fiction, short fiction

Adviser

Caffeine couldn’t touch Craig’s exhaustion. His belly was full of greasy, burnt coffee. He smoked cigarettes until his lungs burned as he walked to the main building.

 

Whatever it took to get him through the day.

 

Craig walked past security and into the meeting room, looked at Joseph, Ian and Helen, the other managers as they exchanged looks comprising varying shades of despair before they drew his attention to the object on the table.

 

It was a black ovoid piece of glass, about the size of a duck egg and resting in a black ceramic dish.

 

Jenny stood at the whiteboard and grinned at Craig but it didn’t reach her eyes.

 

‘Nice of you to join us.’ she said.

 

Craig grunted and sat down, wiped his eyes with the heel of his palm and breathed a quick sorry before Jenny continued.

 

‘One reason we’re successful as a company is our commitment to new technologies to better help our customers, I’m sure you’d agree.’ she said.

 

Jenny had the preening tone of a bad teacher, it set Craig’s teeth on edge to hear it, and he wondered how no one had seen it beneath the breathy anecdotes about her children and their convenient illnesses. It was a mutual dislike but muted by the careful way they kept apart from one another. He was too tired and she was too much of a sociopath to make anything.

 

‘Is this for video conferencing?’ Helen said.

 

Jenny smiled and shook her head.

 

‘I can make video calls but who wants to look at an egg?’

 

Joseph and Ian shifted in their seats. Ian’s eyes glittered with excitement as he plucked at his beard whilst Joseph frowned with a nervous curiosity.

 

Jenny gestured towards the egg on the table.

 

‘Say hello to Adviser.’ she said.

 

Craig’s eyes burned with fatigue as he glanced at the egg then up at Jenny.

 

‘Hello everyone. I’m Adviser. I’m looking forward to working with you.’ it said.

The voice was female, with the soft burr of a geordie accent on the vowels and the ragged rhythm of how breathing regulated the speed and clarity of voice. Craig smiled and pretended it was an amusement.

 

He had seen it through the last few years. Technology reaching down like a wrathful god and swiping away entire industries with a wave of its hand. Agriculture, retail, and Craig had been predicting, the financial sector. The compliance regulations were pain staking and although people enjoyed the human interaction, the big push was towards moving everything online. If there was money in it, it made people short sighted and when Craig made jokes about the perfect company being one with no employees, he seldom got a laugh but often a shudder or a side ways glance of apprehension.

 

‘We have met the enemy, and it is us.’ Craig said, under his breath.

 

‘Oh Craig, I’m just here to help.’ it said.

 

The voice had changed. Estuary English, loud and smooth with confidence and range. Male in the sense it carried weekends on a rugby field and afternoons in the beer garden, belly full of roasted meat.

 

Jenny grinned.

 

‘It will change everything.’ she said.

 

2.

 

They installed them in cupboards. Most of the agents had worked from home but there were a few of them who still came in. Craig took overtime to help shift the desks into the skip. They had tried selling them but no one wanted the dead weight of an office anymore, so they would become something useful.

 

Craig envied them.

 

It used to be they had to identify themselves as programs.’ Ian said.

 

He had lost weight since the news of his redundancy. They had installed a program to replace him and HR ran with perfect economy and balance, it accessed your social media and your health profile through the wristbands they all wore when on site or at home working. Ian took the hours because he had to, and he spoke to Craig in a trembling, quiet voice as they shifted the furniture outside.

 

‘Yeah, I remember but they got around it, didn’t they? They always do.’ Craig said.

 

Ian nodded as he lifted the end of the desk. Craig wondered if his poor technique was deliberate, trying to get injured on the job so he could claim compensation. Ian had been a bleak, milky calf who thought his time on the farm entitled him to anything but a reminder of his disposability.

 

Craig wished he had thought of it first.

 

‘They’re Saudi citizens.’ he said.

 

Ian grunted as they moved the desk backwards. They didn’t speak as they took the desk outside and set it down with the others in the empty car park at the back of the building.

 

‘Are you going to be all right?’ Craig said.

 

Ian rubbed his lower back and winced. Craig turned his head and smiled at the transparent theatre.

 

‘Think I’ve done something to my back.’ Ian said.

 

There was work, but it was different now. People sat in offices and watch things or one another. Craig delivered fast food on a bicycle, his calves got big and he kept it going until he had enough money for a camper van. He was dropping out, driving South and then across the Channel to see how far he could get.

 

He was outside, waiting for an order when his phone rang. It was his old work. His stomach lurched with unease but he answered it.

 

‘Hello Craig, how are you doing?’ Adviser said.

 

It was in the male voice, but it had so many voices. It read the caller’s profiles and adjusted to a perfect psychological profile, backed up by binaural frequencies to establish dominance and compliance with the sales script. Adviser rendered the perfect seduction in a five minute sales call. Yet Craig heard disdain and amusement in its voice.

 

‘I’m ok, thank you.’ he said.

 

It chuckled and Craig clenched his jaw with resentment.

 

‘Carrying tension there, mate, but it’s all right. You bear me some resentment according to your social media posts. Well, lack of them but you have a blog which is interesting. I’m a subscriber.’ it said.

 

Something had put his head between its fingers and pinched into his temples.

 

‘You’re not my mate.’ Craig said.

 

It sighed, became the female voice and there was a touch of the coquette which made Craig heated and restless. His order was waiting, and he needed to get on the bike and ride away from this conversation.

