Posts Tagged ‘new fiction’

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

Huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The River Goes On

I had come home to die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh.

I’ve never really considered what that means before.

“A full life.”

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

But full, surely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s hard to read.

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

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

And there are four, very carefully written, kisses.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Housekeeping note:

It just hit me.

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

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

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

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

Blimey.

Ah well, on with today’s…


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

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

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

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

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


The Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t do any–

Ah, dammit.

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

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

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

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

Another laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they leave the place hand in hand.

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

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

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The last human, the last story, the final lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was programmed to be kind, not honest.

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

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

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

And then there would be peace in this sector.

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every day.

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

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The heroic ideal

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

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

But he had planned for that.

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

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

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

He considered the four of them once again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it would be worth it in the end.

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

He’d start this weekend.

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

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A meeting, at first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir?”

“Yes?”

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

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

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

“Ah, you’re here. Well?”

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

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

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

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The tenants

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

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

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

There were traditions to uphold, after all.

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

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

Again, tradition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lost dates, lost people

Oh, it’s today. Again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss paper diaries.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I came across this picture by chance.

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


Coming Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About half an hour ago,” I whispered.

“Everything OK?” she asked sleepily.

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

“The credit card statement arrived,” she said.

Oops.

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

“Ah…”

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

I stood up and scooped our son into my arms.

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

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

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

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Daddy, you’re my real hero.”

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

“Daddy?”

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

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

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

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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


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

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

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.)

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 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.