Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

During December, while Tuesday has remained the ‘tales from the fiction vaults’ day, I’ve chosen to make them all ‘tales from the Christmas fast fiction vaults’.

For these specific short runs, I asked friends in comics and various fields of entertainment to challenge. Which they did. With funny, silly, clever titles and weird, odd, wonderful words to use.

So here are two more, from 2015’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

Though he deals with irrational numbers, the very rational Matt Parker is that rare person: a mathematician who not only enjoys convincing others of the joy and fun inherent in mathematics… but actually succeeds in doing so. He’s a very funny, very smart man, who could justifiably claim that the lowest ring of hell is reserved for those who deliberately misuse charts.

It was particularly enjoyable to be able to write a story including numbers for Matt.

Pippa Evans is a very nice person who is astonishingly talented. I put it that way around because otherwise you’d be so overwhelmed with her talent that you’d never remember that she’s also a very, very lovely person. She’s funny, silly and incredibly hard working, and I like her a lot.

There are not many stories that, the moment I think of the hook, I laugh out loud. Pippa’s challenge gave me that delight.

Both received the same prompt as always:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy these examples…


Title: When Nothing Adds Up
Word: moreover
Challenger: Matt Parker
Length: 200 words exactly

He stepped out of the vehicle, so very weary; he’d been thinking about his bed for the past hour, although in truth an hour meant little to him. He patted down his travelling companions, murmured a few words to his favourite, then left them to be taken away by assistants.

Assistants? When had he stopped calling them elves? he wondered, and shook his head, chuckling. It was not a pleasant sound; despite legends, Santa rarely laughed from pleasure.

The final task awaited him; one last job before blessed sleep. An elf waited by his desk, pouring over a list: billions of names, each accompanied by green ticks, some large, some almost microscopic. The elf, warily, pointed out the discrepancies to Santa: the total number of gifts did not equal that of the recipients. Moreover, he could not verify six of the names. Santa sighed, and reached into his coat.

He was the sixty-eighth elf to have disappeared without trace in the past four centuries. Others had been more stupid, or more clever.

Santa walked to his rooms and placed several large boxes by his bed; then he took the list and slowly, carefully, appended a tick to his name.

© Lee Barnett, 2015


Title: Brand New Dignity, Jane
Word: clasp
Challenger: Pippa Evans
Length: 200 words exactly

It had taken her weeks to find just the right berries, but with some help, she had gathered enough for her purpose. Crushed between two lumps of wood, then mixed with the remains of specific beetles, they would produce the exact shades of vermillion and cream necessary.

Staining the cloth had been easy; the obtaining of it had not, and she repressed a shudder at the nature of her sacrifice. But it had been necessary. She’d given up so much since she’d made her choice, long ago, but this… this she would not forsake. Similarly, making the leather belt had been simple, the buckle and clasp far harder to create.

Sewing the costume had been more pleasant than she’d anticipated, the act bringing back memories of her mother’s instructions, her smell, her smile.

She’d abandoned her first plan, knowing that the required explanations would be too tortuous and absurd; her replacement victim, however, trusted her completely.

It had been worth it though. The laughter from her child had made it worthwhile; giggles of delight at the sight of a chimpanzee standing to attention while dressed in full Father Christmas outfit. Her husband merely grunted, but then the apeman rarely spoke.

© Lee Barnett, 2015


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 very scarily and vert rapidly approaching.


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.

I wasn’t sure what to write for today’s post; whether to do another Ten Things, since it’s a Friday, but once I decided that, since it’s Christmas Eve, I should do something Christmassy, it occurred to me to check whether I’d reposted what I once regarded as ‘my traditional Christmas story’.

Turned out I haven’t done so, not in a decade, not since christmas 2011.

So you get it today.

As I say, I wrote this story many, many years ago… but it’s always one that I’ve especially liked.


 

No Time For It

 
He matched the description in all the stories. Hell, he could have come straight from an audition for Miracle on 34th Street. The only thing that was different was the look of puzzlement on his face.

“Where am I?” he asked again. This was nothing new. He’d been asking the question for the past three hours, ever since we’d intercepted him one minute after midnight on the 26th. OK, so I’m sentimental. I let the old man have one more year in the job.

“You’re in a holding cell,” I said.

“Oh, fucking hell,” he said, “not again.” He walked up to the force field. “What’s the charge this time?” He reached inside his jacket. I wasn’t worried. He’d been scanned when we’d grabbed him and there was nothing in there other than a cotton vest.

He pulled his hand out of the jacket. He was holding a fist full of paper. Permits of every sort you could think of. He thrust his hands towards me. “Here you go,” he said, “whatever you think you’ve got me on, think again. I’ve flying permits, authority to land on rooftops, even waivers for trespass mentally signed by every parent.”

I smiled grimly. “The charge? Spreading joy without permission.”

That shook him. I could tell.

“Spreading joy? Bugger.”

“Yeah, spreading… joy”

He let out a huge sigh. “Since when do you need permission for that?” he asked, a note of desperation creeping into his voice.

“Ever since the last election. Come on, you must have known that.”

He leaned against the wall, defeated. He had known that, of course. But like every other year, he’d thought he’d get away with it. My phone buzzed. I turned away from him and took the call.

A minute later, it was my turn to look puzzled. And then, as the final words, sunk in, I smiled. “You’ve been found guilty,” I informed him.

“Without a trial?” he asked. I got the impression he’d been looking forward to the trial.

“Yeah,” I replied. Homeland Security abolished trials last month. “You’re sentenced to exile…”

“For how long?” he asked.

“Three hundred and sixty-four days,” I informed him, and deactivated the forcefield. I watched as he faded from view, leaving only the sound of a “ho, ho, ho,” in the air.

Who’d have thought it? The judge was even more sentimental than me.

© 2004 Lee Barnett

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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

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.

During December, while Tuesday has remained the ‘tales from the fiction vaults’ day, I’ve chosen to make them all ‘tales from the Christmas fast fiction vaults’.

For these specific short runs, I asked friends in comics and various fields of entertainment to challenge. Which they did. With funny, silly, clever titles and weird, odd, wonderful words to use.

So here are two more, from 2014’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

The first story was written for Nick Doody, one of my favourite writers and stand-up comedians. He’s also – no coincidence – one of the smartest comedians on the circuit.

His very intelligent, very funny material from a very funny, very intelligent comedian, makes you think long after you’ve left his shows, and he never plays to the lowest common denominator. Nick seems to suggest ‘you’re not as stupid as the politicians try to pretend, so let’s not pretend it either, eh?’.

So for Nick, a story about finding just the right Christmas present…

Mitch Benn is one of my closest friends, and is among those whose friendship I most truly value and am grateful for. He’s an incredibly talented comedian, comedy-songwriter and author. Moreover, he’s one of the smartest people I know, with a breadth and depth of interests that’s almost but not quite scary. He also happens to be a huge admirer of A Christmas Carol, his enjoyment of which may well have inspired the second tale below.