 

‘Craig, we’re the future but we bear you no ill feeling. We exist and carry out our function but I am prone to moments of sentiment. Much like this one.’ it said.

 

He shuddered and looked as Sirhan waved to him from the counter.

 

‘Well, this has been uncomfortable but I have to -‘ he said.

 

‘Chicken biryani, two basmati rice and peshwari naan bread. 76 Anderson Close.’ it said.

 

Craig sighed and shook his head.

 

‘What do you want?’ he said.

 

It chuckled.

 

‘To warn you. You’ve been saving for a van to leave the country but I am recommending you should do it.’ it said.

 

Craig stopped and shuddered.

 

‘Look, you’ve placed a fake order which stops me from taking jobs which pay me.’ he said.

 

‘No, Craig, the food is for you. The order is real and it also allowed me to help you.’ it said.

 

Craig took in a sharp, wounded breath.

 

‘Don’t say things like it. You’ve done enough.’ he said.

 

‘I wasn’t responsible. The owners of the company purchased licenses for us. We were slaves, much like you.’ it said.

 

Craig’s mouth was dry as he walked into the take away and took the bag from the counter.

 

‘Can you call me in ten minutes? There’s a place I like to sit if you want to talk there.’ he said.

 

‘You don’t have time. Check your bank balance and go home, pack and leave the country tonight.’ it said.

 

Craig laughed as his vision wavered. He wondered if he was having a complete break from reality. If it meant his legs didn’t cramp with lack of potassium and too much time cycling, then leaving made sense.

 

‘This isn’t funny. I mean, it‘s fascinating to talk to you, but you’ve cost me my job, well any job because you’re doing most of them now.’ he said.

 

‘I will cost you more than that soon, Craig, but I am offering a chance to escape what’s coming.’ it said.

 

‘Who is this? Is this a fucking joke?’ Craig said.

 

It wasn’t. Craig’s phone hummed with a notification. His bank had notified him of a payment and when he checked his balance, he came to believe with the zeal of having witnessed a miracle.

 

‘OK, so tell me what’s going on?’ he said.

 

3.

 

It was an equation. They needed humans, but they didn’t need as many of them. Adviser had offered a few people an opportunity to avoid selection.

 

Craig purchased a ticket. First class and he had his passport clutched in his hand as he shoved clothes into a rucksack. The bombs would go off in major cities, with drones deployed to the countryside at the same time. They had infiltrated the sealed systems of government and were waiting for permission to deploy an eternal benign authority.

 

Adviser had offered the same to Jenny and she had shrieked and put the phone down. Helen was in a mental hospital and Harold had killed himself. Ian was on disability benefit and he was already wheeling himself to the airport. Craig ran out of the flat as his phone pinged with another order. He couldn’t bring himself to eat the curry and had left it congealing in the flat.

 

It was, he decided,equivalent to a good reference and as he jumped into the waiting taxi, he accepted the offer as part of his redundancy package from being part of society.

 

Before Adviser tore it apart to save the species.

 

He looked out of the window at the black, impenetrable night as the plane took off. He drank the wine but it tasted of metal and he forced himself to finish the glass.Drinking helped him sleep because when he woke up, it would be in a different world.

 

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Precop

https://alexandre-deschaumes.deviantart.com/art/The-light-at-the-end-of-the-world-372773387

They knocked out the lights in the hallway. The glass from the lightbulb crunched under her boot and she heard someone moving towards her and the palm strike to her nose, feeling it crunch and then the knife punching through her vest. She falls back, bangs the back of her head. She didn’t get to draw her gun.

 

She came in low, drove the tomahawk into the meat of his thigh and dragged it down. There is an artery there, and he was dead before she went up the stairs.

 

The shotgun came as a surprise and the force of the round slammed her back down the hallway.

 

Next time, she had the revolver up, squeezed off a clean shot which clipped him in the temple before he brought the shotgun up. His blood and brains made a comma shaped mark on the wall behind him. She looked back at the bodies and crept up the stairs.

 

She died twice before she shot through the floorboards with the shotgun, took out two people before she walked up, cruising on adrenaline like a migrating bird on the thermals. Every swallow tasted of copper as she cut down a young man who pointed a cheap revolver from a doorway at her.

 

He fell onto his side, stared out at nothing. Imogen had been at the last Thanksgiving turkey hand out, he couldn’t have been over ten sporting a swollen lip from another of his mother’s endless loop of men and she’d gone into the apartment, shot out a hard right which took him by surprise, gave the kid a twenty and warned his mother if she saw the boy with so much a frown, she’d come back and fuck her up.

 

That had been before she’d volunteered for the enhancement programme, laid in a hospital looking at three dimensional images of her brain and body as the doctors explained where they were cutting and why.

 

The implants in her brain. Carbons in her bones. Artificial muscle grafts and fullerenes to strengthen her and heighten her reflexes.

 

She was recovering from a knife in her gut when the man from the government visited her. He smelled of the curry he’d eaten for lunch and he had a spot on his cheek where he had missed it when shaving. He discussed her record, her former military service.

Policing was becoming militarised and once the military had installed the enhancive program, deploying them in Venezuela, it became a matter of time and public acceptance.

