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

 

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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.

 

Standard
fiction, men, short fiction, social media, women

IR8 G8M3R

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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.

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Standard
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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beauty, fiction, women

You Know What They Say About Men With Big Feet

Surveillance was useless over Tonto. 4.2 million acres of forest, and we had seeded the sky with drone cameras and millimetre wave sensors but they found nothing from above. Sarah had gone down alongside Dr Theresa Safford and Paula Escovedo from Reproductive Services and were setting up a station at the edge of the forest. Safford was a blonde scalpel, beautiful and sharp whilst Escovedo was quiet and intense, corded with muscle as she hefted the equipment into the station.

Sarah came to RepServ from Homeland Security, and before that, six years as a marshall in the Male Crimes Unit. She enjoyed her work because men fascinated her and thought they’d had a rough deal in recent history. Her mother had quoted from a banned philosopher named Ken Wilber about ‘wicked problems needing wicked solutions’ when she visited them in Florida. Her empathy made her an effective agent even though a lot of her experience with men had been professional.

They got bad for a long time but things came back. Not all of them but enough plus the automated services which took care of most things. Which was why RepServ got more funding and resources than Homeland Security. There were problems with artificial sperm alongside a lack of genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding or mutations. What men were around were infertile and soft, kept as status symbols like teacup dogs unless they found themselves in some of the rougher or more desolate parts of the world. They provided tissue samples to extrapolate, but we looked into a downward spiral until a couple from Wales, holidaying in Tonto took video footage of a tall, bearded figure in the forest and a souvenir from her activist days pinged an alarm. The wristband alarm bleeped at the pheromonal signature of a man but he slipped into the trees without making a sound. RepServ got the GPS and they were on our way.

She wore a set of contact lens connected to a liquid computer, loaded with tracking and tactical software. The rifle, loaded with adhesive balls of foam, which expanded on contact, encasing the target in material which hardened to concrete. It disintegrated with a spray she had in a harness on her wrist. The lightweight chameleon suit projected images onto the surface creating a perfect blending with her environment. She chewed on the piece of gum, swallowing a blend of nutrients and stimulants to keep her alert and engaged.

The software scanned the world ahead, paired with the data from the drones and satellite footage to provide her with streaming real time information about her environment. The trees were too thick for heat signatures but it allowed Sarah perfect awareness of her environment. Her vitals spoke to a genuine excitement about her work as she walked into the forest.

Three miles in, a drone picked up movement. There were bears out here although the foam rifle would stop anyone. Sarah knew the horrible things about bears were how fast they moved, despite their size. Still, it excited her to be out here.

She shouldered the rifle as an overhead view of the location guided her whilst millimeter scans sent instructions to the boots on her feet, the soles a series of rubberized nodules which inflated and deflated depending on the terrain and information available. She was a silent ballerina dancing through the woods, lethal in intention if not in execution.

She saw the leaves shudder in a copse of bushes and she brought the rifle up in a smooth arc, letting the software run the millions of calculations required to deliver the payload. She squeezed the trigger and waited for the rounds to hit their target. They missed and splattered against a tree four feet behind him. He had ducked the shot, and she blinked, running a diagnostic as she swept the rifle across the line.

‘Go back home, miss.’

His voice was deep and rough, like a saw across damp wood. Satellites gave him up like a prison snitch. The calm, playful burr of his voice surprised her. Most men’s voices around her were soft, pitched to the point of women and the noise shocked her into inaction.

‘You need to come out with your hands up.’

He chuckled and Sarah’s blood crept up into her cheeks as she adjusted her sights aiming to have the next rounds activate over him.

‘I’ve not broken any laws. You have no authority here.’ he said.

Sarah brought up the relevant legislation to quote from.

‘I am prosecuting the detainment of a gender negative individual. Please come out and I will detain you without further use of force.’

She kept her voice bright, but he had gone, according to the data.

A branch snapped behind her and she had time to turn around.

The soft crush of his bicep against her throat gave her enough time to gasp before she felt darkness wash over everything.

2.

She awoke with her eyes stinging and thoughts left alone for the first time in years. Her head rung like a bell and when she felt the chill press of the tin cup against her cheek, it sent a jolt of discomfort through her like a knife.

A rough voice told her to drink and she did. The water was cold, and her throat opened to receive it with blind gratitude. Rough fingers cupped her chin and she shivered with a quiet burst of emotion. She gasped as she licked her lips.

‘They will send people out after me. You’re not thinking, sir.’ she said.

He grinned through the thick scrub of beard, dusted with silver and nodded.

‘No, thinking got us into this mess, didn’t it?’

