Friday, 30 September 2016

Short Story: Meat Puppet

John wanted meat puppets, so I wrote meat puppets.


Meat Puppet

The crystalline psuedo-skeleton slides into the flesh casing with a wet slurp.

There. It's finished.

You seal up the synthetic skin, hiding the tangled mass of electronics and bio-implants and genuine human body parts under a comforting layer of silicone. It looks just about human, though there is that element of "uncanny valley" you've heard spoken about so often. Not being human yourself it doesn't really bother you that something might not look quite human. Or looking too human.

It looks real. You power it up, the body thrumming with electricity, humming with *life*. There is a brief instinct to cackle madly into the night but somehow you resist; this is not an adaptation of Frankenstein and you are not the villain in an episode of Scooby Doo. You are a scientist who needs this instrument to complete your research.

Your fingers ghost over the controls and your creation responds to your every wish. The testing is thorough. Range of motion, endurance, durability, speech, gestures, memory banks, communication systems and video monitoring. Every single part of your animatronic person is tested to within an inch of its life. It passes every one.

As far as you can determine this thing looks and acts like a real human. But you're not the ultimate arbiter of success; to be truly successful your creation needs to fool a human being, and the only way of testing that is in the field.

You send your android, your robot, you animatronic person, human facsimile out to meet real flesh and blood people and hope that it passes muster. You've lost count of how many iterations of this flesh marionette you have built, how many meat puppets have been thrown in the trash as inadequate long before the field testing stage.

Watching through its eyes you use the remote controls to direct it to interact with a human being. Strange creatures these humans; bipedal carbon-based lifeforms that for the life of you you cannot figure out. They are bafflingly varied, and not just in the way they look, act or smell. They seem to have complex systems of interacting with one another that are fascinating. That is the reason you built this creature, this Frankenstein's monster of a thing; this being that is designed to look human but isn't. It's not quite an android, its not quite a robot; with you behind the controls at every step it is entirely its own thing. And its success hangs on this one moment, this first interaction.

You steer the thing towards a likely looking candidate. The human looks it up and down (though from your perspective watching the cameras it feel like it is looking you up and down). When the human doesn't immediately start screaming and running a flicker of elation runs through your primary nervous system. It works!

The controls for the flaps of meat along the mandible are complex and took a long time to learn how to properly manipulate. Now you can speak this creature's language at the touch of a button. You fire off the commands, holding your breath that this too will be a success.

You direct your creature to look the human in the eye and say: "hello."



If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Short Story: Exhibit A

Today's story ended up being my second attempt. Started one, got a line in and then got stuck. Came back later with a different prompt and this just fell out of my brain.

Disclaimer, I am in no way a lawyer of any kind, though I am led to believe the crime mentioned is indeed a real crime.


Exhibit A

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I submit for your consideration, exhibit A.

The defendant claims that they were not present at the Untapped Barrel on the night of July twenty second, however exhibit A, being the CCTV camera footage from the aforementioned drinking establishment, clearly indicated otherwise.

Please cast your eyes on this date and timestamped still from the the footage, which is available in its entirety for you to peruse at your leisure, which clearly shows the defendant entering the Untapped Barrel at 8.26pm on the night in question. The second frame on display, shows the defendant leaving the Untapped Barrel at 11.47pm on that same night.

Exhibit B is footage taken from this inside of the public house and is of much higher quality than that captured by the exterior cameras. This frame clearly shows the defendant, with their rather distinctive red hair, standing at the bar. In fact, the footage is of high enough quality that I can see from this frame that the defendant ordered a pint of Stella Artois which, sadly, is not the crime for which they stand accused.

The following five stills, timestamped at approximately half hour intervals, show the defendant returning to the bar to order further pints of the questionable lager.

Now, I will admit that this footage is not evidence that the defendant committed the crime for which they are accused in and of itself. It does, however, cast doubt on the veracity of the defendant's testimony. They claim that they were nowhere near the establishment in question on the night the crime was committed and yet both exhibit A and exhibit B clearly show that they were? What other parts of their testimony might also be false?

Please also consider that their choice of drink might bring the defendant's moral character and judgement into question... sorry your honour, I will refrain from this line of argument. Comment withdrawn.

Choice of alcoholic beverage aside, the defendant has been show to be untrustworthy in their testimony of the events of that night, whether by virtue of fallible memories or by deliberate misdirection. Given the amount of alcohol they were observed to have consumed that night, no matter the quality, I will grant that it is entirely possible that it is the former rather than the latter that may be the reason for their contradictory testimony.

In summary, ladies and gentlemen of the jury  submit evidence to you that the defendant was indeed present at the Untapped Barrel on the night in question, corroborating the testimony of the witnesses and in direct opposition to the defendant's own testimony. I therefore put it to you, that the defendant did indeed commit the crime for which they are accused and that they should be found guilty of wilfully and wantonly disturbing the victim and their family by pulling or ringing any door-bell or knocking at their door without a lawful excuse. I beseech you, ladies and gentleman of the jury, to finally bring justice to the most prolific public nuisance in recent memory: the Ginger Knocker.

The prosecution rests, your honour.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Short Story: Pandemic

Today's story was inspired by the prompt "plague" from Jay. I wasn't really sure where it was going when I started and it ended up a little bit Serenity and a little bit George A. Romero, with just a dash of science from my degrees. And I called it Pandemic cos I fucking love that game. Enjoy!


Pandemic
The virus was perfect. Unstoppable.

Professor Mills and her team had created the ultimate biological weapon, and it would mean the end of all warfare.

Designed to target proteins producing hormones associated with aggression and violence, it would suppress the function of those proteins, thereby calming any population it was released in. It did its job admirably, and with far fewer side effects than anything else that had been used. And if the virus had a tendency to target men more than women well, who was to say that was a bad thing?

But Professor Mills and her team, despite their wisdom and intelligence, hadn't reckoned with Mother Nature herself. They couldn't anticipate every possible mutation and so they hadn't tried. In the end, the mutation they got was their worst nightmare.

Their synthetic virus somehow ended up taking on characteristics of the HIV virus, possibly acquired when someone ended up infected with both viruses at the same time. Specifically, the synthetic virus acquired HIV's accelerated rate of replication and mutation. It very quickly became an entirely different monster to the one that had been designed, and since the majority of governments were dosing their populations with it, the mutated virus rapidly became widespread.

Soon almost everyone on the planet was infected with the mutated virus, or as near to that as to make no difference. That wouldn't necessarily have been a problem if the virus had maintained its original characteristics, but it hadn't.

People who were infected by this new version of the virus ended up hyper-aggressive, the virus stimulating production of the hormones it had been designed to inhibit. Violence escalated beyond any government's ability to control. The planet fell into anarchy.

And then other symptoms of the virus began to appear. Extreme thirst. Neuropathy and loss of sensation in the limbs. Muscular degeneration. Necrosis of the skin. People were wandering around unable to control their violent tendencies, unable to feel pain and with bit of their bodies literally dying and falling off.

They had literally created a zombie virus.

The only plus side as far as anyone could tell (those lucky few who suffered milder forms of the virus or whose immune systems had successfully fought it off) was that when you killed these zombies they stayed dead. And they didn't seem to crave the flesh of the living so much as they just wanted to bash your brains out, which was equally unhelpful.

