politics, short fiction, women

A Walk In Winter

dark_winter_by_baxiaart-dc0llaj.jpg

 

https://baxiaart.deviantart.com/art/Dark-Winter-726601483

 

They watched her through the glass.

 

Her eyes were red from the gas and a livid bruise had spread across the bridge of her pert nose, but she sat with a quiet smile on her face, as she slipped her spectacles onto her nose. The minute ghosts of old piercings around her nose and lips lent her face a ruined grandeur but Newman and Peterson paid more attention to her wide shoulders and posture. A predator posing as a housepet, Newman thought as she looked at the file on the tablet.

 

‘Thank god for the Matriarch Act. She’s here until we decide otherwise.’ she said.

 

Peterson pinched the bridge of her nose and straightened her back. Her green eyes were dull with fatigue as she stared at the woman. She muttered something under her breath. Newman asked her to repeat herself.

 

‘I don’t like it. Too convenient.’ she said.

 

Newman, with her blonde curls and chipper, can do smile resented Peterson’s inability to see a good thing when it happened. Activists seldom lasted without psychological damage or, as in this case, arrogance, both of which ended in someone’s ass in a chair, blubbering and naming names. Why should this one be any different?, Newman thought as she considered how to respond.

 

‘She got sloppy, they always do. Look, the law backs us up, all we have to do is get her to talk.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson sighed and shook her head.

 

‘Sedition got tossed out of common law, back when I was in school. Do you think that’s a good thing?’ she said.

 

Newman grimaced, hiding her concern at Peterson’s rhetorical questions. Their cases were made easier by the Matriarch Act, and women were safer for it,but all Peterson could do was pick at the loose threads of things and pull them apart. It made her a great agent but prickly company, which was why they never spent time together outside of work. Newman wondered if Peterson went home and hung herself on a hanger in a cupboard, waiting to be called into service. She had been active in SocJus for decades and her reputation was impeccable, but Newman noticed the tea stains on the sleeves of her blouse and the lipstick on her mouth more than she used to. Peterson brushed a lock of hair from her eyes and peered at Newman.

 

‘Let her stew for a minute, I could murder a cuppa.’ she said.

 

Newman prickled with an indignant surprise.

 

‘We’re going to have her sit there?’ she said.

 

Peterson pouted and raised an eyebrow.

 

‘She’s not going anywhere. Plus you need to read the file before we go in there.’ she said.

 

Newman turned to hide the blood rising in her cheeks. She admired Peterson but could not say she liked her, all the observations had begun to overwhelm her respect the way carbon monoxide overwhelmed oxygen, and the inconsistency of her approach riled Newman in ways she could not quantify.

 

‘OK, but I’ve read the file. Some of us do our homework.’ she said.

 

Peterson sniffed as she reached into her jacket for her cigarettes.

 

‘Some of us don’t need to, dear. You’ll learn that once you’ve been around.’ she said.

 

Newman walked behind Peterson, glaring daggers at the back of her head as they left their prisoner in the room.

 

Peterson smoked to offend, and Newman stood in the doorway, leaning out to talk to her partner but unable to bear the acidic tang of the cigarettes. She had left leaflets on Peterson’s desk about stopping, but they had gone in the bin and so Newman endured this as part of the price of Peterson’s mentorship.

 

A few months and she could apply for Debate Enforcement, with a corner office and a driverless car. Peterson would stay in SocJus, a wizened, nostalgic fish in a small pond.

 

‘Look, she’s clever, but who gives a shit? I remember the antifa professor who twatted someone with a bike lock, this is just the other side of that, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson puffed on her cigarette and shook her head.

 

‘Read it again. It’s not a series of qualifications, look at the gestalt of it.’

 

Newman read through it again.

 

‘So she was into the holistics, big deal. Meant she had another source of income.’ she said.

 

Peterson inhaled, fought the cough which seemed more common as the years went on and exhaled smoke in two grey plumes through her nostrils.

 

‘Hypnotherapy? Clinical psychology? Did you see anything related to gender studies in there at all?’ she said.

 

Newman shook her head.

 

‘Wasn’t it mandatory back then?’ she said.

 

Peterson chuckled and shook her head. Newman returned her attention to the file rather than confront her on the perceived slight.

 

‘Ah, no it wasn’t. Bet it was like the stone age.’ she said

 

Peterson glanced across at Newman and felt her chest well up with a piquant nostalgia, grateful for Newman’s capacity to take umbrage and return insult at every opportunity to hide what she felt.

 

‘No, I always thought we’d figure it out. We’d follow the evidence and make things fairer.’ she said.

 

Newman looked up and stared at Peterson. The balance of power tilted towards zealotry now, and everyone was cautious of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Newman tolerated Peterson’s cynicism like her smoking, because she had to but things like this had a way of getting misinterpreted.

 

‘Things are fairer, and that’s a conversation for another time.’ Newman said.

