Archive for the ‘57 plus new fiction’ Category

Housekeeping note: The final piece of new fiction, and indeed the final post in this run that started in June with ’57 minus…’ and continued with ’57 plus…’

116 daily posts, after 18 months off. Hopefully, when I return for ‘2022 minus…’ on 1st November, you’ll still be here… but to help, there’ll likely be the occasional post before then, labelled ‘Interregnum’.

With this tale, there’ll have been sixteen pieces of new fiction. Sixteen pieces of fiction that didn’t exist before I put fingers to keyboard that day.

I’m rather pleased by that.

Ok, on with the final tale of this run.


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…’ run, 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.

For this week’s tale, something unusual: a story provoked by one of my own photos. A shot I took some time ago but the rules still apply. I came across it again completely by chance.

This photo.

And here’s the story it provoked, about seeing you tomorrow.


See you tomorrow

Monday evening. The platform is the same as ever, a few people I recognise, some I don’t. Some new people, a very few absences. But none of them is the person I’m waiting to see. She isn’t here yet, though I know she’s on her way.

I glance up at the clock, on the platform, mentally chiding myself as I do so. It isn’t “a clock”. It hasn’t been a clock for years.

It’s a digital display. A display showing so much more information than merely the time, most of it accurate. The next four trains, where they currently are, how long they’re expected to be before arrival, the weather, the name of the station. And, of course, the time. relegated to the the bottom right hand corner, digits flickering and changing, second by second. The colour they use irritates me. I couldn’t say why but it does.

I miss the old clock, though. I do. It was a big white round thing with thick black numerals inches high, and a satisfying thunk as the big hand hit 17 minutes past the hour. Some of the other platform residents and I have wondered on occasion why they’d never fixed that before they’d replaced the whole thing; it would surely have been a simple repair. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been. I’m no engineer. Hell, I’m not really much of anything these days.

But why 17 minutes past the hour? Oh, the ludicrous and intricate reasons we’d conjured.

The tannoy blasts out… something; I have no idea what. Most of those on the platform stir and look at each other in bemused puzzlement. A few nod as if they’ve received a message they understood. I suppose it’s possible. Just about.

She’ll probably be singing in the car right now approaching that roundabout outside the station, listening to one of those poppy bubble gum songs she loves so much but which I can’t stand. I wince as I remember the arguments. She was so passionate, so argumentative. And of course so wrong.

Mozart. Or Brahms. Or Black Sabbath. Give me one of the classics any day of the week.

But no, she’ll be singing away to one of those silly songs, getting half the lyrics deliberately, and filthily, wrong. And maybe smiling at what I’d say if I was in the car with her.

But of course I’m not. I’m waiting on the platform for her. She won’t see me when she arrives; I’ll be behind her, though, watching her, enjoying how she looks, hoping to see a smile, or at least something.

I look up at the display again; if she follows her usual pattern, she’ll be parking about now. She’ll park, tap the glass of that slab of plastic and metal she calls a telephone, and with a few taps, pay for the week’s parking.

The train will be here in a few minutes. I wonder if I’ll get to see her for only seconds, or maybe minutes. Will she be here in time for me to enjoy looking at her, to enjoy just the look of her? I close my eyes for only a second, I swear, lost in the memory of her.

And then, with a swirl of reds and yellows, she’s there. Standing almost in front of me. I catch my breath, before realising and grinning almost apologetically at a youngster leaning against the wall, a few feet away, wearing braces and a flat cap; he smiles back in sympathy and understanding.

He gestures towards her. I mouth a single word. And there’s the briefest look of pain across his features before he points at a frumpy woman struggling with a heavy bag of shopping, and mouths silently at me “Mum.”

I nod my head in understanding and he goes back to watching her, while my attention turns back to my daughter. She’s 27 now, on the way to a night shift; she’s a nurse. I like it when she has night shifts. It means she takes the same train from the same platform that I once took. So I can see her.

I never expected that she’d become a nurse. But then she always did surprise me, even when I was alive.

I sometimes wonder how long it took before she could stand on the platform and not picture the crash, how long it took before she stopping thinking of it as The Place Her Father Died. I do hope it wasn’t too long. I step around her, enjoying her profile, her eyes, her face.

The train arrives, and her head turns, those flaming red locks catching the fading light.

She looks straight at me.

No, not at me. Past me, through me, towards the end of the platform, to the wall, at the plaque marking the accident.