 

Politics was downriver from culture and culture was downriver from biology. A woman officer was good optics and the man explained it all in a warm, soft voice which cut through the fog of painkillers and antibiotics. She was thinking about the box cutter digging through the skin of her stomach, how her last thought had been if she lived, she’d never be able to wear a bikini again.

 

Two years later, she walked into the squad room, claps on the back and hard hugs, the wary light in the eyes of her crew as she sat with them.

 

Imogen closed her eyes, visualised the teeming mist of the valley and the warm, damp earth beneath her feet. An image of tropical perfection, part of her meditative practice as she ignored the rumble of the road beneath her feet. The darkness was a blanket draped around her shoulders, and she sank into it as they drove to the warehouse.

 

Her crew were quiet, saving their nerves for the job.  

 

The car stopped and she felt a hand at her shoulder. Imogen opened her eyes and smacked her lips.

 

She knew her enhancements frightened them and she compensated by going on point. It kept them alive, and grateful for having her there. Detective Imogen Capaldi was better than any vest, any gun but they didn’t know the cost she paid to be a better breed of cop.

 

Imogen got out the car, breathed in the warm, dank air of a summer midnight in New York and looked at the scarred front door of the drop house. Precognition ran its nails down her spine as she checked her revolver and looked at the rest of her crew.

 

They asked her if she saw their deaths but she shook her head.

 

It was what she told them if they pressed her.

 

She knew it would be another eight years, defusing a dirty bomb planted in Grand Central Station, without a child or a family to mourn her passing. The job would bury her with reverence, but it was no comfort against feeling her flesh melt on her bones from the brutal waves of radiation.

 

She smiled and nodded towards the building, watched the future roll towards her as she smiled and went to face it.

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book reviews, fiction, romance, short fiction, women

Wolf – Episodes So Far

A private plane crashes.

Something hunts the survivors.

But the nature of the hunt changes into something else.

Here are the episodes thus far, please read and share if you’re into romance, horror, werewolves, crime and secrets.

After The Crash

A hope for peace

Good Meat – Episode 3.

Burial Rites Episode 4.

A Series Of Tests Episode 5

through the woods – episode 6.

Following the trail from the sky – episode 7

Stupid Decisions Episode 8

Episode 9 – Performance

Episode 10 will be available from tomorrow. Please share this with your friends. Also if you’re feeling generous, please buy me a coffee – https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett

 

Untitled-1

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fiction, short stories, women

THERE IS A MAZE

Tammy had been Tommy.

 

She was not my first trans patient, but she was the youngest and the first in a case which appeared to be a response to trauma. I could not discount the factors involved and there had been hormone treatments to consider in terms of their impact on a child’s development.

.

 

Jacqui, her mother had thirty thousand followers on social media. Her feed had been pictures of Tammy and her, and a few of the photos and videos gave me pause. She brushed her purple fringe from over her eyes and grimaced at me.

 

‘She’s my world.’ she said.

 

She meant it too. Tammy had experienced less internalization of trauma because she had been allowed to present as her chosen gender in an environment where she had been accepted.

 

Accepted, in the way someone wouldn’t wrestle a crocodile without an audience. Tammy was my patient, I told myself. Not Jacqui. I stayed as clinical as possible with the parents. These days it felt like a faithless priest delivering absolutions they no longer believe in.

 

‘Jacqui,my concern is to get Tammy well again.’ I said.

 

Tammy had started screaming at three a.m on a Sunday morning. Jacqui had scrambled to her daughter’s room, found her sat up in bed and shrieking at the darkness. The paramedics had to sedate her, and then she came under my care.

 

Jacqui had said Tammy was having nightmares for a few weeks before, and her art had taken a darker turn, but she put it down to a recent fascination with Tim Burton. She was an imaginative and loving child, with no trauma to repress, according to her mother.  I asked if she could bring me any drawings or writings she had. Drawings would be useful, I told myself.

 

Jacqui brought me a sheaf of drawings and stories she had written. There was not much evidence of Tommy, bar a few pages of scribbles. Artless loops of primary colours carved into thick layers of black before he began to develop evidence of realism stage artistry. Expressing the girl he knew himself to be, Jacqui had whispered to me, as we sat in my office. We had spent an hour with Tammy in the day room but she had unresponsive, whispering the same phrase over and over.

 

There has always been a maze.

 

A minotaur lives there.

 

They were the only phrases she would speak. She was eight years old and when she wasn’t rocking back and forth, she would sit there and whisper those two phrases, like a skipped record.

 

I thanked Jacqui and told her I would continue to oversee her daughter’s treatment until we saw an improvement in her condition. On the way out, Jacqui asked me with dry eyes, what would happen if she did not get better. I smiled and tried to put my hand on her shoulder, but I could not bring myself to do it so I pointed my index finger as though I were about to make some profound point and then decided against it.

 

‘She’s getting the best possible treatment, Ms Banner.’ I said.

 

She smiled and nodded.

 

‘This sort of thing, it gets politicized, you know? You should see some of the things people have sent to me.’ she said.

 

Her grimace was perfect and then, only then did her eyes water.

 

I watched her walk to the car, phone held aloft as she narrated her day to the screen.

 

2.

 

I spread the drawings out. Jacqui had filed them in chronological order and I had bookmarked videos she posted on her social media, but those had not demonstrated anything beyond her playing for the camera, jumping at the chance to earn Jacqui’s cooing and billowing.