Those who were left were vastly outnumbered by those affected by the virus, and they knew that humanity as they knew it was essentially over. That didn't mean they were going to go quietly into the night. Some of the younger generation, those who still had hope, fought back, mowing down the zombies wherever and when ever they encountered them. Others set up walled settlements where people could live in relative safety, watching each of their residents carefully for signs they too had succumbed. humanity staggered along, refusing to acknowledge it's own death throes.

For a while it looked like there might be a chance of recovery; people were having children, and the babies seemed to mostly be immune to the virus. (There were one or two stories of unborn babies literally fighting their way out of the uterus, but it was difficult to confirm given the general state of communication between settlements and groups. The stories persisted though.) The population expanded again, and most of the existing zombies had either been killed or had literally fallen apart, the virus having run its course. People started believing in the possibility of a future again.

And then the virus hopped species. There was nothing humanity could do to save itself.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Short Story: What I Wanted to Say

Getting this one in very close to the wire today. Mostly cos I slept all day after injuring my foot last night; bed was the only place it was comfy and when I was in bed I napped. Still, I managed it. Go me.


What I Wanted to Say

You keep trying to tell yourself she's your colleague, nothing more, but your heart won't listen. Your eyes keep on noticing the way she moves, the little curl of a smile in the corner of her mouth when she's amused by something, the tiny crease in her brows when she's concentrating.

Despite your best attempts at denial you're a mess, completely gone and a hundred percent done for. And she can never know.

It's not that you're ashamed of your feelings, quite the contrary. It's that there is no world in which you can ever be good enough for her. She is a goddess in human form. She deserves the stars.

There is nothing that you can offer her that will do her justice. Rejection would break you, and no matter what happens you still have to go on working by her side.

It's not like she lacks for company. She's a beautiful woman, funny and outgoing. You're not the only one who would give their right arm for a few seconds of her time. She dates, men and women alike with no discernible preference, and talks about her evenings out with your other colleagues.

You try to tell yourself that you have no claim on her, that she owes you nothing but you can't seem to help the surge of jealousy that rushes through you when she talks about her dates. You know it's wrong, but if your emotions did as you told them you wouldn't be in love with her in the first place.

Time passes. She continues to date, never more than two with the same person, and you keep your misery to yourself. Sometimes you think she looks at you with a question in her eyes but what she wants to ask you have no idea.

You watch for any sort of sign, however small, that your feelings are returned; that she might feel even a fraction of what's inside your heart. But there's nothing. Your heart forgets what hope feels like.

And then... you learn that you're about to lose what little you have and you break.

She's got a new job. At another company. In another city. And for some reason she seems utterly miserable about it.

Your chances are now finite. Fear is your enemy. You have to say something if you want to have any chance of happiness. And if she doesn't feel the same way? Well your concerns about having to continue working by her side no longer apply.

You have nothing to lose except the wall of misery you've built around yourself.

It's time to take a deep breath and jump.

Part of you wants to wait until her last day but you know that's just the fear talking; her last day will be be far too late. You pick the Friday after you find out she's going; if this goes ill for you then at least you'll have the weekend to lick your wounds.

You stumble over your words, your tongue feeling like it belongs to someone else, a foreign presence in your mouth. You're not entirely convinced you make sense, but somehow you managed to get enough words out; your heart belongs to her and always has, and if there's even the smallest chance she feels the same way you'll go to  the ends of the earth to be with her.

She stares at you for a long time after you finally speak what's been in your heart almost as long as you can remember. You are tempted to slink away, to lick your wounds in private but there's something in her gaze, something soft and warm that makes you think this might not be a rejection. So you wait, heart beating faster than it ever has, hoping and praying that your bravery wasn't for nothing.

Instead of saying something her lips find yours, hot and wet and impossibly soft. It's possible that your knees give way, that she is the only thing keeping you upright but your brain is too focused on the kiss to pay attention. This is everything you've ever dreamed about and more.

When she pulls away she'd breathless and there is a light in her eyes that hasn't been there for too long; you realise it's joy, the same as the feeling trying to burst out of your chest.

"I thought I had no chance," she says softly, breath ghosting across your face. "I thought I wasn't good enough."

You let out a bark of laughter before you can think about how that might be taken the wrong way. She starts to pull away, but your arms tighten around her; if you have any say in matters you're never letting go of her ever again.

"I thought I wasn't good enough for you," you whisper back. "I thought you'd never even look at me."

She chuckles then, and it's the most beautiful sound you've heard in your life. "We've both been fools haven't we?"

"Yes we have," you say, and kiss her again.

Her lips feel like home, like the realisation of a dream you've had for years but never dared believe might come true. And she kisses you like she'll die without it, like she's been waiting her whole life for your mouth on hers. Your kisses are all at once frantic and incredibly gentle. You don't have the words to describe it.

The need to get more air in your lungs is the only thing that coaxes your lips away from hers. She looks at you like you hold all the answers to life's mysteries, like you're the only thing in the world that matters and you realise she's always looked at you like that, you were just too blind to see it.

Her face falls then. "What about my new job?" she asks, and you can hear fear in her voice. "I'm moving to another city just when I've realised I belong here."

You smile and brush her hair out of her face. All the fear is gone and you feel you could take on the world if she asked it of you. "It doesn't matter," you say, and you know it's true. "We'll work something out. I'll follow you if I have to. Whatever it takes, we will be together."

She smiles and your soul lights up; she believes you. There'll be time enough to worry about the logistics later.

You kiss her again, a promise that you'll do this for the rest of your life if she'll let you. The kisses she gives you in return tell you that she will.



If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Short Story: The Assassin

This story was inspired by me asking my friend Jill for a story prompt months ago. She gave me "ninjas" and over time it percolated in my brain and finally ended up as this. Somehow we ended up with assassins instead of ninjas but she enjoys it anyway.

The Assassin

The assignment brief has been oddly vague. Normally there was a plethora of information about the target; appearance, family, general habits etc. This time all there was in the file was a location and an instruction to kill whoever was there.

Jane didn't like. She didn't like it one bit.

But an assignment was an assignment and she would do her duty.

So she made her way to the given location under cover of darkness, creeping from rooftop to rooftop like a shadow. She slipped into the room through the window and got the surprise of her life.

Her target was her immediate superior in the assassin order.

It wasn't unusual to be assigned another assassin as a target—it was after all how they kept their own house in order—but it was unheard of to go into an assignment like this on no intel. The feeling of unease that had been creeping up her spin intensified.

She needed more information before she did anything.

"What's going in here Bran?" she asked. "Why have I been assigned to kill you? And why didn't I know it was you beforehand?"

Bran glanced a the floor and shuffled his feet; he looked awkward, something he'd never been in all the time Jane had known him. "That's because I'm not the target Jane; you are."

Jane stood there, stunned. As her brain frantically tried to assimilate this new information she realised it made perfect sense.  And that she knew exactly why the order wanted to kill her. There would be no forgiveness from the order for what she'd done. She should have realised that earlier.

"This is about the Bergman job isn't it? The one I fucked up."

Bran nodded. "You let a target walk away, Jane. The order can't tolerate failure like that. We need to know we can rely on our operatives."

"That target was a child Bran," Jane shot back, angry now.

"That doesn't matter!" Bran yelled. "You were given a target and you failed to kill them. You're an assassin Jane, you don't get to pick and choose your morality."