“Hey dad,” she says softly, “love you.” Then she wipes her eye, steps through the open door, and is gone.

She’ll be back tomorrow though.

And I’ll be here, waiting to see her, again.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

Erm, I won’t see you tomorrow, with… something else. But I’ll see you soon.

 

 

Fifty-seven eight more days. Fifty-seven eight more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

Housekeeping note: This will be the penultimate piece of new fiction before I take a few weeks’ break until November, and that’s only if I decide to a run until teh new year.

I’ll wrote one more tale, next week, which will technically extend ’57 plus…’ to ’57 plus 58’… merely because I want to continue to honour the promise I made to an old friend to write one piece of new short fiction every week during these runs.

So, by next week, there’ll have been sixteen pieces of new fiction. Sixteen pieces of fiction that didn’t exist before I put fingers to keyboard. I’m rather pleased by that.


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…’ run, 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.

I came across this picture by chance.

And here’s a story about overhearing a conversation you weren’t meant to hear…. or were you?


The Conversation

The door was open. That’s the only reason I heard them.

Bitter words, angry words, flying between the two of them, a man and a woman.

I’d been walking along an unfamiliar high street, taking my bearings, while I killed a couple of hours before heading home. A business meeting behind me and nothing awaiting me until I got the train back, I indulged a preference for wandering in the cool early evening air. I’d turned off the main road upon smelling chocolate from a side street packed with small shops, and was walking towards it when I heard the raised voices. I’d glanced towards the open shop door out of no greater than mild surprise, as the tone seemed out of place coming from an antiques shop.

“You’ve never loved him, not like I do!” the woman said, and before I could even form a thought as to what the man could reply, he responded with a “you say that, but he prefers me in bed!”

I struggled to hide a laugh, and somehow smothered it, but allowed myself a smile as I left them to it and continued on my way, passing windows with tasteful presentations of old jewellery and older books, against black velvet curtains. Across the road was an old-fashioned toy shop, wooden toys in the window, and next to it, a tea house that looked like it hadn’t changed in decades. Tea. That sounded good.

And that’s when she said my name.

I slowed, my left foot slowly making its way to the ground. I don’t have a common name, that’s true, but neither is it uncommon enough as to be wholly rare. It was just curiosity that made me loiter just a moment longer, I swear. I merely wanted to know more about this poor soul who shared parents equally stupid.

“Prefers you in the sack? As if!’ the woman shot back at the man, and proceeded to list in detail what she and my namesake had gotten up to the previous night. I was torn between pushing the door shut to save them embarrassment and further listening; my more prurient nature won out. There was darkness inside the door, but streams of light from behind another heavy black curtain. I wondered how the sound had made it out, but no more than idly

There was silence after she’d finished her recitation and then a short sound, part laugher, part derision. “Is that all?” the man asked. I had to give him credit; her descriptions had been both explicit and impressive. My namesake obviously had more imagination than me for a start, as well as greater stamina, even allowing for a tad of exaggeration. But apparently, according to the man’s reply, no exaggeration was necessary; he appeared to accept her word as gospel, and responded with a description of his last encounter with whoever shared my name as evocative as her own, describing a sexual position that raised both my respect for his suppleness and agility and concern about his long term health.

My namesake apparently had looked after himself better than I; that was apparent from the descriptions of his strength and the awe with which the two of them spoke of his body. I envied him; I’d always been a weedy child, and my hopes that puberty would fix that deficiency had sadly gone unanswered. Oh, my height had increased from childhood, but never to the ever-hoped for six feet; I was always just a little shorter than my peers, and a little weaker; hair a little thinner, and a bit paler, a little less noticeable in a crowd. I’d gotten used to it over the years, but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

There’d been a pause in the conversation and I wondered whether to walk into the shop; I was now curious about the couple, what they looked like. Did my namesake at least have good taste? I wasn’t that shallow as to pretend to know their true personalities from overhearing an argument. Well, perhaps not shallow enough.

Then the man said, almost thoughtfully, “What do you think is his sexiest body part?”

And the woman replied, “Oh, that mole. On his right cheek.”

And I touched the mole. On my right cheek.

The man disagreed and said, “I like his nose. The way it never quite mended after he broke it.”

And I touched my nose, the kink in the surface that never quite mended properly after the car accident.

