drivel and we both knew it, though wouldn’t admit it. My plans didn’t include caring about His tomorrow, let alone His next week.

Oh, yes, he’d be perfect. He was the one, I knew it.

And then he ruined it. With one sentence.

With one combination of words. “Shall I add you on Facebook?”

No.

No. No. No.

A serial killer wouldn’t be on Facebook and he certainly wouldn’t tell a potential victim his real name.

I swallowed the rest of my drink and stood up, surprising him. I never said another word, but my disappointment must have shown on my face. He looked shocked, surprised, offended. I didn’t care.

He wasn’t Him. He wasn’t a Him. He was just a him.

He wasn’t the serial killer I was hoping for. He wasn’t a serial killer at all.

I left the pub, and softly swore to myself.

Tomorrow then. I’d go out tomorrow.

My search would continue. Another night, another pub, another hope.

But I’ll be a victim one day, I swear I will. It’s all I want, you see.

 
© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. 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 this blog run, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. So, since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the story telling parts of my brain.

So that every week, I can write something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, sparked by an image I come across by chance, usually while looking for something else entirely. As often as not, I have no idea why the image appeared in a search for something else, and equally as often as not, I have no idea why that image sparked a story while another didn’t.

I came across the following image Tuesday afternoon, while searching for information on the English civil war for… something else.

There was just something about it, and it sparked an idea.

And here’s what it inspired.


A Small Breach of Conformity

She was early, and the heat had taken her by surprise. She was the only one, though. All around her in the streets, and now, in the square itself, people passed her with perfectly selected attire, entirely appropriate for the weather at this moment.

For the briefest moment, but only for the moment, she regretted not checking the government issued official weather forecast before she left. “Accurate to the centimetre”, it promised. And, like most government pledges and policies, while it was impossible to prove its accuracy, it would have proved – had anyone cared to check – equally impossible to demonstrate any inaccuracy.

She had been born after the supremacy of conformity, and though there were occasional attempts to change it, they never came to anything. Why, politicians would ask, would we or should we change what people don’t wish to change? They were all sure there was an answer, but no-one ever changed.

She had been careful the past few days not to do anything that would alarm, or shock or horrify her neighbours. A visit from the conformity police even in these days was something to concern.

She looked around the perfectly proportioned square, noting the perfectly proportioned paving design beneath her feet. No one had apparently realised that she wore two faintly different colour shoes. Her little rebellion. But, she acknowledged, it was very little. So far.

There were three large buildings comprising the sides sides of the small square, with one side open to a park; a park with perfectly coiffured trees, the exactly recommended diversity of flora and fauna, and an acre or two of grass of exactly the same height.

Two of the buildings were new, or at least the buildings were newer replacements for their predecessors. Outside they were twins of each other, the same colour of brick, the same windows equidistantly spaced, the same height, width, depth. All the same. And she knew that inside the buildings, were she to step inside, there would be identical dimensions, floors, purposes and people.

The third building, though, the one in whose shade she currently stood, enjoying the brief relief from the shade. That was her destination in about – she glanced up at the sky and read the digits being projected – twenty-two minutes, after which she would discover whether her plans had been worth her time. She mentally reprimanded herself at the idea of thinking ever being a waste of time. That’s what they want you to think, she thought, and hid her smile at the joy of arguing, even with herself.

Being early had its advantages, though, she thought. The shadows thrown by the biggest building’s two angular upper floors created the cooler area in which she found herself. She placed her shoulder bag on the ground. That in itself, she knew, was a breach of etiquette, but only a minor one.

She took a moment to enjoy the mental exercise of making a decision for herself: should she risk what she wanted to do next. Would they stop her?

But apart from the heat and her slightly aching feet, she was mildly curious what reaction she might do next would provoke. Disdain? Sadness? Pity? She made her decision. She unclipped from the side of the bag a grey canvas roll. She shook it, and snapped her wrist. And placed the small frame of a chair now hanging from her hand onto the ground. She knew it looked more fragile than it was, and with an anticipatory smile, she sat in it. She opened the bag, pulled out some papers, and started to read.

It didn’t take long for her to sense the disdain; it was almost palpable. When she looked up from the collection of papers in her hand, she was careful not to meet the eyes of those who were either contemptuous or shocked. The former she fully expected, the latter saddened her. She hoped no one would call the authorities though. It wasn’t a breach of the law, but of the social contract. She didn’t know if they regarded that as worse, as the people passing obviously did.