Jane disagreed. Just because she killed people for a living (and the order had trained her from a young age, she knew nothing else and was well aware of how thoroughly she'd been indoctrinated) didn't mean she didn't know the difference between right and wrong. There was a line to be drawn somewhere, and she'd drawn it. No child could ever have done anything bad enough to warrant death.

"You're wrong," she said, jaw set.

Bran didn't budge an inch. "Doesn't matter. You failed an assignment, intentionally. The order cannot forgive and it cannot forget. You know how we deal with insubordinate assassins."

Apparently they were given assignments that were actually ambushes. Jane had dispatched her fair share of failed assassins in the past and had never thought twice about it. Now though, she wondered how many of them were like her; justified in the choices they'd made.

She'd never given her targets time to talk though. She wondered if Bran was on the verge of bottling it and walking away himself.

"You don't have to do it you know," she said. "You walk away from this and I disappear. The order never sees me again. No one has to know the truth."

Bran looked sad. "I can't do that, you know I can't."

"You know I won't go quietly, don't you?"

"You should," he said. "Prove your loyalty to the order one last time. Accept your fate; kneel."

Jane's legs almost buckled, years of conditioning to follow instructions given by the order acting before her conscious mind could, but she recovered. She stood firm, back straight and proud; she was in the right on this matter. If she died today it wouldn't be without a fight.

She looked Bran dead in the eye and simply said "no."

He grimaced. "So be it."

Bran was quick, but with her life on the line Jane moved quicker. She slipped a knife from her belt, blocking Bran's attack with her leather vambrace. The cold steel bit through the leather and into her skin, but she barely felt it; her veins were on fire as she drove her own knife between Bran's ribs.

He was her superior in the order, meaning he had that much more skill and experience but he was also that much older and moved just a hair slower; that was his downfall. Jane jerked the knife upwards, ending any hope he had of getting out of this alive. He choked and coughed, his body desperately fighting the inevitable.

"I'm sorry Bran," she said. "I really am."

The only reply she got was a wet gurgle as his legs gave out under him and he slumped to the floor.

Jane wiped her knife on Bran's shirt as she contemplated her next move.

It was only a matter of time before the order discovered Bran's failure. And then they would hunt her down. For believing that killing children was wrong. Her fate was sealed no matter what; the order wasn't known for forgiveness and they would send operatives after her until one succeeded. The odds weren't in her favour. One of them would kill her eventually.

Once upon a time Jane would have accepted the order's demand for her head without question. She would have knelt when Bran commanded her to and she would be the one bleeding out on the floor, not him. This new Jane knew that her only chance was take down the order itself; no order, no death warrant.

It was a long shot, and risky as hell, but the order deserved nothing less. Being an assassin was one thing; being asked to unquestioningly murder children was another, and an assassin order expecting the latter didn't deserve to continue.

There was a good chance she'd end up dead anyway, but at least she'd go down fighting for something she believed in.

Decision made, she knelt by Bran's cooling corpse to loot his weapons and vambraces, one of hers now ruined. The path ahead was clear and she would need every advantage she could get.

Before she got up Jane closed Bran's eyes and muttered a quick prayer before slipping out into the night.

While there was still breath in her body she wouldn't stop hunting down those who had once been her colleagues, her mentors, her friends. She wouldn't rest until the only family she had ever known had been brought to its knees. She would have her revenge.

The order wouldn't know what hit it.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Short Story: Salt and Freedom

Forgot to do a story yesterday, but it doesn't matter. You pick yourself and try again. It isn't failure, it's life.


Salt and Freedom

The sea smelled of salt and freedom. Grey skies heralded an oncoming storm but I paid it no mind. There were other things I needed to do on the dock that day than mind the weather.

"You want to by passage?" asked the young man by the gangway. "Where to?"

"Anywhere that's not here," I replied. "Where you headed?"

He gave me a detailed itinerary. I didn't care about any of the ports they would stop at; the destination was of no concern to me.

All I wanted was to get out of here.

"You have the coin," he said. I got the impression it wasn't a question.

"Of course." I handed over what meagre money I had; all I'd been able to scrape together when I'd fled.

My passage booked, I walked up the gangplank, a few steps away from the freedom I'd craved my whole life.

"Wait!" a voice shouted.

"Sir, sir you can't go up there," I heard the young man say. The voice that had shouted to wait didn't seem to care.

I close my eyes and paused, one foot hovering over the gunwale of of the ship.

There was a commotion and then footsteps thundered up the gangplank behind me.

"You can't go," said the voice as a hand grabbed my elbow.

"You can't stop me," I shot back, voice hoarse. I had no forgiveness left for this man or his family. I needed to be free.

"I thought you were happy."

I shook my head. "If you thought that then you never really knew me. And if there is any truth to the claim that you once loved me then you'll let me go. I don't belong here."

He looked conflicted, my desire for freedom warring against his desire to keep me free. At last something in his face relaxed, and the hand let go of my elbow.

"Will you turn me in?" I asked softly.

"No," he said as his shoulders slumped in defeat. "I should, but I do love you despite everything." He looked at me like he's trying to memorise my face, eyes sad. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too," I returned, voice barely even a whisper.

The young man I handed my coin to is at his side then, eyes firm and hard. "Sir?" he said, "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me. This area is for passengers only."

I pressed a quick kiss to his cheek; a farewell. It wasn't enough to convey all the words I still needed to say, but it was all we got. I loved him, just as he loved me, but a love that would keep me bound paled in comparison to the notion of escape.

He kept his eyes on my all the way down the gangplank.

I stashed my meagre belongings in the poor excuse for a cabin I'd been assigned and immediately sought the fresh air of the deck.

My feet found the bow of the ship as if it was instinct, and I stayed there until I heard the whistle that announced out departure.

The wind whipped my face as we picked up speed, the salt spray stinging my skin but I didn't care; I'd never felt so alive. I watched the only life I'd ever known grow smaller and smaller even as the feeling in my chest grew bigger. It took me a while to realise what it was; joy.

The air smelled of salt and the scent of ozone that warned of imminent lightening. To me it smelled like freedom, renewal. A chance for a better life.

Yes there was a storm coming, but soon it would pass and the air would clear. I would start my life again.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Short Story: Becoming Myself

In honour of Bi Visibility day this turned into more of a personal essay but I'm still counting it.


Becoming Myself
I had my first crush on a girl when I was still in Primary School, only I didn't really know that at the time. I was young enough that anything to do with boys or kissing was still counted as "icky (despite already having had a number of boyfriends in that "we're going out now and we might hold hands but nothing else" sort of way young kids do). I remember thinking she was pretty. I remember her making my stomach feel funny. I wasn't really old enough to understand what that was. I never said anything, because of course girls fancying girls is Wrong and just doesn't happen. I ended up hating her, and I'll always wonder if that was anything to do with what she was really like or whether that was my way of dealing with feelings I didn't want to understand.

As a teenager I kissed a lot of girls. I've lost count to be honest. I kissed most of my friends as a teen, even though I wasn't going out with them, because when you're fourteen and at a party that's the sort of thing you do. Getting the girls to kiss each other was a great game. It felt daring. Taboo. And of course the boys enjoyed watching, so we did it as much for performance as anything else. (Funny how the boys were always willing to watch the girls kiss but were never willing to kiss each other). I always preferred kissing the girls to the boys. It was softer, and they were generally better at it. I couldn't let on how much I enjoyed it though. But I was always willing to.