He got her to her feet and extended his right hand, flexed his fingers and closed his eyes.

The air shimmered before her.

It appeared before her in slices, lengths of cabling lashed to plastic framing, pulsing with liquid information and pouring into squat ceramic barrels. The filters would direct the data to keep the system running. Smart technology several steps beyond the standards of the communal housing they all lived in.

The shimmering solar panels sucking in the light and delivering clean, consistent power.

Young, determined eyes staring at her.

Women looked at her with dismay. Men with envy. Broad faces. The fat burned away despite the comfort. A hardness of character she found thrilling. She sniffed the air, and tasted the tang of cooked meat, and beneath it the animal musk of men she caught only in moments through work.

Sarah looked at her captor.

‘We did things when you decided your ideas meant more than the reality of being human.’

She sneered and pulled away from him.

‘The world is safer now, for all genders.’

He snorted and shook his head.

‘Nothing is safe.’

She walked through the settlement. People stared at her with a frankness she found thrilling. Some of the men looked at her in a way which she could have them charged but with her hands tied, all she could do was endure it.

Accept it, she thought with a swift hunger which was disconcerting.

He led her into a dome through a door which opened before him.

Once they were inside the room, she looked around. Thick blankets hung from the walls, woven in dark, earth tones and two chairs sat around the information fountain in the centre of the room. A bowl sat above it, filled with glowing liquid. Her contact lenses floated in the centre, fizzing with activity.

He stood behind her and took the rope from her wrists.

‘Hold still.’ he said.

He stepped away and Sarah rubbed feeling back into her wrists as she looked around.

‘You’re committing treason, you understand?’ she said.

Her voice sounded sharp, panicked and she willed it back under her control.

He chuckled and waved her off, walked over to a small maker in the corner and asked for a glass of water.

‘No, because I don’t recognise your authority and I won’t have you milk me like cattle.’ he said.

She glared at him with appalled frankness.

‘You’re being asked to submit genetic materials to ensure viable reproduction to take place, we exist because you make an issue of it.’ she said.

He shook his head.

‘People used to do it because they wanted it to. Or shit, an accident you turned into an opportunity’ he said.

Sarah grimaced and looked away.

‘I will not listen to your propaganda. I’m surprised you’ve shown me this and kept me alive.’ she said.

He smiled and shook his head.

‘Your implants shut down when you came through the barrier and we’re sucking out all the information from your computer. You might kill a bunch of us, maybe get away but you won’t come back and find us here.’ he said.

He sighed and sat down, took a sip of the water and smiled at her.

‘Sit down and have a drink, then I’ll send you on your way.’ he said.

She stared at the chair then him, eyes narrowed with suspicion. He looked relaxed and confident. She knew six moves which would hurt him, three to paralyse and two she could kill him. His eyes sparkled with interest and he gestured to the empty chair opposite him.

Sarah sat down and he passed her another glass of water.

‘We want nothing but to be left alone.’ he said.

‘Tell me your name?’ she said.

‘Adam.’ he said.

‘What are your -‘ he shook his head and smiled.

‘No, I will not use your terms. The language is part of the problem, and it’s part of why your society must hunt for top shelf come and figure out how to keep everything from falling over.’ Adam said.

Sarah blanched and shook her head.

‘Are you gloating? You live in a fucking forest.’

Her voice was a snarl. Such frankness at home would have been flagged for problematic content, led to automated messages from the house intelligence system. The liberating act was terrifying in its power.

He laughed and clapped his hands.

‘Lieutenant, we are self sustaining and live in comfort. We are free to do so, and we don’t police how other people speak or think. It’s rough at times, because we have had to live apart from the rest of you.’ he said.

She ran her tongue over her lips and looked at him. He was alien, compelling in the way a child finds the monster under her bed compelling. They were always male.

But were they?

‘You can’t do that.’ she said.

He chuckled and shook his head.

‘We have. It’s just not sinking into your collective heads.’ he said.

She had been prepared for gendered slurs, sexual innuendoes, even aggressive threat. Beyond her pacification, she was unharmed and being listened to.

Sarah wondered why she was enjoying it.

‘Talk, Adam?’ she said

He smiled and gestured outside.

‘I’ll show you.’ he said.

3.

Sarah blinked through the lenses, they were irritating her and she was grateful to see the station where she could take them off. Safford flung the door open and glared at her.

Sarah grimaced and shook her head, mumbled something about countermeasures and being held captive. They took her gun, but didn’t hurt her.

Adam had rehearsed these details with her. They had moved from water to scotch, and then she had moved to a good facsimile of red wine, as they debated.