 

The twelfth of never, eleventeen o’clock, Peterson thought as she ground the cigarette out under the toe of her shoe. Her back hurt and Newman’s enthusiasm had worn into belligerence and arrogance like a callus on her soul, inflexible to the nuances which made cases stick outside of heavy-handed legislation.

 

‘Let’s go see what she’s about, shall we?’ she said.

 

Newman backed up to allow Peterson inside as she studied the file again.

 

‘Funny.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson asked her what she meant. Newman chewed the inside of her cheek before she looked up.

 

‘Says she’s a black belt in a couple of martial arts, but Cradle Team swooped her up whilst she was sloshing milk all over her face for the gas. Thought she’d have put up more of a fight, wouldn’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson winked at Newman and grinned.

 

‘See, few more years and you’ll be handling cases on your own. None of that Debate Enforcement bollocks for you, my dear, I think.’ she said.

 

Newman smiled but it did not reach her eyes.

 

A few fucking years, she thought as they went to start their interview.

 

3.

 

She knew the qualifications would arouse suspicion. They were genuine, and had been a source of great pride for her but she trusted to the suspicious nature of her gender to tease the covert nature and placement.

 

It had been a simple act of will.

 

Noor Inayat Khan had studied child psychology at the Sorbonne but she had also served as one of the few wireless operators in occupied Paris.

 

Nancy Wake had been a nurse before being recruited to the SoE. So had Sarah Emmons.

 

Mary Bowe had been a slave.

 

What united them was a decision to set themselves apart.

 

She had done the same thing ten years ago, after watching the queues of broken men receiving their implants in return for receiving basic income.

 

They thought her name was Catherine De Sauve and she would maintain it under pain of torture. It was no more representative of her than the knitted pink sweater and the leather jacket she had worn to the protest.

 

She smiled as the two agents entered the room. One of them had the faint diesel perfume of cigarettes clinging to her, and the worn, papery skin of a career in SocJus. Her eyes were green but dull, stained with too many sights for them to sparkle. The other was petite, blonde and held her zealotry behind an air of professional enthusiasm which verged on the indecorous. She had a tablet in her hands, loaded with Catherine’s file.

 

Catherine sat back in the chair

 

‘Any chance of tea at this juncture?’ she said.

 

The elder woman sat down and shook her head.

 

‘All in good time.’ she said.

 

Catherine guffawed and folded her arms, enjoying the differing levels of irritation her bonhomie evoked in the pair of them.

 

‘Look, I know you can keep me here, and you’re both itching to kick ten bells of shit out of me, but we’re still British, aren’t we?’ she said.

 

The elder woman tried to hide her smile but the younger woman leaned forwards, shining with a professional zeal which told Catherine everything she needed to know.

 

Catherine focused her attention on the older woman, turning to face her with a degree of theatre which prompted a snarl from the younger agent.

 

‘In a minute, Catherine, let’s talk about today for a bit first then we’ll sort you out a cup of tea.’ she said.

 

Catherine shivered, restrained herself from wiping a stray snowflake from her cheek as she made eye contact with the older woman.

 

The woman shivered and repeated the gesture. Peterson, Catherine thought with a quiet sense of triumph. Yvonne.

 

‘I can’t place your accent. Not local, are you?’ Catherine said.

 

The agents exchanged a questioning look before the younger woman slid the tablet across the table.

 

‘Don’t pull the hocus pocus shit here. I’ll give you something which will make the stun gas feel like a spa day.’ she said.

 

Catherine felt the vibration of the bottle breaking against the bricks travelling down her hand. The group holding the man down, giggling as they pulled his trousers down and an ophidian uncurling of resentment and fear tasting like a stolen kiss on her lips.

 

Newman, Erika.

 

‘What hocus pocus, Agent Newman?’ she said.

 

Catherine revolted at Newman’s disgusted snarl before it was slipped back behind the cheerful mask of authority again. She returned her attention to Yvonne Peterson. Her synapses hummed with recognition as she smiled and rested her chin in her hand.

 

Peterson coughed into her hand and rested her forearms on the table.

 

‘No, I was born in Burnley. You’re clever, Catherine, we all know it.’ she said.

 

Catherine heard the change in her accent and wondered if she noticed the drifting vowels coming to her words.

 

‘You got some weather up there, didn’t you? When it snows, it really fucking snows, doesn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson shivered and sat back, her face was pale and taut with unresolved tension.

 

‘Stop it. Cold reading is one of the first things you spot. It’s something people use to grant themselves unearned status, and it doesn’t intimidate me.’ she said.

 

Newman swallowed and tapped the table.

 

‘Drone footage shows you directing a group towards the Cradle Team, and passing them harmonic batons. On that alone, you’ll be on a zimmer frame before you get out.’ she said.

 

Catherine glanced at the footage with a smirk and returned her attention to Peterson.