I remember my first kiss with someone who had a tongue piercing. That was fun. It was at the beach. And it was with a girl. I don't remember most of my first kisses with boys.

I kept kissing girls even when I had a boyfriend. Because he was okay with it. Because everyone knows that girls kissing girls "doesn't count". My heart didn't know that though. I think I fell in love with a girl while I had a boyfriend. Here I was supposed to be feeling squishy things about a dude and it was on of my friends that got my heart all aflutter. She was always willing to kiss, and she was good at it. She made me feel special. Even the time she threw up after spending the evening making out with me. It was oddly endearing and I jumped to take care of her, which was how I knew it was love.

And yet I still laboured under the illusion I was straight. Because I fancied boys, which is what girls are "supposed" to do. Any attraction I felt for women wasn't valid. It didn't count. I wasn't cheating if I kissed a girl (that was explicitly stated by my boyfriend) because only kisses with boys were real.

I stopped telling people I was straight about seven years ago. I realised that my attraction to women was substantial enough that the word didn't really apply to me. But I didn't really feel not-straight. I still fancied men. I fell in love with men. Whatever I felt for women wasn't real. It didn't count. That's the message I'd gotten my entire life.

I started identifying as bisexual about two years ago. I'd been doing a lot of work on coming to terms with myself, growing into me, doing the damage that mandatory schooling wreaks on most kids. And if I was sorting out my self-image issues and my self-esteem issues I might as well come to terms with my sexuality as well. And when I sat and thought about it, when I treated the feelings I'd had for women as valid too, I realised something important; I have been attracted to men and women for most of my life. And I realised there was a word to describe that and that it's okay to use it.

I am bisexual.

A lot of my friends weren't surprised to be honest. Most of them had worked it out long before I had. They knew me better than I knew myself. And they were supportive when I started using the correct terms to describe myself, which meant the world.

Because bisexuality is so often erased, both by straight people and the LGBT+ community. We're seen as greedy, as slutty, as cheaters who are inherently untrustworthy. We're told it's just a phase, that we're confused and we'll decide which gender we're really attracted to at some point. We're defined by who our current partner is instead of who we're attracted to. We're erased by both communities, each of them trying to lump us in with the other. When bisexual characters are on tv or in movies they're not called bisexuals, they're "people who don't like labels." I internalised these messages for so long, but no more.

Coming to terms with what it means to be queer, and bisexual in particular, has almost been harder than actually admitting to myself that I am bisexual. I forget that, because of who I am attracted to, technically I am part of a minority. I sometimes forget I am bisexual; somehow in my brain, being attracted to men and women and Being Bisexual are two different things and sometimes it's hard to reconcile the two.

It's also been hard reconciling my identity with other parts of my life. There are places where I've felt that I can be myself, unrepentantly, and places where I feel like I have to hide myself. Because people didn't know that about me, because I wasn't sure how they'd react. It's tiring. Listening to people be openly homophobic because they think you're like them and you're not. Feeling like you're essentially two people depending on where you are and who you're with. It's exhausting. I haven't been doing it that long and I'm tired. People who work out who they are much younger, who have to hide so much longer; I have no idea how you do it but you are strong and you are brave and I am so proud of you.

I'm not going to hide any more, keep bits of me under wraps like it's a shameful secret, because it's not. I am not ashamed of who I am, and no one has the right to make me feel ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed of. And if they people who claim to love me think there is something shameful about who I am then they don't love me half as much as they claim to.

Traditionally stories have beginnings, conflict, endings but there is no ending to this story. This isn't fiction, it's my life, and it's going to carry on. I've not gotten to the ending yet. I am on a continual journey of becoming myself, of learning what that really means. I don't know who I'll be in five, ten year's time, but I'm looking forward to finding out. Maybe I'll have made giant leaps forward, maybe the steps will only be small. It doesn't matter. As long as I keep on trying to be myself, the best person I can be, the only person I can be. That's what's important.

Today, I was brave. I took a big step. Tomorrow; who knows? I can't wait to find out.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Short Story: Chris

This story was inspired in no small part by the fact the final chapter of one of my favourite fics was posted this morning (you can read hit me double hard here). And I'm not gonna lie, this one kicked my ass. Both in terms of the length (my longest story yet on this challenge) but also in what I was trying to achieve.

Have you ever attempted to write slow burn romance in a short story? Well I have. As of today.

Hope it comes across well and that you enjoy it.


Chris

1.
The first time I saw her I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
Not in that typical movie star type way where everyone looks like they were made from variation on the same mold. Chris didn’t look like a movie star, but she was no less breathtaking. Tall, muscled, broad. Short dark hair and eyes dark enough to be black. Her skin was almost as dark as her eyes and her cheekbones could probably cut glass.
To say that I was overwhelmed was an understatement. Being anywhere within a five foot radius of Chris had a detrimental effect on my my cognitive abilities.
It was a miracle I didn’t end up drooling on my shoes the first time we were introduced.

2.
Despite my complete inability to words around her, Chris and I somehow ended up friends. When I wasn’t focused on just how stunning she was and let myself relax, she was actually pretty good company. The easy back and forth was comforting, light teasing barely masking affection. Chris was funny, and interested in similar things to me and protective of her friends in a way I probably shouldn’t have found hot. What she saw in me I didn’t know, but I was glad she did.
I tried to put aside my crush, to tell myself a friendship with Chris was a beautiful thing in and of itself and I shouldn’t put it at risk because I wanted things I couldn’t have.
As you might expect, my heart didn’t listen.

3.
I first realised I’d fallen in love with her when she punched a man for me.
We were in our usual corner in the pub, talking about nonsense over coffee, like we’d done a hundred times. I’d gotten up to order us refills and was waiting at the bar when a gentlemen became… aggressively amorous with me.
Chris was on her feet in a flash.
“Didn’t you hear? My friend said no.”
The drunk leered and accused us of being dykes (how could he know I desperately wanted us to be together even if it was hopeless?) and Chris punched him.
As he lay on the floor clutching his nose she said: “It would be an honour to be Tash’s girlfriend but just because I’m not doesn’t mean she’s interested in you.”
My heart almost stopped when she said that.
We had to find a new pub to drink in after work, but it was a hundred percent worth it. Later, when we found out she’d broken the creep’s nose, I decided I never wanted to marry anyone but her.

4.
I’d just about gotten used to the idea of being in love with my best friend when Chris dropped a bombshell on me. A new project at work meant she’d be working abroad for six months.
I almost passed out I hyperventilated so hard.
Six months without drinks after work? Without seeing her beautiful face, feeling the solid warmth of her sat next to me, enjoying her quiet humour? I didn’t know how I would cope. I felt sick.
“Hey,” she said, looking me in the eye. “Just because I’m not gonna be here doesn’t mean we won’t talk. The time difference is only a couple of hours. I’ll still annoy you with my text messages at all hours of the day.”
I nodded, desperately trying to get the white noise in my brain under control. Chris was right, of course she was, but the next six months looked bleak anyway. I was happy for her; that she’d been put in charge of this project was a great sign for her career, but I couldn’t deny I would miss her.

