A Fancy

From the author: “This story is all about a breakdown of order, which is the classic idea of chaos.”

‘I saw you.’

She does not move. She blinks, once, twice, but does not move. His lips curl at the corners as he nears her.

‘I saw you here, alone, and thought, mighty, a girl like that shouldn’t be alone.’

Her fingers tighten on the stem of her glass. The knuckles whiten. But he does not understand; he nears enough for her to recognise the stale stench of yesterday’s sex.

‘You shouldn’t be alone, for you are so beautiful. So beautiful, yes you are.’

His stench is strong. He has not washed. She glances down to the between of his trousers. It bulges.

‘You are too beautiful to be left alone? Are you alone? Are you with someone? And why on earth would they have left you here, all by yourself? If you were mine, if you were mine, why I would build you a palace of pure marble and present you to the world as my queen, my goddess, my courtesan exquisite!’

Extravagant promises. She can tell he has done this many times, that he has come here, gone there, watched the lone girls as they are abandoned by their boyfriends, their companions, their pimps. He has experience. He practises in front of the mirror his woos and wiles, his charms and smiles, trying to find fakery love in this pit-stop before hell.

‘Do you come here often? I come here quite a lot. Have been for a number of years, so I know the staff. In fact, I know the owner, if you want some inside work. She’s a love, she is, Miss Gretel, not that you would know. Or you might, if you come here often. Because it’s a beautiful place, suitable for beautiful women. You are beautiful, like the stars of the heavens which adorn Adonis’ brow, like the moon in all of her glory washed up on the still waters of the dark midnight lake. Like the sun, glowing as a beacon of hope, light and above all else, love!’

He speaks the word with passion, extreme passion, then his eyes drop down to her breasts. She sees his fingers twitch, his eyes widen, his scalp glisten. Her hand tightens on the glass.

‘Can I get you anything? Wine, beer, lager, ale, vodka? I see you have a white wine, mind if I join you. Waiter, a white chardonnay, if you will, and a bottle of champagne, if you will, two glasses, for me and my beautiful companion here. No ice, just the glasses, just the champagne, to drink, to divulge, to imbibe to our hearts content. For that is its purpose, is it not? The purpose of the Moët, to die from enjoying the taste and the freedom in your heart after drinking something so beautiful, that is the purpose in life is it not? To enjoy life, then to die forever happy.’

He pauses, very briefly, but she does not answer. Instead, he takes his chance. He nears enough for their breaths to embrace, and slowly raises a hand. His finger floats, following the contours of her throat, chin, jaw, but does not touch until it reaches her cheek. Then, cold, seizing, entrancing, he caresses her face.

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Burn

From the author: “It’s a short piece on the chaos of war, but it’s really about the chaos of human experience and memory. I suppose how these moments define our lives, both deconstructing and rebuilding them.”

I look at the newspapers and the book I wrote. I count the years it’s been and I buckle at my knees. Time passed both with and without me. I think of my mother and the days spent burying through rubble in search of my baby brother. I think of my sister who never spoke again but who cried every night for years. I look at the scars on my body and I feel shame and fear. At my trigger, my vanity, my fragility – at my desire to hide it rather than be thankful for it. I pray now as I did then. Desperation in my voice and a willingness to induce a deliberate amnesia; pleading for my life as if I hadn’t done so already. The fire, the smoke, the terror in the eyes of strangers. I see it all so clearly. It blazes before me now. Just like those hot, ravenous flames that nearly devoured us all.

The drop of the bomb sent our village into slow motion; a stunted pause before the lightning echoed its spark. At first there was light: the blast illuminating the farmer in his field, a mother in her kitchen, children playing with ragged toys as they looked toward the sky, startled and scared. Everyone stopped momentarily from their work or families or task at hand. I dropped a bowl or water and cursed as it spilled at my feet. Ominous silence followed. Then a deafening explosion ripped through our lands for miles. I covered my ears and yelped, a strained and painful sound; something strange and unfamiliar to me. I was crying. What had they done?

I turned to my mother who was thrown to the floor by the rush of an invisible force. I had fallen too, rubble toppling above me as I covered my head. I looked at her, so delicate and small amidst this raging thunder, a look of desperation in her eyes as the smoke travelled into our home in thick, poisonous clouds. She looked towards the crib at the other end of our home but she could not see through the smoky haze. Our eyes connected briefly before a broad snap caused us to pull our hands over our heads again. A sickening crack sounded to the side where my brother lay. My whole body convulsed in fear. I cried, but mainly I prayed. Then it started to burn.

Clouds of gas met my skin as I rose to find my brother’s crib. Like flames on flesh, a burning rubber scent caught my throat as I howled in excruciating pain. But rather than revert from the acidic clouds in instinct, I remained confused and lingered unknowingly in my demise. Stalled by the pain, I would have collapsed to unconsciousness had my mother not grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the door. I looked at my arm as we ducked out to safety: melted flesh had burned my skin like tear wax on a candle. My arm was unrecognisable – I didn’t look myself anymore.

Outside people were distraught with destruction and fear. Most were running through the smoke while others simply prayed on their knees, rocking with the blankets of their lost babies or the rubble of what was once their home. Who did this to us, they cried. Why? Why? I scurried with weak legs to the collapsed side of our home, desperately searching beneath the wood for signs of my brother’s crib. As I scrabbled through the debris, pulling broken plates and bricks from the top in a daze, I noticed the colour of caramel and reached for what I thought was my beginning of my brother. It wasn’t: I had found a woman’s hand.

The faces of strangers have never been so familiar to me. I felt their terror and their pain as we were engulfed by flames of a fire not our own. So many ragged faces in terror. So much death splattered on innocent streets. They didn’t know then what they had done. They didn’t know it wasn’t them at all, but a conflict imagined by political greed and false boundaries. I dropped to my knees in the shadow of the fire, weeping alongside the remainder of my family and so many others. We wept together as we burned.