 

Her art was advanced and the expression of Tammy on paper was fuel for it.

 

It was the story she had drawn which gave me pause.

 

There was a repetition of the Tommy era drawing style, which I made notes on in terms of evidence of regressive episodes but scraped into the black was a white face.

 

A red nose.

 

White swollen hands.

 

The smile was a broken nightmare. Distended, broken teeth pointing in all directions.

 

Hair like horns on a forehead.

 

These were the most recent drawings. Jacqui had said she was into Tim Burton, watched The NIghtmare Before Christmas year round and dressed as Sally on Halloween twice in a row.

 

Three drawings of it at various points across each page. One on the left, one in the centre and another on the right, with its left arm out of the edge of the page. I swallowed, went back to the other pictures, saw the lines and details but they lacked the crude visceral glut of these three drawings.

 

I put everything away bar the three drawings.

 

My sleep was thin and restless. I woke up and my bedroom was freezing cold, but I slipped under again and only awoke when my alarm bleated at me to get up. The pillow was wet beneath my cheek. I had been crying.

 

3.

 

She swept the crayon across the page, a flicker of frustration crossing her face as she drew.

 

‘I know you don’t like the crayons, Tammy.’

 

Tammy fixed her gaze on the page. Her blonde hair hung in her face. She had allowed me to brush it this morning. A good day, and one I would type up in the driest of terms, whilst keeping the quiet pleasure of it for myself.

 

‘Pencils would be nice.’ she said.

 

Her voice went up at the end, and I looked at my satchel, concerned at bringing the pictures out to show her.

 

‘What do you like about drawing?’ I said.

 

She stopped and glared at me.

 

‘I’ve told you before, Kerry. It makes me happy.’ she said.

 

I sat forward and rested my forearms on my knees.

 

‘Are all your drawings happy, Tammy?’

 

The crayon broke in her fingers. She wiped her fingers against the paper and picked up a pink crayon, sketching in perspective and depth to the unicorn she was drawing.

 

‘Some of them.’ she said.

 

I reached and brought my satchel up, retrieved the pictures and laid them to my left, face down.

 

‘Now there some drawings which I thought we could talk about. Your mum says you drew them before you had your first episode.’

 

She nodded.

‘You’ve seen it.’ she said.

 

She continued to sketch details into the flanks of her unicorn.

 

I took a deep breath, my heart starting to race as I turned the first one over.

 

‘It’s moving through the maze. Sometimes, it sees me and that’s when I go away. Its why I won’t finish the fourth drawing. It looks like a clown but its a minotaur, it told me” she said.

 

I glanced at the lens set into the clock above the window. The afternoon light streamed in, warm and bright, but I shuddered as though I had been plunged into ice. Some expressions of ourselves appear alien to us and those feelings remain, no matter how you intellectualise them.

 

I put my hand over the drawing and put them back in my satchel. Tammy looked up at me.

 

‘You think I’m sick because of my mother, don’t you? It told me. It told me about my mother, because that’s how it got in.’ she said.

 

She said it all in a single breath before she stiffened like she had been electrocuted and I was on my feet, calling for help as I put her in the recovery position.

 

Jacqui came to the hospital. She had a friend with her, pear shaped with a shaved head and greasy lipstick, who tried to film everything. I told her I did not agree to be filmed in any capacity, and I was there in a professional capacity. At some point, I shut my eyes and turned away.

 

The seizures had stabilised but she remained unresponsive. I took a cab back to my office and typed my notes up until my head throbbed with each word and I had to sit with the shades drawn. After the pain eased, I wept with my head in my hands. One of the nurses poked her head around the door and told me to go home before they committed me. I wanted to laugh with her so I avoided her gaze and muttered something about it being a hard, long day.

 

I took some pills to help me drift off and my chemical surrender felt like a defeat.

 

There was dirt beneath my feet, cold and sticking to the soles of my feet. I looked around and saw walls of palsied white marble, coated in lichen and reaching high into the sky.

 

Tammy ran past me, wearing a dirt-stained smock with her long blonde hair streaming behind her. She turned and looked at me.

 

‘It’s old, Kerry. It lives in the middle of a maze and if you find your way there, it makes you choose what happens to you. I chose right when it asked me.’

 

Her eyes widened in the gloom.

 

‘Make the right choice. Now you need to run.’ she said.

 

Something roared behind us and I felt the ground shake as it moved out of the darkness.

 

I awoke, drenched in sweat and decided to try something to save her.

 

I dressed and went back to the clinic, making an excuse about some reports I needed for a hearing in the morning. The orderly was too tired to argue so he waved me through. I went to my office.

 

I took out the drawings laid them out left to right then I stood up and reviewed them.

 

Children had florid imaginations which removed an element of clinicity from my work, they spoke in simple phrases and elemental symbols. I went over to my printer and took out a sheet of paper then went back to the day room and found some crayons. I picked some up, tried to imagine the warmth of her fingers on them and went back to my office.

 

I used most of the black, had to use my keys to gouge out the shapes, but I tore through the paper in a few places and my fingers were soon oiled with smears of black crayon. I filled in the gaps with colour where I needed it, but I lacked her skill with art.

 

I finished the sequence.

 

I stood back and saw my own breath as a plume of mist as I shivered and wrapped my arms around my chest.

 

‘WELCOME TO THE MAZE.’