She continued reading until, with a start of surprise, she looked up. Longer had passed than she’d anticipated, and she grinned widely at the thought, now uncaring of the blatant surprise on those who saw her. She pushed the papers back in the bag, apathetic at how they fit, then snapped the chair closed with her wrist.

She aimed herself at the third building and walked towards it.

This was it. This was her opportunity. She’s found them. Yes, yes, it was ostensibly working for Them, but she’d heard the stories, the hearsay, and had discovered the opportunity. To work from the inside, to work for change for the sake of change. In a world where conformity was everything, where planning was supreme, where surprise was discouraged, where… she thought the forbidden word: where boredom reigned, she was taking the opportunity to do what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, and with whom she wanted.

She hadn’t booked an appointment, she hadn’t called ahead. She was convinced her initiative would be rewarded by these people, by these people above all.

She registered the sign on the door of the building, and slowed her pace.

The Ministry of New IdeasPermanently Closed

For the briefest of seconds, she felt pain, deep in her stomach. How could they do this to her, how could they? The sheer, unfettered, arrogance and contempt. Why would they?

She stopped. And worked it through in her mind. And reached her conclusion.

Then she smiled, pushed open the door and passed the test.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. 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.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before. I came across the following image this afternoon. I liked it, and it sparked an idea.

So here’s the story it inspired.


A Call From Miranda

The call came through just as he was heading for the door, a journey home, and an evening spent regretting too much.

Only one caller used that tone, and it was one every police recognised: it was Miranda.

OK, officially, the name of the caller was The City, but within days of the system going live, some wag in the fifteenth precinct had named the voice Miranda, and it stuck. A year later, they’d made it semi-official.

It was rare that The City called; rare, but not unknown. and he answered the call with no more concern than he would have his long-departed wife. In the days when she called. Come to think of it, he mused as he answered the call, he was probably more concerned by her calls back then, certainly towards the end.

He slowed his walking, just in case. You never knew with Miranda.

“Good evening, detective,” came the latest iteration of a polite voice he’d learned to recognise in his first week of training.

“Evenin’ Miranda,” he replied, wondering just for a moment how The City would have responded had he said another name.

“What can I do for you?” He continued, already half-assuming his evening was blown, but not quite ready to give up on the idea of leaving the precinct.

“There will be a murder in 13 minutes and 9 seconds,” said the voice.

He stopped walking.

“Repeat,” he stabbed out, any pretence at politeness evaporating.

“There will be a murder in 13 minutes and 5 seconds,” said the voice.

“Where?” The question was automatic, he was already thinking about who else would be getting the call, who else would meet him at the scene.

“At your current location.”

OK, that was new.

“At the house?”

“It will not be at your home, detective,” the voice seemed to gently chide him.

“No, no, I meant… forget it.” Sometimes, rarely, Miranda betrayed her ignorance. It was never worth mentioning it. She’d say thank you for new information but unless it was relevant to the case, it would never even be filed. Police slang? The City preferred formality in all things. He was marching back to his squad room, thinking bad thoughts about worse people.

“Who’s the likely victim?”

“Current indications, most likely probabilities, and–”

“Who’s the victim?” He barked out, already back at his desk.

It may have been his imagination, but the reply seemed to contain a trace of irritation at the interruption, but he didn’t care about that just now.

“You are the predicted victim, detective.”

OK, that was uncommon. Rare, even.

Crime prediction had been around for decades; it had a lousy success rate, but politicians liked it, and the public liked it, so The City was allowed to make the predictions.

Serious crimes only, and even they varied with the change in administration, but even then, thousands of hours were wasted every year checking out the warnings. Most times it never panned out, fortunately. But every time a prediction was accurate, or at least could be called accurate, the media went nuts, and the word would come down to treat the forecasts with more respect.

“Time?” He asked,

“The time is now 9:34pm, detective. Would you like to know the weath–”

“No,” he said shortly. “What is the time to the predicted murder?”

“There will be a murder in 11 minutes and 35 seconds.”

“Scenario?” It was odd how the training kicked in. Not “circumstances”, not “parameters”, not “how?”. But “scenario”. That was the word The City responded to best.

“The most likely scenario predicted is that an weapon undetected on arrest will be used by someone to…”

Did he imagine the pause?

“…kill you, detective.”

“Well, that’s not great,” he said aloud.

For a moment, he wondered whether the Miranda was composing a response, then the voice confirmed it.

“Other likely scenarios are available, together with probabilities.”

And then it hit him.