The feelings of that day remain vivid: the grief and fear, the hopeless desperation. But the memories are murky. My mind had become numb to the scenes of heartache and destruction. A whole nation of people burned. Some by flame, others by the searing pain of poison and gas. Some burned with rage, why did they do this to us? While others, like me and my mother and sister, burned with the aching pain of loss and grief. Our bones became black and brittle as we lost our hope to the fire. To rise amidst flames is a quest lifelong and demanding – the fall is deep and dark. The memory of what we endured toughened and defined us but it followed through our lives; entangling us in thick smoke, blinding lights and shades of ash. You can snuff out flames but the glowing embers will continue to burn. We don’t ever forget what burns.

The all that is nothing and everything

Inthedark or is it light? I can’t quite see my footsteps leave a shimmer across my perception of where I am which is shaky and uncertain but I know that I am though I can’t know what I am or how I am or why I am I just am

For now

And I think I move through this nothingness that must be somethingness just because if I am and I exist then what I perceive must be and exist even if it’s not quite there or not quite as real as I am

I feel myself itch and I quiver in my mind

I hear noises and I turn but instead of me turning the world turns around me the world or whatever this place is it spins and spins and spins and STOP.

There

Dead ahead is a light a ring of light that shines yellow through the dark and then it shines dark through the light and I’m transfixed it’s not a ring yet but a sliver of light that is growing around a circle and I can’t look away

I look away

It appears again in front of me wherever I look it looks back at me a ring of yellow light in dark or dark in light. It grows. It consumes. My eye. That’s what it is it’s my eye staring back at me from a nothing that is everything and I’m inside it all and outside of everything. I blink and it reappears slowly

From it all

The all that is nothing and everything

And then I remember.

There was something delicious about the air that night that ruffled the grass and played through the leaves in the trees and sang songs across the water that enveloped me. Her hand on my hand and the tiny hairs on her arm felt like velvet on silk as I sank beneath her timidity. She lay like an ocean before me and I tasted her salt on my skin

The all that is nothing and everything:

She melted from me like a snowflake on an outstretched palm.

Life.

I matter because I live or I think I live because I appear to be matter though I can’t be sure in this current state and I cling to the idea of existence though in reality I cling to nothing because I have no arms that I can see though I can sometimes feel a movement in the dark and it makes me happy

Or is it memory?

I remember an arm or I remember happiness because there is no arm and there is no happy or sad there is just this a me of sorts gazing back at me out of the darkthat’slight pulling my thoughts around and around without purpose.

I look for answers out of habit

And I can see it all. A world that’s every colour at once stretching as far as the eye can see this eye and that eye gazing left and right surveying scene after scene in marvellous high definition. The sounds so crisp the tastes so compelling the sensations so present.

I draw a line

The sand parts falling back in on itself as the indentation settles and I write my name a sound made physical in temporary lettering that will be obliterated by the sound of a wave and the push of water the pull of the tide and the steady tick of time that has made me and made this world and made this memory that floats adrift in nothing and despite the emptiness I can hear the wave and I can hear the clock and I know the time

Under the stars

That wheel around us as we spin to face a new sky every night we track the movement of their dying light and we call our fortunes fate to add a sense of order to events that are just because they are and because they weren’t another way

And it hurts

To know that every possibility that slipped by every alternative road I could have taken were in many ways the same as the ones I grasped and the roads I did walk and that my life if not pre-destined was certainly somewhat foretold because unless I dared to push the balance bar to tipping point I would never be propelled to dizzying heights or fall to sickening depths

Because the middle is where I exist

So my accomplishments are lost along with the memories of a few people who knew me for a collection of moments and now I’m no more. Suspended in a lack of animation an over-stimulated imagination thinking of all the things that could have been if I weren’t me and I was somewhere else and something else for another reason

And it’s beautiful

This temporary life that begins by chance and ends by the slow ebb and tide of a ticking clock that pulls us all to one certain end.

The all that is nothing and everything

His touch was gentle and his arms were delicately masterful they guided me they pushed me they brought me back around and clung to me two bodies in a city of strangers crushed together by the magnitude of inexplicable connection. I breathed his scent I kissed his skin I opened my mouth and drank him in and I know he lived because I can smell him now I can feel his touch and I live again in a thousand shared moments

And the darkness melts into memory and the memories fade to darkness and the darkness gives way to the knowledge that without memory there is no time

Without memory I am

For now

The all that is nothing and everything

The Many Moons of Jupiter

I was just five years old when my Dad first took me to see the stars. In the museum downtown they have this observatory room with a great glass ceiling displaying the night sky. A kind of visibility you can’t get in real life; you can’t help staring and staring for hours and hours, just staring at that bright jewellery case of stars. The blackness in the bashckground, that velvet sheet they use, seems deeper alongside the purplish blueish hues which streak behind the twinkling chips of silver. I would sit on the floor of the observatory and stare up at those stars until my neck hurt. There was a makeshift telescope too, which showed up tiny coloured planets. You could check everything you saw against The Book of Celestial Details which was lying open on the glass table. It gave me an immense satisfaction: checking up on those stars, learning the constellations.

It was always Dad that took me to the observatory. Saturday afternoons I was his responsibility, and the easiest thing – the thing I begged for – was to visit the museum. We would go out to lunch afterwards, me leading the way down the familiar streets with the bustling weekend crowd, people weaving in and out of each other like threads from a harlequin fabric, trailing smiles and shopping bags. We always went to the same cafe, where they sold chocolate milkshakes and beans on toast for a fiver.

Dad is a landscape gardener. He digs up piles of mud and lays down square rolls of soft grass and puts in fancy plants that people order from catalogues. He does things with precision: cutting up his food carefully, watching everything I do with his observant eye, following this kind of persistent rhythm. He hated if I got food around my mouth, if I made a mess of the salt shakers or the scraps of food I left on my plate. In the cafe he talked to me about school and how I was getting on and what I liked and if my friends ever got into trouble. One thing we never talked about was Mum. Dad didn’t know how to talk about Mum.