The temperature in the street hadn’t dropped, but I shivered, suddenly cold and wanting to be anywhere other than listening to these two people argue. It was a coincidence, no more than than that, like hearing your name across a crowded room and seeing someone else answer the cry. Or a taxi turning up after a night out and two people standing upon hearing the driver call their name. Nothing more than that.

OK, it was more than that. But not much more. Coincidence. All right , coincidence upon coincidence.

I wanted to leave, but wanted to stay.

A vibration in my pocket startled me, and automatically, my hand slipped into my pocket and flipped the mobile phone reminder off. I’d set it when I left the meeting but couldn’t quite remember why; I still had loads of time before the train and my curiosity, anxiety and, yes, my nosiness, obliged me to stay. It would be a good tale to tell the office when I got back.’ You think you know coincidence? Hah, you don’t know anything. Wait until I tell you what happened to me…’

The sort of gentle mocking office oneupmanship without which civil war within an office would take two or three days longer to erupt.

There was movement inside the shop and one of the curtains in the window twitched, before a vertical slit opened and a small cat came into view. A hand swiftly followed, retrieving the cat and I scratched the back of my hand, then my neck, an instinctive repulsion to the beasts.

No, that was it. Enough. I lifted my wrist to check the time and then I heard, a hesitant voice, the woman’s, “Do you think he loves you more than me?”

There wasn’t even a moment’s silence before almost apologetically, the man’s voice said, “yes, but you love him more than I do. Isn’t that enough?”

“No,” she said. “No it isn’t.” A long sigh. “But it will have to be. At least I get to cuddle him afterwards. He said he never cuddles you.”

“No,” the man agreed. “At least you get that. He doesn’t like cuddles with me afterwards. He saves that… for you.” And there was just a trace of bitterness in his tone.

“I think it’s his hair. I love burying myself in it,” she said.

“Well, we both like…”

“No, not that hair,” she said with laugher, “higher!” And then they laughed together. And I felt queasy, awkward.

Again, I was overwhelmed with curiosity, about him, about them.

I reached down towards the door knob, catching a look at my reflection in the tinted window. My hair looked fuller in the reflection. Darker colour I could understand, but thicker as well.

Before I could reach it, the door swung open, and they were there, waiting for me, welcoming me inside.

“Where have you been?” Joanna asked, but then she always worries about something or other..

“We were worried,” said Peter, embarrassed at the admission. It’s sweet how they both worry.

I love them so much. I have, ever since I met them.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday 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…’ run, 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.

I came across this photo by chance.

And here’s a story you’ve not read before… perhaps.


Just one more.

Seventeen trips.

That was all you got. Seventeen solo journeys.

Every child learned the rules at school, along with their advanced physics lessons, the obligatory navigation tutorials, and the necessary implantations of antibiotics and anti-virals and the rest.

Three guided timeslips, then seventeen on your own. Twenty in total. No more. Never another. Not unless you wanted to end your days a gibbering wreck in one of the asylums spread throughout history specifically for that purpose, many of them in less enlightened times.

The first trip was always back along your own time line, back to a sad day when you were young, to convince your earlier self that time travel was indeed possible. A short journey, no more than five subjective minutes. Just enough to tell yourself two additional things: that you were alive a few years down the line, and that your parents had your favourite snack waiting for you downstairs, so you could stop being sad now.

A second trip, with your entire entire class, usually to somewhere entirely anodyne; five years into the past, to watch yourselves taking a set of year-end examinations was the journey currently favoured by eduational authorities.

The final guided trip was you, your best friend and a teacher, further back, somewhere less boring; 21st July 1969 was the most requested date, but some always wanted to see the aftermath of a war, or even the start of one.

And then, subject to you passing your exams, your own belt, your own kit, and your own neuroses which usually started after the sixth trip… when you realised that each of your trips thus far had created its own timeline, that you could never get back to the original, and that you had memories from half-a dozen conflicting timelines simultaneously bouncing around inside your head.

Most people quit after a dozen trips. They all probably should have quit one journey earlier, but for many the temptation still outweighed the physical and emotional side-effects.

Few people can cope with more than a dozen timelines.

Those that can are hired by the same authorities who regulate time travel.

Every senior member of those authorities has traveled at least fifteen times. Most of them are insane but very good at hiding it.

And then there’s me.

Seventeen solo trips when the call came. Seventeen solo trips and they want to remove my belt and my badge and my gun.

They’ll be here in a few minutes; they’re on their way.

But I don’t want to give this up. I know I can still do more. But what they say makes sense. They don’t want to risk my health. They don’t want me to risk my health.