5.
Texts and emails and the odd Skype call were all I had of Chris for the next six months. It was wonderful to hear from her every single time, but it wasn’t the same. I wanted her here with me, but I wasn’t selfish enough to tell her that. This was a good move for her, and I was determined to be a good friend.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. It just made mine ache.
The six months crept by all too slowly.

6.
The day she told me her employers were extending her contract I swear I almost stopped breathing. I wanted to scream and stamp my feet at how unfair it was. How was I supposed to make it another three months without her at my side? Another three months without coffee, without the presence of someone willing to punch a man to defend my honour.
I swallowed my heartbreak, told her I would miss her but that I was happy for her, and resigned myself to another few Chrisless months.
She looked almost as miserable about the idea as I felt.

7.
I met Chris at the airport the day she got back. She was stood in the arrivals lounge surrounded by suitcases, a bag on her back that she dropped the moment our eyes met.
How I resisted running to her and flinging my arms around her I would never know. Chris didn’t seem to be able to resist as easily and the embrace we shared was desperate. I wrapped my arms around her and held her close, inhaling the smell of her. I knew it was just her shampoo and deodorant but to me she smelled like home.
“I missed you so much,” she said quietly when we pulled apart, her eyes roving my face as though memorising it.
“I missed you too,” I said. “Every day.”
“Never again,” she murmured, almost too low for me to hear. “I’m never leaving you ever again.”
I tried not to think about what she meant by that.
To distract my brain from thinking anything foolish, I picked up a couple of suitcases and led her out of the airport. There was so much for us to catch up on.

8.
A group of our mutual friends threw a welcome back party for Chris. I assumed she’d want to spend her time catching up with everyone but the whole night she never strayed from my side. It was nice actually, having the comforting warmth of her at my elbow again.
It only got awkward when one of her friends (who I hadn’t seen since well before she went away) commented that it must have been hard on us doing things long distance.
There was a beat before I quietly explained that we weren’t together and the bloke in question sputtered his apologies before finding somewhere else to be. I couldn’t meet Chris’s eyes. I hoped she couldn’t hear the desperate hammering of my heart against my ribcage.
We were spared any further awkwardness by the arrival of the friend that had introduced us in the first place.

9.
We settled back into our routine of meeting up for coffee after work. Chris’s company were pleased with her and kept offering her more responsibility. They wanted her to go abroad again to work on more projects but she’d turned them down.
“Why?” I asked. It wasn’t that I wanted her to go away again, quite the opposite, but I didn’t understand why she would turn something down when it would be so beneficial to her career.
“I wasn’t happy when I was away,” she said, not meeting my eye. “You weren’t there.”
I held my breath.
“The other night at the party, when Rob asked us about being long distance…” she said, fingers playing with the handle of her mug.
“Yes?” I said, hoping against hope that the conversation was going in the direction I thought it was, that after all this time…
“Never mind,” she said quietly.
We finished our drinks and went our separate ways.

10.
An awkwardness that had never been there before crept into our friendship. We still met up at the pub regularly but the conversation had become stilted, long drawn out pauses where there had been none before.
Honestly, things had been easier when we were in different countries.
I thought back to the night of the party, to the conversation we’d almost had afterwards, and my heart sank.
She’d figured me out, she must have, my feelings written all over my face. I could have kicked myself. Of course I would go and ruin one of the most fulfilling friendships I’d ever had because I couldn’t get my foolish heart to behave.
My fears were confirmed when Chris cancelled our regular meet up the next day; she’d never cancelled on me before. I went home and wallowed in a tub of ice cream, wondering what the hell I was going to do.

11.
A week went by without any word from Chris. I was almost frantic with worry. This was unprecedented in our friendship. Even when we were thousands of miles apart we never went more than a couple of days without at least a text.
The doorbell rang. When I answered it was Chris, wild-eyed and frantic.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, suddenly no longer concerned for myself. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, pacing backwards and forwards in my living room. “No, wait. Everything’s wrong.”
I braced myself for the anger, for the understanding. The gentle let-down, the quiet death of my heart.
“Tash…” Chris breathed. She was so close. When had she gotten so close?
I swallowed. “Chris,” I said. My heart felt like a jackhammer.
No matter what happened, this was her dance; she had to take the lead.
“The other night, when I was talking about the party…” she said. I hardly dared breathe for fear she’d interrupt herself again. She licked her lips. “What I was trying to say– I wanted… You know everyone thinks we’ve been dating since the beginning?” she finally managed.
I shook my head. “No,” I managed to choke out. “I didn’t.”
“Well they do. I don’t know, maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I was too obvious about my feelings.”
My brain skittered to a halt. “About your what?”
Chris looked at me with such sadness and heartache in her eyes. I knew the look well; I saw it in my own eyes every time I looked in the mirror.
“It was just a silly crush at first. I mean, you’re stunning, how could I not be attracted to you? But then as we spent time together I realised… You’re kind and you listen and you put up with my ridiculous jokes and… I couldn’t help falling for you in the end. I love you Tash.”
Her face was a mask of anguish. She really didn’t know if her feelings were returned or not. Apparently I’d been better at hiding my own emotions than I’d thought
My heart couldn’t decide whether it wanted to plummet to somewhere between my knees or soar above my head. A bubble of hysterical laughter threatened to burst from my throat but I pushed it down. Laughing right now would not give the right impression.
“Hey,” I sad gently, reaching out to take her hands in mine. They were shaking. “How long have you known?”
“Since that bloke tried to grope you in the pub. I’d never punched anybody before but the thought of him touching you when you didn’t want it… I was just so angry.”
I couldn’t help myself then, I laughed.
Chris looked hurt. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I said, and I felt a grin take over my face. “It’s just… I realised I’d fallen in love with you at that moment too.”
Her eyebrows shot upwards. “Really?”
I nodded. “I thought I’d given myself away when he made that comment about us being dykes.”
“I thought I’d given myself away with what I said afterwards,” Chris said, her mouth creeping up into a smile again. “Does this mean I get to kiss you now?” she said.
“Please.”
So she did.

12.
After that things went back to normal, only better. We still hung out talking about nothing in particular, only now there were kisses to go along with our coffee. There were proper dates too, and all the other things you do when you’re in love with someone.
I was giddy with happiness.
Most of our friends were surprised to find out that we really hadn’t been dating the whole time. Apparently our feelings were obvious to everyone except each other.
Mt friendship with Chris was a beautiful thing. Being in love with her was even better.
Even if she did still have a detrimental effect on my cognitive abilities on occasion.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Short Story: Return

Didn't feel much like writing today, but I got my story done. Eventually.

Sometimes all you can do is show up. Even if you don't feel like it.

Return


“Hi.”

His voice was quiet, tentative. Familiar.

I looked up from the cupcakes I was decorating and my gaze met a pair of blue eyes I knew so well.

“I came back,” he said. “Took me a while to find you, but you named this place what you always said you would so…” he trailed off with a shrug.

Words wouldn’t come to me. He looked good, in his scruffy t shirt and jeans. His hair was longer than I remembered, and there was a soft growth of beard on his chin.

My heart ached, but I remembered the hurt in my chest the day he’d walked away. For good, I’d thought.

“I can see that,” I said, and I tried to keep my voice level. Tried to keep the blame and anger inside. He flinched and I assumed I wasn’t doing a very good job.

