men, short fiction

Dispositio

Nathan and Felicity sat there, papers arranged with a surgical care and wearing identical expressions of smug, glacial triumph. Henry walked into the meeting and swore under his breath at the sight of them.

 

Felicity was the Director of Preventative Measures Against Gendered Violence, she was broad with wide, flat features. Her cats eye spectacles perched on the bridge of her nose. She had an athlete’s build. Henry smiled at her as he strode in and enjoyed the polite scowl of contempt she gave.

 

For one of his books, Henry had researched chess to better flesh out his protagonist, and there was a phrase which came to his mind as he looked between the pair of them.

 

Zugzwang. Where you were in a disadvantageous position but had to move. He patted his phone in his pocket and turned his attention to Nathan.

 

Nathan had a face like a malnourished child He had his legs crossed tight enough to make Henry’s balls ache in sympathy..He inspired a whiff of contempt at how he could not hide his cold glee at being able to bring Henry down. His small head and red bow tie made Henry wonder if he could reach over and wrap his hand around it. He wouldn’t squeeze, but he would hold the manlet in his hand to show him how offended he was in his flamboyant dishonour. Henry would not have characterised Nathan as a eunuch because it implied he had balls in the first place, and there was a nauseous ambiguity to him. Nathan aspired to be nice, and nice men were dangerous, Henry thought.

 

Felicity was in it for the money. Her job was to project her own pain and inadequacies onto the university and took a large paycheck home each month. Henry respected the allure of money, it had brought him here. An award of a contract and a completion bonus at the end of it. Henry saw the furtiveness when she thought no one was looking. She had occupied an ideological niche and saw a way to make money out of white guilt but she carried a wilful diagnosis of impostor syndrome.

 

Most activism in identity politics,chose the wrong targets. He wondered who had hurt these people, fathers, he guessed but he was here as an apogee and it had all started out with the best intentions.

He came to teach writing here, fancying being an Englishman in America and keen to educate young people on the power of story. Henry lacked a formal education beyond having the discipline to write through injury or insult and keep taking all the rejection on the chin. There was an element of ego in it for him and when he sat with the applications for the course, he had visions of inspiring bold, feral writers to tell good, engaging stories. He sat with the stack of applications and a notebook to write his thoughts.

 

Lauren was expanding the bandwidth of what it meant to be a woman. She wrote a piece about growing a beard but it was not the possible transgressive act which dismayed Henry. There was no story, just a diary entry. An unpublished draft of a blog post.

 

She put more detail into her biography. The list of preferred pronouns, the word salad of their sexual identity which amused Henry until he realised it was not part of the story. Her writing meandered, nothing moved and it did not even have the tang of nihilism to mitigate it. Competence of technique but no story at the centre which bored Henry rigid.

 

Jennifer wrote about dating her father’s colleague but it was so self-serving and boring, Henry struggled to finish it and even the end escaped him. She left for college and he went back to his wife. They didn’t even fuck, just held hands and she cried. Henry wanted to believe a better story was in there.

There was one who was angrier than the others.

 

David did not surprise him. He was thin, with sharp, ascetic features and a genuine humility. He had changed over from business studies and talked about having to work two jobs to cover tuition for the rest of the year. Henry recognised the hunger in the writing, but winced at the clumsy leaps in narrative, the obsessive need to describe everything. David wrote about a woman, who he did not name but he knew well. Something had passed between them and then broke them apart. An old boyfriend, and David wrote about his feelings for them. An act of violence and the day before it happened, captured in spare, detailed language. Walking through the corridors with an assault rifle, looking to save his girl from a bitter, loveless marriage but facing armed resistance on the way. It was a power fantasy, but so was everything Henry wrote, so he was kinder to the work because it showed genuine promise.

 

‘Good afternoon.’ Henry said.

 

Nathan gestured to the chair and Henry sat down, put his shoulders back and stuck his chest out. He held Nathan’s eye until he looked away. Felicity turned the first page.

 

‘Mr Ellis. We are investigating a complaint of gendered violence and trans phobia from a student.’ she said.

 

Henry gave her a pointed look and smiled.

 

‘Who?’ he said.

 

Valerie frowned and looked towards Nathan.

 

‘That’s confidential.’ Nathan said

 

Henry chuckled which made the pair of them sit back in their chairs.

 

‘How many students have complained?’ Henry said.

 

Nathan pouted and looked at the papers in front of him.

 

‘One or over one student has registered a complaint -‘

 

‘Which is it? One or over one. Do I possess Schrodinger’s Student, Nathan?’ he said.

 

Valerie sighed.

 

‘This isn’t helping, Henry -‘ she said.

 

‘Mr Ellis, thank you. Let’s keep this formal as much as possible.’ he said.

 

Valerie nodded and looked down to read from the statement.

 

‘In a recent round of feedback, did you describe a student’s submitted essay as childish?’

 

Henry chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘No, I said the story was childish. I am trying to teach writing here, and I’ve sought to be constructive but nothing makes them look up from their phones.’ he said.

 

Nathan simpered and looked down at his paperwork.

 

‘Did you refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns in class?’

 

Henry sighed and put his hands together.

 

‘It became difficult to remember them once we got to the fifteen mark. Nathan.’ he said.

 

Nathan’s face was still. Henry looked for a reaction but Nathan lifted his chin. Henry observed how the second and third chins were drooping with age.

 

‘Please answer the question’ Nathan said.

 

Henry sat back in the chair.

 

If they’re terrified of feedback then they are in for a terrible shock, aren’t they?’ he said.

 

Felicity sighed and turned a page over.

 

‘Please answer the question, Mr Ellis.’ she said.

 

‘I did not refuse.’ Henry said.

 

Nathan wrote something down and looked up at Henry.

 

‘Your methods of giving feedback are problematic’ he said.

 

Henry drew his lips back over his teeth.

 

‘So, is that an official position of the university, Nathan?’ he said.

 

Nathan adjusted his bow tie and Henry returned his attention to Felicity.

 

‘So, Schrodinger’s Student has complained. I think it’s an excuse because I’m honest with them about the areas of development they need to work on.’ he said.