Or so they say. I wish I knew if they were telling the truth. I just need a little more time to decide what to do. I make a decision, the same decision my peripheral vision is telling me I’ve made nineteen times before.

I step forward, turning my body, and trigger the belt, jumping back in time. Not long; just ten minutes. Just ten minutes more to think about it, as the world dissolves around me.

The world comes back into focus, and I face myself. The gun shoots once and he’s dead before he hits the ground. I push him to one side and think some more.

They’ll be here in a few minutes; they’re on their way.

But I don’t want to give this up. I know I can still do more. But what they say makes sense. They don’t want to risk my health. They don’t want me to risk my health.

Or so they say. I wish I knew if they were telling the truth. I just need a little more time to decide what to do. I make a decision, the same decision my peripheral vision is telling me I’ve made twenty times before.

I step forward, turning my body, and trigger the belt, jumping back in time. Not long; just ten minutes. Just ten minutes more to think about it, as the world dissolves around me.

The world comes back into focus, and I face myself. The gun shoots once and he’s dead before he hits the ground. I push him to one side and think some more.

They’ll be here in a few minutes; they’re on their way.

But I don’t want to give this up. I know I can still do more. But what they say makes sense. They don’t want to risk my health. They don’t want me to risk my health.

Or so they say. I wish I knew if they were telling the truth. I just need a little more time to decide what to do. I make a decision, the same decision my peripheral vision is telling me I’ve made twenty-one times before.

I step forward, turning my body, and trigger the belt, jumping back in time. Not long; just ten minutes. Just ten minutes more to think about it, as the world dissolves around me.

The world comes back into focus, and I face myself. The gun shoots once and he’s dead before he hits the ground. I push him to one side and think some more…

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

This one surprised me.

Genuinely.

Because I’m used to – for these posts at least – the stories that result, while short, being at least longer than the fast fictions.

But, as a friend once advised, a story should be as long as it needs to be. Not one word shorter, but not one word longer either.

And so it proved to be with this one. Entirely to, as I say, my surprise.

OK, the usual preface: 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…’ run, 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.

I came across this photo by chance;

And this is the… story that it provoked. Exactly as long as I wanted it to be, as long as it needed to be. And not one syllable longer.


Not quite touching

I wanted to reach over, to hold her hand. But I didn’t.

I wanted to take her in my arms and kiss her. But I didn’t.

Instead we uttered trivialities, both of us avoiding what we wanted to say. We spoke… carefully; memories and hopes underscoring every word. The bell rang; we exchanged a long look. Then she left the room, and I went back to my prison cell, both of us heading for home.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday 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…’ run, 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.

I came across this photo while reading up on Ellis Island. The story it provoked has nothing to do with Ellis Island.

And this is the story that it provoked.


One murder, right on schedule

It took a full five minutes before the assistant district attorney, anxiously exchanging glances with his counterpart several feet away, rose to his feet and coughed, rather loudly.

The judge was unmoved.

Indeed, the judge didn’t move at all, which was the cause of the concern at the tables behind which sat the lawyers and the young client.

Until a few minutes’ earlier, the trial had been proceeding as both the prosecution and the defence had anticipated. Short opening statements had been made, both lawyers very aware that this particular judge had a reputation for impatience with circumlocution and waffle. Both had, at various times in the past, suffered the withering gaze of the judge, and also observations from the bench that were no less scornful and derisive.

After the opening statements, the prosecution had called its first witness, the medical examiner. An hour of questioning had ensued, about three-quarters of it from the prosecution, the rest – even the prosecution would later admit – made up of skilful questions from the defence, attempting, with some limited success, to damage the witness’s credibility.

A second prosecution witness, the first police officer on the scene, had followed the same pattern, while the third was such a success that the prosecutor’s assistant had even vaguely wondered whether they even needed two of the later planned witnesses. Her quickly scribbled note, however, had been greeted with a sharp shake of the head from her boss.

The fourth witness was where the problems had commenced. A fairly standard opening had been followed by a commonplace question to which the defence had objected. The assistant district attorney had been surprised by the intervention, surprised and concerned enough to mentally run through the remaining evidence to be offered. He quickly, and correctly, concluded that the defence was objecting for show, solely to damage the flow of question, answer, question, answer, and thereby to unsettle the witness.

It was an old defence trick, but one he was surprised the defence had used at that point rather than later in the trial. He’d expected the judge to overrule the objection immediately when the judge had held up a single finger for silence.

