fiction, short fiction

Adviser

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

 

Whatever it took to get him through the day.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘Nice of you to join us.’ she said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘Is this for video conferencing?’ Helen said.

 

Jenny smiled and shook her head.

 

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

 

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

 

Jenny gestured towards the egg on the table.

 

‘Say hello to Adviser.’ she said.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jenny grinned.

 

‘It will change everything.’ she said.

 

2.

 

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

 

Craig envied them.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Craig wished he had thought of it first.

 

‘They’re Saudi citizens.’ he said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘I’m ok, thank you.’ he said.

 

It chuckled and Craig clenched his jaw with resentment.

 

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

 

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

 

‘You’re not my mate.’ Craig said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Craig sighed and shook his head.

 

‘What do you want?’ he said.

 

It chuckled.

 

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

 

Craig stopped and shuddered.

 

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

 

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

 

Craig took in a sharp, wounded breath.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

3.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Before Adviser tore it apart to save the species.

 

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

 

Advertisements
Standard
ambition, blogging, book reviews, books, craft, creative writing, creativity, editing, empowerment, experience, fiction, hunger, inspiration, process, psychology, purpose, stoicism, Uncategorized, work, writing

Two Pages (30/09/16)

The two pages for Lawful Evil have kicked off the next crisis. It is about a slow reveal, the circumstances surrounding an event more than the event itself. I was tempted to have my protagonist force herself into the scene but it felt a little histrionic, so I went with delaying things a little bit. It’s not a dedicated, documentary but I try to avoid the lazy cliche, even if it does move things along a little faster. So long as you have and understand the obligatory scenes and conventions, then you have the freedom of how you get there.

I am pleased with my progress on the book. It will be the longest book to date, but it’s necessary and I always toss away 10% or so in the process of transcribing it from longhand to the computer.

I cut a chapter from Until She Sings. It was pleasant enough, but it didn’t progress anything, just sort of floated there so I took a few elements from it and put them into the following chapter instead, which gave it a lot more intensity without too much meandering. I was not expecting to cut anything but after contemplation, it felt the right thing to do. Your scenes should turn, a book is patterns of ink on paper or bytes on a screen but it should still move.

I am now 27 chapters into the edit, so roughly a third of the sixth draft which is good progress. I will be proceeding with it regularly because the sooner that I can pronounce this work finished, then I can start having conversations with my agent about selling it to a publisher. Doing the hard work now means that there is less work for a publisher to do, which makes it an easier sale for the both of us. There are so many routes to being published, some faster than others, but you have to find what one works for you. My hypothetical path has led to a higher level of craft for me, even though it has taken longer to get to the point where I can even contemplate my books in print.

I’ve added colour to some characters, shown a bit more of the history and personality without having it overwhelm the story. They’ve mostly been taken care of by actions, reactions and descriptions but it never hurts to expand on them so long as it does not derail the story or overshadow the protagonist.

Although that was how Until She Sings came about. So, previously I had bullied a supernatural urban fantasy romantic horror -comedy called Great Things through to two drafts. It had some good elements to it, a concept that I may return to some day but overall it didn’t really hang together. However, one character intrigued me and after a moment of clarity, rewrote the whole thing to feature about her. No supernatural or magical elements in it. It was a learning experience for me, that I’ve used to frame subsequent works and my approach to them.

I am currently reading  A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.  It’s unnerving and powerful, combining multiple viewpoints, textures and a healthy awareness of tropes and preconceptions. He makes explicit some of the gender politics as they relate to the ideas of demonic possession and does not forget to involve and disturb the reader as he does it. Each chapter is a masterpiece of unease and his voice is almost invisible, disappearing into the characters, as it should be.

Thank you for reading

 

 

Standard
creative writing, fiction, mental illness, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, work, writing

Thirteen

John, my line manager told me he was going to fire Chuck,  and judging by his expression, he wondered why I wasn’t happier about it. I had liked Chuck.  He ran a little league team and had sent his eldest off to college.

Thirteen people die at work every day.

I had been going in, blithely accepting that the worst I had to fear from work would be inertia.  The thing was, I had been away and come back, but I had not come back empty handed any more than I had returned unscathed.

John could not meet my gaze, clapped me on the shoulder and said he was glad to have me back before he wandered off. I got a soda from the machine and stood against the wall, drank it’s sparkling, chilled sweetness and rested the cold tin against the back of my neck.