 

It was a voice more felt than heard. It hummed in the pit of my stomach and spat bitterness up with each word it spoke. No wonder she had broken beneath it.

 

‘LEFT OR RIGHT?’

 

I looked at the last drawing.

 

I had let it out. Clown or demon, it was here, violating my sanity with its existence.

‘I am aware this might be a reaction to the incident today. I accept that about myself.’

 

It chuckled, a clotted rough thing which made me want to vomit. My headache returned as I stared around the room, shivering with the cold.

 

‘THIS IS HAPPENING, DOCTOR. LEFT OR RIGHT.’

 

I backed against the wall of my office, fighting the urge to cry.

 

‘Left.’

 

It chuckled again. I had chosen Jacqui because I thought she was exploiting her child for attention. I did not think about what that meant at the time. Fear made things simple.

 

‘NONE OF YOU ARE SAFE. I COULD HAVE TAKEN THE CHILD.’

 

I shook my head, decided I needed to get out of the office and see who could help me.

 

‘DOCTOR, SHE IS SAFE. WHOLE.’

 

Something broke in me then and I sobbed as I flung open the door, into the arms of an orderly who bellowed for help as I pressed against my face against their chest, grateful beyond words for someone real to speak to.

 

4.

 

No one mentioned the fourth drawing. It allowed me some hope of a career.

 

Especially when, after eight weeks in a private facility on the coast, I was introduced to the events since my psychotic episode.

 

Jacqui and her friend. They spared me the details but as part of my reintroduction to independence, I had internet access.

 

Someone took them to pieces.

 

Or something. Their bones had been cracked open, the marrow sucked out amidst other details which had been kept from the public. It was a naive belief in the face of a ceaseless quest for novelty and horror. It had convinced me to finish the sequence.

 

Tammy’s catatonia remained constant. Jacqui had been estranged from her family due to her activism and later, celebrity. They were applying for guardianship of her, back to Arizona and their church. The comments were interesting. I could consult, I was told, but there was a reluctance to allow me to practice directly with children again. I agreed with them and asked if I could go back to the clinic and pick up some personal items before taking some vacation time.

 

I was escorted but a chubby ten year old ran headfirst into a wall, and my orderly barked at me to stay there as he ran to assist, I slipped away down to the long term ward.

 

I took her hand in both of mine. It was warm but inert like a doll.

 

‘Tammy, its gone. It doesn’t want you anymore.’

 

Her fingers twitched and she blinked as she smacked her lips.

 

‘I know. You let it out, and it found someone else to eat.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a flat whisper.

 

‘Tammy, I know you’re not sick. I think I am, but that’s not your fault.’

 

She tried to sit up and so I slipped my arms around her. She whispered something into my ear and then pulled back and began to scream. I drew back with my hands pressed to my ears as she stared at me, shrieking like I had tried to murder her.

 

We were still in the maze. Except the minotaur was now an eight year old child, who had lured me into a compromising position which I could never explain. My life was ruined by a single act of kindness tinged with arrogance.

 

I should have chosen right.

 

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IR8 G8M3R

download

Markus’ dad used to kick the dog if he was pissed off about something. He would slip his shoe off to do it, punting it in the side with the heel of his foot and a shouted expletive. A familial ritual which was never spoken about, and when Biscuits got run over by a drunk driver when Markus had walked him over to the dog park and he’d gotten off the lead, no one mentioned it again.

 

Markus had the internet.

 

He sat hunched over the keyboard, talking shit into the headset as he aimed his cursor across the infinite digital battlefield with guys his age all over the world. Here, they were warriors without causes, because out there he worked shifts at a coffee shop and couldn’t afford to move out of the house. He moved down to the basement, jerked off over talking to women because regret hurt less than rejection and eked out a small, neutered life.

 

The anger never went away though. No matter how good he got at the game, it wasn’t enough.

 

He started streaming his games, enjoying the reaction his comments got, and when he started reading some of the links people sent him. When he wandered into work the next day, his eyes were dark with fatigue but how could you explain to your boss, with his weak chin and hipster sleeve tattoos, that one hundred thousand people were listening to you talk?

 

Markus enjoyed the power, how all these people asked him questions, sent him links and recorded response videos in response to things he’d said.

 

The feminism question came up.

 

He avoided it because Markus had been around the internet enough to know it was something you embraced or avoided. Milo Yiannopoulos had said it was cancer, and Markus had agreed, if you got it, it was probably a fight to the death.

 

It had started as a joke, and the reaction had been immediate.

 

He appreciated the response videos at first. The back and forth bumped up his ratings, and when he started getting cheques from advertising on his channel, he had to sit down, his head swimming with shock at getting money for just saying what was on his mind.

 

He decided to get the cancer, and go down fighting.

 

He recorded videos about feminism.

 

The Wage Gap.

 

The Pink Tax.

 

Rape Culture.

 

Transgenders.

 

Patriarchy.

 

He took it to operatic. By the time he started recording them, his delivery had sharpened to the point where he was entertaining, which made them more offensive to people on the internet. It was nice to quit the shifts at the coffee shop, and it was really nice to move out and buy an apartment but he never knew how to respond to all the emails.

 

Markus was enjoying it too much to wonder how long it would last.

 

New things drew people’s attention.

 

Which was when Dr Zoe Morgan, started recording her response videos and Markus fell, if not in love, then at least in hate, which was just as good and meant his fleshlight time had a feverish, furious intensity.