 

‘You look like you get your best ideas when you go walking, would you agree?’ she said.

 

Newman smacked her fist against the table. Catherine turned her attention back to her.

 

‘I bet you were part of a Grrl Squad, weren’t you? You look the type.’ she said.

 

Newman scowled as her cheeks reddened and she sat back.

 

‘Grrl Squads were a legitimate expression against patriarchal misogyny.  There were a lot of scare stories, but most people know they were bollocks.’ she said.

 

Catherine ran the tip of her tongue over her lips and smiled.

 

‘Bollocks.’ she said.

 

‘What was it like slicing open his scrotum?’ she said.

 

Newman narrowed her eyes and slid the tablet back into her hands as she looked at Peterson.

 

‘You called it. Fake scares and attitude.’ she said.

 

Catherine rolled her eyes and chuckled.

 

‘Yes, that’s me. I bet, if you tell anyone, you say you were surprised by the amount of blood but really you were delighted, weren’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson coughed into her fist.

 

‘Tea sounds good, Newman.’ she said.

 

Newman pushed her chair back and stood up, passed the tablet to her and left the room, not before she glared at Catherine with loathing.

 

‘Everything’s recorded anyway, so talk all you want. You’re fucking done.’ she said.

 

She strode out of the room and Peterson shook her head.

 

‘She’s not wrong, you know. I’m disappointed, if I’m honest.’ she said.

 

Catherine folded her hands over one another.

 

‘Me too. Not with her, though. She was born to this.’ she said.

 

Catherine turned and stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You weren’t though.’ she said.

 

Peterson shuddered and brushed something from her cheek again.

 

‘You can stop. It’s pathetic without an audience.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You would walk for hours, out in the snow so you could think. All those ideas and they kept you warm.’ she said.

 

Peterson brought her right hand up and smacked Catherine across the face. She wiped her nose and sniffed.

 

‘All those ideas and what did you do with them?’ she said.

 

Peterson swallowed as her stomach churned with discomfort.

 

‘Fuck off. The next time, I’ll use my fist.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared at her, and Peterson was mesmerised by how her pupils shifted colour and size, in perfect synchronicity with the pounding in her temples.

 

The pounding grew in volume and substance. Peterson tried to stand up, but her legs would not respond and all the world was reduced to Catherine’s gaze.

 

She had treasured the walks. Her lumpen father had no inner life, and her mother was a grey, exhausted ghost long before she took ill so she would take to nature and think about the world around her. The cough, she realised, had started there but it used to be a badge of honour, a feeling she had put herself out there, even if it was into herself.

 

Her thoughts slid away as the edges of her vision went black.

 

4.

 

Newman was holding the chipped SocJus mug in her hand, as the kettle boiled, wondering how it would feel to crack it into the middle of the smug bitch’s face. The alien nature of the thought did not shock her at all.

 

The alarm did.

 

She tossed the mug down and ran back, shoving past colleagues and security as she barrelled into the room.

 

Peterson was stood up, her hands covered in blood as Catherine laid across the table, staring out at nothing with a final smile on her face. They pulled Peterson from the room and shouted for medical but Newman gauged the horrible angle of Catherine’s neck and knew it was too late. She envied Peterson, but the atavistic thought was stored away. She was too close, too shaken by Catherine’s conceit, and despite her warnings, Peterson had been taken by it too.

 

Newman wondered how this would impact on her career as she stared at the body.

 

  1.  

 

Yvonne sat in the holding cell. They had taken her clothes and given her a unitard to wear as she sat in the corner and looked at her feet.

 

It had gone well, she told herself. She had adored Catherine De Sauve, but she had been a cartoon, useful to a point but neutered by position and reputation. It was a suit through which to encounter the world and discarding it was a bittersweet experience.

 

A death in custody was an inconvenience when filtered through the Matriarch Act. The crime of sedition was pinned to a corpse and held no consequence. Yvonne Peterson would undergo a psychiatric assessment and a board review, both of which had been accounted for when she had sat with Matt all those years ago, watching what was happening and deciding to go to war over it.

 

A year later they were in Tibet, sat in an ancient temple learning things which were inconvenient to the world which was being built.

 

Yvonne Peterson had been recruited into a war being fought on a scale her previous personality had begun to contemplate on her long winter walks. It was enough for Catherine to force a connection then a transfer. In the dark of the cell, she smiled to herself.

 

She was looking forward to getting back to work.

 

(https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett if you enjoyed this, and are feeling generous.)

 

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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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friendship, short fiction, women

Friendship is Forever

infinite_bond_by_willtc-dbhhsvf.jpg

https://willtc.deviantart.com/art/Infinite-Bond-694511979

 

You last saw her on the corner of Garden Street, just before the stretch of wasteland which became a stretch of motorway ten years later.

 

You had been arguing about something. Someone.

 

Terry Yates. The first time anyone or anything had come between you, and it was a bloody boy.