 

‘We’re here to protect the students. ‘Felicity said.

 

Henry breathed in, taken aback and incredulous as she gave a slow blink.

 

‘From whom? They’re in a university. I’m here to teach them and I shouldn’t have to work so hard to do it. I’m trying to disabuse myself of the idea it can’t be taught, but some of these students are the worst blend of narcissism and puritanism.’ he said.

 

Nathan saw Henry’s passion as panic and he leaned forward as he made notes.

 

‘Well, when Human Resources receives a complaint or complaints, we investigate it.’ Nathan said.  

 

‘They’re children, and you won’t let them grow up. If they have issues with how I teach, they’re welcome to discuss it with me.’

 

Henry noticed how the corners of Felicity’s mouth flickered upwards. It was not a pleasant sight, seeing the pleasure she took in the dull sport of this meeting.

 

‘Do you feel you’re being accused, Mr Ellis?’ she said.

 

He pressed his palms together.

 

‘ It’s ridiculous and unwarranted.’ he said.

 

‘But you can understand why some of your students feel threatened by you?’ Nathan said.

 

His enjoyment was clear, the flamboyant dishonour there in his smug smile and looking down his nose at Henry.

 

‘No. I’m clear my comments challenge but it’s guide them to produce stories of quality and appeal.’ he said.

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

‘Mr Ellis, some of your students are suffering from neurodivergence and their gender identities are threatened by your approach.’ she said.

 

Henry’s temples throbbed as he sat back in the chair.

 

”You’ve used words but I’m not sure they meant anything.’ he said.

 

He wanted to point out it was almost a pangram, but he decided against it. He glanced around at the airless, antiseptic office. It saddened him how at ease Nathan and Felicity were, fragile and domineering without the cheer of outrage to warm them.

 

‘Is this a formal meeting?’ Henry said.

 

Nathan and Felicity glanced at one another. Henry got to his feet.

 

‘You two keep looking at one another like you’re in a play and you keep forgetting the lines.’ he said.

 

Felicity furrowed her forehead and looked down at the paper in front of her.

 

‘Mr Ellis, this is not a formal hearing.’ she said.

 

Nathan took a sealed envelope from the pile of papers and held it out for Henry. Henry’s chest ached for a moment at the frustration and disbelief of what was happening.

 

Henry looked at it but did not take it. Nathan held it out for him for a painful, awkward moment before he set the envelope on the table and pushed it across to him.

 

‘Opening it means I am acknowledging it. Which I am not. So tell me what’s in there.’ Henry said.

 

Nathan smiled, showing baby teeth behind thin, bloodless lips before he composed his expression into a false paternalism.

 

‘Your behaviour has breached section 3 of our gendered violence and conduct policy. Pending an investigation, the dean of faculty has agreed to suspend you until we’ve carried out further interviews.’ he said.

 

Henry fought the urge to reach out and grab Nathan’s head in his hand and grip it. His affected effeteness offended to Henry on a personal, visceral level. He felt his body throb with a focused burst of aggression but he took in a deep breath and got to his feet.

 

‘What policy?.’ he said.

 

Felicity leaned forward.

 

‘It was introduced at the most recent racial and gendered violence awareness workshop.’ she said.

 

Henry narrowed his eyes and studied her.

 

‘The voluntary one?’ he said.

 

Felicity nodded and leaned forward, confident in capturing Henry in his own words.

 

‘It was mandatory for HR and pastoral staff, but everyone was invited.’ she said.

 

Henry craved a cigarette, but he used the urge, felt for the hole in the story here with the same brute discipline and insight he had fed on when no one was reading his work and he was learning from failure more than success.

 

‘So, it was voluntary. I learned it in the Royal Navy, never volunteer for anything.’ he said.

 

Felicity sat up in the chair and regarded Henry with a neat disdain.

 

‘These workshops allow us to know the signs of racial and gendered violence.’ she said.

 

Henry didn’t want to sneer but Felicity irritated him. He never knew how to argue with American women. Men, he could prepare himself to escalate into violence with. Women were capable of being vicious actors but they could never agree to the weapons used in the duel. He drew the blunt club of his obstinance and swung it at them both.

 

‘And introduce policies I’m being suspended on.’ he said.

 

Henry had, back when he had day jobs and sidelines designed to distract him from taking on the fear of writing anything, he had been a trade union representative. The irony had not been lost how he defended members from bullying and harassment, and here he was, decades later, being accused of it.

 

It made him sad how the world had changed, and he rubbed his closed eyes with his fingertips.

 

‘I’ll expect to be paid and have access to witness statements before any further meetings.’ he said.

 

He could have raised many things in his defence but he saved it. He thought about David, had sent the first story to his agent in a gesture of genuine enthusiasm. A man did things to help others, through helping himself. It hurt him because he took pride in being a mentor to those willing to accept it and he was accused of it being abusive.

 

The shots rang out from the hallway. All three of them flinched. Nathan yelped and got up from the chair and moved towards the back of the office.

 

Henry stood up and went towards the door. He swallowed, heart thumping in his chest as he reached for the door.

 

‘Henry, please.’ Felicity said.

 

Henry closed his eyes and opened the door outwards. He took a deep breath and walked forwards.

 

‘I’m coming out. Please don’t shoot.’ he said.

 

He waited for the shot.

 

There was a broken sob, and it hurt him to hear it.

 

He opened his eyes and turned around.

 

David had the assault rifle held to his shoulder. His eyes welled up with tears as he looked past the front sight and smiled at Henry. He wore a black long sleeved t shirt, grey camoflague pants tucked into boots with a perfect crease down the front. Henry admired the precision, until he saw the people laid on the ground behind him.

 

‘Mr Ellis.’ he said.

 

Henry’s mouth went dry like autumn leaves and his next breath was a chill in his lungs.

 

‘What’s with the gun?’ he said.

 

He floated above himself, watched him stand there as David lowered the rifle. He shuddered and shut his eyes as he shook his head.

 

‘I wrote all those words for her and she’s fucking engaged.’ he said.

 

Henry fought tears as he nodded.

 

‘I’ve been there, David. Writing about it helps, the good and the bad.’ he said.