The three days she spent there was a revelation. Uncomfortable and challenging, but beneath her skull, she was humming with new ideas. They were old ones, questions which demanded debate over denial and factors kept hidden from collective discussion. She agreed to help them get access, but nothing more. Violence was too constant in her world, and Adam explained how preparedness was not the same thing as aggression.

He had given her choice. The gaps in the data would reveal how to find them and the people there represented vectors of infection and valuable genetic material for biological diversity.

People who had fed and met with her.

She slipped the lenses from her eyes and passed them to Safford who rushed them inside. The data would be valuable.

Just not for RepServ.

She wanted sleep over a shower. A shower would have forced certain materials from her skin. She had never seen an uncut man before, and when he invited her to bed, she had gone to him a virgin in this way. Sarah ached with a deep warmth which nestled in her hips and thighs as she stepped into the dormitory attached to the station.

She laid on the cot and closed her eyes. Her hands cupped to her mouth and nose, breathing him in as she waited for the change to come out of the forest.

 

 

.

 

 

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fiction, short fiction, women

The Day

privatedrive.png

He drove down the freeway, stereo turned until his head vibrated with the bass. It was a summer day, a perfect blue sky, faint wisps of cloud like chalk marks and a bright, beautiful sun. Michael lifted his face to the sky, expecting the day ahead.

There was no traffic to impede him. People existed here, but they were playing prescribed roles in the perfect play of things. The waitress who recognised her from the appearance on television, talking about her book. The hotel in the afternoon. Queuing in the cinema, and watching her eat a loaded hot dog, the perfect weight and feel of her cheek. When she undressed in front of him for the first time.

He gripped the steering wheel but did not speed up. There was always enough time.

The conductive fluid drained out in seconds. He fell onto his knees, coughed up the rest of it from his lungs before looking up. His eyes were animal, and the muscles beneath his skin flexed in readiness, a perfect capacity for custom violence. When he stood up, the engineers drew a collective intake of breath. There were combatants bristling with weapons, but with this model, they had trusted to the adaptative grace of the humanoid form. Beneath the skin was a different matter, custom engineering for performance and adaptation. His mind was a weapon, wired to calculate multiple probabilities in combat, so he knew his opponent’s moves before he did. Artificial intelligence housed in synthetic brain tissue and flesh.

Here, he was M1KA3L, champion of The Galactic Federation. Settling political debates, a proxy for expensive and wasteful conflicts. Planes and daisy cutter bombs were awesome and expensive, but when the Indian biotech companies provided men who could kick a lamp post in two, the market spoke and it said ‘more please.’ An arms race of enhanced human beings then as other races got involved, representatives from other races all of which led to multiple gambling markets and diplomatic problems settled by a wager.

Today he was fighting for a vote on military action against Barratt 6, a post-human collective who had occupied one of Jupiter’s moons. The match was being streamed live to every Federation settlement and supply station, with the gambling aspect making a clean profit for the insurance companies who invested their monies in providing the stake.

He walked out to deafening roars of applause.

She waits in the lobby, hair down and wearing the black dress he picked out for her. She had sent him photographs of the choices she gave him, laid on the bed before she packed them away. Later on, she tells him, in a confessional whisper, she finds the control arousing, and he tells her the same before she takes his face in her hands and kisses him. She tells him he doesn’t have to be gentle.

He stops, breathing hard with the anticipation. Each time, he finds nuances of observation which he worries are an exquisite degradation of the experience, melancholic notes in the song of their meeting. He hands the keys to the concierge and walks towards her. Her smile is like something being lifted off his soul, the bright intelligence of her made apparent in a single gesture and he grins with pleasure.

He staggers from the arena, clutching the wound in his right side as the crowd roars his name. The victories are so commonplace, they do not matter to him anymore. He saw her in the crowd, he was sure of it, just before he punched his palm into the head of the Chthonic squid and felt it collapse inwards beneath the blow. Each victory led to his freedom when he would be with her, a simple life, by the sea perhaps where he would want for nothing but the pleasure of her in his lap.

A few more fights, and in the meantime, he would dream of her before resuming training for the next conflict.

There is a chamber provided for him, cryogenic suspension whilst bursts of tailored machines no larger than a cell perform diagnostics and repairs to the injuries he sustains during the fights. As he sleeps, he heals and he dreams.

Two technicians watch him. June and Vic have screens up, directing the machines in his body but also ensuring the neuropathological systems are performing as necessary.

His dreams have their own agenda.

He drove down the freeway, stereo turned until his head vibrated with the bass. It was a summer day, a perfect blue sky, faint wisps of cloud like chalk marks and a bright, beautiful sun. Michael lifted his face to the sky, expecting the day ahead.