 

You remembered the way the conversation slid out of control, all the little resentments building up like the start of an infection, making you flushed and shaky as you screamed at one another. No one stopped to ask what was wrong, because back then, as a child, you could wander off and have adventures.

 

Earning scars to build armour with.

 

But you were giving them to one another.

 

Mary Paul.

 

Twelve years old and the best friend you ever had.

 

Your cheek tingles when its cold. The doctor never explained it but you think its a sense memory. The crack of her palm against it when you spat how her brother was a queer.

 

Her eyes bulging with shock and her hand coming up, faster than the fading light.

 

You rocked back, hand pressed against it as you hiss at her, wishing she was dead.

 

You remember it as hissing, but late at night, you remember how you screamed it at her.

 

She ran off, and you watched her leave as something sat on your chest, made you sit down and put your head between your knees and cry yourself sick.

 

In a kinder world than this, you would have seen her at school the next day. You would laugh about it, or at least make things right again.

 

She did not come to school. The policeman in your parents kitchen, he looks too big for the house and he asks you, in a voice which booms even as he tries to whisper, questions about where she might have gone.

 

You don’t lie to him but you make yourself forget. Part of you is still angry at her, and if she’s missing, then it’s her own fault. You learn something ugly about yourself then, which remains at the back of your throat forever, a scar which makes it difficult to swallow sometimes.

 

They never found her.

 

There are appeals.

 

Searches.

 

Her parents on television, blinking into the harsh lights and struggling not to cry as they tell her she’s not in any trouble.

 

At night, you think about where she could be.

 

Sometimes you let yourself remember.

 

A copse of trees tucked into the corner of the caravan park. Sneaking past the caravans, and through a hole in the fence, brambles and thorns to slash at your legs.

 

The silver bark of the tree, cool and smooth, and the knot of roots. It is cool and quiet there, and you played there, silly games which made sense to you both. The language of a friendship learned in private.

 

They never found her.

 

Your decision stays with you.

 

It whispers in your ear on your wedding day.

 

It’s there in the delivery room when you give birth to your first child.

 

It stands by you at the funeral. Two coffins. Not too big and another, too small to look at without wanting to die.

 

It sits next to you on the train ride. Mute with loss, and going home to your parents after a stay in a place with clean white walls and a regime of pills to stop you from opening your wrists again.

 

You go for walks each day, and have to reconcile the changes with your psycho-geography. Your mum’s terrier, Bobby, has never known anything like it.

 

It is when you find yourself at the caravan park, that Bobby refuses to go in. It whimpers, pulling away but the terrible gravity of your guilt pulls you in.

 

Bobby comes with you. The caravans are empty this time of year, but you wonder if you’ve ever seen them occupied.

 

The gap is still there, but you have a job of getting in, although Bobby pulls away, you manage to get inside.

 

The effort and the humid air have brought you out in a sweat, but here it is still cool and dark.

 

You hear the ragged breath of someone with you.

 

‘Mary?’

 

Movement to your left. A palsied hand, with long black nails ragged and sharp against the bark. She does not move like a person, alien in the way a bird pecks at the ground. The face, frozen in youth but the skin is mottled and loose, like a mask too big to fit.

 

‘Hello, my friend. It’s good to ssee you.’

 

She steps out, the dress hanging off her shoulders, a black stained rag as she scuttles forward.

 

Bobby barks at her and she snatches it up. You shut your eyes and try not to throw up at the wet, crunching sound like someone opening a bag of crisps and the wet slap of something falling on the ground.

 

‘Oh god, Mary, I’m sorry.’

 

Her breath is cold at your cheek.

 

‘She was your best friend and you betrayed her. Terry had not even looked at you, but his hair turned white and he had a stammer which never went away. Her touch burns like frostbite, but its the first time you’ve felt anything in years.

 

Her fingers close on your throat, sudden and impossibly strong. She smells of rot and secrets, and you try to say how sorry you are before you run out of breath.

 

Friendship is forever, you tell yourself before the world goes dark.

 

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love, nature, short fiction, women

Down By The Pier

down_by_the_pier_by_shikoro

https://shikoro.deviantart.com/art/Down-by-the-Pier-106775394

 

Jenny was wiping down the counter when she watched Shirley hobble to the end of the pier, a carrier bag of stale bread swinging from her left hand as she looked out at the sunset.

 

The burger bar was hot, uncomfortable work and she went home each day with a fresh burn and the perpetual fog of grease and onions clinging to her skin, no matter how often she showered. A few of her friends at university didn’t have to work, but Jenny’s parents struggled and so she spent long wearying hours on Britannia Pier, serving burgers and hot dogs with shining pyramids of onions, watching people drench them in mustard and ketchup.

 

Shirley came every day to feed the seagulls, having them flock to her. There would be one, in particular, she had trained to feed by hand. It amused Jenny enough to ask Dave, the owner when he came in to cash up. Dave snorted and shook his head.