 

David sucked in a deep breath.

 

Henry tried not to look at the slumped body in the hallway behind David.

 

There were screams echoing from everywhere.

 

Henry walked towards him and opened his arms. David shuffled towards him and Henry realised how the first story, his best if he was honest, was a plan.

 

‘It will be all right David.’ he said.

 

David shook his head as he slipped the rifle off his shoulders. Tears streamed down his face and he stared into Henry’s eyes with an intensity which hurt to look at. Henry imagined it would hurt less than a bullet so he kept his eyes with David as he put the rifle on the ground.

 

David shook his head and grimaced.

 

‘No, I won’t. But you’ll be okay, Mr Ellis.’

 

Henry smiled as his eyes grew damp and he swallowed.

 

‘Call me Henry.’ he said.

 

David grinned and reached to the small of his back as he lifted his chin. There was a terrible, blank joy to his face as he lifted the small pistol and pressed it to the side of his head.

 

‘Goodbye, Henry.’

 

He squeezed the trigger. It turned him liquid and he poured onto the floor.

 

Henry went over to him and knelt beside him.

 

He stayed there until the police arrived. Nathan and Felicity went on six months safety leave and the accusations went away. He signed completes for anyone who requested it but there were less than he expected.

 

Those who stayed, listened, but he missed David in the classes even when he learned about how he shot the girl he talked about, and her fiance. They had shared one class together but never spoke beyond a few words. He wrote to David’s family, but they never replied. People took his submission of David’s story as a publicity stunt because checking the dates would not be as good a story. It was an irony David would have appreciated, had he lived.

 

It was during the Christmas break on a flight back to England for Christmas with his family, he wrote about David in a small black notebook. He was tired enough to let himself feel the grief and the first few lines, written in the sealed warmth of a ride home through the blur of tears.

 

 

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creative writing, fiction, short fiction, women

A Bridge For The Furies: Leviathan’s Church

timthumb

The idea that an organisation might form to advance the cause(read appetite) of Leviathan would not surprise anyone, least of all Cara. There was something to all intelligent life that pulled towards destruction, no matter how enlightened they might otherwise be.

It was an impulse that existed long before Leviathan, and if it were defeated, it would exist long after it.

Cara had dealt with every flavour of nihilism, in a variety of species. When she had spent a cycle on Feruba, she had found a species of intelligent plantlife who had spliced in herbicide producing glands into their matter and launched themselves into the city-forests. After wandering around a region once the size of Newfoundland, reduced to withered scrub, stood over the reeking bodies of plant-people curled up into the pugilistic position common to the victims of fire, she had debated whether she had much fight left in her.

The spirit of Leviathan was there at every book burning, every call for censorship from left or right of the political spectrum, it hid between the spaces in the speeches of politicians, preachers and activists. In terms of active advancement, there was a church.

One follower.

One high priest.

One woman.

She had, before her discovery and conversion, been a poet of the Gublai-7, a variation of humanity that had been far in advance of the version of Earth that Gloria, Olivia and Drea were recruited from. This was due to the lucky escape of Hypatia, the Alexandrian mathematician from an angry mob of Christian zealots in the 18th century and the resulting leap forward in mathematical development for civilisation. Gublai-7 was once part of a post-Singularity collective, sharing information at light speed, with an array of enhancements and modified organs that made her capable of great atrocities and inventions.

She had travelled out to the edge of her universe, modified for deep space travel, lungs and stomach packed with a nutrient rich clay that released oxygen and nutrition over glacial periods, solar-collecting wings that extended around her, sailing through the vacuum, in constant dialogue with the rest of her collective. Her senses were sucking up information, collecting and translating solar signals, radio frequencies, the white noise of space collected and made sense of with the fervour of a zealot.

When she saw the increasing amount of absences in this information, the husks of civilisations, her curiosity drew her deeper and further into the path of the Leviathan. She lost communication with her collective as she passed beyond the limits of her parallel universe and came face to face with the Leviathan.

It was love at first sight, if love were truly the destructive, withering entropic force that it sometimes felt like. It decided not to drain her of knowledge, and made an offer she could not refuse.

She returned as its herald, led it to her universe where it fed with a terrible and fervent glory upon the rest of her collective and the other brilliant, shining points of light in the universe that she had renounced in favour of the only entity she considered worshipping.

This was the flaw in Cara’s plan. She knew that terrible gods and intelligences drew worshippers like shit drew flies, but Leviathan was on a scale that challenged her enough to miss the details.

That Leviathan had a herald.

That Iria was sat in the same bar, watching Cara with the three women, transmitting every word of their conversation through a subspace frequency which Cara mistook for the beginnings of a tension headache, through to the Leviathan.

 

 

 

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fiction, short fiction, women, writing

Three Items Left

 

Lauren had been listening to the radio all morning, waiting for the breaking news with a focus that lurched between panic and deep.bleak relief. Listening for the wail of sirens or the snap of gunfire. Sean and Jeff had reassured her that it would all be fine. Go in, get the money, then get out. She had told them where everything was, the codes that Mr Downman-Love had trusted her with, in the blithe, patronising way that he had treated her since she started there. She looked around at the yellowing walls, sat on the sheets that carried the faint tang of ammonia from the industrial laundry that the motel used. She looked at the phone in the room. It made her wonder who made calls from hotel rooms, and if the phone held the memories and feelings within them. Like Grandma’s house after she died. How the light through the curtains showed the motes of dust, dead skin cells and the smell of her decay, stumbling through darkened rooms, having to be spare about switching the light on. Not eating, for days on end, a small life, hemmed in by walls and rules.

Lauren sat and watched it. She needed the toilet quite badly, regretted not using the restroom at the last gas station. Remembered how the lights flickered inside, and the smears against the tiles, black in the lights and decided that she could hold it a little while longer.

She had taken today as holiday. Mr Downman-Love had sneered at the suggestion, but Lauren had said that she had a wedding to go to. A cousin, light on the details, heavy on the feeling. She was going to be a bridesmaid, she fluttered at him. It would have charmed anyone but it just made him uncomfortable. He said that he would find it difficult to cope without her, but he signed her request and confirmed it by email. She said that she would leave him a list of what was needed.