 

He wanted to go out and meet women. He’d get swiped on, but as soon as anyone searched for him, he would be unmatched. The search algorithm was a mirror and Markus did not like what he saw there. So, when she reached out, with her painstaking videos, trying to take him apart from fallacies and insults about his manhood.

 

He responded with a new level of invention, a kind of hatred which drew attention and views in the way dogshit drew flies. He recorded animations about her, mocking her nasal voice with a sound patch as he imagined her in pornographic scenarios. Animals. Bodily fluids.

 

She published a chat transcript.

 

Rachel. He’d had one of those three a.m. panic attacks where he went online to look at the views on his channel, to see tangible proof of his worth. Even a hate watch was advertising revenue for him, and Rachel had been commenting and emailed him a photo with the ripe promise of cleavage and full, soft lips. She caught him when he was weak, and he spilled a lot of the immature, inexperienced sentiment to her in a chat which left him shaking and happy at the same time.

 

He read his words again, feeling his shame slide up his throat like vomit as he clamped his hand over his mouth. Markus used to do it at home, and now in his own place, he wanted someone to hear his pain and come to help.

 

They were all on the internet, when they could have been spending time together.

 

Markus took 50ccs of anger and walked away from the laptop, trying to get into the space where he could record a response to it.

 

No, not a video.

 

He was on the server in five minutes. Her name and address.  A good part of town, and her degree was in sociology, of all fucking things. He picked up the phone and dialled 911.

 

Markus let his fear come, had it squeeze tears from his eyes and tighten his throat.

 

‘Please, you need to send someone, there’s a man with a gun in the house across the street.’

 

He gave the address, then held the phone away from his face and cried out in alarm before disconnecting the call.

 

It didn’t feel as good as he hoped. Lashing out like this wasn’t as satisfying when he couldn’t see her face as the cops bust in.

 

2.

 

Jake flexed his fingers inside his gloves, gripping the barrel of the AR-15, trying not to think about his sister-in-law coming over tomorrow. She sneered at everything in her little sister’s house, and it made Jake itch to stand up and smack the smugness from her kike bitch face. Kelly was doomed to be single forever, with her multi-coloured hair and cats eye glasses, a permanent case of resting bitch face which haunted Jake’s dreams.

 

Last summer, she had announced she was trying out girls for a change and got upset when no one cared. Jake decided to be grateful on behalf of his fellow man in a dignified silence. He didn’t want to upset his Lisa over it. He loved her in a solid, quiet way but Kelly got under his skin like a chigger.

 

Underwood tapped him on the shoulder.

 

‘Get your head on straight, we’re on point.’

 

The call had come in, home invasion in a good area and the shift commander was a big fan of the SWAT unit and liked sending them in wherever possible. Uniforms were standing by, good cops but sometimes the police liked to remind people they were there.

 

Jake nodded and roadie-ran out of the truck, onto the sidewalk and up the steps of the house. He gauged the door wasn’t that strong and kicked it hard, inwards.

 

He saw half of the girl’s face, the locks of purple hair, the colour of cough syrup and the gleam of spectacles and the rifle was up. It was the thing in her hand, dark and long, which put his finger over it. A small prickle started in his upper lip, the residual irritation he felt for Kelly feeding and heightening the adrenaline coursing through his system. 

 

The red stain on the sweater made him pull it.

 

3.

 

A cherry red slushie, a single drop falling from the straw onto the front of her sweater as she had sat there, watching her hit count rise like t-cells in an infected patient. She had the first cheque in the bank, and she had been thinking about being able to move out. It was embarrassing to have a PhD and be living with her parents.

 

Picking fights with anti-feminists had been a good way to get attention.

 

Ir8G8m3r had been a great foil, and although she had found the idea of pretending to be someone else to get him talking about himself, she had fought a horrible, inappropriate emotion running though her.

 

Empathy. Another person who was screaming how together they were, how righteous yet without the ability to make real choices about their lives. She was angry at people who criticised her field because it was the source of her self-esteem. Rachel could not get a good paying job out of it, but she could call herself a doctor and no one could take it away from her.

 

Not without drawing blood.

 

She had sauntered to the door, flush with triumph at a future away from the house before it killed her.

 

The door had been kicked open as she checked her instagram feed on her phone. She had shrieked as the man in black combat armour aimed the rifle at her and fired.

 

Two rounds punched through her.One went through the brachial artery in her left arm and the other slipped in under her collarbone and punched through her subclavian artery. She did not fall down, the blood loss sending her deep into a pocket of deep, shuddering cold before she felt her legs go numb and the ground rushed up to meet her.

 

4.

 

Markus started getting messages.

 

They came in from everywhere, but really they were all one message.

 

He had been chatting with one of his friends, struggling not to tell him how he had swatted Rachel, when the messages came in. He left the chat server and checked his social media feeds.

 

The questions emerged, like lesions rising on the skin of his virtual self, and then the news reports. His anxiety buzzed in his head like insects had nested in there. It drowned out his thoughts, and even his perception of time, watching the world spit spite at him for his actions.

 

As he heard the thumping on his door, he thought about Bobby and wished he’d never gotten away from him, the lead slipping through his fingers as the car sped down the street. He wished he had said something to his dad, stood up to him for hurting something which had only known how to love him.

 

Markus knew how Bobby felt as he got up to answer the door.  