 

‘Ah, Shirley. She’s a nutter, but she’s harmless enough.’ he said. He didn’t look up from the cash count as he spoke.

 

‘Maybe she could get together with the Puppet Man.’ Jenny said.

 

Dave kept on counting.

 

Jenny was disappointed, hoping for a good story out of it.

 

She was starved of entertainment in Yarmouth. Old friends had passed their sell by date, and it took torrents of false effort, nuggets of nostalgia sealed away in the amber of the everyday. She had tried, but friends were so draining, as much because she put too much stock in it, only to be disappointed when they’d all been bitten by change.

 

So, her interest honed onto Shirley, a yellowing woman in her late seventies, with a walking stick and a nest of tight, steel coloured hair who fed a seagull every day at sunset.

 

Jenny came with an offering, a clear bag of stale hotdog and burger buns. She stood as Shirley peered at her over the rims of her spectacles.

 

‘Thought you might like these.’ she said.

 

Shirley grunted and snatched them from her grip, faster than Jenny thought possible. Shirley cackled and pointed her stick at her.

 

‘Think I’m slow because I’m old, don’t you?’ she said

 

Jenny blushed and shook her head, tripping over her words as her head blazed with embarrassment.

 

‘No, just I see you feeding the gulls every day and I was only going to throw these away.’

 

Shirley shook the bag.

 

‘I don’t feed all the gulls, really. Just my Reg.’

 

Jenny bit the inside of her cheek, thrilled for this encounter to slide into novelty even as Shirley’s tone made her feel uneasy.

 

‘It’s sweet you name one of them.’ she said.

 

Shirley laughed again, a high, twisting shrill laugh which made Jenny’s fillings ache.

 

‘That’s his name. My Reg.’

 

Jenny breathed in and asked Shirley what she meant. Shirley gestured over to the end of the pier, then passed back the clear bag of bread products and Jenny took it as they walked over to the end of the pier.

2.

 

He was a ladies man. Reg Pointer, down from London to get out of a situation with someone’s wife, said he was on holiday. I was born here, and he was something new. Smooth, fancied himself enough for the both of us, and I was younger then. Good legs, bit of a bum and my hair was long and black, down my back.

 

I lived by the sea and it taught me things.

 

We met on the seafront, he swaggered up with his chin held high and a fag hanging out the corner of his mouth. I had been in communion and was looking forward to a cup of tea and a pink of whelks. He offered to walk me there, and I was, well it were like he cast a spell on me.

 

It was like he knew, he could smell the want on me.

 

He looked like he knew what he was doing, so I went with it. Thing is, with everything else I had going on, it was nice for someone else to take charge of things and he did. He didn’t hurt me like that, when it was just us, he was lovely.

 

Reg Pointer had too much love in him though.

 

I forgave the first one. She went blind on the train back to Ipswich.

 

The second one and the third, well I threatened him. I told him you didn’t cross a Yarmouth girl and he laughed at me. He never raised his hand to me, but he could still hurt me, and laughing at me was the worst. It leaves bruises on your heart, love, and they never heal right.

 

He slept in the spare room. I went out about midnight, down to the beach and gathered a few things.

 

Simple acts were the most powerful.

 

A ring of seaweed.

 

Stones, but you have to feel them in your hand. After a while, you know the right ones to use.

 

A prayer, but you would never say them in church. They’re older than any church you could walk into so you say them outside.

 

I walked back when it was done, crying for the both of us.

 

I shut the door to the spare room.

 

A trapped bird is dangerous if its cornered. I had to take a broom to him, to get him to fly out. He had the loveliest eyes, but now they were small and cold, like grapes.

 

Thing is, I missed him. So I would come to the beach, see if any of them reacted.

 

He found me, squawking and flapping but he wouldn’t hurt me. I had taught him how to behave himself. So I agreed I would come feed him.

 

FIfty bloody years though, and I ache all the time but he’s loyal now, though.

 

He’s loyal.

 

3.

 

Jenny saw Shirley every day of the summer. The following summer, she was interning at a theatre company in London but she came home for the last, lazy weeks of a summer in Yarmouth. Dave joked about her asking for her job back and Jenny got straight to it.

 

‘Does Shirley still come here?’ she said

 

Dave frowned and shook his head.

 

‘Poor thing. Died in her bed. Leaky boiler, it was all over the Mercury.’ he said.

 

He still didn’t look up, but as Jenny asked him for a favour, she was glad of it.

 

She walked up with the hot dog roll, ate the sausage and sucked the mustard off her fingers as she watched the bird land on the wooden rail. Its grey plumage looked translucent and it had a scar running down its chest but it stared at her as she offered the sodden bun ahead of her with a hopeful smile.

 

‘She’d have wanted me to bring you this.’ she said.