She wasn’t going back but it would not matter.

She just didn’t want to make her absence obvious, just explainable. There was a wedding, and a photographer but she had used the distance to gauge how long it would take. Lauren had got that little trick handed down from her dad. How he would plan journeys, rest breaks and even driver changes. He was not around to disapprove of what she was doing but he would have understood. The dust of disappointment had been ingrained into his skin, left his dreams as powdery husks that would not withstand a stiff breeze.

He would have understood her desire to be free. Life had started brainwashing her early, but she had resisted, kept some small part of herself apart from everyone else. They lived in two dimensions, caged in neat little bursts of cursive. Bars of black ink, flush with the margins and reviewed every day.

Her lists.

This last list, much like all the others, had started with one item ticked off already. That was a little trick that she had read about, to get yourself into the mindset that you will achieve what you set out to do.

She took out her notebook and checked it again. There were three items left today, but they were the most important parts.

She heard a car pull into the parking lot. Closed her eyes and took deep breaths.

A knock at the door. Two rapid taps followed by a triplet. She got up and opened the door, Jeff’s breath made her grimace, the coppery stink of panic and stale cigarettes that oozed from him. She let him in, and Sean followed, his thin chest rising with each breath. He had the case in his hand and he kept his eyes outside.

Jeff sat on the bed, leaning forward and giving a whoop of relief. Sean grabbed the chair. Laura had worked out the distance and left the chair there. She had designated the other bed as hers, which was closest to the bathroom. She relied on them, right now, reverting to boys in their panic, and all she had to do was be firm with them in a way that didn’t hurt their pride.

 

‘You want to play some cards.?’

She shook her head. She smiled and said that she was going to use the bathroom.

She heard them talking through the door. She turned the cold tap on and looked at herself in the mirror. Life was short, and this next item was the most difficult to do. She picked up the small holdall and reached inside.

The box of latex gloves.

The dust mask.

The quilted oven glove. Brought from a flea market two towns over, stained with the meals of another life.

The revolver. She had put on her list to remember to pick up the shell casings afterwards.

She put the gloves on, then the mask, fascinated by how she looked in the mirror. Her eyes glittered with a cold excitement and she remember item five.

Remember to breathe. She picked up the revolver, it’s nickel plating glowing in the harsh light of the bathroom.

She wasn’t lying about needing to pee, but that wasn’t on today’s list.

She counted to five, slipped the oven glove over the revolver and her hand, turned around and unlocked the door. She cocked the hammer back and opened it up, bringing the gun up to fire. Hours of time at the range punching holes into paper targets.

Two rapid taps followed by a triplet.

She looked at them both, the mask was damp against her face. If she got stopped, they could test for gunshot residue in her sinuses. Now all that was left, was to clean, leave the room spotless and get on the road. Their faces had sagged into permanent masks of surprise and in Jeff, the disappointed sneer of someone who never had skin in the game at all. She felt for them both, she really did but they lacked the imagination to make a go of running and never coming back. She had featured that on the list, written down the pros and cons of each of them, deciding in the end that the column on the right held the stronger argument. That, and the contents of the safe in Mr Downman-Love’s office would not go as far three ways. She would have asked if there had been any point to it, but it seemed like a wasteful task to put down.

If it was not on the list, it did not exist.  Jeff and Sean had been crossed off, two neat lines through their names. She would burn the paper later, once the list was completed.

She went through into the bathroom, picked up the empty holdall and took it back out. Two more items to tick off and she could be on her way.

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comics, creative writing, creativity, culture, empowerment, fiction, politics, process, short fiction, short stories, strength, Uncategorized, war, women, writing

A Bridge For The Furies 5: Performance and Cocktails.

alienabar

(This is a photograph of a bar designed by HR Giger. I know, right?)

Previous episodes are here, here, here and here.

Cara ushered them through a set of double doors into a small lounge, where chairs shaped like clam shells were arranged around rectangular tables. Which would not have attracted anyone’s notice aside from the fact that everything floated a good foot above the floor.

Cara caught their mutual expressions of disbelief and laughed.

‘Rare earth magnets and molybdenum. They can take the weight of a Gysterfanica warpod, so we’ll be fine, I promise.’

She gestured towards the bar.

‘Now, I will get us drinks, and you have to trust me here. There are at least eighteen things on the menu that will kill you and about thirty that will turn you blind or insane.’

Drea chuckled and shook her head.

‘Sounds like my kind of bar. Although what the fuck is a Gysterwhatever?’

Gloria saw that Olivia had turned tense and pale, she put a hand on her shoulder and asked if she was okay. Olivia gave a tight nod and took a deep breath.

‘It’s a lot to take in, you know? My biggest concern was keeping the farm running and maybe someone to run it with, ya know?’

Gloria saw the pensive light in her eyes and expressed a true pang of sympathy for her. At least her and Drea had some form of pop culture to inoculate them against all of this, but Olivia was experiencing the cognitive dissonance that would result from giving a Victorian lady a Hitachi Magic Wand.

‘If it’s any consolation, I am ready to run around screaming at any possible minute. So look, let’s keep this in perspective. If you’re mad, then so am I and if we’re not, then we see what she has to say. Deal?’

Olivia managed a terse smile and put a callused hand out to shake. Gloria shook it and grinned, surprised at the strength she manifested in a causal handshake. Farm girls, she thought. The contact was enlivening and grounding, reminding her that she was not the only one going through this.

Cara came back with a black slate tablet and gestured to a nearby table.

‘Drea, a warpod is a species of an intelligent mollusc race that used to cause all kinds of shit, but they’re absolutely hilarious once you get over the whole cultural barrier. Now let’s sit down and I can fill you all in on the next bit.’

Drea frowned and pointed to the tablet in Cara’s hands.

‘Where are our drinks? If I’m going to listen to more space cosmic shit, then I want at least one entertaining anecdote to wake up with.’

Cara rolled her eyes and placed the tablet onto the table, where it sank into the surface with the ease of a pebble dropped into a body of water. Four tumblers emerged from the mass of the table and immediately filled with an orange carbonated liquid.  In the centre rose a small column that began to glow and hum with a sequence of different colours. The air around them vibrated and became tangible against their skins as they sat down.