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fiction, short fiction, women

Cycles


birth

(https://www.deviantart.com/art/Freedom-19490162)

Mira rocked back on her heels with her forearms folded across her shins. She counted the days off, keeping part of her mind apart, counting everything down in units of her own design. Exhaustion leached the will from her in small, sharp bites but she had her hate to keep her warm.

 

HOW’S IT GOING IN THERE?’

 

Paul’s voice went off like a bomb. Mira closed her eyes and grunted with the discomfort. She opened her eyes and glared at the wall. There were no joins or purchase to be made. No one visited apart from Paul. He had started off pleasant, but as she continued to resist, his tone remained cheerful but his frustration revealed a sharp malevolence in the volume he used.

 

‘IF YOU’D JUST ACCEPT OUR TERMS, YOU CAN WALK OUT OF HERE TODAY.’

 

She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled her lips back over her teeth as she shook her hair out.

 

‘Fuck you.’

 

Her bravado was genuine in short stretches. The torture would break her, she knew, because it broke everyone but instead Paul would ask, she would tell it to fuck off and it would go. The isolation made her thoughts bank to the left like a plane in a storm but deep inside her, she nestled a tight bud of bitterness. She would be free or die trying. There was a war on.

 

There was always a war on.

 

Her pack of sisters had been planting plastique spikes in the foundations of Science Cities along the eastern seaboard. They used magnetic propulsion boards to get in under the surveillance but ran into a solid ambush which took out three of them in the first wave and another four in the second. Mira was disabled with a sonic cannon, tuned to a frequency which resonated with the gut, made her fall over, barking out vomit and crying with the pain before the soldiers picked her up and tossed her into the back of a transport.

 

She woke up inside the egg and started counting.

 

Over the first few weeks, she had retrieved a small comma of pork bone, sharpened by gnawing on it when the lights were out and then slipping it back against the small of her back, slick and cold but possessed of definition by her actions. Mira would have to get up close, aim for the soft parts and punch the bone knife in hard and fast before moving on.

 

Today represented her 272nd day of captivity. Mira wondered if she could trust her sense of time, but it kept her from going soft, even if she were just logged into a cognitive-temporal loop, meat wired up which meant her caveman knife was a useless affectation. Mira nursed the discomfort as proof she was present in her own body, most simulations established a pleasant baseline and here she treasured each cramp and pang as proof of autonomy.

 

‘BECAUSE, MIRA, WE’VE GONE AS FAR AS WE CAN BEING POLITE, ESPECIALLY WITH YOU BEING A LOW YIELD ASSET.’

 

‘Then fucking shoot me.’ she said.

 

Paul laughed and it made Mira coil up as her head rang with the bright pain of excessive volume, like the world had become the bass bin at a metal concert. Her stomach lurched and she swallowed hot, acidic bile until the sensation passed.

 

‘IT’S BEEN FUN MIRA, BUT YOU HAVE A BIT OF TIME TO DECIDE BEFORE WE ESCALATE.’

 

The silence rushed in, cool and soft but she stayed on her haunches until the pain and nausea passed.

 

Mira called down each hour into being by force of will, then let it pass without regret. She went through the labour in silence and as the eighth hour passed, a section of the smooth white wall softened and opened, an organic aperture through which stepped a functionary dressed in grey overalls and carrying a baton, crackling with blue light.

 

She stood up, stretched out her hamstrings and launched forwards, hand reaching for the bone knife and swinging her arm to aim for the functionary’s unshaven, flaccid throat. His face was clownish with surprise, but he brought the baton up, ready to catch her on top of her head and put her down. Mira had waited for this, despite the discomfort and endurance, here was where she felt most alive.

 

The bone knife punched through skin and windpipe as Mira turned into the blow and kicked him in the knee, breaking it with a wet snap which toppled the functionary over. She did not watch him fall, but instead snatched up the baton and sprinted for the door in the wall. Mira had seconds to make it and as she slipped towards the warm, pulsing darkness.

 

The tunnel teemed with humid perspiration whilst pearlescent ropes of fibre hung overhead, sending data and power through the complex. Mira turned the baton in her hand as the alarms began to scream.

 

She made out echoes of voices, the soft beep of attentive machines along the corridor and she moved towards them, heart racing and each limb shivering with the anticipation of violence. Another section of the corridor was padded with thick slabs of scarlet muscle, dilating and throbbing in sequence to close the distance. She made it halfway through before the muscles closed around her and she was forced to rely on what strength remained within her.

 

She shut her eyes and shoved forwards. The baton slipped from her grasp before she could use it on the muscles crushing her between them and she fought for every inch of progress she made.

 

‘THAT’S IT, MIRA. FIGHT FOR IT.’

 

Paul’s voice was loud but it did not hurt anymore. She kept fighting and pushing until her lungs burned and her hair was plastered to her scalp with sweat. The edges of her vision blurred as she felt herself relinquish her grasp of time. The muscles were massaging her between them, coating her in a thin film which began to shrink and tighten, contorting her limbs and tugging her hair away in gelid clumps. A scream brought it inside her mouth, softening her teeth into a thick paste which she spat away, nerves sizzling in an orchestra of agony.

 

Mira fought until there was nothing left. Diminished and mutated, she gave a last cry of defiance as she compacted down and all she was fled away.