“Why have no other police officers been informed of this?”

“Your question is based on an incorrect assumption, detective. Other police officers have been informed of this likely murder.”

He glanced around the squad room. No one was looking in his direction; some detectives on their phones, but none looking worried or anxious.

“Who’s been informed, Miranda?” He asked.

“Would you like the list in alphabetical order or in order of level of seniority?” The City asked.

“No, I mean…” he paused. “Have any officers in the precinct been… no, strike that. Have any officers inside the precinct station been informed?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It is police department policy not to warn potential criminals that…”

Oh great.

“Ok, I get it.”

“Reminder: There will be a murder in ten minutes exactly.”

He remembered the last time this had happened, the last time a police officer had been warned of their own murder. Three years back; the poor fool had barricaded himself inside a cell. Nothing had happened. But, he’d had an asthma attack while inside and had died before anyone could persuade him to take his medication. And a year before that, a couple of officers on patrol had become so paranoid, they’d almost shot each other before they could be talked down from it.

A thousand thoughts raced through his head, two racing to the fore, however. One was not very nice, the other was just possible, but…

He took a deep breath, and made his decision.

“Thank you for the warning, Miranda. I’m going home.”

“There will be a murder in…”

“Yeah, save it. I’m going home.”

“Warning saved.”

“Good night, Miranda.”

“Good night, detective.”

He ended the call, looked at his desk, looked around the squad room one more time, and walked away from it.

He maintained a blank expression until he got to the car, but as he thumbed the door and it opened, he smiled. It was a nice smile, tinged with appreciation.

It had been the ‘Warning Saved‘ that confirmed it. Miranda may have been literal, but she wasn’t that literal; she knew idioms, analogies and metaphors.

He wondered which of his colleagues was smart enough to have hacked into the phone system and either angry enough at him or annoying enough to have tried to haze him back. Colletti? Could be. He’d never forgiven him for the 37 pizzas. Or Robinson? She’d been livid after he made her call the local zoo and ask for Mr C Lion.

The smile faded as he considered the other possibility, that Miranda now was actually that literal.

He drove home, very slowly, and hoped that he’d still be around tomorrow to find out.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. 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.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before. I came across the following image yesterday. I liked it, and it sparked an idea.

So here’s the story it inspired.


One Balmy Night At The Harbour

There were three of them on board. Waiting for the fourth to arrive, they had been trading stories of the long ago and of the more recent past, and correcting the retellings when necessary.

At no point had any of them openly admitted to nervousness, but each could detect it in the others. And, inevitably, each attempted in vain to disguise their own.

The tv mogul, though he preferred to call himself merely an ‘executive’, picked at his teeth, and occasionally muttered obscenities. He knew the former irked one of his companions while the latter annoyed the other. He’d have denied until his dying day that the certain knowledge provided, indeed mandated, the actions. He was an accomplished liar, though.

He waited for the fourth to join them.

The queen spoke eight languages fluently, though only her native tongue with the correct grammar; she knew no one would dare to correct her. She rarely insisted on her honorifics. But sometimes she did, which always provoked a quiet satisfaction as her companions wondered whether she would insist on them today. It was a meaningless pettiness, and so she treasured it all the more. She knew that about herself. She was the youngest there, with the least actual power, and yet she scared the others. And she knew that as well.

She waited, with the experience of a lifetime’s patience, She could have waited for another hour or another week; to her they were the same.

The politician’s voice, when he spoke, would have surprised his voters. It was high pitched, and his speech was peppered with classical allusions and historical parallels. The ‘local good old country boy made good’ cadences and folksy charm in public as much a performance as the denim jeans and plaid shirt. Today he wore a Savile Row suit, perfectly tailored to his sparse frame.

He also waited but for exactly what, he knew not. For he was the newest of the group, recently ex officio the moment he won the election.

There was a quiet splash in the distance and all three looked from the deck, across the water, at the figure approaching.

Royalty and Business glanced at each other briefly, the latter with the smallest of smiles crossing his lips. Without appearing to, they studied their mutual companion’s face. Government’s eyes widened and with an obvious effort, and a studied casualness, he reached for his pipe and cradled it reflexively, an action that like so much else would have astonished his supporters.

Business nodded in acknowledgement at the restraint; it had been decades since someone new had so effectively managed their astonishment.

Now they watched as the fourth of the group grew closer, strolling across the water as if without a care in the world. And if any of the three already present thought to ask ‘which world, though?’ they ultimately thought wiser of it,

As the small splashes grew ever louder and closer, Royalty, Government and Business stood in respect, and welcomed Religion aboard.