Drea picked up the tumbler and took a sniff. It carried an oily, citrus scent and when she brought it to her lips, it was thick and warm with the aftertaste of bubbles. She set it down and stared into space for a second then looked at the three of them in turn.

‘When I used to watch Star Trek, they all used to drink these fruity, strange looking drinks and I always wondered how they tasted.’

Cara picked hers up and raised it.

‘Here’s to mayhem.’

The three women looked at one another, with mutual apprehension before Olivia and Gloria took sips of their drinks. When their powers of speech returned to him, Gloria asked if she could have a drop of water added to hers. Cara chuckled and said that she could, but only if she wanted it to explode in her lower intestine. Gloria set the drink down and it melted into the body of the table.

‘That’s a perfectly fine Undara Surprise you’re not drinking.’

Gloria winced and shook her head. She leaned forward, forearms resting on her thighs, afraid to touch the table in case it did something to her. She had always believed that the future would appear bizarre and at too high a velocity for a traveller from the past, but she could not say whether this was the future or not. Cara was the only recognizable human, and Gloria noted that her syntax and intonation had an odd, stilted quality to it.

‘I’ve had enough surprises to last me a lifetime. So, now that we’re all settled, why don’t you tell us what we’re supposed to do.’

Cara downed her drink in one and set it onto the table.

‘I like a woman who gets down to business. So, I’ve chosen the three of you-‘

Olivia coughed as she took another sip, with her eyes glazed over and a beatific smile on her face.

‘This stuff is…yeah…it kind of creeps up on you, don’t it?’

Drea tried to give her a thumbs up, but the brain-body connection that she took for granted had surrendered to whatever was in the drinks. Instead she gave a sloppy grin and tried to arrange her features into some kind of order that denoted mindfulness and concentration. She failed, but she figured it was worth the try.

‘It’s okay, it wears off in a bit if you just have the one, plus I’ve got RB’s if anyone’s a bit too off their tits.’

‘Arby’s?’ Gloria said.

Cara shook her head.

‘Receptor blockers, basically sobers you up  instantly. I swear by them, especially with the diplomatic functions I have to attend.’

Gloria sat back and decided to go with the confusion. Source yourself in nothingness, she told herself and let it all happen. She remembered the retreat at Spirit Rock meditation centre, how it had removed the thorn of grief left in her heart’s paw, but it still stung when she moved.

‘Anyway, so what makes us so special?’ Gloria said.

Cara pointed at her with her index finger and the platinum ring there began to glow with a soothing amber light.

‘You in particular, or in general?’

‘THIS BOY WEARS COVERS, KIND OF HIM TO FAINT.’

The four of them turned as a Klee cloud from earlier billowed into the room exuding drunken indignation, which resembled in it’s scent signature, a gas station bathroom at four a.m. Cara rolled her eyes.

Olivia raised her hand.

‘The guy said it was because ah can shoot.’

Gloria fought to keep the consternation from her face, for fear of offending Olivia, who had inspired a protectiveness in her even though they were roughly the same age. There was a lack of sophistication to her that Gloria warmed to, from the very first. Cara gave her the thumbs up.

‘Yes, you, my dear, are a regular Carlos Hathcock. Also you give off a tremendous amount of potential energy when viewed from my particular perspective.’

Drea sat back in her chair, cautious because she realised that she was sitting in something with no apparent means of support.

‘There’s better fighters than me, out there. No shame in that.’ she said.

Cara nodded, in agreement.

‘Again, I’m working from a particular set of criteria here. Sure, you may not be Ronda Rousey but all my data centred around you three as a cluster of possibility.’

Gloria chuckled.

‘You’re using English, but I will be damned if I know what you’re talking about.’

Cara’s humour left her and she fixed Gloria with a look that could freeze the blood in her veins.

‘I could give you reassuring techno babble, none of which you would understand and we could waste time. I chose you because all the horribly sophisticated intelligence arrays and the experiences I have had, most of which will have shortened my life expectancy by centuries said that you three would be the most effective means of subduing -‘

Olivia cocked an eyebrow.

‘Y’all said kill.’

Cara nodded and waved her off, her attention focused on Gloria like a magnifying glass on an anthill.

‘Subdue, kill, either way if we don’t stop the Leviathan, there will be months of diplomatic wrangling, some messy and futile military action and then nothing.’

‘Nothing doesn’t sound that bad.’ Drea said.

Cara blinked slowly and sat up, pulling her shoulders back and lifting her chin.

‘When I say nothing, because my fear is that Leviathan will eat creation itself, or enough of it to make sure that our lives, inconsequential as they may be, are no longer around to be mourned.’

Gloria tried to imagine nothingness, much like the concept of zero, it took a great deal to approximate the idea of it. Endless possibilities, ended and she would never see or experience any of it. She thought about it on a smaller, more manageable set of concepts. No more running in the mornings, no more books to be written or read. No more ‘I love yous’.

‘So come it falls to you?; Gloria said.

Cara winked at her.

‘You know how Bond was the bastard of the British Empire, you know, everyone knew it was him coming if you messed with the empire and he was going to kick seven shades of shit out of you, raid your liquor cabinet and shag your girlfriend?’

Gloria smiled, warmed by the endearing swagger that Cara projected.

‘You’re the alien equivalent.’ she said.

Cara winked at her and made finger pistols.

‘Got it in one, but part of it means that I get a degree of levity that means I can move resources around faster than organisations or governments can. You three are assets that all my intelligence shows to be the most effective, least messy way of sorting this out. I outfit you with the kit, point you in the right direction and we all go home at the end of the day. That’s really about it.’

Gloria chuckled and shook her head.

‘I write books, what possible kit do I think I can get from you?’

Cara reached inside her jacket and retrieved a slim case, the kind that you would find a decent fountain pen within, a gift set that looked classy but showed little to no consideration. She slid it across the table to Gloria.

Gloria looked down at it, then back up at Cara who gave her a challenging, smug expression. She opened it slowly then looked up and sneered.