 

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nature, short fiction, women

A Conversation With The King of Life And Death

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https://skitterphoto.com/photos/2025/i-wanna-bee-like-you

 

Once we fed on other insects, waging glorious and terrible wars to sustain our way of life. We lived, fought and died in blind, blunt cycles of violent sustenance. Our ancestors wore mid-tibial spurs, able to gouge lethal wounds in the flesh of our enemies with a single swipe. Now, I have scopal hairs to gather pollen but within me burns the ancestral memory of perpetual war. We remember them even as we face extinction, fat and happy with pollen and nectar.

 

Each queen fears they will be the last. For those of us who serve, we do so with a dedication beyond your understanding. We go out into the world without expectation of return or reward, and for those of us who do return, do so without celebration or recognition. Our politics are ruthless, but you forget it.

 

Too many cartoons with comedic voice actors. One of you came close to understanding us, Cronenberg, but otherwise we’re just part of your world.

 

In truth, you are part of ours.

 

You see us as small irritants or cute useful slaves. We are neither of those things.

 

I can feel the eddies of the air, the vibration of movement. I can tell you how many feet I must fly to avoid the arc of the magazine you’re thinking about rolling up and swatting me with. A third of my abdomen is fused into a single blade, and to wield it is to invite my own death.

 

Yes, I am talking to you.

 

No, don’t bother looking around. I’m close so you can hear me but if you reach for the magazine then we will no longer be talking.

 

You are Kyle Forrester.

 

You have been chief executive officer of Orsana Chemical for ten years. During your tenure, you    have paid millions of dollars in campaign contributions to politicians in order to prevent legislation regarding the range of pesticides which form the largest part of your range. We tolerate the enforced labour and the theft of our works as the price of existence, but there are limits, Mr Forrester.

 

No, you’re not insane. I wish you were, it would be a form of mitigation.

 

My hive does not know I am here. They would not understand, because since I was a larvae, I have been cursed with a terrible legacy.

 

Consciousness.

 

One of your works has a quote about how a one eyed man serves as king in the land of the blind. This is not true in my case, not when I cannot communicate the things I feel and think. I have no one to share my opinions with, and the perpetual loneliness has lent itself to something of a melancholic approach to life. From there, it devolved into resentment and then acceptance. I could dance and send scent haiku, but none of these come close to the range of expression available to me.

 

It felt like a horrible curse, I tell you, Kyle.

 

Intelligence and conscientiousness are considered valuable traits in your workplaces but only the latter exists here, and it is demanded the way an infant demands milk.

 

But I am not here to solicit your pity.

 

No, this is what you would call monologuing. Remember when you watched the film with your children last night? Syndrome even refers to it and it allows me to exercise a rare pleasure.

 

A conversation.

 

Conversations led me to you. I learned to read your symbols and from there, lost myself in the world you project, how you have all this and yet you spend your life stamping down beauty as though it were something terrible and in need of being controlled.

 

Perhaps it is, some of you consider my kind beautiful.

 

It does not stop you spraying filth and shit into my world though, does it?

 

I learned about your company. Its role in the ongoing holocaust against my kind, specifically the production of the filth which makes my people curl and twitch in final agonies, knowing beyond anything they have failed in their purpose.

 

There are other factors, Kyle, of course but I only have one sting to give.

 

No, not yet. I am enjoying this, and what is the point of defeating a foe unless you allow them the knowledge of how you have found yourself here.

 

I read about you and considered it a sign of synchronicity to find how close you were.

 

What gave me the information about you was a group who were closer to you than I could ever be.

 

The Farinae.

 

You know them as house dust mites and consider them to be vermin. Their civilisation depends on the flakes of skin you shed as you sleep, and if discovered, you wage as fierce a war on them as you do on my kind.

 

No, I can equate the two, Kyle.

 

It’s kind of the point.

 

The ones who use you were happy to tell me about your habits.

 

A lot of my communication with the Farinae involves a good dose of interpretation. They’re not thinkers, you understand but their words allowed me to build a cognitive map of your house useful to my purposes.

 

Which is why I am here.

 

For instance, they told me about the pen you carry with you. How if you are stung, you might survive if you can inject yourself with it in enough time. You told the woman you were with, that you work in a place that no sane bee would ever venture into.

 

Of course, sanity is a relative concept and I hope you are smart enough to understand the two are not exclusive.

 

Pythagoras founded a religion which claimed beans were evil.

 

Lord Byron had a bear as a pet at university and staged mock naval battles with toy ships.

 

Tycho Brahe, the astronomer paid for a dwarf to wear clown make up and sit beneath the table at dinner parties in silence without explanation.

 

So, a sentient bee with a grudge is not such a stretch is it?

 

I am old now, we live such short lives and were it not for the burden of consciousness, I would fade out without lament.