My favourite planet is Jupiter. The biggest planet in our solar system, made of flaming greys and yellows and oranges, patterned with swirling lines which sweep around its diameter. After the moon and Venus, Jupiter’s the brightest planet in the night sky. Of course, I’ve never seen it in real life, only the simulated museum version – the version that flashes up onscreen and floats around in orbit. I always dream of that beautiful hologram, but all those pixels get mixed in with the Saturday city buzz and the taste of milkshakes. I don’t know what I’d do if I stumbled upon it one day, walking in some clear crisp countryside and seeing it up in the real night sky. I think it’d be pretty scary, not very real at all. I always wonder about that giant spot, the storm that’s raged for centuries on its surface. I’ve zoomed in right close to that Giant Red Spot like I was looking into the eye of a god. It’s like my way of praying, staring into that spot, feeling very small as I read about its greatness.

In the cafe, Dad asks me about the future.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” he says. He asks me this just about every week, like he’s forgotten how I answered before. I have a list of things which I reel off for him: astronaut, astronomer, artist, builder.

“Artist? Builder?” he sounds confused. He doesn’t understand what I mean by that. I mean, I want to draw planets, to make planets come to life out of pencil and paper. I tell him I want to build things which will last like the planets, that will exist on the earth as the earth exists in the solar system. I can’t put it quite into words; it’s a feeling I have. Eternity. The rings, faint and reddish pale, that surround some of the planets – it’s sort of like that – the feeling drifts out to you, faint and pale. I wonder what it’s like to glide along one of those rings, feeling the chaos of gravity, shafts of light shooting right through you. Like playing Mario Kart, whizzing down a rainbow highway and picking up gold stars.

The problem is, I don’t think I’ll ever be an astronaut or an astronomer; I’m no good at maths.

Sometimes, I don’t think I’ll ever grow up at all, because Mum and Dad won’t let me.

“He doesn’t like toys anymore!” Mum shrieks at Dad when he buys me a train set for my birthday, or a Gamecube for Christmas. “He’s too old, for God’s sake!” She stares at me with her eyes on fire, wanting me to say something, to agree with her. Sometimes she throws plates or tips the dinner all over the floor, or literally shoves my father out the door. They fight over everything.

What’s confusing is that I can’t tell sometimes whether they’re making up or being mean; whether they hate each other or love each other. There is a small red wine stain on the carpet by the sofa, and I stare at it when they are arguing in the living room in front of me; I stare at it like it’s the Giant Red Spot of Jupiter. I want to dig my nails into the carpet and peel it off like a scab. They hurl swear words at each other, and Dad always shrinks into silence. It’s Mum who creates disorder, swirling her self around the room, her voice getting louder and louder. I sometimes have nightmares about this: the way she goes from shouting to crying, her red face blurring into something indistinct and terrible. I close my eyes and think of comets, shooting endlessly over the night sky.

She says I’m getting too old for museums.

“Help him with his homework instead,” she nags to Dad as we leave on Saturday mornings to get the bus into town. Her plea is lost to our backs as we step out of the house. Sometimes, late at night, I hear her come into my room and tuck me in. She stays there for a while, hanging over me and breathing softly – breathing warm tufts of fire. She touches my face and I pretend to be asleep as she slowly starts to cry, still stroking my cheek. All I want to do is shout: Mum, stop! but I can’t. I lie there, still as a shop floor dummy.

She listens to me sleeping, but she doesn’t listen to me talk about the things I like. She doesn’t listen to me when I talk about the sun and the solar system, the many moons of Jupiter. She just switches off, shutting you out with this kind of supernatural force.

How amazing it would be, to escape among the stars! I watch the science channels and see the space ships and the shuttles hurtle away from earth. They always interview the astronauts after they’ve landed: How do you cope with not seeing your family for so long? Don’t you get lonely? What can you eat out there? but they never ask about the things I want to know:

Were you good at maths at school?
Do you need to do algebra to be an astronaut?
What is the square root of 395,691,324?
What do Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s Red Eye look like from Space?

I always turn off the tv when I see their smug faces, when they take off the space helmets like they think they’re in a movie. Plain old human faces are as boring as my parents’ arguing.

Nowadays, they fight about anything at all. I don’t understand it; they’re like kids – and even Dad shouts now. From the top of the stairs I watch them through the gaps in the banister, wishing I could go down there and make them stop, make them shut up as fast as a hurricane tears up a city.

“Don’t forget we love you son,” Dad always says afterwards, “no matter how Daddy and Mummy feel about each other.”

But he never answers when I ask if they are getting a Divorce. It’s like I’ve whispered a secret I’m supposed to keep quiet, the one special code word that holds us back from chaos.

Now that I’m older, we don’t go to museums anymore; we get lunch in the pub. Dad loves fish and chips and Fosters lager. He also loves the slots.

Saturday afternoons he stands in front of the puggies while I watch the bartenders pouring pints and count how many times they spill things. Sometimes I go over and watch him play: I like to see the flashing lights, the colourful fruit symbols glow as the slots fall into place. Simple, persistent, like the bubbles in a glass of lemonade. Dad buys the drinks and tells me to go sit down. It’s a weird thing, watching him at the slot machine; like he’s in control of everything, like he knows when the slots will align the way he wants them to. Often, he pounds on the plastic shell of the machine, curses. We walk home in the purple dusk, past the city shutting up, and he tells me about anything – a song on the radio, the size of his shoes, the hat his mother used to wear when he was a kid – anything but how much money he’s lost.

The other day, I found Jupiter in a textbook at school. I guess I haven’t really been thinking about planets and stars and space for awhile, and now it stood out from the glossy pages like a face smiling from the darkness. A familiar face.

This girl sitting next to me, Layla, leant over my shoulder.

“What’s that you’re looking at?” she asked in that bright, tinkly voice of hers.