Chuck had come to see me in the hospital, crying as much for me as himself, told me that John had cut their maintenance budget back to the bone. If the building fell down, there was money for something but the unstable fluorescent light fitting above my desk had been pushed back to the next quarter. Then whilst I had been updating my CV, it had fallen and swung a perfect arc of descent into my skull.

Three weeks in a coma. No more video games. Taking the warnings about flashing lights on television shows seriously. Mood swings that might be how my broken brain did things now, or the trauma of the accident.

I made a point of spending time at my desk. I did not bother logging into the system because my passwords had been swept out of my brain along with my seventeenth birthday and my mom’s recipe for peanut butter cookies.

John took the long way round, past my cubicle and clapping me on the shoulder. He never stayed more than he absolutely had to, a damp hand on my shoulder and then on his way again. Another meeting.

I had been staying into the screen for a few minutes when I heard the first shot. A loud voice, familiar and rough with effort, then more shots. People got under their desks, or roadie ran to the exit but I got up from my desk.

I walked out into the corridor. My head had stopped hurting and when I saw Judd from Sales fall forward, the front of his shirt shredded and soaked with blood and then Chuck, his eyes bulging in their sockets as he swung the barrel of his carbine around.  I glanced down and saw John crouched into the fetal position, tears streaming down his face.

I waved to Chuck and he looked at me, eyes that were blank, black stones pressed deep into his sockets.

John scrabbled away. Chuck was strode forward and John had made it to the other side of the office before he was seen. He held the carbine in his arms, cradled it like an ailing pet.

‘Why aren’t you running, Glo?’

I sighed and put my hand on his shoulder. He flinched and stepped back.

‘What’s the point? If you’re going to shoot me, you’re going to shoot me.’

Sometimes I wondered if the accident had shut things down in my head or woken things up. I had read about a man who took a railroad pin to the head, became a promiscuous drunk afterwards. The change in personality seen as damage, when maybe it was like a malign update to your software.

I used to cry at news stories about abused children. Now,with a gun ready to go off in my face, I felt nothing. Chuck stared at me, not entirely gone but still disbelieving and committed to a course of action that could only end in death. His, but with a few extra passengers for his final ride. Death by cop, they called it. I wondered if it took as much courage as swallowing pills or drawing a blade down the length of your arm.

He stared into my eyes, I stared back and a small part of me wondered how much damage had been done to me already. He walked past me, his breathing rapid and shallow, like he had survived something.

Chuck managed three people before Brett from Security, a man who couldn’t manage socks that matched, blew him out of his sneakers in the conference room. The three ring circus of emergency services came in after that, and I sat against the pavement, looking out at nothing in particular.

In my head, the buzz of the fluorescent was louder than anything else. It drowned out the concerns of the police and the paramedics, even John’s voice was unintelligible but I kept smiling through it.

There were more than thirteen that day.

I took it to be a sign. Of what, I could not say.

Standard
creative writing, short fiction, short stories, storm, Uncategorized, weather, women, writing

Great For Morale

 

They had all gathered in the parking lot just after dawn, driven for three hours and struggling to find the enthusiasm for the day ahead. Dressed in income-dependent variations on the guidelines sent in Times New Roman, littered with emoji like dead bugs on a wind screen. The tone aimed for friendly, but came across as written by a child dictator.

Judy was wrapped up in jogging pants that were translucent at the knees, sneakers with soles that had once been as thick as a childhood duvet but were now cracked and worn. She was swaddled in the sweatshirt that had been her evening and weekend uniform for years. She had scraped back her orange hair into a braid and worn little more than lipgloss.

Kandi had not gotten the memo. Kandi never did. Juicy Couture leisure suit and pink sneakers that looked like they had never left the box before today.

She had written it, after all.

When Judy learned that Kandi failed beauty school, she had snorted dishwater coffee through her nostrils. The jokes had lasted right up until Uncle Alex put her in charge of the office, mistaking accidents of birth for demonstrations of virtue.  Louise had quit and Kandi had managed to gift Tito with the dubious honour of becoming the first custodian to suffer from work-related stress.

So here they were, in fifteen pristine acres of woodland, encouraged to cheer and chant by facilitators in olive polo shirts and cargo pants. Judy decided that even wiping spilled cereal off the counter was preferable to being a walk on part in Kandi’s bullshit.  Alex was home with gastric flu, but Judy guessed that it was the kind that required treatment over nine holes of golf and a leisurely lunch.