‘False nails and contact lenses? How the fuck am I meant to save creation with that?”

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 

 

 

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beauty, creative writing, fiction, short fiction, short stories, strength, Uncategorized, war, wisdom, women, writing

A Bridge For The Furies: 4.

carina_nebula_by_eso

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

‘THE LEVIATHAN MAY HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE WITHIN THIS SPHERE BEYOND GROWTH AND FEBRILE AMBITION’

Olivia stood there, looking up at the luminescent cloud that moved against the prevailing gravity with the liquid insistence of a jellyfish. Each time it spoke, it produced flashes of brilliant light that stripped her of comprehension, such was the awe with which she beheld it. Since she had crossed the bridge, she had seen enough wonders to last her a lifetime, although she had arrived unaccompanied.

Drea backed up against a wall, her hands pressed against it and found that it flexed like a muscle against her. She turned around, ready to throw a punch. She kept telling herself that this was all simply a dream. She told herself that again and again, until the words were robbed of meaning.

Olivia felt quite proud of herself. She had not immediately lost her mind or control of her bladder. It might have been the presence of the rifle, even though everything around her was on a scale that made her wonder if a bullet would do anything other than embarrass her, rather than wound or kill anything. She had not seem Heimdall since she agreed to cross the bridge.

‘Sorry about the ceremonial stuff. There’s a lot of protocol around this sort of thing, so we have our work cut out figuring what the best way to get someone over is.’

The three women turned their heads to follow the source of the explanation. She stood, with her hands up in front of her, dressed in a black suit, tailored to accommodate her lean hips and long legs with a white shirt and a black bow tie. She had short, black hair that was combed away from a high, regal forehead. On her fingers were an assortment of rings, that each gave off a soft glow, in a myriad of colours that caught the light and did wonderful, interesting things with it.

‘Who are you?’

Gloria was the first to say it. A headful of stories gave her something of an advantage in adjusting to whatever and wherever this was. She had seen a man make a bird of fire with a single phrase.

SOWAHIMTIPSNU.

It sounded like a shaman clearing his throat, and she found herself saying it in her hand like a mantra, hoping that this would all start to make sense. Part of her wondered if she hadn’t simply broken something in her head, laid there at the side of the road, flesh dimpling with the cold and the rain in her eyes.

‘I’m responsible for the three of you being here.’

Drea narrowed her eyes and examined the woman’s face, cast in a perfect mask of polite embarrassment. She was waiting for her to stop making sense and go inscrutable like the white haired woman had. ‘Sob carefully, the headwinds will cost you tears’ She wondered if there was meaning in that.

‘No, I had some girl with white hair that she smacked me around with and I was in the, I don’t know, future or something.’

Olivia guffawed and shook her hair out.

‘I was taking the scenic route home, came across a bridge, turned out to be magic, who knew?’

Gloria smiled and realised that if this was all a product of her broken brain, then it was at least worthwhile and quite well realised. She hoped that she would live to write about it. There was at least a book out of it, which was an unkind but honest phrase that she used with every rejection and tragedy.

Until the last one.

‘So, I met someone who was named after the god of stories, you -‘ she pointed to Drea.

‘I’m dreaming.’ Drea said and shot a harsh look around the room to challenge anyone who said different.

‘OK, so you are in a dream where you fought some trope from wu shu cinema and I pretty much had the same experience as-‘ She looked at Olivia and smiled at her. Olivia blushed and gave her name, in a voice gone smooth and soft, like whipped cream from the earnest look and the smile that Gloria gave her.

‘I’m Drea, pleased to meet you two.’ She shook hands with the pair of them, tight, dry handshakes that spoke to a desire to wake up now please, even if it was all couched in a polite, awkward play of manners.

The fourth woman clapped her hands together.

‘Ok, so I am Cara and this is a good news, bad news situation. You all know that something big and horrible is supposed to happen and you’ve been asked to come and lend a hand.’

Drea folded her arms and smirked.

‘Is that the good or the bad news?’

Olivia chuckled and winked at her. She had spirit, which Olivia always liked in anyone.

‘No, it’s a preamble. The cloud up there is a diplomat from the Klee, who are a species of gas based lifeforms. Very intelligent but they communicate in chemical signals and the translation software we use makes them sound like that. However, what it’s referring to, is what’s coming.’

Gloria remembered the word. Leviathan. An old testament word, even writing it down made it look it was carved into stone or word. Big fish, she remembered, in that way that made writing fun but the rest of her life awkward and uncomfortable.

‘So, the bad news is that the leviathan is really bad?’ Gloria said.

Cara grimaced and pressed her palms together.

‘Well, it’s a lifeform that someone created just before the heat death of a universe, and it then starts travelling backwards through time and space. Eating everything in it’s path.’

Drea put her hand up, realised that she was beginning to experience the onset of a tension headache.

‘When you say everything, what does that mean?’

Cara’s face grew serious, which made the three women very nervous.

‘Time, space, everything. Mostly though it eats stories.’

Gloria fought a burst of nausea at the thought.

‘So, I get that this is a problem but we won’t be around to see it happen, I mean, time and space, are pretty big. Infinite kind of big.’

Cara frowned and gestured towards the klee cloud.

‘So’s the leviathan. We’ve been feeding it to see if there was a way to poison it or anything but it’s relentless.’

Olivia looked at the rifle in her arms, the care and attention in hours of polishing and oiling it, making sure that each part worked with clarity. She experienced the sadness of how impotent it was, here on this scale. She looked up.

‘It won’t stop, will it?’

Cara shook her head.

‘No, it won’t. But I have an idea.’

Gloria looked up at the klee cloud again.

‘And I take it, seeing as there are alien diplomats, that there’s a bit of a problem getting between your idea and actually doing it?’

Cara pointed at her and grinned.

‘Six points for Gryffindor. Yes, so I thought I would just go ahead and do it.’

Drea sighed and raised her eyebrows.

‘Do what?’

The woman’s smile widened in a way that made the three women nervous and excited at the same time. A smile that promised trouble, the spontaneous, hilarious kind. For the three women, that meant individual experiences and regrets, but this was a woman who spoke intimately about the scale of universes and stories with an exactness that convinced each of them that insanity, a brain haemorrhage or a simple dream might have been preferable.