“Jupiter,” I said. I ran my hand over the smooth page where the clouds patterned themselves across the surface, like the wisps and eddies of smoke leftover from a fire. In my head, I rehearsed the names of all the elements that drift on through those clouds: carbon, vapour, neon, sulphur. 

“Is that your favourite planet?” Layla whispered, a lock of her hair spilling over my cheeks. I nodded.

“It’s the biggest planet there is. It’s so big it could swallow up all the other planets.”

“And one day you’ll live there like a king?” she smiled. She was teasing me.

“Nobody could ever live there, it’s too cold.” I closed the textbook.

After a while, I turned to look at Layla, thinking she would be facing the front again, watching the teacher scribbling sums on the board. But she was still looking at me. In her eyes I saw the glass darkness of another kind of space, where stars come forward like shoals of beautiful silver fish rising to the surface of the ocean. I glanced back at my paper and wrote down a perfect equation.

It was winter and after class she cornered me in the snowy playground and for fun I kissed her, just like that. Her lips were cold and wet with snowflakes and everything felt very still around us, like we were caught in a hullabaloo. It was all just luck really – that was the exciting part. I told her it’s a beautiful world and she laughed, like I had just said something funny and random from a movie. Like we’d made up the world ourselves and now we were powerful.

When I got home, all Dad said was: she’s left us. He looked around the room with this blank expression on his face, like the air itself was different, like something in the particles around him had changed. I poured a glass of milk and thought about it for awhile, but then I remembered the stars and the cool night sky that was only a few hours away, waiting with equations and gorgeous auroras. And yeah, I guess I felt okay.

Mind Diving

“And… clear.”

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, calmed her body and slowed her heart and then let go. This was the hard part, the initial contact, the most important stage… She reached out, her consciousness leaving her body, reaching for the one other mind she could feel. It was so bright, practically calling for her…

She reached out, reached out her tendrils of thought, reached out towards the other mind and… she was in. She breathed in deeply, revelling in the moment. This may have been her job, but there was nothing quite like sinking into another’s brain, full of unfamiliar thoughts and each one so different. Each one so unique. She gazed around her, at the colours and the chaotic movements and flurries of colour. This was what couldn’t be explained.

You couldn’t understand what this was like unless you’d experienced it. How could you explain the sensation of seeing smell and hearing colour, of feeling without your senses and without a physical body, to someone who had never left their own mind? How could you explain this beauty, this riot of colour, to someone who didn’t know such colours existed? This plane of existence was different, so different, and unless you’d actually experienced it, unless you’d been diving, there was no way of knowing. No way at all.

She reached out with hands that didn’t exist, feeling the soft touch of colours that weren’t there. The colours were muted, dulled by unconsciousness, but nevertheless it was beautiful. Nothing like the frantic activity of an active brain, but calm and soothing and yet still chaotic.

Colour everywhere around her, waves and currents and eddies of thought, flashes of dreams and hopes and ambitions and the darker, murkier fears and nightmares. But she was searching for one thing, searching for the one place where there was order in this chaos, and she couldn’t let the beauty around her distract her from her task.

So she waded through the sea of thoughts- the blue and purple and black and silver of this person’s sleeping mind… And then she found it. The memory bank. Millions of billions of threads connecting every memory that this person had ever had in their entire life. Even now, more were forming as she watched. A chaotic mess of colour and yet this was the only organised part to this mind. The rows of parallel threads, so so important.

She reached out and ran her non-existent-but-still-so-present fingers over the taut memory threads, each one murmuring as she touched it. She smiled at the cacophony the reverberated from them, each note ringing in her ear, singing in her heart. She never tired of this. These fragile threads which held so much and yet were so easily broken. She could see all the frayed threads, so near to breaking, so near to being lost forever. It wrenched her heart every time. All those memories, some no doubt important, so close to non-existence. And she could see the sad ends of threads that had already snapped, the memories they held, gone, never to be remembered again.

She shook herself, remembering her purpose, and, running her hands more firmly over the threads, she found her first target, and clearing her head, she concentrated, and snapped it. It shuddered in her hand and then there was a terrible sigh, filled with anguish and horror and loss. She grimaced, and continued.

Thousands of threads broke beneath her experienced hands, thousands of memories gone immediately. She ignored the sounds that emitted from the dying threads, ignored the horror emanating from all around her. The time for gazing at the beauty and mourning at the loss was gone, and she had a job to do.

She didn’t know how much time had passed when she had finished. Time was a fluid concept, this deep in the mind. But she could tell from the brightening of the colours behind her that she didn’t have long. The mind was waking up.

Carefully, she summoned to the surface a thought she had carried with her, and oh so cautiously she shaped this precious thought around a broken thread, delicately moulding it, this thing she had carried with her. It flexed and grew, and as she watched, it bound to another thread, and another, and another… She smiled. Job done.

Feeling only the slightest tinge of regret as she left behind her the ransacked memory bank, she made her way back through the mind, and, closing her eyes once more, she followed herself back to her own familiar mind, back to her own body, back to consciousness.

“Mission status?” came a voice.

She coughed, twitched her fingers, breathed in, and then said, in a voice that was only the tiniest bit hoarse, “A success, sir. Targeted memories erased, implant activated. Mission complete.”

***********

I opened my eyes slowly, the light too bright.

“Hello,” someone said, and their voice was grating but somehow pleasant. “Tell me, my dear. Do you know who you are?”

I frowned, my mind curiously blank. “No.”

“Good. And do you know who I am?”

I smiled, a sense of certainty and righteousness filling me. “Yes. You are my leader. And I will follow you wherever you chose to go.”

We Need to Talk

The early morning sun climbed up the stark walls as the shrill tones of the alarm announced the arrival of yet another day. On the bed, beneath a twisted and crumpled duvet, the figures of two people stirred sleepily, their minds yearning to return to an already forgotten dream. They awoke as they had fallen asleep, on opposite sides of the narrow double bed.

“Your alarm.”

“Mhmm?”

“Your alarm. Stop snoozing it. I can still sleep for another half hour. Don’t need to be at work till 9 today.”