Religion looked at the three of them knowing them all well, knowing their forebears, their ancestors.

Silence.

“There are important matters to talk about,” Government said.

“We must discuss demarcation,” came the clear authoritative voice of Royalty.

There was the briefest of pauses, then “I don’t know how this works, what the etiquette is. But may I ask how you are?”

Religion laughed, a large booming laugh that filled the deck, indeed seemed to feel the harbour. “No-one’s ever asked me that before,” I said, as I looked again at my children.

No-one had to tell Government to never, ever, ask it again.

And then we sat, and ate and soon Government was interfering in Business’ affairs, Business was sulking and threatening Government, and Royalty was standing apart. As always.

I’d had better birthday parties, it was true, but then, with a shudder, I knew I’d had worse.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

[Oh, before I start, a housekeeping note:, I mention this every so often, just in case anyone is concerned about the photos I’ve used in this blog. As with previous years, other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash, which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]


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

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before. I came across the following image the other day, while looking for another image entirely. I liked it, and it sparked something.

So here a tale that it inspired.


The Coins and The Man

The room was dark, and dank, which matched his mood, if not his demeanour. There were three men in the room with him, whose had been waiting for him. He liked none of them, he respected only one of them, but he was frightened of all of them.

It was late at night, and he should have been in bed long ago, but his task required a late night rendezvous, and he had no choice. He’d never really had a choice.

The room was silent, as each now waited for someone else to speak again. A single candle burned, and its flickering illumination spread shadows, moving shades that merely heightened both the tension and the silence. A cough came from the far side of the room, followed by a curse word, which would have been laughable in other circumstances.

He’d not enjoyed the task he’d been given, but he’d had no choice in the matter; his conscience, his honour and his need for payment had all made sure of that.

He didn’t even have the luxury of pretending it had been a struggle in his mind. He had known what had to be done, and he’d done it. It was as simple as that.

Except it wasn’t simple; it was anything but. He knew what the item was for, and what the consequences would be of his having completed the… transaction.

And he was scared. He wondered if anyone knew that, then with a mental shrug chastised himself. Of course everyone knew he was scared. For it wasn’t only him. Everyone was scared right now, whether or not they admitted it.

It was a time of being being scared, of change. Outside the room, some distance away, the crowds were gathering. Again. As they had gathered that morning, as they had that afternoon. As they would tomorrow. And the day after. Unless something happened to stop them.

Unless someone did something. And he had done something. Not the only thing that would be done that day, or the next, but he had done something.

Hence the small bag of coinage, sitting there on the roughly hewn wooden chair. The bag was loosely tied and occasionally, as the light would catch it, there was a reflective glint, betraying its contents.

Such a moment occurred as he watched, momentarily transfixed by the sudden brightness.

“You must never speak of this”, the larger man said, choosing his words carefully. “You know that.”

He almost laughed at the naïveté, but such levity at this moment, with these people, would be fatal. He knew that. “Everyone will know anyway,” he replied, resigned to it.

“We won’t tell anyone,” another voice came, from the deep shadows in one corner.

He couldn’t stop himself. “Of course you will. You’ll want everyone to know.”

Except he did stop himself. And merely said “I know.”

“It has to be done, therefore it must be done.” said the first man again, and that was it. The decision was made.

In truth, he knew the decision had been made far earlier, made in rooms in which he did not have the right to be.

“Now, go,” he was told. “It’s late. You shouldn’t be here when he arrives. And well done. We are… pleased.”

He turned to go, paused, then glanced at the silver coinage one more time, before leaving.

As he left the room, he saw the other man, the man from Kerioth, attempting to stealthily approach, on his way to claim the bag. And all it would cost the fool would be the betrayal of his best friend.

He sighed, and realised he’d sighed a lot today. He walked through the back roads, pondering quite the strangest day in his long life. He’d carried the instruction to the treasury, and the note from his employers. The small cloth bag had been sufficient but the thirty coins had been heavier than he’d expected, and he’d had to roll the bag, carrying it under his arm, frightened throughout that he’d be robbed on the way.

He wondered again why the priests had chosen him to carry the funds, why he had been plucked from insignificance to play his small role. He wondered if it was because they trusted him, or whether the true reason was merely that he was eminently disposable.

And he wondered how long it would be before the crowds knew his name and, with a shudder, then how long it would be before either the priests, or the crowds… came for him.