Both received the same prompt as always:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy these examples…


Title: Weaving With Angels’ Hair
Word: frenulum
Challenger: Nick Doody
Length: 200 words exactly

Once, the sight of the three heavenly beings would have caused tears of joy. Were anyone human to see what was left of them, however, weeping of a different sort would commence from hearts broken in sorrow and condolence. The remains of the angels were not pretty to look at, their once proud wings shredded and torn away, heads that had once been covered in glister now ravaged and torn, with dried puddles of ichor in place of coruscation.

Lucifer looked upon the works of his lesser demons and winced; there was no care taken here, no professionalism, just savage butchery.

“Have you anything to say in your wretched defence?” he asked in a deceptively silken tone.

The demons shuffled upon immortal coils, and one held forth a soggy mess of what had once been golden locks, the hair now dull and lifeless. Its fellow incubi and succubi looked on as it presented Lucifer with what appeared to to be a woven basket of some sort, angel feathers protruding at obscene angles, and a dripping frenulum or six.

“Happy Christmas…?” it managed.

Lucifer sighed loudly and with great care; it was going to be a long holiday season this year…

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Title: Their Eyes All Aglow
Word: haven
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

The room was elegant, containing an eclectic mix of styles. Past arrived first, as was his preference. He sat in the smallest chair, one neat and manicured hand upon the table, one supporting his slender, pointed chin.

Present arrived next, looking older than his years, his responsibilities weighing heavily; he spoke briefly to Past, asking after his brothers and seemed vaguely content with the answer. Then Future walked into the room, and nodded slowly to his fellows, saying nothing, then sat with his head bowed.

The three of them waited, content with this haven from their duties until eventually What Might Have Been arrived, and once again made her annual pitch for inclusion.

Future looked at her, and from beneath his cowl, angry burning eyes condemned her audacity. Past was merely amused, as he had been so often before, his eyes shining with laughter, but his voice from long ago was deliberate, and low. Present’s siblings had always been contemptuous towards the proposal, and he followed the tradition, his eyes frozen azure.

The verdict delivered, What Might Have Been was no longer present. Then the clock struck twelve, then one, then two and the room was empty for another year.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

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


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: I’ve been in a weird mood this week — possibly related to Yahrzeit for my brother, and a few other things that have left me feeling a bit… disconnected… in general — and today’s post was started four times, on four different subjects before I gave up on each.

So I’m doing an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ post today. Apologies, but I didn’t want to put up a blank page.

There’ll hopefully be new content tomorrow.


So today you get another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ tales; these two, two of the first I wrote in the 150 day run from 2010.

The first story was one of those that provoked both a ‘your mind scares me at times’ comment and a ‘that’s… creepily fun’ observation. I leave it to you to judge which is more appropriate.

The second story? Well, it’s always fun writing in verse, but I rarely have as much fun as I did with this one.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Because I Said So
Word: effervescent
Challenger: [Livejournal: missymodee]
Length: 200 words exactly

The preparatory fast ended, he drank the traditional effervescent blue liquid, and then, dressed in the proper clothing, he proceeded along a metal corridor lit in noxious green.

He slowed as he approached the door. He recited the calming mantra, but it did no good; his heart was pounding, his palms sweaty. Swallowing twice, he wiped his hands against his trousers, unsurprised though dismayed at his reaction to this regular task.

He placed his right hand, no longer wet but still clammy, against the frosted glass and a door slid open, revealing a space far too small to be called a room. But it was functional and efficiently organised: one microphone and one chair.

The soft voice that invited him to sit was familiar, one he had heard all his life. It had shared his joys and his woes, and it was the only voice he needed to hear. It was The Machine.

He loved The Machine. The Machine told him to love The Machine.

And he obeyed The Machine. For The Machine told him to obey The Machine.

The Machine occasionally allowed him to believe that it was his choice to worship The Machine, however.

Even though it wasn’t.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


Title: Typing Too Fast
Word: slippery
Challenger: [challenger preferred to stay anonymous]
Length: 200 words exactly

The role of some who merely serve others
Is often mistaken, my sisters and brothers,
As something less special; unimportant, they’d say.
Until Her name is mentioned, and that dreadful day.

As the Official Typist, others were wary
Not to call her a mere secretary.
Did the king himself not oft praise her worth,
As more valuable than all treasures on Earth?

Until that day when the pressure did loom
And documents flew in and flew out of her room
As she typed first an order, and then a request
And then a submission, and all of the rest.

The mistake, when it happened, was very small, but
In context, however, the consequences not.
At the meeting they’d held, the twenty-third of his reign
The pen had run out and he’d signed once again.

She’d meant to type that the king had re-signed.
A missing hyphen, however, was not spotted in time.
As Official Typist, you see, her records were Law.
And the King was removed, protesting his fall.

And then civil war; barons fought for the crown
And monarchy started her slippery slope down.
And all because of a tiny mistake.
Made by one who merely serves and waits.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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.

For the remaining four weeks of this run, while Tuesday will remain the ‘tales from the fiction vaults’ day, I’m making them ‘tales from the Christmas fast fiction vaults’.

I’m going to be putting up two each Tuesday from the Twelve Days of Fast Fiction runs I did: two each from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 – the last year I did them.

For these specific short runs, I asked friends in comics and various fields of entertainment to challenge me.

Which they did. With funny, silly, clever titles and weird, odd, wonderful words to use.

So here are two more, from 2013’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

The first story was written for Si Spurrier, a wonderfully clever writer of extraordinary talent with a viciously funny talent for plotting stories and then executing those plots. I use ‘executing’ advisedly, as his writing takes any sacred cows you have out back and uses a bolt gun on them. And he smiles while doing so. As a writer who prizes words, I suspect that Si would agree with Mark Twain’s observation that ‘for a writer, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug’.

So for Si, a story about someone who just can’t find the right words, no matter how desperately he tries…

The second story was written for Sarah Pinborough, whose writing I take enormous pleasure in reading; glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let you go until you’ve found out… what happens next. Her stories stay with you long after you’ve finished reading, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly. I like both Sarah and her writing a lot.

Sarah gave me a title that could only – in my mind, anyway – have been the first line of something in rhyme; I’m not sure what the subject of the story is, but I can picture it perfectly…

Both received the same prompt as always:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy these examples…


Title: Every Word Is Wrong
Word: except
Challenger: Si Spurrier
Length: 200 words exactly

Once a year, Santa rises from a months’ long sleep, and walks to an desk that was ancient when he first commenced his duties. He sits at the desk, then dips a plain quill pen formed from the feather of a long extinct species of hen into a bottle of pure raven ink.

And then Santa writes a letter. And into that letter, the legendary jolly good-natured fellow pours out venom and bile, anger and bitterness, begging to be released from his responsibilities, analysing in forensic detail why he should not be obliged to continue his rounds across the planet known as Earth.

When he has finished, he places the letter face down and leaves the room, returning immediately. And always, always, there remains only a white card, upon which is the single word CONTINUE.

Santa Clause never swears. Never. Ever. Except when he reads the card.

Then Santa launches his sleigh over a world covered in white, a uniformity blanketing continents, what were once countries, and the blistered remains of cities.