Her hand grappled for her phone on the bedside table as she forced open her puffy, sleepy eyes. After turning off her alarm, she squinted at the screen and rubbed her face. Three missed calls and a voicemail from Eli, 2:54am. Fucking hell, I cannot deal with this now. Stretching out her entire body, the palms of her hands pressed up against the pale cream wallpaper, she turned her head to face Colin, her eyes studying his familiar features. His short, dark brown hair and slight stubble framed and contoured his face, bringing out his cheekbones. His eyes, with their dark lashes, were forced shut in a vain attempt to block out the rays of the rising sun. Beneath his gently rounded nose, thin long lips were parted ever so slightly, and a stream of saliva emerging from the corner of his mouth spread out onto the pillow. As she listened to his light snoring for a while, her face twisted in a frown and her mouth pursed in a tight line. Sitting up in bed, shivering slightly, she let her body adjust to the cold. Her dressing gown lay draped across the back of the armchair in the corner, and her eyes searched for her slippers the moment she felt the almost damp coldness of the floorboards. They never kept the heating on during the night.

“Ems?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you toss me socks and a cardie or something? It’s fucking freezing.”

“What about your slippers? Where’re the slippers I got you for Christmas?”

“Not again with the bloody slippers Em. Told you already, I don’t know. Just socks’ll do.”

Letting out an exaggerated sigh, she picked up two mismatched socks and an old jumper from the crumpled pile of clothes, and tossed them on the bed. They landed in front of Colin’s face with a dull thud.

“Ow, jesus Emma. That’s my eye.”

“Sorry, must’ve not been aiming.” She said with her back turned, already at the door. Behind her, Colin rubbed his eye with the palm of his hand and pulled the duvet up to his chin. Convinced he could see his breath condensed in the air, he contemplated asking Emma whether or not this truly was the case before deciding against it, knowing he would not get an answer.

Emma’s body was still stiff from sleep, and her right hand attempted to tug through her knotted hair as she waddled towards the bathroom. The coldness seemed to intensify in there, emanating from the pale blue tiles, which covered most of the surfaces of the small room. Washing her face with a damp flannel, she peered at her dull reflection in the toothpaste-stained mirror. Murky grey rings encircled her blue eyes, an amalgam of late nights, early mornings, and unwashed makeup. Her ginger hair was a disarray of matted curls, and her chapped lips were turned down at their corners, as they often were these days. Her phone weighed down in the pocket of her fuzzy dressing gown as she brushed her teeth, but Emma willed herself not to look at it again. Not with Colin sleeping behind the wall. Opening the door, she walked down the corridor, although Colin had repeatedly requested for her to keep quiet in the mornings before he woke up. Despite the fact that he rarely fell back asleep after Emma had gotten out of bed, the amount of noise caused by her morning routines had begun to irritate him. In the kitchen, Emma took out a single mug and a single bowl, and filled the kettle with enough water for herself. From the window, she could see the beginnings of rush hour as traffic began to congest on the street outside. The teaspoon scraped the bottom of the jar of instant coffee as Emma emptied it into her mug. She filled the bowl with oats and milk and placed it into the microwave, the door closing with a loud bang of which Emma took no notice. Gently blowing into the steaming coffee, she stirred in the milk and sugar and leaned against the counter, waiting for the microwave to beep. On the wall, above the small kitchen table with its forgotten, wilted flowers, hung a photograph of Emma and Colin. The North Sea spread far into the horizon behind the happy couple, who were standing close to the edge of the cliff. Emma’s hair was blowing in the wind as she hugged a grinning Colin. Unlike Colin, Emma was staring directly into the camera. The photograph was from a holiday to Alnwick, a five-day trip they had taken almost a year into their relationship, three months before they had finally moved in together. They had rented a cottage close to the seaside, within driving distance of the town. The weather had been uncharacteristically warm for late August, even with the harsh sea wind and the cold water. They had spent their evenings sitting out on the small patio behind the cottage, sharing post-dinner wine and cigarettes, talking about their past, present, and future long into the nights. The photo had been taken by an old man herding his sheep on a cliff-side field, accompanied by two shepherd dogs. “My wife and I met when we were about your age”, he had said, smiling at the apparently happy couple. Emma had thought that Colin might propose during the trip. He didn’t. Emma barely spoke during the eight-hour drive home. When Colin asked her about this, she replied with a curt “I’m tired, it’s been a long trip. Let me focus on the road.” By the time the car drove through the yellow roads of the outskirts of London, Colin was fast asleep. He had looked so peaceful, head resting against the window, that Emma felt a pang of guilt at having to wake him up when they finally reached his flat.

The microwave beeped in an obnoxious manner. Emma’s porridge had boiled over and was dripping down the sides of the steaming bowl.

“Shit. Fuck. Ah that’s hot.” Emma exclaimed under her breath as she quickly dropped the bowl down onto the kitchen counter. She was halfway through cleaning the microwave with damp kitchen roll when she heard lumbering footsteps making their way down the corridor. Still focusing on the sticky residue of the porridge, she could feel the heat emanating from Colin’s drowsy body.
“Might as well start waking up at the same time, you’re so loud I can’t sleep in any case.” Colin sighed. Emma brushed past him on her way to the bin.

“You didn’t leave any coffee for me.” Colin stood next to her, the open, near-empty jar of Nescafe in his hands.

“Can you move please? My bowl’s behind you.”

“Emma.”

“What?”

“Didn’t you hear what I said?”

“What the coffee? Yeah sorry about that, but you’ve got that nice coffee shop near the office. If you really want coffee now you can have the rest of mine.”

“You know I drink mine black.”

Emma turned around to face Colin. Her gaze was met with a stony silence.

“I said I was sorry. Look, I’m in a bit of a rush, got a big day ahead.” Emma said, her voice drifting off at the end of her sentence as she turned to stare at the wall. The photograph caught her eye again.

“Right. You’re doing that presentation with Eli today aren’t you?”