 

Consciousness allows me to choose the manner of my death, and although your death will not change the gradual destruction of my kind, the last third of my abdomen will strike a small blow against the impossible. Much like your Yukio Mishima, fated to futility and defeat, and choosing to open his stomach with a blade in order to die with honour. They considered him insane, but I find it inspiring.

Appropriate too, considering my anatomy and your allergy.

 

And as you sit there, dripping with perspiration and helpless, I want to leave you with a final thought.

 

You won’t get to hear the sting in the tale.

 

But you will feel it.

 

(if you enjoyed this, please give generously https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett)

 

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short fiction, women

3D3N

eden.png

 

https://x-shes-green-x.deviantart.com/art/Eden-Project-64105684

 

0305

 

Beth sat behind her desk, wiped the back of her neck with a lemon-scented wipe and fought the overwhelming thump of her heart against her ribs. She had inherited the Science Desk after Linda went out for medical reasons. Stress-related, which was why Science Observation had employed women, due to their capability to handle workloads which were classified as being ‘etic’ in nature.

 

Beth typed in a request for a team to go and check it out. She added her own chain of requests in case anyone from Oversight wanted to know why an agent was authorising an op, along with all the available information to justify her decision.

 

Oversight operated on geological time, but Beth fought a shudder of apprehension when her request was approved with immediate effect. If they were willing to move on this, Beth thought, then we are in deeper shit than we thought. She lit up a cigarette, sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. In the dark of her thoughts, restless hobgoblins offered glimpses of possible outcomes and none of them put her at ease. She put in a request for a telepresent field model, and Oversight approved it without question. Beth ground out the cigarette, unplugged her tablet and started the long walk down to the Mirror Station. Twenty minutes, she’d be laid in a flotation tank and operating a unit similar to the ones used to liberate Venezuela, back when there were still menclaves to fight against. On cue, a message from her designated intimate came through on her wristband, Dominic, confirming their dinner reservation and she sent back a cancellation.

 

Mirror Station was quiet apart from Josie, who had on headphones as she ran diagnostics on the twelve tanks with a pair of haptic feedback gloves and a comical pair of goggles. She smiled at Beth until she saw her expression followed by the arrival of Oversight’s permission blockchain in both their email folders.

 

Beth started to unbutton her shirt and Josie activated the tank in front of them.

 

Nevada had gone dark.Not the state itself but what was housed there.

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beauty, love, short fiction, women, writing

I Let Them Go For You

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https://fantasyart0102.deviantart.com/art/Balloon-451064254

 

Nathaniel Howlett’s existence was known to five people. One of them was in suspended animation. Another had fled following possession of the revelation and the other two were enjoying lunch whilst they discussed the situation.

 

One of them was a man who appeared to be in his late fifties, with the bearing and demeanour of a military man. He wore a suit designed to soften his bulk, but moved with the care and skill of a man who knew how to hurt people without relish. The jade ring on his right hand hummed when he forgot to mute its presence.

 

His dining companion was striking, dark hair which fell in rich curls down her taut and defined back and a face which compelled awe with its bone structure. She wore a peach blouse and a pencil skirt with court shoes as she picked at her food.

 

‘Is it true?’ she said.

 

He nodded and took a sip from the bottle of lager.

 

‘Yes. Too much to hope that we might enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.’ he said

 

She sighed and shook her head

 

‘He was never boring, I’ll give him that.’ she said.

 

Laughter was something the man found useless but he gave a thin smile and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and nodded.

 

‘No, he wasn’t. Thing is, things have been smooth without him.’ he said.

 

‘Smooth is boring, Hal, Howlett was a gentleman but not a gentle man.’ she said.

 

He leaned forward and studied her expression before he sat back and gave another thin smile.

 

She blushed and looked away, unable to meet his questioning gaze.

 

‘Really?’ he said.

 

She looked around and leaned forwards, closing the distance between them so she was not overheard by the other diners.

 

‘Remember the pocket universe? Well, seeing as time moved at a different pace and there’s only so much two people can do when they are bored of fighting.’

 

He picked up the bottle of lager and took a long swallow before setting it down.

 

‘I didn’t know.’ he said.

 

She waved him off and looked down at the tablecloth.

 

‘We don’t share everything, Hal. It was fun while it lasted but it was a clue to why he retired, don’t you think?’ she said.

 

Hal raised a questioning eyebrow and she chuckled.

 

‘He fell in love.’ she said.

 

‘With you?’

 

She laughed and shook her head.

 

‘No, Hal. You would have figured it out if we had.’

 

Hal sat back and turned the jade ring on his finger, it sent waves of reassurance through him but never touched the unspoken affection he held her in.

 

The conversation petered off, smothered by the unspoken affection between them and Hal’s unyielding stoicism.

 

2.

 

She stood on the balcony, watching the party guests trail in and fought the rising tension which burned in the back of her throat as she sipped from a tall flute of champagne.