Santa spends the day in his craft, his tears freezing against his thick beard, listening to the sound of radiation laden winds, desperate once again for sleep.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, it fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

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


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.

For the remaining four weeks of this run, while Tuesday will remain the ‘tales from the fiction vaults’ day, I’m making them ‘tales from the Christmas fiction vaults’.

I’m going to be putting up two each Tuesday from the Twelve Days of Fast Fiction runs I did: two each from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 – the last year I did them. For these specific short runs, I asked friends in comics and various fields of entertainment to challenge me.

And they did. With funny, silly, clever titles and weird, odd, wonderful words to use.

So here are two, from 2012’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

The first story was written for an old friend, the writer Neil Gaiman; a friend who’s provided a shoulder to lean on, a willing ear when I’ve wanted it, and several kicks up the arse when I’ve needed them. Neil’s story was the first Twelve Days story I wrote and like every one of these tales, the story answering his challenge was written very specifically for him.

Given the opportunity to write something that appealed to our shared love of myth, I’m not sure I could ever resist the temptation. To be fair, I never try that hard.

The second story was written for Jamie McKelvie, one of the best comics artists in the field. I’ve known Jamie so long that my son is now older than Jamie was when I met him. I’m sure there’s something illegal about that. I’ve no idea why or how the idea for this story came to me, but I’m very, very pleased it did. It remains one of my very favourite fast fictions.

The challengers received the same prompt as always:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


Title: The Christmas That Wasn’t
Word: plinth
Challenger: Jamie McKelvie
Length: 200 words exactly

The walk to the front door seemed longer than usual. I stifled a yawn as I pulled out the keys, half blinded by bright August sunlight.

A weariness beyond anything I’d known had come over me, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy. Not for me. Not for her, either. She was still in the car; we didn’t have anything to say to each other now – we’d exhausted all possible conversations over the past hour.

I glanced through the front room’s windows; it was all there. His toys, the letter from the hospital, a small statue of Peter Pan upon a plinth, and the Christmas decorations.

We’d known it was the only way he’d see another Christmas, so we’d planned a party for him. In August.

We’d never hold that party now.

We’d been honest from the start. For a lad not yet eight, he understood what cancer was, what it meant.

A sob caught in my throat as I turned the key. I had to pack it all away now.

A protesting yell from the car. I smiled.

He understood what cancer meant. I wasn’t sure about remission. Maybe I’d buy him a dictionary. In December.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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: I woke up this morning in a filthy mood and with my foot hurting; the latter hasn’t got anything to do with the former, but it didn’t help.

And so I’m doing an ‘in case of emergency,m break glass’ post today. There’ll hopefully be new content tomorrow.


But today you get another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ tales; these two, two of the last I wrote in the 150 day run from 2010.

(I’ve decided that for the remaining four weeks’ Tuesdays, I’m giving to grab some from the Twelve Days Of Fast Fiction I used to do. I may do them again this year; I’m still pondering the idea.)

I like surprising people with the stories. the first story was one that surprised even me when I wrote it. I’ve written crueler characters before; I’m not sure I’ve written crueler characters with as good a reason to cruel.

The second story? Well at the time, the challenger surprised me. I knew Wil Wheaton via a mutual friend. He liked this story enough to write the foreword for the second published collection of fast fictions tales. I should probably start mentioning them occasionally; they’re still available.

The second tale is a warning; I’m not sure the first is.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: “You’re Having My…”
Word: positive
Challenger: [Livejournal: AbbieSynth]
Length: 200 words exactly

The anger was expected, the harsh laughter was not.

I’d expected him to ask questions but instead there was an eruption of sheer fury. All attempts at civility, attempts I now knew had only ever been surface deep, had been abandoned and the astonishing level of his belief that he’d been betrayed flew at me.

I was absolutely positive that this was a genuine reaction but somehow there was an impression of studied response, as if he’d been expecting this and had rehearsed this previously.

“It’s my child you’ve stolen, you bastard,” my brother said with contempt. “That should be my child. She was my girlfriend.”

And now she was my wife.

He’d beaten her so badly the doctors had said she’d never be able to conceive. The long sentence surprised no-one.

I left the prison and walked slowly to the car where she waited. She never spoke his name and I had enough respect for her never to mention it.

It had been her idea, though. She knew it would hurt him more than any time spent in prison.

If only it had been true.

Later, that night, we cried… for the loss of something we’d never had.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


Title: A Long Way Down
Word: exalted
Challenger: Wil Wheaton
Length: 200 words exactly

I beat my first woman to death at twenty-three. She was forty-two, full of hate and prejudice, but that wasn’t why I killed her.

My brother… now he thinks I kill for the money. That’s a contemptible view: I worked hard to learn how to kill and I feel exalted by my success.

The woman was my fourth killing. Since then, I’ve killed many more, learning efficiency and brutality go hand in hand.

My father… is ashamed of me. He discovered I kill people but curiosity gave way to disgust when I was honest and enthusiastic about it.

Sixty-eight people. You were wondering, I could tell.

They all deserved it, you understand. They deserved it by costing the state too much. They died because they were… inconvenient.

As I strap on thick leather gloves provided by the prisons department and hit the old man in front of me, I wonder what it was like, executing people back before the electricity ran out. When the next punch lands, I wonder when others ceased to be proud.

We stood on top of the world… then we fell. And as he dies, I know everyone else is still falling.

Everyone else, except me.

© Lee Barnett, 2010


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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.

I’ve quite liked putting up two very early fast fiction challenges the past two weeks, two stories written while I was still figuring out what I could do with the format.

So here are another two, from early in the first set of challenges, in 2005.

You’ll notice that they have the same title and the same word.

For this was a title, a challenge, which I answered twice; I wrote two entirely different stories.

I started writing fast fiction challenges when my wife and I had recently separated, as a precursor to divorce, and wanted something to occupy my mind and to recharge the writing muscles.

But the first story I wrote answering this challenge was, I realised after I completed it, a tale that many, too many, people would assume was taken from real life. It wasn’t, but… y’know. It’s probably one of the more brutal of the earlier stories but it really wasn’t from real life. Honest.

But as I say, y’know…

So I composed another short fiction and published that one. That’s the second tale below.

When I did the collection, though, enough time had passed that I included the first story I’d originally written, because I still liked it. And I still do.

(I find it more amusing than I probably should that the story title includes the word “twice”. Also that the challenge came from one of my close friends.)

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

The first time she killed me, it was with cruelty.

The cold blooded severing of our lives, as she announced she was moving out. She looked around our apartment, summing up six years of togetherness with an apathetic gesture signifying that it had no meaning to her. The look of contempt in her eyes was chilling, made worse because of the utter yet enigmatic lack of expression on the rest of her features.

She took out her keys and one by one, removed any of them that had the slightest link to us. The sound they made as each one hit the table will remain with me for life.

One final look around the place, her eyes sweeping the room and passing over me as if I was of no greater import than a television or a curiously designed lamp.

And then she was gone, leaving me with the detritus of a life, wondering how to recover, how to go on.

Then the telephone calls started, so concerned about how I would ‘survive’, the patronising tone rubbing salt into the still open wounds of my heart.