“What? No. I mean yeah, yeah. Eli.” Her voice was distant as she continued to stare at the photograph.

“So you’ll start coming home earlier now.” Colin’s voice was sharp, almost commanding.

“Yeah I guess.” Emma took one final chug of her coffee before placing the mug next to Colin’s arm, and with rapid steps, began to walk back towards the bedroom in order to get ready to go to work.

“Emma?” She froze, whipping her head around in an unnaturally rapid manner. Colin took a few tentative steps towards her, holding her bowl of porridge in his hands. “You forgot this.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah of course.” She replied in a murmur and returned to retrieve the bowl, her eyes firmly fixed on it. Her face burned as she lifted her head to look at Colin, who was staring at her with furrowed brows.

“You better start leaving soon, Emma. Don’t want to be late for your big presentation with Eli.” His voice was monotonous, foreboding, and as he stroked her cheek, his lips stretched into a stiff smile that did not reach his eyes.

The doors of the wooden wardrobe, with its chipped, jade-green paint, were flung wide open as Emma leafed through the hangers absentmindedly, the clothes nothing but a multicoloured haze in front of her eyes. The bowl of porridge was slowly cooling into a congealed lump on the bedside table. Get a grip Emma. Focus. You need to leave in fifteen minutes you do not have time for this. She rubbed her face with her hands and reached for the first items she could think of – a cream chiffon button-down and a black skirt – and half-ran into the bathroom to do her makeup. She spread on her foundation with both hands, coated her pale lashes in black mascara, and brushed through her eyebrows with a pencil. By the time she reached for her red lipstick, she saw that the numbers on the hallway clock reflected in the mirror were nearing 7:40. Shit. She ran past the kitchen, Colin’s tall figure casting a shadow in her peripheral vision, and quickly laced up her black patent Oxfords. She barely registered Colin’s half-hearted farewell as the door slammed shut behind her. She wove her arms through the arms of her duffle coat as she scurried down the three flights of stairs before reaching the front door. Emma did not want to glance up, but she could feel Colin staring down at her from the kitchen window. Her pace slowed the moment she had turned the first corner on her way to the tube station, and her right hand searched the inner pocket of her coat, which contained cigarettes, a lighter, Airwaves, and a small vial of perfume. She kept the pocket zipped at all times. With her back turned towards the wind, she lit a cigarette and felt herself relax ever so slightly. Emma dug out the phone from her bag, the angry, red notification sign still present on the corner of the call-icon. She opened the log and tapped the ‘call’ icon. It rang until a mechanic voice told her to to leave a voicemail after the beep.

“Hey, it’s me. We need to talk.”

The Edge of Chaos

“And I’m telling you, my clock is wrong.” Greer grunted as he edged his crumpled nose down towards Terry.

“Well….I..I mean… it’s just not possible.” Terry stuttered staring at the flickering red lights of the obscenely oversized digital clock that hung in our dining quarters. “I mean not…not unless it’s stopped, perhaps. But the clocks here can’t be at different times from each other. They’re all programmed to display the same time as each other, if one developed a fault it would simply shut down so as not to display a different time from the others. The time is fed on a data loop continuously through sensors to all of our equipment, it is imperative that even if the time we see isn’t technically aligned with Greenwich Mean Time back on earth each of the inhabitants of the station see the same numbers displayed. As a sort of mooring by which to conduct our daily activities. It’s so we don’t get time disorientated out here.” Terry gushed. “I designed the system myself.”

Alexi and I had been sitting at the enjoying a quiet game of chess when we were joined by Terry at exactly 09:00:00 who asserted that having finished his morning assessment of the data would be taking his breakfast. Having designed the clocks on the station Terry was scarily punctual, and fanatical about the rules- he always informed me, as his senior officer, before taking his lunch or leave of a post or even a bathroom break. Moments later Greer had burst in complaining “Why the damn hell hadn’t anyone woken him up”. For Greer, unlike Terry, punctuality was of no object so we were surprised to see him perturbed by not being awoken at 9am when he frequently didn’t surface til after 10. It was at this point Greer started raving that the clock in his room read 17:48:09.

“I’m telling you my clock’s not broke. It was still counting down those goddamn annoying seconds and I couldn’t hear that goddamn rattle the air filter makes when it goes on at 9.” Greer hissed at Terry, as if the whole situation were somehow his fault. “Look my external comms were switched on too. You’re not supposed to be able to open an off-base channel until after we get our update signals at 12.”

Growing weary at Greer’s persistence interrupting our game Alexi rose and smiled simply; “Look let’s all just go take a look at this clock together.”

I don’t know why the mission required the four of us but upon entering Greer’s room we found that his clock read 09:08:26 and his external comm box was indeed locked as it should have been. I saw something then in the ferocious and unwavering Greer that I had not seen before amidst his gormless look of awe I thought I saw a glimmer of fear behind his eyes.

“See,” Terry beamed. “It’s all fine.”

Greer shot him a look of contempt. “No,” he muttered to himself, “It was later. My comms…. It was like… like something was wrong, like I was trying to call out.”

“A dream,” smiled Alexi placing a firm hand on Greer’s shoulder. “Come Ruth, let us finish our game.”

*******

Greer had gone down to the boiler rooms to fiddle with the heavy, greasy bits of piping as he often did when he was in a mood. I think tossing about the lumps of dirty metal made him feel manly and for us they were a welcome alternative to him punching someone in the face. Yes Greer was an asshole and a moron in every sense of the word but he was an incredible engineer. I think Greer must have been the kind off boy whose family life had cultivated him to be the school bully and his desire to escape that life had lent him to nurture his quiet intelligence. When I first met Greer I asked him if there was anyone he would miss back home and he merely replied “No amount of light years is far enough from my fucking dad.” We never spoke on the subject again. Following Greer’s little spat Alexi and I had resumed our game where I had promptly had my ass handed to me, as usual. Alexi was a handsome man, he carried that aura of calm that those who are transcendently intellectual often do. He had often asked me if I wanted to make love, some nights more desperately than others. Naturally I refused; my whole reason for taking a post on a space station 1089 days flight time from earth was so I’d never have to feel like cold thrust of a man again. Although when I discovered that I would be the sole woman on a station with three other men, I accepted that this would be an issue. In their defence, Greer or Terry had never approached me. Terry was a mathematical genius, a former child prodigy now nearing his thirties, but he was shy and fumbling, I strongly suspected he was still a virgin. Greer was too animalistic, I would take gentle persuading and he wanted something to fuck. Our dorms were adjacent and I could often hear him masturbating loudly. All of a sudden a loud beeping started up in dining quarters.