“I’m sorr–” he said, before I interrupted him,

“Save it,” I said, and this time I sounded tired. I was too goddamn old to be dealing with his dramatic bullshit. God knows I still loved him, and probably always would, but a heart can only take so many hurts before it stops trying. I was long past that point with James. “What do you want?” I said, my words short and sharp and unforgiving.

“I wanted to apologise,” he said. “But since you don’t seem to want me to…”

I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look at those soulful baby blues any more. He’d always been able to get what he wanted just by fluttering his pretty eyelashes at me. The man was far too good looking for his own good, and I could feel the resolve I’d built myself over the last two years slip away.

“You hurt me,” I said, and I couldn’t keep my emotions under control. They spilled out into my voice, choking up in my throat. The corners of my eyes burned and I knew I was a few heartbeats away from tears. “You left.”

“David,” he whispered, taking a step closer to the counter. I wiped at my traitorous eyes and stepped back, not ready for him to be so close.

“I’m covered in flour,” I protested, though it sounded like a flimsy excuse even to me.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I fucked up David. I never should have left you.” He sounded utterly wretched and my stomach twisted.

“But you did,” I pointed out. “You left me and I moved on.”
“I haven’t,” he said, and he sounded so thoroughly miserable my heart ached. “I thought… I thought I wanted adventure, to see the world, but I was wrong. All I want is you.”

I felt my resolve crumbling. How many nights had I cried over this man that had broken my heart? How many times had I told myself I wouldn’t take him back no matter what? I should have known better.

I loved him. No amount of hurt could change that.

Something about my body language must have changed, must have tipped him off because he looked at me through his fringe, looking young and mischievous. He bit his lip, and I probably shouldn’t have found it as adorable as I did. “Can we start over?”

I should say no. I knew that. But for all I’d tried to pretend otherwise, the last two years had been miserable without him. Sure I’d moved cities and started my own business but success had been hollow without him beside me.

It wasn’t that I needed to be with someone in order to be happy. It was just that, when you love someone, you don’t feel right when you’re not with them.

I imagined Sunday mornings in my bakery, both of us covered in flour and grinning wildly at each other. I imagined him in an apron, tongue sticking out a little bit as he put the finishing touches to a customer’s cake. I imagined sitting in the cafĂ© watching the rain together, hands wrapped around hot mugs of tea.

That sounded so much better than a future spent alone.

I felt a grin steal over my face. “I think we can work something out,” I said.

He smiled and I felt breathless and giddy. Alive, like I hadn’t quite managed since he’d left. “Yeah? Cool.” James looked as giddy as I felt.

“If you’re staying, you can make yourself useful,” I said, aiming for stern but coming out more lovestruck and ridiculous. I nodded at the peg with the spare aprons. “These cupcakes all need icing before tonight.”

He scurried to grab an apron—a ridiculous pink one that said “kiss the chef”—and came round the counter. “I think I just about remember how to ice cupcakes,” he said. “You need anything special doing with them.”

I shook my head and handed him a piping bag, our fingers brushing as he took it from me. We shared a small, silly grin and I couldn’t resist; I leaned over and did exactly what his apron told me to.


“Welcome home,” I whispered against his mouth. “Welcome home.”




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Short Story: Buzz

Today's story may or may not have been inspired by me finding about fig wasps. Slight body horror to follow.

Buzz

It was the buzzing that first attracted my attention. An angry vibration that should have served as a warning to stay away. Instead, like a fool, I sought out the source of the noise.
I crashed through the woods, pushing foliage aside as I went. The noise grew louder. I followed my ears, and then my nose as I picked up a sickly sweet stench.
When I found the source of the buzzing I wish I hadn’t.
It was a corpse, all bloated and green. The scent I’d picked up was that of decay as the poor soul’s insides rotted and turned to slime. I was almost sick.
Insects were crawling all over the body, strange wasp-like things I’d never seen before. They were everywhere, crawling in and out of the dead person’s nose, ears and eye sockets. Every orifice that I could see was filled with a mass of angry buzzing creatures, bright yellow and glistening in the dappled sunlight.
Whether they were coming or going I couldn’t tell, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
My instincts screamed at me to get out of there, to call someone, anyone, so they could do something. But there was part of me, the part concerned with morbid curiosity, that told me to stay put. To drink my fill of the macabre sight, to memorise the sickening sounds and smells and the taste of decay on my tongue. I couldn’t move.
The pitch of the buzzing changed, and knew the insects were aware of me.
Bile rose in the back of my throat and a voice in my mind screamed at me to run.
The first insect lifted off from the corpse and flew towards me. My paralysis broke.
I ran.
The swarm came after me, a malevolent cloud of hatred and buzzing chasing me through the woods.
Suddenly I knew the sick truth; the wasps had been leaving the bloated corpse that had been their incubator. And now they were searching for a new victim, a home for their own eggs.
Me.
The first sting felt like I’d been hit in the back of the neck by a golf ball. My neck immediately went numb and I stumbled in surprise. The second sting felt exactly the same, and the third.
I couldn’t keep running.
I crashed to the forest floor, unable to keep up with the number of stings. The pain was immense, intense, followed by a seductive cool numbness that called to me. I fought it as long as I could but the will of the swarm was inevitable.
I could feel the wasps crawling over my skin but I couldn’t move my limbs to do anything about it. I wanted—needed—to scream but nothing would come out. I couldn’t open my mouth.
Panic blossomed in my chest like bile as a single wasp crawled over my chin. It was soon followed by another, and another, the delicate whisper of their legs like the rush of water.
Something nipped at my lips, sharp and bright and painful. I choked back vomit as a realised what was happening; they were chewing their way inside me.
Perhaps choking to death on my own sick wasn’t such a terrible fate after all.
I watched in growing horror as a single wasp crested my cheek and looked me in the eye. Unbidden the ruined eye sockets of the other corpse sprang to mind and I knew what was to come.
I slammed my eyes shut. My fate might be an inevitability but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to fight it with every breath I had left.
The pressure of an unvoiced scream grew inside my chest until I thought I would explode. They were inside my nose now, my ears. Crawling around like my insides were home. My lips tasted of blood as they buzzed against my teeth. I couldn’t breathe.
The last thing I felt before I passed out was the first nip of insect jaws at my eyelids. After that the darkness was a mercy.



If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Short Story: A Day in the Life

I started this story with the idea of writing something with a different perspective on yesterday's story, that of the person receiving the fifteen pairs of underpants, assorted. It ended up being something of a tirade about working in customer service.