‘We’re going to fucking kill it.’

TO BE CONTINUED.

 

 

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A Bridge For The Furies

wooden_bridge_by_jginn-d4nj0ke

Olivia had ridden down this path a thousand times, there would be points that even the bird calls appeared when they were supposed to. It gave her a sense of place. That there was somewhere certain in this world that she might call her own. Back at the farm, she had to watch her dad move a little slower, getting up in the middle of the night and guiding him back to his bed, too big for him now, before he pissed by the front door again.

She had to endure snide, through gritted teeth visits from her sister, who had married an accountant in Carson City, and seemed it to view it as the final act of separation from her earnest, corn-fed relatives. Olivia could not stand the nails on a blackboard accent that she affected and her husband, Thirwell, had a furtive air to him that she could never warm to. She could not have told you her nephew’s names if you had put a gun to her head, which was just fine with her.

She liked life at the farm, even though it would have been nice to have a girl to share a bed with, someone who smelled nice and made pies. She wasn’t the sort who’d know how to go about finding one, but she still dreamed about it with a wistful, hopeless anticipation that ached like indigestion.

When she turned the last corner back to home, she saw the bridge. The gulch had been considered a waste of government funds to cross, not when twenty miles up the road, they had the railways in there now, which meant it saved people a bunch of money. Olivia had been amused by the idea that there were places in the world that men came up short against. It was to her shock and dismay that someone had decided to poke a small hole in her ideas, which she wasn’t that sure she liked all that much.

It extended into mist, carved from wood with an attention to detail that made her take the horse a little closer. It was polished, old wood, oak most probably and it gleamed like a million years of polish had been lovingly massaged into it. What took her eye next were the carvings, black shapes and patterns that she found difficult to look at straight on because they would set off a humming sensation in her head that made her straight want to puke up her eggs and coffee.

If she turned her head though and looked at them askance, she could make out the shapes of the carvings without too much effort. She had practice at doing that, going to the church dances, in the only good dress she had, feeling like a mule wearing a tie and trying not to stare at Betsy Currows. Olivia’s furtiveness saved her life, in more ways than one.

She got off the horse and tethered it to the rocks. She patted it on it’s flanks and took the rifle off the back of the saddle, slid in a couple of rounds and checked everything was good with it. If something’s not where it’s supposed to be, she thought, then having a gun to hand wouldn’t the stupidest thing a gal ever did.

She felt the rumbling, before it reached her ears, travelling through the bridge and deep into the ground it had been set into. She took a step back, shouldered the rifle and took in a deep breath.

‘Ho, well met brave maiden.’

The voice caroused through the mist like a fat man at a wedding reception, low and amused and through the mist, Olivia saw the outline of the man’s head, too tall to be living outside of a sideshow and shoulders wider than a seed bull. He looked down at her with a benign amusement, stroking his thick, white beard with slow, deliberate motions to indicate his contemplation. On his right hip rested a curved horn, inlaid with ornate patterns of gold and heavily studded with precious gems that burned in the sunlight.

‘What the hell are you?’ Olivia said.

He laughed and threw back his head.

‘I was about to ask you the same question. I am Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost and you are?’

Olivia lowered the rifle. If she had shot him, she figured she’d just end up making him mad, judging by his size and the plated armour that he wore.

‘About fit to think I’ve gone mad. But the name’s Olivia.’

He grinned, showing teeth the size of dinner plates and as he leaned over, Olivia saw up his nostrils. The whole thing began to make her feel quite giddy.

‘Olivia, word has gotten to me that you’re quite good with that weapon.’

She frowned and backed up a little, ready to bring the rifle up to bear if she needed it. Not that it would do any good, but as in so many things, it’s the thought that counts. She would need to hit him in the eye,  she knew that because there was a part of her brain that understood entire schools of thought on the capabilities of a rifle or  a handgun and the best places to aim. It was why, when times were hard on the farm, she could go out into the woods for days and hunt enough meat to see them through. On the whole, she preferred the farm though, less trouble on the feet.

‘I can aim at something and hit it, but most folks can, if they’ve a mind to.’

He laughed again and stepped off the bridge, shimmering until he was little more than a foot taller than her. He smelled of barley and autumn leaves, combined with old leather and spices.

‘What, if I say to you, that there’s a chance that one of those shots might help a lot of people out, and if you came with me, right this minute, you could be the gal to fire it?’

Olivia adjusted the brim of her hat. The sun had shifted behind him, and his solidity suggested that whoever he was, he was solid and he smelled like a man should.

‘How many people are we talking?’

Heimdall winked at her as he leaned forwards.

‘All of them.’

TO BE CONTINUED.

 

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Station To Station

 

nighthawks

(Nighthawks by Edward Hopper)

My last tangible memory was something my mother posted online. A blurred photograph of us, taken from her phone with a cheery caption underneath before we set out for a week crammed into a caravan. We had been driving when the lorry driver took a call and answered it, taking his eyes off the road and ramming straight into our car.

The following eighteen months were a blur. Literally. There were photographs of me, red raw and bruise black, tubes coming out from everywhere and a slack, disbelieving expression from a necessary cocktail of drugs to keep me from dying. Which would have meant a family reunion. After that, I had to relearn basic functions all over again, reminded by every failure to make the toilet in time or when I would fall down and not be able to get up. When the sound of a car horn would make me burst into florid, desperate  crying jags.

When I could hear people’s thoughts.

It was like muzak in an elevator, a radio tuned to a station that maintained a rigorous signal no matter where you were in the world. I never told anyone, because it came bundled alongside the little indignities and hurdles that you’re supposed to bear as part of a general gratitude for being alive.

Try and retain any nobility when you go to school and other kids call you a spastic, go on, I dare you. I could hear the things they didn’t say, and those were worse. I would also hear the things that they never wanted anyone to know, which was worse for them.

Not that I ever used to do anything. My parents crippled me with a sense of decency and fair play, plus a yellowing stack of comic books where four colour heroes preached that with great yadda yadda comes great something something. I would listen, marvel at the flow of thoughts that would run through the dullest minds and never thought to use it. It would ache in a way that my scars and the plates in my head never would. The loneliness of being the only one in the world like this.