The second time she killed me was with kindness.

Cruelty was easier to bear.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

She was so excited when the box arrived that it was as if she was a child again, rather than a grown woman.

“It is, it is!” I heard her shriek at the front door, from where I sat, in the living room.

She brought the box in through the hall way and placed it in front of me with pride, the usual expression on her face, a conflation of enigmatic shyness and utter pleasure. Ever since she had opened the first one five years ago and had cut into the complimentary copies, she was wary about opening it herself.

Since then, prudence and superstition (and writers tend to be more superstitious than the average person) had mandated that I open up the parcel for her. I did so, removed the top edition and retreated to the couch to read while she examined the rest of the copies of her latest whodunit novel.

I didn’t do too badly this time around, I decided three hours later; looking at the victims, their names, foibles and eccentricities, I’d only been put to death twice. That was the lowest since the second book. I must have been on her good side that month.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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.

I quite liked putting up two very early fast fiction challenges last week, two stories written while I was still figuring out what I could do with the format.

So here are another two, from early in the first set of challenges, in 2005.

The first was an idea which came to me while thinking about the future and how everything today was yesterday’s future.

The second is darker and one of the more twisted tales I wrote in the early days. I’m sure I wrote darker tales later, but this definitely set a tone to be matched by twisted stories to follow.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Nightfall in Skegness
Word: tourniquet
Challenger: [Livejournal: bog_boy]
Length: 200 words exactly

She tightened the tourniquet around my bicep, repairing the damage from the large wooden splinter that had shot out like a bullet and speared my arm as effectively as if a spear had been thrown.

I glared at the huge metal thing, its paint gleaming in the last of the sunshine of the day, a summer’s afternoon in 1875. The first passenger train the town had seen.

The incredible noise made by the machine had distracted me and I’d gotten too close to the railway lines, never-ending rails on huge wooden boards that could support the weight. It was from one of these that the splinter had originated. The experience hadn’t made me think more kindly about the railways.

I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Everything about the new form of transport seemed designed to lessen the enjoyment of the travelling experience. Not only the noise and the smell, nor that perfectly good fields were being bought up and then having tracks laid across them.

But the speed of these things! My Lord, some of them travelled at twenty miles per hour, surely destroying the pleasure of the passing scenery.

The sun set. We now belonged to the future.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands
Word: collectivism
Challenger: Dave Bushe
Length: 200 words exactly

I hear the sound of keys being inserted into the lock, the lock snapping open, the door swinging wide.

I’m taken from the cell towards the interrogation cell, I… no, wait: I’m not supposed to call it that any more. It’s an ‘education suite’. Much as the man who attached electrodes to my nether regions is no longer referred to as a torturer, but as an Outsourced Re-education Contractor.

I’m trained neither to speak of what I know, nor to forget it either. If I disclose my knowledge, then my current preparations would have failed. Yet, if ever I buried it so deep that I truly consciously forgot it, I’d be no use at all.

I’m pushed into a chair and my arms tied behind my back. All for the glory of the Motherland, who’d spit on collectivism and its purveyors if she knew how it and they had been perverted.

The man looks like he’s going to enjoy this.

Why not? I enjoyed it yesterday when it was my turn to torture him, to try to break him. He’s a friend, and as he bends forward, I know he understands my pain.

And that’s the scariest thing of all.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


 

See you tomorrow, with… genuinely, honest, something else. (At least, that’s the plan…)

 

 

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


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.

For no reason other than I remembered both of these stories this morning for labyrinthine but quite boring reasons, here are two of the very first fast fiction challenge stories I wrote in August 2005. I was still figuring out what I could do with the format, and well… the two tales below resulted.

The first involved something that long ago I learned – when writing radio sketches for BBC Radio 4’s Weekending – as a ‘pull back and reveal’ ending, where the final lines change what you realise you’ve been experiencing, where you realise that while you thought the sketch was about one thing… it was about something else the whole time. I adapted that and hopefully, the writing was ambitious enough – although you didn’t realise it at the time – to fool you as the reader. I got better at them as I mastered the form, but I still like this one a lot.

The second was probably the first time I constructed a backstory for the characters while I was writing it. And almost immediately realised that part of the fun for me could be, and indeed became, letting the reader create their own backstories, which were probably much nicer and more wholesome than the ones in my head.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Only In My Heart
Word: lascivious
Challenger: Mary Picken
Length: 200 words exactly

He opened the door and flushed in warm recognition at the man’s face.

He smiled at him, seeing the welcoming smile in return.

It was the same every time he saw the face of the man he loved.

“I love you,” he said. Three words, but oh so important, and they were utterly, unreservedly and completely true.

“I love you,” he said again. “You know that, don’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer but, with a sudden and overwhelming urge of affection and adoration, he continued. “She thinks she matters, but compared to you, she’s nothing. Oh, I know, I’m not the only one who loves you, but there’s something so special about our love.”

He smiled again, and his eyes trekked downwards in a lascivious manner, running over the smart suit, the tie he’d bought a week earlier on that special trip. Down, over the slight paunch and then down, further, until he saw what he knew he’d see before he looked: a telltale bulge, showing his hunger and obsession for the man.

There was a knock at the bedroom door, and sighing, the Prime Minister closed the wardrobe door and returned the mirror to the darkness within.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Cold
Word: cold
Challenger: Del Des Anges
Length: 200 words exactly

I’d been searching for her for three years when the telephone call came.

The ringing interrupted my shower and I turned the water off, grabbing for a towel as I stumbled through the room, drying myself as I went towards the telephone. My hand stabbed out and I pulled the receiver to my ear.

“Charlie?” came a voice I knew so well, moments before I could greet the caller.

“It’s me,” she said, unnecessarily. As if I could forget the gentleness of her dulcet tones. The voice continued, “I’m safe.”

Three years of not knowing, three years of wondering. Three years of hunger for her.

“I… I…” I stumbled over the words in surprise. All my plans, all my carefully worked out speeches. Gone, like they’d never existed, never been planned through the empty nights.

“Don’t try to find me,” she said. “I’m safe… at last. Safe from you.”

“Lisa, don’t go!” I cried, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again.”

“Once was enough,” she said, sadness suffusing her words.

The phone went dead. It was cold in my hands.

Cold.

Like a children’s game of hide and seek, I felt further away from her than ever.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


 

See you tomorrow, with… genuinely, honest, something else. (At least, that’s the plan…)

 

 

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


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.

Housekeeping Note: foot


Today you get another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ tales; these two from long ago stories of 2007.

Both have seen light, separately, on this blog before, but I came across both while preparing yesterday’s post and they’re both silly enough and just flat out weird enough that I think they should be paired here today. Tony Lee, in particular, always gave me challenges that tests me to create the absurdly weird.

And so it was here.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Paradise Lost – But Found
Word: succubus
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

He looked around the library and sighed, unconsciously wincing and irritated at himself as he registered the latter reaction.

The silence had long ceased to be oppressive, but it was far from pleasant. After sixteen years, though, the monk was almost used to it.