Oh well


A Day in the Life


The day had start off so well.
I’d managed to climb out of bed the first time my alarm went off, there was the perfect amount of hot water for my shower and I got a free cookie from the barista I like when I went to pick up my morning coffee. For a Monday that’s practically perfect.
Of course it all went down hill the moment I got to work.
There had been a massive system malfunction over the weekend and the staff were still struggling to keep up. Hundreds of completed quests hadn’t been processed properly and a good dozen or so had simply disappeared off the system. Wonderful. I told my boss I’d do an extra hour to help sort things out and then settled into my booth.
The first adventurer dropped off the items from their completed quest and went of their merry way after accepting the reward. Another happy customer and, more importantly one that hadn’t shouted at me. If only the rest of my customers had been like that first one.
By lunchtime the queue outside my booth was twenty or so people deep and I was starting to get a headache from all the people who had shouted at me for things that weren’t my fault. It was a relief to slip out of my booth for lunch.
Or it would have been if someone hadn’t nicked my sandwiches. I had to run out to the shop to grab something and by the time I got back to the quest submission centre I was well and truly late.
Over the course of the afternoon I had people drop the following items on my desk: four dead rats, three kilograms of mud, fifteen pairs of underwear (and I wasn’t convinced they were all clean) and a small pile of assorted bones. By the time six o’clock rolled around I was hip deep in an argument with an adventurer over whether he had actually fulfilled the requirements of the quest.
“The quest clearly states that you need ten old dollars in pennies and you only have nine dollars ninety-nine.”
“Yes I can see you’ve checked the quest as complete on your HUD but that doesn’t change the fact the quest is, in fact, incomplete.”
“If you have another penny on you I can process this quest now, otherwise you will have to come back tomorrow.”
“I am aware that’s an inconvenience but there’s nothing I can do.”
“Sir if you don’t lower your voice I will have to call security.”
“Sir? Sir! Security!”
By the time I’d managed to drag my carcass home it was cold, dark and raining, and I had lost all faith in humanity. Not a day went by at the processing centre when I didn’t wish I was on the other side of the counter. Sure the people I dealt with day in day out had to collect some weird shit in exchange for their rewards, but at least they weren’t stuck in a booth getting shouted at all day. Maybe one day I’d be able to quit my job, buy a HUD and start adventuring.
It was nice to have dreams.
In the meantime I shoved a ready meal in he microwave and ate my tub of boiling hot cheese in front of some crap TV. I climbed into bed long before my usual time, exhausted. I hoped everything would seem better after a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow was another day.
I hoped the douchebag with the pennies didn’t come back.



If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Short Story: Quest

Today's story pokes fun at some of the weird shopping list, "collect twenty of this" type quests you get in RPGs. Don't get me wrong I love those games, and have sunk hundreds of hours into them (hello there Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition) but these quests can get a bit... weird.

Just like today's story.


Quest


A new quest popped up on my heads up display. I opened it, excited to head out into the world on an adventure once more.
“They want me to collect what?” I said to myself in utter disbelief.
Fifteen pairs of underpants, assorted.
“What the actual fuck?” I muttered. Was the quest giver some kind of pervert or something? What the hell did they want with that many pairs of pants? I could understand it if they just wanted me to get fifteen pairs of pants in their size and preferred style but no. I didn’t even want to think what the quest setter wanted with that many pairs of random pants.
Still… the reward was pretty good. Enough credits to buy that new weapon I’d been after.
I accepted.
Now I just had to work out where to find the requisite number of knickers. I figured I could always go buy them for my employer, but I got the distinct impression that wasn’t what they were after. I checked the quest specification again; it just said “underpants, various”. Helpful.
I sat down for a moment, thinking. What sorts of places might I find stray underwear. The ad didn’t specify but my personal preference was for them to be clean when I picked them up.
My first stop was a launderette. There were always odd bits of clothes being left in the dryers.
I was in luck: the first laundrette I visited yielded three of the fifteen pairs I needed. I updated the quest progress meter and felt the first flicker of excitement over the reward. I was twenty percent of the way there. And I’d only received a few odd looks for picking pairs of knickers out of the lint trap.
By the time I had check all the launderettes within walking distance I was almost half way to my goal.
I was pretty happy with how far I’d gotten with the quest so far, because the next thing I planned on doing was checking the laundry people had put out on their washing lines. The weather wasn’t terribly great today which meant fewer people were likely to have their washing out.
I dived into the first garden I saw with washing in and started pulling pants off the line.
Three hours later I had fourteen out of my fifteen pairs of pants and a dog bite on my arse for my troubles. It didn’t matter though, I was so close to my goal. So close. I could almost taste the reward.
Which was good because I wasn’t looking forward to my next port of call: the leisure centre changing rooms.
Oh they would almost certainly have what I needed, but there was no telling what sort of state they’d be in. I’d seen discarded knickers in all sorts of predicaments before. I prayed I would find a pair completely soaked in chlorinated water. That was better than some of the alternatives.
I paid my way into the leisure centre, a small price considering the magnitude of the reward, and methodically searched the changing rooms. Every nook, every cranny, every empty locker. Nothing.
I left the leisure centre disappointed.
All I needed was one more pair of pants and that new weapon would be mine.
Just one more.
A thought occurred to me. I knew exactly where I could find a single pair of pants.
It was awkward getting the rest of my armour and clothes off but soon enough I was down to my underwear. I had my last pair of panties.
I scrabbled to put my clothes back on, feeling a little bit conscious of the fact I was now going commando, and ran to the quest marker to submit my items. The queue at quest submission was interminable, but at last I was rid of the fifteen sets of underwear. I asked no questions and refused to look the attendant in the eye as they passed me my reward.
As I headed to the store to exchange my hard-earned credits for loot, another quest marker popped up on the HUD. I hesitated a moment—thoughts of underpants, various still fresh in my mind—before clicking open.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Short Story: Keeping Promises

I ended up writing a much happier story today. Probably because it's Saturday.

Day two of the challenge is in the bag.