You wear what marks you as different like armour. I had a limp when it was cold, and  I would suffer bouts of synaesthesia  where the texture of cotton tasted like wet pennies on my tongue but they passed without incident. What I could do, though was know what someone was thinking and from there, it was a hop, skip and a jump to using it to fund a lifestyle that took me everywhere but kept me from everyone. Unless I needed something. Money, mostly but that was easy to get. Most short or long cons relied on skills that I had the platonic ideal of. I didn’t need to cold read, I just read. Well, listened but I worked in an arena for which the vocabulary was stunted and broken.

Much like me.

I never liked to stay too long in one place, and my passport got a lot of mileage. Plus when you are relieving people of their wealth, it’s never a good idea to stick around afterwards. When I found myself in Shreveport, of all places, putting a posh spin on my english accent, it was with a nice bank balance and time on my hands. I had taken a Greyhound and gotten off, wandered around and found a nice little mom and pop place that didn’t look like a breeding ground for botulism, and it kept me out of the cold sheets of rain that were coming down like God’s judgement.

She had clear blue eyes, heavy in the hips and chest with curly brown hair, creamy pale skin and a smile that could power the eastern seaboard. I ordered a cup of coffee to have something to do with my hands and tuned into her. She was singing along to one of those 90’s girl with guitar songs that were everywhere for a while. In her head, though was a ceaseless litany of little anxieties, strung together and then she turned around. On the name badge was KELLY.

Excuse me? What did you just say to me

I swallowed a mouthful of coffee and her eyes grew wide.

You heard me?

Her voice sang in my head, the tingling that you would get from putting your tongue on the end of a battery.

Yes, I did. And you can hear me. Holy shit. 

She was interrupted by a family at a booth, and shot me a look before going over there.

It’s okay, I guess we can keep on talking, can’t we?

I don’t see why not. Wow, this is…shit, I thought I was the only one. 

She took their order with a homely smile and did not look over in my direction at all. We chatted as she worked, stumbling over one another’s sentences in the warmly familiar way of an actual conversation. She lived with her parents, caring for them when she wasn’t here, in a small house on the edge of town.

That’s really admirable. 

She walked back into the kitchen to pass the order to Pete, the short order cook who had been thinking about the woman he had picked up last night. It would have been immensely entertaining but I was too thrilled to be speaking in my head to someone to entertain it. The woman had liked it when he smacked her backside hard enough to leave marks.

Ugh, please don’t. Pity is so fucking ugly. They took care of me, so it’s the least I can do.

I smiled, then felt a burst of self consciousness that she could not see my expression so I kept my face still. I looked around, met the eyes of a guy at the counter, with sallow, oily skin, a patchwork beard and a full, solid gut that hung over his belt like a split lip. He was demolishing a portion of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, wheezing with the effort. When he looked up, his eyes shone with a malevolent light that I found uncomfortable. His thoughts were coated in a thin layer of grease that I could almost taste.

Theresheislookatherhowdaresheignoremehowdaresheuptightcornpokecunt

He reached down to his jacket pocket, patted it for reassurance.

IwillshowherIwilljustyouwait

There’s a guy out here, he’s not thinking very nice thoughts about you

She came back through with the order for the family in the booth. She walked it over, using the ‘give me tips’ grin that would have charmed the birds from the trees.

Oh that’s Jeff, he’s always in here. 

I frowned and looked at him. He had resumed his eating with a grim, mechanical gusto. He would look up to catch a look at her in his peripheral vision, then resume eating. I wandered what fed him more, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes or the sight of her, walking around and how it stabbed at him.

Do you actually listen to him? He’s saying some scary shit. 

She did not look up as she made small talk with the family. They had a six year old, who was proving to be their particular cross to bear, refusing to eat the chicken pot pie that they had ordered for him.

He’s no worse than talk radio. 

Jeff’s thoughts were an open sewer and I tried to drown out, but I could almost taste them and they made my back teeth throb.

Kelly, listen, can’t you hear him? 

She walked back to the counter. She asked me, sotto voce, if I wanted a refill and I nodded with a slow, polite lowering of my head.

She poured another cup for me and went over to Jeff.

I’ll see if he’s okay. Might be off his meds or something. 

I sat with my hands flat on the counter. Jeff put his fork down as she approached, and I began to turn on my stool.

ShescomingoverohgodsheknowswhatIamsheseesmesheseesme

‘Hey, Jeff, you look a little out of sorts, there. Is everything okay?’ she said.

When he looked up, the light had gone from his eyes, showing me the broken wiring that had finally, terribly started to form new connections. None of them good.

He’s going for something in his pocket. 

I leapt off the stool, lunged across the counter and shoved her backwards whilst I put my other hand out to push Jeff off his stool before he could retrieve whatever he had in his pocket. His face had twisted into a wounded grimace and his thoughts were an incoherent torrent of blazing, ugly anger and pain, so close as to be indivisible from one another. I saw the flash of metal between his fingers and shoved my palm into the bridge of his nose. It would sting too much for him to do anything clever and it saved me a broken hand.

The sound of the gun going off, muffled by the cloth of his jacket, still had enough power to suck every other noise from the room. Jeff clutched his thigh and began to screech in unabashed agony. I looked at Kelly.

Jesus, I didn’t mean for that to happen.

She was on the phone calling 911 and I knelt over Jeff, but he was too focused on the bullet in his leg to care about anything else.

You need to go.

Something in my stomach twisted, a sour rejection after finding something beyond my frame of experience.

I’ve only just found you. 

I know. But we’ve found one another now. We can see how it plays out from there. 

I looked around, imagined the questions from the police, the places my name was tangentially connected to. I wanted to mark the moment with a gesture, but I supposed that I already had.

I ran outside. The rain had started again and there was a coach idling at the kerb. I had a roll of notes, and even though my heart ached like I had been shot through it, I knew that whatever happened, I wasn’t alone anymore.

I’ll see you again, but I’ll speak to you as often as I can.

I ran for the coach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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