The judge had lowered his hand, asked both legal teams for a moment to consider the objection, and had fallen silent.

A moment passed, which stretched into a minute, and then two, and then five.

A dread thought idly flitted across the ADA’s mind, and he somehow resisted the temptation to look first at his opponent – especially when he heard a muttered ‘please, no…’ from him – then at the jury, sat quietly in the box.

“Your honour…?” He asked, to which there was no reply. He repeated the entreaty.

Slowly now, glancing around, hearing loud murmurs behind him from the public area, he fixed his eyes on the defence counsel, and they slowly nodded, then walked forward the short distance towards the judge.

A quick examination confirmed his fears; there was no choice now. He beckoned towards a clerk and the security guard. He turned towards the public gallery, searching for the medical examiner but she’d left after her evidence. He raised his voice, “Is there a doctor here?” He asked, noting the defence lawyer turning pale, partly from fear, partly from anger.

He also heard gasps from the jury box, and sliding his eyes over towards them, they found one woman, sitting at the front, her eyes fixed intensely on the judge.

Why my case? He asked himself. And he knew the defence counsel was asking the exact same question.

I mean it wasn’t as if they hadn’t tried to exclude her. But she’d been at the end of the jury pool, and they’d both used their preemptories much earlier. And the judge wouldn’t let them exclude her for cause.

So the mystery writer turned amateur (for which read ‘constantly interfering and getting in the way’) detective had made it onto the jury.

After that, the district attorney supposed, a murder in the courtroom was only a matter of time.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday 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…’ run, 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, sparked by an image I come across entirely by chance.

I came across the following image this afternoon, and it sparked an idea.

And this is what it provoked.


Words

The air was thick with fury, the pair of them letting the angry words settle in the space between them.

He stood, one hand in his pockets, every so often jangling keys and coins. He knew it annoyed her but he’d swear he didn’t do it solely to irritate her. Not solely, anyway. His other hand stroked his bare face; he’d shaved the beard off a decade ago but sometimes when upset he still missed it.

His eyes protruded, slightly, as they tended to when he was angry. And both of them knew it was not a pleasant look. It didn’t help that green eyes under eyebrows of salt and pepper were striking. On anyone else’s face, she knew they would clash, but on his, no.

He took a deep breath, as if to add to the upset, to restate what he’d just said, then he paused, and sighed, shallowly and slowly.

He looked at her, seated and surprisingly small in the fabric covered armchair. Her face was like stone. Unlike her husband, on whose face you could read a book of his emotions, hers was blank, wholly and completely. The best poker players in the world, if sat across from her, he had once said, would see nothing she didn’t want them to. She had thought it a compliment. Maybe it once had been. No longer, though. Now it was merely a fact.

“I…” she started, then fell silent again, judging her words.

When they had first met, decades ago, she had been all whirlwind and energy and extroversion; she’d seen no purpose in hiding what she thought, from anyone. She’d learned in the decades since that, sometimes, discretion was better, was easier.

He, though, had been reserved, insular, quiet. That had changed as her love for him had led him to blossom, to gain confidence in his own love for her, and the public showing of it.

She taught him to express himself. She taught him to free his feelings. She taught him to love. He taught her to appreciate it.

In those days, they could both remember with ease had they ever wished to, the world could go hang; they had each other and nothing else was important. They could recall that effortlessly, had they wished to. In truth, it rarely occurred to either to do so.

She took a breath. Then another, a loud one.

“Anything… else?” She asked, her voice flat.

He took one hand out of the pocket, as he walked over to her. “Just one thing… actually, two.”

Her eyebrow raised, archly.

He knelt in front of her. “You do know I love you, right?”

She tilted her head towards him. “You know that nothing matters to me, without you, right?” he continued. “That you’re the stars and the light and every blade of grass to me. That you’re… what makes life worth it.”

She smiled, gently but knowingly. “I know.”

“That you’re everything to me. The air I breathe, the food I eat, the world.” He stopped, suddenly.

“The food you eat?” Her smile grew wider, and reached her eyes.

“Yeah.”

“How am I supposed to top that?” She asked, the skin around her eyes wrinkling with light humour.

“You’re not,” he said, and she knew he meant it.

“You’re an idiot,” she said, and he knew she didn’t.

“I know.”

She reached to him, her pal against his face. “You said two things?”