“Ah our update signals,” Alexi smiled moving to the console in the centre of the room.

“What…? I….” I mumbled.

“Everything ok?” Alexi asked.

We had only played one game of chess, surely it couldn’t be 12 o’clock already. Had I really zoned out daydreaming for so long, watching Alexi’s slender fingers as he replaced the chess pieces. I rubbed my arm instinctively only to find I was wrapped in a cardigan that I was sure I hadn’t brought down to breakfast.

“My cardigan…”

“You went to get it after our second game of chess, you said you felt cold,” Alexi raised one quizzical eyebrow at me. “Are you sure you are ok?”

“I’m just….I have a headache,” I retorted furtively “I think I’ll go lie down for a while.”

“Ok. I’ll head up to the bridge and get these signals logged… and then I’ll come check on you.” He said, a little too expectantly for my liking.

“Don’t.” I snapped, exiting swiftly. If the doors on this damn station weren’t automatic I would have slammed it behind me.

*******

I lay on my bed, my head feeling perfectly fine but full of a thousand screeching thoughts. I was sure I was missing a few hours from my memory of this morning. We’d received some brief training on what to do if we experienced time disorientation; the outcome of each scenario was bleak. The best we could really hope for was that they would send a shuttle to retrieve anyone severely afflicted but that would take years. I could hear the words of Greer’s own failsafe echo in my head “If any of yous go nuts, I’ll kill you. If I go nuts, I’ll kill myself.”

“No you won’t,” I’d jostled him “If you go nuts you’ll just kill us anyways.

I scraped my hair back in to a taut ponytail and stared fixatedly at the ceiling. I could hear the faint sound of footsteps along the corridor. I swiftly pulled myself up to sit my back against the wall and groped my knees under my chin. I gazed at the vacant threshold. I’d stupidly left my door open and if Alexi thought this was some kind of invitation… I balled my fists. I was in no mood for an argument. The steps got closer and the unmistakable flicker of Alexi’s silhouette passed my doorway. He did not stop, merely looked over his shoulder with a smile as he passed. There was something in that smile that made my stomach turn but the look was too fleeting, I couldn’t measure what I thought I’d saw. A few more haunting footsteps echoed and then silence.

I waited, breathing deeply in the quiet emptiness of my room. I had spooked myself. Alexi  may be an eerily seductive man but he was rational and driven by his research. All that I thought was merely in my mind. I shook my head, preparing to rise and put all my foolishness and irrationality to rest. Granted the strange personal message I had received a few days before had been playing on my mind. I couldn’t fathom why he would contact me at all; especially since I had crossed the galaxy itself to avoid him. Yes, I was sure that these thoughts were nothing more than the culmination of a lack of a few good nights’ sleep.  Just then I heard the echo of footsteps descend the corridor once more. It was Alexi. Walking the hall in the same manner, following the same direction that he had before. My toes gnarled as I was met with the same devilish smirk and then once more he was gone. My breath quickened and I pulled the band around my hair tighter. I resolved to slam my door and bolt myself in my room. I would contact Terry on my comms make up some bullshit about needing to discuss today’s data, tell him I felt ill, I don’t know, anything so that I wasn’t left alone with Alexi lurking outside my bedroom. But before I could leap to my feet I heard the footsteps once more. Alexi emerged, descending the hallway, the same terrifying grimace meet my eyes and I felt my entire body lurch. I hesitated only til I could hear the footsteps no more and shot from my room back to the sanctity of the dining quarters in the hopes that our only communal area would be occupied. My own steps taunted me like mimes as I weaved through the halls. But when I reached dining area I halted abruptly pinning myself against the wall. Through the door I spied Terry, a book in one hand, sitting in Greer’s lap. Greer ruffled his fingers delicately through Terry’s hair.

“Alexi’s on the bridge and Ruth’s asleep.” Greer whispered, stroking Terry’s cheek.

“I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” Terry replied looking puzzled. Greer only responded with a smirk. “No I’m serious,” said Terry “I feel like this exact moment has happened before. Like I’ve read the exact pages of this book, like I’ve felt this exact way.”

“Déjà vu.” Greer smiled, taking the book from his hands and laying it on the table. Terry caught him in a kiss and they fell from the chair into each other’s arms.

I could not interrupt now. I ran back to my room, dizzy with the image of the brutish Greer from this morning who had seemingly threatened Terry. All part of their little charade I supposed. I should have known, how many times had I heard them. I was alone in the vastness of space with three total strangers. I didn’t know these men at all. I’d been a fool to think I was safe with these people, I had no idea who they really were, what they were capable of…

As I reached my room I tripped over the threshold spilling on to the floor. A few panicked breaths and I rolled on to my back my legs spread supporting myself. I blinked in a flash of white. When I opened my eyes I let out an unearthly scream. My trousers had been rolled to my knees and there was blood pouring from me. Alexi kneeled above me gripping my wrists, he was shouting in my face. His shirt at his abdomen was daubed with blood. I felt a sharp pain pulsing from between my legs. I thrashed my arms against him, screaming with ever increasing hysteria, praying that this wasn’t happening. I closed my eyes hard, another painful flash of light and when I looked again all was calm. I was alone, my trousers buttoned, no blood, lying flat on my back in my room. No, no, but I had felt it. It was real. How had he done it. I must have been drugged. The pain was real. I swear I still felt it. No, that monster. I could feel the dull throbbing from within me. My fingers wildly scraped around the floor and I pulled myself unsteadily to my feet. That burning sensation was their clawing at my insides, mocking me, telling me he had possessed my body.