Then, they were introduced to the final exercise. An assault course, taken in pairs with the fastest time getting a ‘prize’. The facilitators paired them up and Judy wanted to weep as one of them brought over her partner, giggling and fawning at being the centre of attention.

‘So, I wanna win this, you’d better lean in, girlfriend.’

Girlfriend. Kandi never spoke more than two words to her. Except to steal her ideas and occasionally commiserate at getting the job that Judy worked sixty hours a week and weekends for a shot it.

‘Sure, Kandi, sure.’

They were not the first to go across, that was Mitch and Rachel, who trudged forward without enthusiasm or stamina.

Laura and Paula, cringing and desperate for the day to be over.

Judy looked up at the sky, dark and thick with clouds. The whistle blew and Kandi elbowed her, sharp enough to make her wince.

Judy burned with umbrage and powered ahead. She leapt at the first obstacle, a vertical rope that required a challenge to anyone’s lower body strength. Kandi could not gain purchase, the soles of her sneakers sliding off the damp wood with squeaking noises that made her jaw twitch with frustration and humiliation. Judy was at the top, and had her left leg over the other side.

She looked down, saw the pleading light in Kandi’s eyes. Kandi reached her hand up and glared at her, the eyebulging look that said please don’t embarrass me in any language. Judy took it and pulled her up, Kandi cackled with triumph.

‘Knew you’d take one for the team, girlfriend’

Judy continued to pull her up. Kandi scrabbled up and got her leg over. Judy huffed and raised her right hand for a high five.

Kandi wiped her palm on her thigh, low so that she thought Judy didn’t see it. She raised her hand to slap with Judy’s bringing both hands off the top of the climb. Judy looked around, saw that no one was watching, the facilitators ahead with the others, and gritted her teeth together.

She pushed hard.

Kandi fell.

Judy realised that today was going to be great for morale after all.

 

 

Standard
ambition, books, craft, creative writing, purpose, work, writing

The first chapter of the first book (thoughts on writing)

It’s a good thing to write. To see yourself progress, even when you’re sometimes struggling to write something that expresses what you are feeling and balancing that against the needs of the story, as implacable as that can be. Each time that you finish something, it’s relief and regret in equal measure. Then, when you’ve spent enough time to forget that haze of deluded enthusiasm cut with hope, then it’s reshaping and discovering what you actually meant to say.

So, although there is not the immediate gratification of social media for me, there is something more sustainable and comforting in the simple process of following your purpose. I have two books completed, one of which did the rounds and got to experience rejection from some fine publishing houses and the second is with my agent, awaiting feedback. Book no 3 is getting edited and rewritten, and book 4 is waiting for me to rescue it from a first draft status. It feels pretty good to sit there, in the early hours working at something that matters to me.

It’s made for a simpler life. I read more than watch television or play games, and it’s made reading a new thing to enjoy. I study as much as wallow in the words now. Certainly resolving some library fines has allowed me to refine my reading habit to some sublime addiction.

Mostly though, it’s the craft, the sense of reaching for something that’s just beyond my grasp and all that needs doing is the work to get there. It’s the courage that it builds in me, a settlement reached with old anxieties and neuroses in favour of a path to walk, a purpose. I’m far from published, don’t consider myself an authority, not an advocate for anything other than the work itself. I have literary representation, which I am proud of, but mostly it’s just me and the page.

I have a poetry blog, but here is where I will be talking about the things that interest me. Mostly writing, the books that I have read and am reading, some observations and whatever else crops up. I apologize in advance.

Standard
creative writing, erotic writing, erotica, poetry, women, writing

When You Called In Sick

You called in,
Hanging your head
Off the edge
of the mattress
So you
sounded congested
As I kissed
along the length
Of your thigh
As you swatted
me away
Trying to
sound suitably
Mournful
You got up,
Kissed me with relief
A gleam in your eye
As you pushed
me against
The sheets
Between your thighs
I felt kingly
A golden adolescence
Better for it being
Recaptured
As you told me
About how we could
Chase these illicit hours
Away
Some acts
Rendered
more shocking
Yet
Sweeter for
an afternoon
Props and
toys laid out
As we teach
one another
About what
two people
Might accomplish
On a stolen day.
Standard