He walked a little faster then, into obscurity.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. 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 story.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, which is suitable because it’s about looking for something so far no-one’s seen.

I came across the following image this morning while looking for something else.

This is the story that it inspired.


A Discovery of Ignorance

As the clamps grabbed the floating debris, and brought it into the ship, he hoped that he’d found it, that most elusive of things… something new.

He’d been travelling the space lanes for most of his adult life. A delivery here, a pickup there, occasionally getting involved in something that was by any measure none of his business, but it was always in service to the discovery of something… new.

He’d been bored on his home planet, and, after he’d done his military service, he’d bought an old wreck, spent far too long tuning it up, and then set out to make his mark on the universe. He was still hoping to do that, but while he and the universe were waiting for that to happen, he needed a hobby.

So, he looked for space wrecks, for specific bio-signatures, to disprove a theory he’d developed about the utter self-centredness of life. Life cannot be always selfish, he’d once suggested idly in a bar. The laughter and the mockery had turned what was a trivial utterance into a quest, albeit one that of necessarily was interrupted by him earning.

It was true that he’d by now lost count of the times he’d been disappointed, how many times his hopes had been dashed, how often life demonstrated that it was indeed not only selfish and self-centred, but knowingly so. He didn’t believe it was inherent, though, not to all sentient species.

He’d never found any evidence to justify this hypothesis. Yet.

But maybe this time. Maybe…?

A light lit up, a siren blared. He switched both off. One of these days, he said to himself, he’d disconnect the circuits that triggered them. His mouth creased as he realised he’d said that before. Many times.

The monitors showed the automatic salvage units working away; he’d quite literally picked them up for a song, a bawdy dirge performed to a group of demonic nuns in the far sectors. How they’d ended up with the units was something he’d quickly realised not to ask. Not when he saw the orange ichor he’d had to clean from the units’ insides.

“Come on… come on…” he muttered, impatient for the bioscan to confirm, and then there they were, the five words he’d hoped to see. Plain and simple, and exactly what he was looking for:

LIFE. SENTIENT. SOON TO EXPIRE.

When something was about to die far from home, he’d long ago realised, they had no reason to dissemble, no motive to lie. They’d be at least honest, and – hopefully – demonstrate selflessness.

He activated his personal forcefield. Only a mark VII, but it would suffice against bacteria and viruses. Or at least it had so far. He opened the relevant file to check the field’s acquisition date and winced when he saw his own handwriting saying to get a new one… The note was dated… he did the calculations… and winced again.

OK, next time he passed a traders’ post. Definitely.

In the meantime, there was the soon-to-be dead entity in his hold to examine.

The creature was damaged; he didn’t need equipment to tell him that. The arms – he assumed they were arms, although there were only two of them and he couldn’t see anything suggesting more had been ripped off – were fleshy, and flabby, and partially covered in a browny-red viscous liquid which he guessed passed for this species’ blood.

There were various puncture wounds covering the body and head but, he looked anxiously, yes, the skull looked intact. There were two covered holes on one side; when he lifted the fleshy – why so much flesh, and so little resin, he wondered – there was a ball floating in each; one was still, the other slowly, randomly, moving.

He attached the leads either side of the skull, where the machines told him to. And waited for the machines to dredge the information, translate it as far as it could, and present the information he was looking for: proof that in their last moments, some species, some individual, wasn’t as self-centred as he believed they were, as they had all been.

While he waited, he wondered what he would do if he did find that elusive creature. What would he do? He had ideas of course, but—

The machine bleeped. There was some text on the screen identifying the species, and even the creature’s name and likely home planet.

He ignored it all.

Then the final sentence, in a language he didn’t recognise. He forgot. He always forgot. The final sentence was always in the language of the soon-to-be-deceased, a final mark of respect from the machine’s programmer… a respect he didn’t share one bit.

“Translate from original.” He spat the words out.

Letter by letter, the message became legible. As he read the translated words, his spirts fell. Once again. Once again, all they cared about was themselves. Always the same message. All about the glory they’d soon have, all about how they’d take their discoveries and make themselves rich, and famous.

He swore, left the hold and hit the big button to fry the remains, and expel the dust.

WHY? WHY was the universe and everyone in it so-self-centred?

He went back to the cabin and set the scanners to check for the next sector. All he wanted was to find someone who wasn’t so self-centred. If he did, wow, if he did… why he could take that information and make himself a fortune.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


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


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars 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 my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.