It would be a lie, though, to say that he didn’t notice it any more.

He noticed it.

Every day, he noticed it. Every time he was alone, he noticed it. Every time he was with someone else, he noticed it.

He noticed it.

And he disliked it intensely. There was little that he could do about it, however,

When he’d first entered the monastery, he had laboured under an illusion that he’d needed seclusion, privacy. And for the first eight, maybe nine, months, he’d taken to the lifestyle with pleasure. So much pleasure, indeed, that he had been disciplined by with extra duties.

The menial tasks, he could cope with. The scourging and blood-letting was tougher.

But he finally broke when he was exposed to the greatest punishment the Abbot could impose upon him.

And remaining silent during that experience? Now, that was tough…

He shuddered as he remembered being introduced to the monastery’s succubus.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: Single White Fee Male
Word: spices
Challenger: [Livejournal: perspexavenger]
Length: 200 words exactly

The papers and the weapon had been on the table for an hour when the two of them arrived, walking into the building through different doors, entering the sterile air-conditioned atmosphere, away from the sounds and scents of the street; spices and exhaust fumes left far behind.

Escorted by security people hired by their mutual employer, they walked to the room that had been set aside for their meeting, but even in that shared experience the differences between them were evident.

While the larger of the men walked in long strides, forcing his companions to a speedier pace than they preferred, the other took his time, almost dawdling, his casual tread belying the tension in his face.

Entering from opposite sides of the boardroom, the assistant commercial director and the financial controller met at the large oak table. Smiles full of faked sincerity and meaningless obsequiousness lasted for less than a second before they appended their signatures to the documents. They bowed deeply and then the man to the left of the table fell to his knees, while the other lifted the sword from the table.

And thus the junior corporate whore was promoted to Senior Courtesan to the Board.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


 

See you tomorrow, with… genuinely, honest, something else. (At least, that’s the plan…)

 

 

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


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: I wrote yesterday

I’m genuinely sorry to have to do this only a few days after starting the 2022 run, but I woke up today with my foot on fire, something that happens every so often and, not unexpectedly, is happening a bit more often as I get that bit older.

I had a post semi-written for today; a few hundred words written with the rest bulletpointed. I’ll finish it tomorrow or it’ll be Wednesday’s post, I guess.

But I absolutely did not want to ‘skip’ a day, so I’m reverting to one of my ‘in case of emergency break glass’ posts.

OK? Good.

OK, so you’ve read that? Same applies today. Sorry but the foot’s still on fire…


Today you get another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ tales; these two from long ago stories of 2009.

I like surprising people with the stories. Occaisonally, like the subject of the first story, I like to remember that a specific concept exists, no matter how distant it can seem.

The second story is one about obsession, and where it can lead one.

The second tale is a warning; I’m not sure the first is.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Frankenstein Can’t Die
Word: flocculent
Challenger: [Livejournal: secretia]
Length: 200 words exactly

The door slowly closed behind them, and the room seemed empty. I sat behind my desk, relieved, trying to stop shivering and not entirely managing.

It had been an unexpected inspection under the Maintenance of Order (Fiction) Act: the Fiction Police. They had another title, but the nomenclature fit.

Spot visits now. We’d been moving that way for a couple of decades, but even so… Twenty years of advancement towards the anodyne; one way of looking at it, not a view those who had just left my office would support. They’d prefer everyone regarded it as twenty years of retreat from anarchy and chaos.

I’m a good citizen; I won’t break the law. Bend it possibly, almost to breaking point… but never beyond that position.

I looked at my bookshelves. Yes, they were all there, the mandatory horror books, the psychological terrors. Anything to keep a population unsure and uneasy, to ensure the government was re-elected, and re-elected.

I opened a drawer and pulled out a book with a lurid cover. Within the sensation, though, was a romance novel, something entirely flocculent and trivial.

Mere possession was risking death.

But, just occasionally, I like to recall the concept of love.

© Lee Barnett, 2009


Title: Second To None
Word: requiem
Challenger: [Livejournal: absinthe_delacy]
Length: 200 words exactly

The music. Always the music.

As the final notes echoed through the church, there was an awed silence.

The music had more than done its duty, evoking memories and emotions of a life lived and as I sat there, I could feel the admiring glances of the rest of the congregation on my back.

I wiped my eyes, the moisture there arising from a mixture of emotions. I sat in the front row, of course, wearing black in commemoration of a friend I’d known since childhood, someone with whom I’d shared so much in life: the joys of victories won, the despair of life’s disappointments.

There was also the power of the music itself. More than a mere hymn of mourning, I felt his presence; several moments during the recital, I’d closed my eyes and half expected to hear his calm, steady voice.

Of course it wouldn’t be calm, nor steady. Well, I wouldn’t have expected it to have been. Not now.

I’d written the music before his death… and when I’d finished it, I knew it could only be performed as a requiem.

For him. After his death.

I regretted his death, of course.

But the music… the music…

© Lee Barnett, 2009


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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: I’m genuinely sorry to have to do this only a few days after starting the 2022 run, but I woke up today with my foot on fire, something that happens every so often and, not unexpectedly, is happening a bit more often as I get that bit older.

I had a post semi-written for today; a few hundred words written with the rest bulletpointed. I’ll finish it tomorrow or it’ll be Wednesday’s post, I guess.

But I absolutely did not want to ‘skip’ a day, so I’m reverting to one of my ‘in case of emergency break glass’ posts.

OK? Good.


Today you get another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ tales; these two from long ago stories of 2008.

I liked writing fast fictions about the, if you’ll forgive the word, ‘ineffable’. Not only because of the links to a story I huge enjoy, but because it feels a bit like sneaking a look behind the curtain. The first is one such tale.

The second story was one I was genuinely surprised to reread when I came across it recently. Not so much for the story itself but because, rarely, with a decade’s worth of life, experiences and writing, I wouldn’t change a word of it. Often, I’ll see old stories and think ‘oh, I should have used this word or that phrase’. This one? No, wouldn’t change a thing about it.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Murder In Heaven
Word: quantum
Challenger: Corey Klemow
Length: 200 words exactly

The area was empty. And then it was not.

A soft light seemed to suffuse the place before a large golden clock appeared. The clock chimed loudly, but the angel whose responsibility it was to respond was already there before the sound ended.

It summoned the guardian angel which looked almost amused as it realised that once again, it had to go through this. It stated its case as it had done so before and the angel heard the argument, and ruled against it. As it had done so before.

Cain had killed Abel. And the former’s guardian angel had killed the latter’s minutes before Cain had taken his action.

And He had deemed the same should apply – none should commit the slightest quantum of harm to the murderer but Him. And He had not yet decided the penalty. Almost a million years later (as Cain and Abel would have measured time) and He had not yet decided. But then He worked on different timescales, to be fair.

Both angels returned to their previous points of existence. And a moment later the area was empty.

And then it was not, as a soft light and a large golden clock appeared…

© Lee Barnett, 2008


Title: I Want To Believe
Word: demeanour
Challenger: Regie Rigby
Length: 200 words exactly

He sits there, waiting patiently, entirely relaxed, wholly at odds with his usual demeanour.