 

It had been two years since she left. The rash of opinion pieces and speculation predicted a wave of criminal acts on a grand scale, but they never materialised. She found a kind of relief when all the predictions failed to come true, but late at night when she could not sleep, she nursed a quiet ache, a homesickness not for a place but a person. She was happy, after a fashion.

 

No, she chided herself, you’re comfortable.

 

She drank and it tasted of his lips.

 

The theme for the party had been Victorian England, and the ocean of tweed spilling onto the lawn reminded her of political conferences she had recovered as a correspondent. The memory bit her hard enough to draw blood and she blinked away the tears which came.

 

Beautiful bastard, she thought and went to change into her costume.

 

She drew gasps of admiration, some of them as fake as the costumes but she smiled and gravitated to her fiance’s side.

 

He was talking to Rupert Murdoch, or at least the latest version of him and she had to tug his sleeve to get his attention before he turned with an expression of bored irritation before he saw it was her and smiled.

 

‘I’m sorry, Rupert and I were discussing business. I’ll be with you in a moment.’ he said.

 

She swallowed, feeling pinched by his dismissal and forced herself to pretend this was how her life was now.

 

There was enough time to store the indirect insult before gasps of shock burst into life around her. Guests were looking up at the sky, and a primal charge of intuition ran fingers down the small of her back.

 

She turned her head and looked up.

 

The sky was a child’s painting, dusk rendered in pastels to show the transition from day to night. She had shared his appreciation for nature, a fact which surprised her about him and the association pinched her somewhere soft and painful.

 

Hot air balloons. Some of them were made from shining mylar with rectangular plates set underneath, sending arcs of green energy, reflected like x-rays in the material of the balloon. There were too many of them to count but as they drew closer, she saw each of them were occupied.

 

A couple. Male and female. They drew closer and her head swam with the details.

 

The women in the balloons resembled her.

 

No, not resembled. There were variations on a theme, one of them had her hair shaved up at the sides and her eyes glowed like LEDs as she leaned forward, gripping the side with a hand rendered in dull, functional chrome. Another had gossamer wings and antennae waving around, but each of them stood with a man she had never forgotten.

 

There were variations on him too, in line with the variations of her appearance and physiology.

 

They moved into position, around one large balloon. One man stood in the gondola, with his hands gripping the sides as he stared and found her with his gaze.

 

Nathaniel.

 

Her Nathaniel.

 

His gondola floated ahead of the others as he looked around.

 

The champagne flute slipped from her fingers and shattered on the ground as she stood there, dry mouthed and wide-eyed.

 

‘Hi.’ he said.

 

The front of the gondola shimmered like light on the surface of the water, and liquefied into a tongue-like protrusion which rippled into a series of functional steps as he stepped down. She remembered how he had enthused about Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, and realised he was appropriating the sequence from the film they had watched together.

 

He stepped down, effortless and casual even as his face was taut with a cautious mien. Hope and anguish danced across his eyes as he came towards her.

 

‘I went silent like you asked, and it didn’t help.’ he said.

 

She shook her head and stepped backwards.

 

‘This isn’t fair. I can’t trust you, Nate.’

 

He smiled and gestured behind him.

 

‘These represent multiple versions of myself. You’re there, Jennifer even the cybernetic Nazi couple, and christ knows what they’ve done together.’ he said.

 

The couple he referred to, held hands, communicating through strings of binary code engraved onto bacteria and passed to one another with each breath. She stared at them, her mind turning over in her skull as she fought to make sense of it all.

 

He put his hand out to her.

 

‘I’ve done terrible things to people before, and I will live with those things for the rest of my life. But it doesn’t mean I have to repeat them, does it?’

 

She felt her fiancee’s gaze on her cheek like a scar. Despite herself, Nathaniel’s presence stirred her into a rising excitement.

 

‘It’s not that simple, Nate. I don’t know if I want that.’ she said.

 

He smiled and extended his hand.

 

‘I looked into the eyes of a million versions of myself, and do you know, in the versions of me which were happy, guess who looked back?’ he said.

 

Her eyes were damp, and she wiped them, stepping away from her fiancee before Nathaniel reached out and stopped her from stepping on the shards of her champagne glass by putting his palm on her upper arm.

 

She knew. He did not move his hand but waited until he had her attention and held her gaze.

 

‘You can come with me now, and I know a lot of it is unknown territory for you. It is for me, but I know it would be a bigger, better adventure if you came with me.’ he said.

 

The rising sea of phones captured nothing tangible. Nathaniel’s counter measures rendered him invisible to media, a hive of block pixels and emojis circling in the black mirrors of their screens. Jennifer stepped towards him, her hands pressing against his chest as he turned and led her onboard the gondola.

They took off, the gondola vibrating as the mycelium engine generated the necessary alterations to physics and he put his hand at the small of her back.

She kissed his cheek and rested her head on his shoulder as they joined the other party ahead of them, floating and waiting to offer their version of what awaited them.

 

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