“NO!” I screeched “NO!” I yanked my desk draw open, I could feel the burning spreading like a cancer, and like a cancer I had to cut it out. I clutched my pen knife. With trembling hands I unbuttoned my trousers and rolled them to my knees. I ordered myself in to a squatting position but realising I’d likely be unable to stand throughout I lay myself upon my back. Spreading my legs and with one ragged breath I thrust the cold blade within myself. Hot tears pierced my eyes as the pain welled within me but I remained resolute I clawed the blade around myself determined to carve every trace of Alexi out. A figure rounded the corner. The shadow of Alexi fell over me like the hooded figure of death.

“Ruth!” He knelt towards me and in my panic I dropped my blade. I slapped a firm hand upon him attempting to push him back but I only succeeded in leaving a bloodied hand print on the bottom of his shirt. He retrieved the blade, throwing it from my reach and grasped both my wrists.

“HELP!” He bellowed, his face only inches from mine. “TERRY! GREER! HELP!”

My whole body convulsed, I was screeching so loud my own ears were ringing. I writhed my hands against the force of Alexi but he held me fast. It wasn’t long before Terry and Greer appeared in my doorway. My arms started to shake of their own accord now but I could only manage to hold them limply. I was vaguely aware of the most intimate part of myself bloodied and exposed to these strangers but all I could do was groan helplessly. My skin was going cold.

“Terry get the first aid kit, get…get something to stop the blood,” Alexi gushed, still holding my wrists. “Greer open up a comms. Call off-base. Call earth. Just get help goddammit!”

My neck began to feel loose and my head lolled from side to side. It tipped backward. I felt so light-headed. I giggled slightly. From this angle I could see the inverted image of my clock. It was 17:48:09.

Summer Short Story Competition 2015

Hello all – hope you are having a great summer so far and that the Exam Results Fairy was good to you! We’re really pleased to announce our summer short story competition for this year. We want as many entries as possible, and you have plenty of time to work on it, so please read over the details:

  • Everyone is allowed to enter, regardless of your age, ownership of a kitten or whether or not you’ve ever attended a Creative Writing workshop or liked our Facebook page.
  • Entries must be predominantly prose (i.e. if you want to weave a few lines of poetry or a drawing or something in with your story then fine, but we want it to be prose fiction).
  • The theme of the short story competition is CHAOS. You are free to interpret this as you like, but please make sure your work links to the theme somehow.
  • The word count is between 800-3000 words, inclusive. Please don’t go outwith these limits.
  • Your work should have a title, but don’t just use the prompt as your title as it will be difficult to distinguish from the other entries.
  • The deadline is midnight on Friday 7th August
  • All entries are to be submitted as Word documents to mariasledmere@outlook.com , with the subject title ‘Summer Short Story Competition Entry’. The reason it is going to our old president, Maria (me), is because the competition is to be peer-judged and so since I’m in charge of uploading the stories, I will be the only one who knows who wrote what. This means that while I can submit an entry, you can rest assured I don’t get a vote because my vote wouldn’t be anonymous.
  • All stories will be peer-judged. This means that after the closing date (7th August), all entries will be anonymously uploaded with their titles to the blog. There will be a vote over the next few weeks to see which story wins. We will also provide a comment space where you can write feedback for the stories (everything can be anonymous). This way, all entries get a showcase on the blog and writers can access some feedback. The winner will be revealed by the end of August and hopefully we can concoct some sort of a prize, as well as a place in the Hall of Fame page Nina and I are still developing!
  • If you have any more questions, email me or gucreativewritingsociety@gmail.com

Last year’s winners were Katalina Watt (1st), Scott Dallas (2nd) and Ross Van Gogh (3rd). You can check out their work if you search ‘Elements’ via the blog search tool. Hopefully this will be a nice summer project to work on, and I look forward to reading everyone’s stuff!

Secrets & Scandals: Theresa Mac

Announcement time!
Earlier this week we got 2 promotional copies of Theresa Mac’s newly published book of short stories. The books will available for people to read at the meeting and after – if you’d like to borrow one of them to read at home just let us know. They look really exciting and I highly recommend giving them a read!

Blurb from the back:
From the minds of the criminally insane and through the eyes of the victims, Secrets and Scandals takes us on a disturbingly captivating journey of some of the most appalling crimes. Murder, rape, theft and deceit are played out in several short stories written to give you the insight that most of us could never imagine. Unsuspecting victims become prey to these assumingly ordinary people in what can only be described as hedonism by the assailant.

ScandalsSecrets

Theresa Mac is a retired teacher. Throughout her life, she has maintained a keen interest in human behaviour and studied psychology for a short time. Her interest in writing began after writing short stories for her daughter, which are now published. She had a happy childhood in Glasgow and developed an interest in antiquities, art and characters after frequent visits to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which was near her home. She began her working life as a secretary, eventually leading to a career teaching business studies to students with varied backgrounds, which she enjoyed, increasing her interest in human behaviour and inspiring her to write these stories.

Nina x

Week 9 – Short Story Writing

Hello everyone,

Hope you’re all holding up with deadlines approaching and the weather glooming (hope I’m not the only one craving sunlight…!). So this week we’ll be doing short stories: what the form entails, what kind of style works, how to approach theme, character etc. Hopefully this exercise will give us a chance to reflect on each other’s writing styles and think more closely about our writing.

If you’ve got any favourite short stories, please feel free to either bring them in or be ready to have a wee chat about what makes you love them. This short story session will prepare us for the Christmas short story anthology – if you have started thinking about writing your Christmas story already, excellent!

(Also, Heather if you’re reading we still don’t have your group novel page, so could you send it to gucreativewritingsociety@gmail.com or via facebook? thaanks!)

See you Tuesday!

x