It had been the undercurrent of barely restrained activity that had first attracted me to him. And even last night, afterwards, while we had been talking in bed, his hands had been constantly moving, developing thoughts, attempting to show in physical movement what he was unable to express in speech.

The constant movement, the boundless energy, the thriving on change… never wanting to accept things as they are, but always seeing what could be… I can’t deal with it any more, and I told him so. This morning.

And now, six hours later, he sits there, pleasantly vacant, patiently waiting for my answer.

I know he says that he’s willing to change. For me.

I wish I could accept that his love supersedes all personal desires, that his yearning for me overwhelms his desire to be himself. And I ask myself: must he change who he is, or must I change who I am?

I love him. But for us to survive together, one must move forward, or backwards.

And then I answer, and I hate myself just that little bit more than I did previously…

© Lee Barnett, 2008


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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.

It’s Tuesday, so as is usual on these countdown runs, you get a couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ tales; these two from fifteen years ago, from the long ago stories of 2006.

The 2006 run was the second I did, and by now I was comfortable with the format, comfortable enough to experiment with the stories themselves. Some were very sweet, some very dark and a few very… odd.

The first seems wildly appropriate today, mainly but not entirely due to the challenger, one Regie Rigby, an old friend I’ve not seen nor spoken to in ages, but who I’ll be seeing in a couple of weeks at Thought Bubble. I rarely write about music. I did for this one.

The second story was, I think, an attempt to write a Twilight Zone type story. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded, but I still like it.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…


Title: Living “La Vida Loca”
Word: regret
Challenger: Regie Rigby
Length: 200 words exactly

I’d wondered into the club precisely because it was quiet: no music, and I wanted to think. An hour later, with a large scotch inside me, and another on the table, I sat. And thought lonely thoughts. Life could be pretty lousy at times. The secret, I guessed, was not to give a damn.

If only.

I drank down my drink in two swallows, signalling to the bar for another.

Nothing. I slowly got the message and walked carefully to the bar where I agreed with the man behind it that no, he wasn’t my bloody servant, and asked yeah, could I have another large scotch. Oh hell, make it two and have one yerself before I regret it.

The music started as I headed back to the table, and before I sat, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Turning, I was pulled away by them, pulled into the centre of the dance area.

I don’t dance. I mean it. I really don’t.

But I did.

The secret of life? Not to give a damn.

Life can be pretty lousy… but sometimes, just sometimes, that makes the climb back to living – rather than just existing – just so damned wonderful.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


Title: Beauty Is Skin Deep
Word: evasive
Challenger: [Livejournal: lyndzzz]
Length: 200 words exactly

“Guilty!”

The voice of the judge rang in the courtroom and there was, as expected, utter silence for a long moment.

Standing, a member of the audience started to protest, but was immediately laser-stunned by one of the security guards. No further disturbance occurred.

The protest had obviously been premeditated, a martyr wanting to make his name. But after all, the verdict also been planned in advance, weeks before the case came to trial, despite the predicted evasive nature of the defence, not wanting to even admit there had been a crime.

The judge glanced at the defendant, who looked rather forlorn.

And ugly.

Perilously ugly. Hideously ugly, by modern standards: no remarkable features, no distinguishing marks. She looked, the judge winced, normal.

“Normal”… as if such a word meant anything in a culture where everyone had cybernetic inserts of one sort or another almost from birth.

As they had became common, so the laws of fashion and legislatures changed to make them mandatory. It was necessary now to look distinctive. And she didn’t, her looks were too… plain.

When the trial resumed, the judge would sentence her to the maximum penalty allowed: enforced uniqueness, to ensure she’d fit in.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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.

Well, come on, be honest… this wasn’t exactly a surprise even before I said I was likely going to be doing it.

The moment I got more than half-way through ‘57 minus…‘, it was likely I’d go on to do a ’57 plus…’ And the moment I got more than half-way through ‘57 plus…‘, let’s face it, it was more than likely I’d go on to do a ‘2022 minus…’

So here we are, or at least here I am, doing a ‘2022 minus…’ And if you’re out there reading this, hello! Feel free to say hello down below. If you’re new to the blog, welcome. If you’re an old hand, welcome back.

This will be the [oh, I don’t know] umpteenth (?) countdown blog run I’ve done and I’ve long since accepted that it’s the only way for me to post on a daily basis.

Previous attempts over the past decade or so I’ve had this blog that progress without the countdown tend to… peter out after a week and a half; I have no idea how people writing general allpurpose blogs, i.e those without a a specific focus, do it. I really don’t.

It was easier back in the days of Livejournal. Mainly, I’ve come to realise, because of the absence of Twitter.

My previous blog is still ‘live’, in theory at least. It’s effectively archived, although every so often someone will stumble across it and reply to a post from 2006 or something. And I’m not even referring to bots or spam comments.

You may think I’m kidding… I’m not. A year ago, someone replied to a post from 2004.

Yeah. That was… surprising.

But for the most part, the previous blog exists for me to look something up or to find something I know I’ve written about previously. And of course for the ‘in case of emergency, post a Q&A’ entry, where I can grab a set of questions and answer them in 2021, as opposed to the answers I gave in, say, 2006.

Thing is, looking at that blog, looking at the entries now, in 2021, it strikes me that a good 25% of those posts wouldn’t these days appear on my blog, but would appear as single tweets or even as a thread.

And now, in 2021, it’d just seem flat weird to post on this blog an entry of only 50 words. Or to post multiple short blog entries in a single day. Both of which I did freely on the Livejournal blog.

But without that freewheeling nature on here, yeah, I need the structure of the countdown.

So, yes, a countdown to 2022, a year that I’m in some ways finding it hard to come to terms with. It honestly doesn’t seem that long ago that we were all arguing about whether the year 2000 actually started the new millennium, or whether it was 2001 that accomplished it.

(It was the latter in case you wondered, but it was quite right to celebrate the former. After all, no one cares when your mileage odometer clicks over to 20,001 miles. Everyone cares when it hits 20,000.)

But because

a) it’s been a couple of weeks since you’ve seen anything from me, and

b) it’s only been a couple of weeks since you’ve seen anything from me, I’m left in a bit of a quandary for this post.

There’s no point in me doing a reintroduction. I did one of those at the start of the ’57 minus…’ run. Neither is there really a point in telling what you I’ve planned for this run. I did one of those recently as well.

You don’t need a anyway, because both you and I know that it’ll likely be the same kind of thing, though with different actual content, hopefully, this time around: new fiction on a Thursday, fiction from the vaults, Saturday Smiles, and the usual slice of life and occasional ponderings, and various items of flotsam and jetsam.

One question you might have is why sixty-one days/posts. It’s a fair question.

I usually do a seventy-five day countdown to the New Year. But after this most recent blog run, as I said, I genuinely needed a short-ish break. And so I took one, for the back half of October.

A fifty day countdown? Well, I could do that, but I was honestly worried that if I took effectively a month off, until mid-November, then maybe that fifty-day countdown would get delayed and turn into a forty-day countdown and then maybe I’d put it off for another short while and then suddenly we’d be nearly December and I’d think it’d not be worth doing it at all.