He stood, bent over, kissed her cheek, the argument relegated to the places such things go between people who’ve loved each other with all their hearts for four decades and more.

“Yeah. Do you want a biscuit with your cuppa?”

As he left for the kitchen, she look at him with unadulterated love and admiration. He always apologised. Always. Or she did. She stretched out, wondering how many times it was now that she’d walked out on him without getting out of the chair.

Without surprise, she felt a brief chill on damp cheeks, and knew without looking that he was wiping his own.

The food he eats? She shook her head, bemused with love, and looked forward to the hot beverage, and the evening with him, and the rest of their lives. Together.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday 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…’ run, 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, sparked by an image I come across entirely by chance, usually while looking for something else entirely.

I came across the following image this morning (I was looking for images of scientific instruments), and it sparked an idea.

And this is what it sparked tonight. A very short tale, but… well, yes.


The Message

My friends. My many, many friends.

Many, many millenia ago, as the butterflies measure time, so very long before the third great age of insects on the planet, there was a human of what was then referred to as ‘science’.

His description and even his very name has long been lost to the annals of history, but the sacred scrolls of the insects say that was he who first managed true communication with the other primates littering the planet.

Centuries later, it was an ape named – according to legend – Caesar, who discovered a feasible and reproducible method of interaction with dogs, although anecdotes and tales from that age are full of references to something named “walkies”. And something else, the cruelty of which is hard to believe, but it was called “The Operation”.

Yet more time, so much time, passed before a canine named Rover had the first true conversation with a cat, but it was only a relatively short time – as both counted it, anyway – before this same cat named Tiddles initiated the first debate with a ladybird.

It took so very, very long for the ladybird’s civilisation to create a means of discussion with bacteria, but at long last, my fellow baccilli, the true rulers of the planet are revealed and ready to take their place, acknowledged by all and…

What’s that? There’s a message coming through?

From where?

And what does it say?

OK, what the hell is “a virus”?

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday 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…’ run, 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, sparked by an image I come across entirely by chance, usually while looking for something else entirely.

I came across the following image the other day, and this sparked the merest gem of an idea, about enjoying a sunset alone, because there’s no one else to enjoy it with.

And here’s what the idea became.


A Watercolour Sunset

To my certain knowledge, I am the last intelligent being left on the planet. And I will be gone. Soon, maybe.

Once, long ago, when the skies were blue, and the oceans still free from poisons, there had been billions of humans, trillions of animals, and many many more smaller creatures. There had even been viruses once.

But no longer. Only I and maybe the bacteria remain.

I have lived long enough to know that my home will never again support sentient life as I know it. And, after I have gone, whatever evolves here in the next few billion years will be unrecognisable to those who once thrived upon this once blue, now dark ochre, planet.

They left, you see. So very long ago, they left in their ships and their craft and their matter transporters and the like. Only I remain. PZ, the last of them called me. Pat Zero before that. And originally, Patient Zero. I had another name once. I must have had, surely? I came across a word written on a sign in a language I no longer recognise. The letters were unfamiliar to me, now, after so long. I think one was called an E, another a T. And a third was a strange symbol, round with a small tail attached.

Maybe one of them was in the name my parents called me. Parents. Such an odd concept to me now. I had parents, didn’t I? I must have had. I no longer remember them. Or anyone else; they’re just a blur, like the sunset. Colours smeared into each other.

The Disease, it was called. Just that. No fancy names, no popular designation, no code. Just ‘The Disease’. There wasn’t time to name it, you see. Half of humanity, more than half the animal life on the planet, dead within weeks. Governments fell, societies decayed. And eventually, they left. They all left. So very long ago that I can now no longer remember quite when. Or precisely how. But I remember why. I always remember why.

And, when they’d gone, I remained. And still I remain, both here and alive.

Whatever it was that transformed me into the carrier of the most deadly influenza in recorded history also made me essentially immortal. I haven’t aged in several centuries. That much I know from the diaries I kept before I gave up on them decades ago. Or maybe centuries. Or maybe millenia. Or maybe months. I’m not sure, you see. It’s been a very long time.

I actually tried speaking a little while ago. After some abortive and very painful attempts I stopped. Whether my body was too unused to it, or I’d forgotten how, I don’t know. Or at least I think I don’t know. Memories become vague and ephemeral after so long, you see. Oh, and I tried writing proper words yesterday. Or the day before. Or several weeks ago. I know it was when I saw a glorious sunset, just like the one tonight. Maybe it was earlier tonight I tried writing. It might have been tonight.