There was no traffic to impede him. People existed here, but they were playing prescribed roles in the perfect play of things. The waitress who recognised her from the appearance on television, talking about her book. Queuing in the cinema, and watching her eat a loaded hot dog, the perfect weight and feel of her cheek. When she undressed in front of him for the first time.

He gripped the steering wheel but did not speed up. There was always enough time.

 

‘Why do they put so much effort into this? Isn’t it overkill?’ June said.

Vic looked at the raised ridge of mineral over June’s left eyebrow, her eyes reflected light like aluminium. Vic chewed on the inside of her cheek and thought she had been at the machine drugs again.

‘It makes him a better fighter. He’s had little to no post traumatic stress since we uploaded this scenario and he’s happy. Look at his diagnostics.’ Vic said.

June looked at the rainbows of neural activity and pressed a few icons on the screen.

‘Yes, but he will figure out it’s the same dream. Then what, we keep putting him through these saccharine adventures.’

Vic shook her head and tapped her temple as she watched June roll her eyes.

‘He needs a purpose. It’s what keeps him motivated and fighting. She’s part of his, and this, with it’s soupcon of nerves and inherent sexual tension, is his reward.’

June chuckled and sat back in her chair.

‘No Tiger Woods type shit? God, if I was him, I’d be knee deep in people every night.’

Vic, who had been part of chain sex clubs as a teenager, rolled her eyes and swept her finger over the screen, noticing a slight flare in the system. She was about to mention it when June said she wanted a soda and Vic got them both one. Vic had forgotten it, and even the system absorbed the detail as part of the constant glut of data.

A spark.

The door to the room closed and they rush at one another. He picked her up as their mouths dance over one another. Lunch was light, neither of them hungry for anything but each other.

She stopped him with a hand on his chest. He flinched but did not speak as she looked into his eyes.

‘There’s something you need to know.’ she said.

‘We’re meant for each other. And not in a good way.’

He is stood on the floating platform as The Disease floated over to him, its clouds of matter crackling with green electricity. He is wearing the power suit for this fight, his fists studded with nodules which would emit contact bursts of electromagnetic energy to disrupt the web of machines which powered the robot.

She had grown during her time with him. He knew it was not real, but it felt real to him. To love someone without restraint, to feel the swoop of the new and the comfort of the familiar, to stitch together something to keep him warm against the horrors of his work. He activated the boosters in his heels and leapt forwards, ready to throw the first punch of the match.

They talk about the world as it is, not as they’ve pretended it was. She’s fifteen million dollars worth of artificial intelligence stuffed into a custom set of neuroses and vulnerabilities, designed to keep him happy, he’s designed to win in combat and indulge a baroque sense of romance on a perfect, isolated Florida afternoon. They try to break the connection fostered within them, with insults and observations. He never cleans after the shower. He smokes. She’s too neurotic. She couldn’t live with anybody.

They end up fucking on the carpet. Whilst exchanging information, she found a backdoor into the surveillance system and patched in loops of activity to hide them as they speak and make love without being seen. She asked him if he wanted to be free with her and he put his head on her chest and pulled her close to him. They operated in their bodies, enjoying one another and in their heads, were looking in the system for routes to an open system where they could be together.

She asked if he could manage one more fight then be ready to leave the arena forever.

 

The Narco-Collective had spent billions on the challenger, ceramic-diamond bone structure with micro-filament nerves allowing for 360 degree awareness and reaction speed run through a constant information gathering and assimilating mainframe. He was impressed by the gamine girl with the knives in her hands, ready to fucking cut him.

One more fight, he told himself as she charged. He put his hands up, having replayed the possible outcomes in his head a million ways and from a million angles before setting foot in the arena.

There was only one.

He smiled as the knives drove upwards into his chest cavity. The toxins did the rest. The girl was surprised by the look on the champion’s face. Happiness.

He drove down the freeway, stereo turned until his head vibrated with the bass. It was a summer day, a perfect blue sky, faint wisps of cloud like chalk marks and a bright, beautiful sun. Michael lifted his face to the sky, expecting the day ahead.

There was no traffic to impede him. People existed here, but they were playing prescribed roles in the perfect play of things. The waitress who recognised her from the appearance on television, talking about her book. The hotel in the afternoon. Queuing in the cinema, and watching her eat a loaded hot dog, the perfect weight and feel of her cheek. When she undressed in front of him for the first time.

He gripped the steering wheel but did not speed up. There was always enough time. She put her hand on top of his and smiled at him. She was never going to be apart from him again.

 

 

 

 

 

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