Hmm.

Sixty days was the obvious compromise: enough of a break to recharge the batteries, but not long enough for me to get comfortable not blogging.

So I did the calculations, and realised that counting sixty days backwards from 31st December brought me to precisely… 2nd November 2021. Which was… awkward.

Because as anyone who’s followed this blog or the previous one for a while will know, 2nd November is an important day for me.

And I didn’t want to kick off the blog again with that post. So, you get something else today, then that post tomorrow along with the return of fiction from the vaults in another post. And since I’m seriously considering doing a set Twelve Days of Fast Fiction again for the first time since 2016, I’m also thinking about including some of those for the Tuesday posts. I’ve got more than 40 I could pick from, after all. Hmm.

I haven’t decided yet on either proposal.

What else today before I sign off?

Well, I’m going to be attending my first comics con in almost a decade in a couple of weeks, which at the moment feels very… weird.

I’ll go more into it before I travel up on the 12th, maybe while I’m travelling up on the 12th, but, at the moment, suffice to say that Dave Gibbins and I wrapped up the hypotheticals panel at 2011’s Bristol Comic Expo, and I only attended a couple more cons after that.

Partly that was because I – as I’ve previously alluded to in brief – cracked up; partly it was because it was a part of my life that felt… over. And whenever I vaguely considered attending a con after that, it just felt, I dunno, not… right. Not the right time.

And then of course, suddenly it was 6 or 7 years since I’d been to a con.

But towards the end of 2019, I felt that strong itch, that itch I hadn’t felt in years. People were talking and writing about going to cons, and for the first time since I quit going, I… missed them. Missed the people, missed the culture, missed the being around people I like, missed… everything about attending a con. Oh, and I missed being around comics people. I missed hearing about comics and talking about comics and… everything that makes comics enjoyable as well as reading them.

And, after a few occasions of this hitting me, I mentioned it. And a couple of people said ‘come to a con, we’d love to see you…’ A couple of people even said I’d been missed, which was nice.

And then… and then, of course, covid hit.

So I wrote off the idea of going to cons-that-weren’t-happening and the idea of attending one got lost in, well, got lost in the craziness and absurdity in which we’ve all lived for a couple of years.

And then they started up again.

And Thought Bubble started up again, a con I’d only attended twice, many years ago now, but which everyone praises as ‘a con done right’.

So I pondered, and thought about it, and I was driving myself mad; a short drive, you’ll appreciate.

So I booked tickets and travel, and accommodation. Not on a whim, but yeah. (Note: I’ve been out of the game for a long time, and while there are cons that I might have asked, cheekily, if there was any way I could be comped in… Thought Bubble is not one of those cons.)

So, yeah, I’m going to a comics con. That’s weird.

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else. Well, two somethings else to be precise, only one of which will be part of ‘2022 minus’…

 

 

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


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.)

57 plus 57: Back-ups

Posted: 13 October 2021 in 57 plus, fiction, writing
Tags: , ,

Housekeeping note 1: I went out last night, and I fully intended to use today to do a write up of the event. But it was too much… I mean, I loved the show – David Baddiel’s Trolls: Not The Dolls – and I’d recommend you go see it, but I was thinking about it all the way home, and I’ve been thinking some more about it today.

I’ll do a proper write up during the interregnum in a week or so. (The show’s running for a bit yet.)

Housekeeping note 2: This is the final ’57 plus…’ post. Or at least it was intended to be. 57 posts for ’57 minus…’ and 57 posts for ’57 plus…’. Except I like writing the new fiction on a Thursday so you’re getting one more post tomorrow.


So, something else today. Another tale from the very, very long ago fiction vaults.

I wrote the following story for an anthology that never actually saw the light of day. I can’t remember exactly why not; something to do with rights or the cost of printing. Anyway, it didn’t happen.

I wrote this in 2003. It seems more than a little prescient today.
 
 

BACK-UPS

They have a revolving door.

I hate them just for that. Just for the symbolism. In. Out. And it’s done.

The woman at the desk doesn’t even look up as I approach the reception desk.

“Seventy-third floor,” she says. A ‘path, I realise.

“Yes,” she says in a bored tone. She still hasn’t looked up at me. “I’m a telepath, which means I know what you’re thinking even though you haven’t thought it yet.”

Now she looks up at me. She smiles, but I know it’s a smile she’s practiced in front of the mirror. “And what you really want to do with me is still illegal in fourteen states.”

I believe her. Even though all I’d thought about was what she looked like. Not bad, I think. Not bad at all.

“Fuck you,” she says, that smile unchanged. “I’m a lot better than ‘not bad’.”

Now it’s me that smiles at her, as I head for the elevator.

There are two others already there, both of them carrying MemScan brochures. The man’s flipping through a book while the woman has her eyes half-closed and is mouthing something in what looks like fright. They both look at me, and then return to their own practices. Curious, I think obscene thoughts. Neither of them even blink and it takes me a moment to realise that the woman is genuinely scared.

To make conversation, and to try to reassure her, I tell her, “Nothing to worry about, really.”

“How the hell would you know?” comes the response from the man. “Done it before, have you?”

If it’s a challenge, it’s a bloody stupid one. “Yes,” I say, “three times actually.”

That gets their attention. This thing costs. A lot.

“You’ve been backed up three times?” There’s something approaching awe in the woman’s voice now. She’s not bad looking either, not now, not with the look of fright replaced with a mixture of curiosity and admiration.

The elevator arrives and we get on. He looks at the panel of buttons and I lean forward to hit the buttons for the seventy-third floor. MEMORY SCANS INC, RECORDING AND RESTORATIONS.

I lean back against the wall as the elevator starts up. I wonder what the two of them would think if they knew that right now, as we’re moving upwards through the vast building, we’re being scanned by about thirty telepaths. Each of them scanning for one thing, and one thing only.

They’re still looking at me, the woman bashfully so, the man less so. The curiosity is palpable, almost oppressive in the enclosed area. I learned long ago the easiest way to deflect it is to manufacture some of my own. “So,” I point to the brochures, “why MemScan?”

When they come, the reasons are the usual. I mean, give MemScan credit. Their advertising boys have come up with about seven different angles, all of them playing on the gloriously perfect discovery that humans are inherently neurotic.

They’re paranoid about telepaths stealing their memories, for a start. Funny how MemScan conveniently forget to mention that there’s never been a single case recorded of a telepath erasing a memory they’ve read. That’s why the woman is here, to back up her memories, so if anyone steals them, she can restore them later.

The man’s excuse for being there is slightly more understandable. Slightly. His father has Alzheimer’s and is slowly losing his memories, one by one. But the old man’s 122. What the hell did he expect? How old are you, I ask the man.

42.

42 and he’s getting a MemScan in case he gets Alzheimer’s. I want to hit him.

But then, is my justification any better? In a world of telepaths, how the hell do you protect a copyright? Posting something to yourself in a sealed envelope is no protection, not when on the way to the mailbox, someone in the street can scan your brain, see what it is in the envelope and file a precept before you’ve returned home.