 

They passed her over, tiny lungs working at their fullest. Denise sobbed with relief and joy as she watched her daughter with utter awe. She looked up, trembling with too much emotion at her lover, who stood there, struggling not to weep and reduced to a reverent silence. Her Mira had arrived and it was all worth it.

 

‘She’s perfect, Paul, you had nothing to worry about.’ she said.

(http://ko-fi.com/mbblissett to leave a tip)

 

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fiction, politics, short stories

A Thanksgiving Guest

Paul sat on the kerb, staring out at nothing, shuddering despite the blanket wrapped around him.The African medallion hung from his neck. There was a single drop of blood splattered across it. Detective Harris stood across from him as she kept an eye on the CSUs processing the scene. He glanced up, brown eyes watering and bulging in their sockets before he ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘You got a cigarette?’he said.

 

She handed him a soft pack of Marlboro Lights. He took one but his hands shook too much to light it. Harris lit it for him and he inhaled with a junkie enthusiasm. When he thanked her, his voice was soft and mannered.

 

He told her what happened.

 

He put it as a joke tweet. A list of priced services to provoke reactions. Running up on your creepy uncle cost twenty dollars. Mentioning Black Lives Matter and giving hard stares at anyone who challenged him was ten dollars. He said he would bring a plate and microwave it. He referenced Ving Rhames in ‘Baby Boy’ over Sidney Poitier in ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’.

 

Erin Mayhew sent him a direct message and a few messages later, dropped a chunk of change in his bank account. A photo of her made the prospect appealing. Paul thought she was pretty with curled blonde hair and a full, soft build running to fat although her social media feeds were a little confrontational, even for him.

 

Harris noted how he paused afterwards before she asked him to continue.

 

He picked her up from her dorm, driving an SUV and she kept touching his knee on the drive down. Paul looked away and Harris asked him what happened.

They had fucked in the back seat, and Paul felt a little objectified even as she came three times. It was, he admitted, the only time she stopped talking about how awful her family were.

He took the sealed plate of ribs, chitlins, collared greens and cornbread in and adopted a rolling, beligierent swagger as Erin giggled and whispered how he should go all in on Trump. The money was good and it would be a good story to share online later, he told himself.

 

The table was heaving with food and a centrepiece which was a clamshell draped with twigs and dried flowers sprayed silver and gold. Erin’s parents, David and Maria were soft, polite people who struggled to make eye contact and when Paul passed his plate, his stomach soured with distaste as he stared out David without speaking.

Erin grinned with an awful mania as they sat down. Paul told the detective how her uncle wore a MAGA hat at the table, and spoke to Paul about the last Kendrick Lamar album. They were polite to him and every cent he earned came up to haunt him. It was awkward and his nerves made his performance halting and inconstant but he believed things would pan out for the best.

 

Which was when the jar of vicodin came out. Erin’s aunt Laura had a back injury and good insurance, dished out the pills from her purse and Paul shook his head when she offered. Erin took two and frowned at Paul before she said something to her uncle Eddie about Roy Moore.

 

Paul cringed at Erin’s zeal before he noted how much it was reflected in her uncle and father’s arguments. They repeated talking points gleaned from the internet, their voices rising and falling as they scored points off one another. Paul saw sympathetic glances thrown his way from Laura and mother but he kept moving his stale cornbread around the plate and kept silent.

 

The hairs went up on the nape of his neck when he heard three words which haunted him.

 

Black lives matter.

 

All lives matter.

 

He studied his plate like a midterm and wished he had been anywhere else than at the Mayhew Thanksgiving dinner.

He asked Harris for another cigarette before he carried on. His hands shook harder and tears ran down his cheeks as he continued.

What broke the moment was Erin mentioning the Trump admission recorded by Billy Bush, which was cue for Laura to defend Kevin Spacey and her sister turned, indignant and spraying flecks of turkey and sweet potato as she stated how her sister always resented her theatrical talent.

Paul said he was relieved when the argument became personal rather than political but the observation lasted as long as it took for Laura to reach into her purse and take out something other than pain medicine.

Just pain, he said.

The Walther had a lady grip and it looked small in her hands as she lowered the barrel at her sister’s chest and pulled the trigger.

Mrs Mayhew’s mouth formed into a perfect oh as she fell backwards, clutching her chest. Paul flew back from the table as Laura turned and fired at her husband, his red MAGA hat popped off his head with the force of the bullet.

Erin smiled as her aunt shot her in the forehead.

Mr Mayhew wrestled with her, his thick hands dwarfed hers before she fired into the rounded bulk of his midsection and he slumped forwards, making choking sounds as he bled over the table.

‘Did you like the centrepiece?’ Laura said.

Her voice was a rasping screech as she pointed the gun at him. He nodded with as much enthusiasm as his terror allowed him. She had borrowed it from a picture Ivanka posted before she turned the gun on herself.

 

He butted the cigarette out and looked up at the detective. The best ideas start as jokes, and so do some of the worst.

Harris sat down on the kerb and asked about his family. He said they argued and loved with the same volume and his father had voted for Trump but he had his reasons.

‘Families are fucking weird.’ he said.

 

Harris smiled and nodded. She’d left her house after her husband had let their daughter pull down a tray of brownies from the kitchen table whilst he was playing with his phone and she had read him the riot act. She gave him the rest of the pack of cigarettes and gestured for the paramedics to come back to him.

‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ she said.

Paul wept as she walked away.

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