Keeping Promises


It had been many years since she’d last seen the gleaming spires of her homeland. Too many. Her heart ached at the sight, so familiar and yet, not the same. The unmistakeable mark of progress was evident in the new towers and buildings. No doubt time had wrought changes on the people too.
Was she still the same? Would she still remember her?
Doubt swirled in Fliss’s mind but she had to try. She’d promised.
She made her way down in to the city, the steps still so familiar after so long away. The smells and sounds of the marketplace were unchanged, all cinnamon and coffee and people arguing over price. She breathed deep of the scent of home.
There was a rhythm to the chaos, an almost predictable ebb and flow. Almost, because as soon as you figured out the pattern it changed again, and you had to either stand your ground or change with it, being swept along with the crowd. Fliss was out of practice at this dance but she remembered the steps well enough; her instincts were still sound.
She left the market behind and made her way down into the Old Town. Here too time had wrought its changes. Someone in their wisdom had evidently decided on some sort of regeneration scheme; many of the buildings sported new timber and a fresh lick of paint. But there was a certain timelessness to the dusty cobble streets and Fliss’s feet found their way sure enough.
The house was at the other end of Old Town, tucked up against the city wall. When Fliss had last been here the roof had been riddled with holes but now it sported a fresh thatch. A small boy was playing with a squirming pile of kittens in the yard, his knees and elbows and face all dirty. He looked up as Fliss passed and there was something familiar about the keen flash of his blue eyes, the precise brown of his skin under all the dirt. A faint thrum of possibility shuddered in Fliss’s chest. She tamped it down ruthlessly.
This was about keeping a promise, fulfilling an oath, not mending the things she’d broken so long ago. She held no hope for a future here. Life had long since beaten hopefulness out of her.
She hesitated before knocking and chided herself for it. She had brought empires to their knees, stared down philosophers and kings, steadfast and resolute. And yet when it came to knocking on the door of a simple hovel she was laid low.
The boy looked up at her. There was no judgement in his eyes, just a kindliness that made Fliss’s heart ache and her stomach wish she hadn’t had any lunch. The boy scrambled to his feet, kittens flying every which way with irritated yowls, stumbled over and knocked for her. He nodded once and returned to placate the kittens, his job done.
A short, middle-aged woman answered the door, wiping her hands on a kitchen cloth. Her hair was grey and her skin was wrinkled and worn, like cracked brown leather, comfortable and safe. Familiar. Almost painfully so.
“Can I help you?” said the woman. Her tone was as kind as her face, warm and soft. The voice conjured up memories of tea and fresh baked bread and hugs that were strong enough to break bones.
Fliss smiled. “I promised I’d come back, and I’m here. Hello Cait.”
The woman’s icicle eyes went wide with shock and then disbelief. “Fliss? Is that really you?” She choked a little on the words, emotion threatening to rise up her throat and spill out.
“It’s me,” she said. “I’ve come home.”
Cait pulled Fliss into one of the bone-crushing hugs she remembered so well. Hot, wet tears soaked into her travelling cloak, and she wasn’t sure whether they belonged to her or Cait. The woman pulled back, her eyes wet but full of warmth.
“Let me look at you,” Cait said, and Fliss felt naked under her penetrating glare. “You look good,” she said with a broad grin that showed off a handful of scraggly teeth. “A sight for sore eyes indeed. I never thought I’d see you again.”
“I told you when I left that I’d come back to you one day,” Fliss said quietly. “I promised, and I never break my promises.”
“I know,” Cait said. “But the years have a habit of making us forget. I almost couldn’t remember your face.” There was sadness in her voice at that, and Fliss understood. How often over the years had she struggled to recall memories of the home she’d left to see the world? How many times had she questioned whether it was worth it, when she could remember oaths of fealty and names of nobility more easily than the faces of those she loved best?
“Well, it’s here now.”
“Yes, and you’ve barely aged a day,” Cait said, sounding astonished. “You look just like I remember you the day you left. And I–”
“You’re perfect,” Fliss interrupted, wrapping her arms around Cait. “You’re everything I ever dreamed about for years.” They were silent for a while then, just enjoying the feel of each other in their arms, the sound of their mingled breaths. “I’m here to stay you know?” Fliss murmured after a while. “My adventures are over.”
“You’re sure,” Cait said sharply, and Fliss couldn’t begrudge her the suspicion. “You won’t run off in the middle of the night to go see the world some more?”
Fliss shook her head. “I’m done. I’m sorry it took me so long to realise but… my home is here, like my heart.”
Cait’s gaze was soft as Fliss said the words. “What will you do?”
“Tell stories. Write about the things I’ve done and seen. Love you like I should have done all along. Let life just happen for once, instead of running at it head on. I made you a promise when I left that I would come back, and I have. Now I promise that the only way I’m leaving you is when Death himself comes for me.”
Cait nodded. “I believe you,” she said, and pulled Fliss in for another hug. This one lasted a long, long time.
“Who’s the boy in the yard?” Fliss asked when they parted. “He knocked on the door for me.” She ducked her head, suddenly embarrassed, heat flooding her cheeks. “I wasn’t quite brave enough.”
“That’s Jon, my son. He’s good at recognising what people need, even when they don’t know it themselves.” Cait’s smile was soft and fond.
“Your son?” Fliss was surprised at that.
“You have your stories and I have mine. Tell me one of yours and you’ll get the truth from me.”
“Deal,” Fliss said with a grin.
“Come on. It’s nearly time for dinner, and you should be introduced to Jon properly.” Cait stuck her head out the door and called the boy in, warning him to make sure he washed his hands first.
Fliss sighed and sat at the table. The house smelled of bread and stew, rich and homely. The cadence of Cait’s voice as she chided Jon was familiar, comforting. She knew without a doubt she’d made the right decision. She’d kept her promise.
She’d come home.




If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Short Story: Escaping the City

Here we are. Day one of trying to write and publish a short story every day.

This one ended up a little Philip K Dick and as a result is not that happy.  Never mind.

One down, 364 to go.


Escaping the City

It was always raining in the city.
The clouds, grey and malevolent, hung in the sky like the shadows of spaceships come to invade. The rain pelted the concrete relentlessly, turning the streets to rivers and ensuring even the most sure-footed person had to struggle to stay upright. The city’s drains and sewage systems were at capacity from the unseasonally heavy deluge. Which was saying something considering this city was built to essentially float.
If even the drains couldn’t cope with the amount of water falling there was no point it putting a coat on or using an umbrella. Nature won out in the end, and the result was damp, sticky skin and the uncomfortable smell of wet dog following you around all day.
We were all used to it, but that didn’t mean we had to like it.
My preferred method of dealing with the constant, depressing rain was chemical distraction. It was no surprise that in the city, which was dark even at midday, a thriving underground pharmaceutical industry had grown. Cut with who only knew what and completely unregulated, these chemical treats were the only thing that kept me going in a city that wanted to eat my soul.
The dealer looked at me with shifty eyes, only one question relevant to him; did I have enough money to purchase his goods? None of the dealers were ever particularly concerned with getting sold out to law enforcement, certainly not in this part of town. Darker, damper and more run down than the rest of the city, it was as corrupt as it was possible to get. The local cops were all in the dealer’s pockets and those that weren’t were using. Looking the other way was the national sport in the city.
I thrust my last few credits at the dealer and was handed my precious prize; a small bag of near luminescent blue crystals. Kandy. The only thing that made my life worth living in this soggy hell scape.
The walk back to my dilapidated apartment was short and, as ever, damp. My home, such as it was, consisted of a flea-ridden mattress, a gas camping stove and, luxury of luxuries, an actual flushing toilet. The stench of death and decay and shit that permeated the whole building was, thankfully, not my fault, but decades of abuse and neglect had taken its toll on the very walls.
I shook the bag gently, watching the crystals dance. This was my salvation. My only reason. I lived for the warm embrace of the Kandy when I could afford it, subsisting on shadows between hits.
I licked my finger and dug into the bag, bringing a fair amount to my lips. The Kandy dissolved on my gums with a comforting fizz; an effervescence that told me absolution was within my grasp once more. Warmth buzzed in my veins as an unfamiliar feeling crept over my skin. I dug out some more.
The hallucinations kicked in as I lay back down on my mattress with a goofy smile on my face. I wasn’t in the city any more, with its dark dankness and crime-ridden streets. I was somewhere else, somewhere happier. Somewhere I’d been in a previous life.
The warmth of a summer evening settled into my bones and I inhaled the scent of honeysuckle. There was laughter on the breeze, inviting me to come play despite the sting of grass stains on my knees. I was happy here. Whole.
Sleepy.
There was no reason I shouldn’t sleep. It was summer. There was no school, no parents to chide me for being late to dinner. My friends were all nearby, I could feel their presence. I felt safe. There was no reason not to.
I curled up in the grass, breathing in the familiar smell of green. I missed the green. My eyelids fluttered and I let them close, the last few rays of the sun dancing on my skin and warming it gently.
I could just sleep for a few minutes. There was no harm in that.
Sleep.
***
Victim: unknown male, age undetermined.
Body found in a tenement in the old town. The landlord confirmed the victim had lived in the apartment for five years or so but couldn’t give us a name.
Victim was found face down on a mattress in the apartment’s single room, having drowned in their own vomit. A part bag of Kandy was discovered nearby.
Conclusion: Kandy overdose. Fifteenth case this month.
Fuck this city.



If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.