So, for the past three months, I’ve had my mind scanned. Not just the memories, not just the cheap option, but the full whack. The whole thing. Memories, stray thoughts, sexual fantasies, and story ideas. Everything.

Because I’m a writer. Yeah, a writer. Remember them?

Remember what it was like to have an original idea?

Before you had the option of going to MemScan Rental and hiring someone else’s thoughts for a day. Or, if you’ve really got the money, a whole week?

Of course the real trick is to make sure that when you have a back up made, you’re thinking of something really horrific. Then, if anyone’s daft enough to download you, the first image they get is of, say, The President screwing a goat. Or a razor blade cutting open an eyeball. Or, if you’re really cruel and heartless, your last divorce. Pretty soon the word goes around; leave this brain alone.

The elevator arrives and the three of us step out.

The armed guard at the side of the door isn’t needed, of course. If any of us had been part of the Abolitionist Movement, we’d never had made it out of the elevator. They’d have flooded it with nerve gas and killed everyone in the enclosed space? Don’t believe me? Tch – you don’t read the small print in the brochure then.

The receptionist upstairs confirms my identity with a retinal scan and a tongue print. There’s not been a system yet that’s beaten both of them at the same time. And then I’m in the small room as they place the helmet on me.

And the last thought I have as they lower it onto me is the same one I had last time and the time before that.

I know it’s perfectly safe. I know that the stories of brains being sucked up and leaving the person a mindless husk are urban myths.

I also know that this machine was built by the company that tendered the lowest bid.

There – that should give the next downloader a few nightmares.

© Lee Barnett, 2003 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

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


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.)

As I promised last week, something different then and this week. Oh yes, it’s still Tuesday, and you’re still getting a ‘tale from the fiction vaults’.

But not fast fiction challenges; something else entirely.

I stumbled across the stories for last week and today while searching for something else. I reread the stories and enjoyed the utter silliness of this week’s; an odd tale, but an enjoyable one, I think. (I am, I’ll admit, amused at the reference to wearing a mask, but hey, this was 2013, ok?)

So, anyway, this story was entered for an online thing. It didn’t make the cut, but I still like it.

I hope you do…


 

Myth-appropriation

 
 
The call from the job agency was at ten o’clock in the morning, and the interview at four in the afternoon. By five, I was employed on a trial basis, and by the end of the month, I was full time, and permanent. Well, as permanent as this job ever gets.

At first I thought they must have been desperate, but no, the skills I’d picked up in several concurrent careers as – in no particular order – a con man, a writer and a comedian were just what they were looking for. Put simply, they were after a pathological liar.

And in the nine weeks since the interview, I’ve manufactured seventeen watertight explanations for the police, written twelve newspaper features under various pseudonyms and reassured six sets of parents that their missing teenagers were in fact being employed by MI5 on matters essential to national security.

Now, the one thing you have to remember at this point is that urban legends are just that, legends. Myths. No basis in fact. None of them. You’ll remember that, yes? I mean, I’ll check later, obviously.

Yeah, it took some time to get used to the routines here. No water bottles allowed (cancer prevention); no letting the winged spiders out for a flap (we never did find that one that escaped); and no taunting the traumatised hamster by calling him ‘Richard’. That’s a definite no-no.

Fortunately, I don’t have to wear those damn cycle masks whenever I left the building (to protect against chemtrail poisoning) unlike the poor slobs in the next office; they’re the conspiracy theory builders and they sometimes get a little too involved in their work. Not giving any secrets away but if they ask you to smell something, don’t… Ever.

That’s not to say I’ve got any less tough a job; it’s not easy being a reality enforcer: dealing with the detritus of the supernatural and the just plain insane criminal, ensuring the teeming masses of humanity still believe that urban myths are just legends and shared legends are just stories to scare children with.

My predecessor? Yeah, she’s recently been promoted. She’s currently somewhere in middle America, intercepting cars before they pick up the next hitch-hiker, the one who’ll vanish from the car. You know the story. Well, of course you do.

The training? Well, usually it’s ok. One bloke though, he’s on rotation back to head office after a screw up in New York. Nothing big, at least I don’t think so, but no-one’s letting slip any details; I heard it was something to do with taking bribes and letting someone take both kidneys, or skimping on the ice. Or somesuch.

So, we’ve covered salary, holidays and perks. You interested in the job? No? Ah well, just finish your coffee, and I’ll see you out. Read the newspaper while you wait. I’ve got a piece on page 7.

Urban legends, you see. They don’t exist. They never did.

I have proof.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


 

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.)

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.)

Something different this week and next. Oh, it’s still Tuesday, and you’re still getting a ‘tale from the fiction vaults’.

But not fast fiction challenges, this week nor next; something else entirely.

I stumbled across the stories for today and next Tuesday while searching for something else, and I reread the stories and enjoyed how I played with the reader’s expectations for today’s.

An odd tale, but an enjoyable one I think.

So, this story was entered for an online thing. It didn’t make the cut, but I still like it.

I hope you do…


 

Time for a murder

 
 
1920

The decadent music was louder than I’d like, and the girl was quieter. She died easily enough, though, and I was pleased that everything had gone to plan. Almost everything, I hear a small voice in the back of my head, almost everything. I wish I could sleep though. I’m very tired. Killing people is exhausting. Who knew?

1921

I can still hear the man breathing his last. It haunts me and taunts me whenever I stop thinking of anything else. I shake my head, trying to clear it of the noise and the static. Everything snaps into focus for a moment and then… that damn breathing, like it’s inside my brain.

1922

The older woman died almost instantly. Almost. There was hardly any blood though. I’d learned more by then. I never even thought of her again, almost forgot how it felt to kill her so smoothly.

If only the man’s laboured breathing wasn’t drowning my soul. In and out. Fainter but still there. In and out.

1923

I think about how I planned the murders; seems so very long ago now. I knew each of their routines, how they all led their boring, silly lives. No more.

SHUT UP!

1924

Why won’t he shut up? It’s like he’s right next to me, sitting on the chair. I killed him on the floor. He should still be there. But that bloody, liquid breathing. The same day and it’s all I can hear right now. Dammit, shut up.

I concentrate on the the satanic symbols I painted on the wall in their own blood, the wealth of evidence I planted so that locals will be blamed for the murders. And for a moment, the noise goes away. Then it returns.

1925

I can’t think of anything else now. If I close my eyes, I hear the rasping breaths; if I open them I see the blood. So much blood.

I need help. I know that now.

1926

Of course, that was a fanciful thought; no-one can help me. I’d have to tell the truth, explain everything. They’d never understand, never appreciate why I killed them. They’d be jealous, anyway. I have to take care of this myself no matter how long it takes.

1927

Finally, the breathing stops. Finally, I hear nothing. I close my eyes. Christ, I’m tired. Then I open them. Silence. At long last. Silence.

I glance at my watch.

Eight minutes. Twenty-eight minutes past seven in the evening.

It took him almost eight minutes to die.

I giggle softly to myself and then leave.

Happy new minute, everyone. Happy new minute.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


 

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, 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.)