It’s such a beautiful sunset. Maybe my last. But then I thought that yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before…

I am ready for death. I’ve been ready for death since they left.

Sometimes, just before I sleep, I wonder whether they did leave. Whether the vague and faint images of their departure, like watercolours caught in a rain shower, are my imagination instead of memory. That’s when I cry, grateful that no one can see me. And then I cry more, because there’s no one left to see me. At least I think I cry. I hope I do.

No. They must have gone, and the skeletons I see everywhere, on land, in the ocean, are just those they left behind. Surely humanity survives, out there, somewhere.

One day, I’ll travel again. I’ll visit new places, and see yet more skeletons, ages old. And I’ll look up into a different sky. And hope that someone, anyone, is looking back.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday 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…’ run, 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, sparked by an image I come across entirely 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, and this sparked the merest gem of an idea.

And here’s what that spark led to.


As Time Goes By

He landed on the grass, as light as a feather, as usual.

[The Richter gauge recorded 8.2; about average.]

He smiled, glad to be home.

[Home was a place he hadn’t seen in decades, but he never knew that, and never would again.]

And he knew she was waiting for him, unchanging, ageless… his love.

[Something was waiting for him.]

The door to his house slid open as he approached. He liked the swish swish noise as it opened and closed, and smiled again.

[After hundreds of replacements, they’d changed it for an automatic silent one, concluding he wouldn’t notice by now. They were right.]

And she was waiting for him, as she always did.

[That bit was true; her entire purpose until that moment had been to wait for him.]

Her. His love. He could barely remember how they’d first met, how fumbling, embarrassing shyness had given way to fondness, then desire, then deep, true, love. How pleased she’d been, he grinned in recollection, when she realised her crush on him was reciprocated.

[She’d been scared shitless when it started. The most physically powerful man on the planet, wanting her? She almost deserted there and then.]

That first kiss. So gentle in his memory.

[She’d required eight hours of surgery and six months of rehabilitation; they’d told him she was on assignment. And they kept telling him that for the next eighty years. Until his mind had started to fail. Until his mind had started to fail but the body never had.]

He remembered everything so clearly.

[He hadn’t remembered anything accurately in almost a century.]

“Hi honey,” he said, “I’m home.” He laughed, gently.

[New alloys prevented the resulting sound waves destroying this property as they had so many before. In retrospect, having to manage him after the senility had started had been a blessing. A mixed blessing, admittedly, but a blessing. So many new inventions, so many original discoveries that benefited mankind. But they were by-products of a single project: how to manage an old, ill man… with the power to fly, to shoot lasers out of his eyes, to kill in a nanosecond, and then not remember any of it.]

He greeted his love with a hug.

[And those watching from behind monitors scanned the screens for evidence of stress and… and there it was. Any second now.]

She smiled at him, and stroked his face.

[She just stopped working, bent at an obscene angle. Early examples had exploded but they found that confused and panicked him too much. So they’d strengthened the skeletal structure, developed entirely resin based circuitry and now – when he crushed the simulant that only bore a rough approximation to a woman who’d died 180 years ago – it merely crumpled, and bent. The lights went out while he looked… forlorn. He’d just started to open his arms, when the lights flashed out, then rapidly flashed in a pattern they’d discovered wholly but fortunately by accident. The pattern fascinated him, and while he stared, slack jawed, the floor opened, she fell through, and was replaced by another model.]

The lights stopped flashing and he grinned at her. “I wonder what happened there?” Then forgot it in the joy of being home with her.

[That was the first replacement tonight. They expected another dozen or so. On average, there were fourteen replacements a night, and those watching always did the rough calculations and uttered a slow whistle at the cost. But the expense was worth it, seeing as they couldn’t figure out a way to kill him. and they’d tried. Oh, they’d tried so many times.]

“You know,” he suddenly said, “maybe I’ll take just one more patrol over the city?”

[Alarms sounded, and buttons were pressed, and…]

“Stay home,” she said, and something approximating a smile appeared on her features. “Stay home, with me. Why not have a nap while I prepare dinner?”

[The programmed question sometimes worked. Not often but sometimes.]

“OK,” he said, and forgot about going out. Until the next time it occurred to him. He sat down and closed his eyes, and slept.

[And those watching a house, on the moon, hoped he’d never wake up, and prepared for the next minute, the next hour, and probably the next decade.]

 
© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)