Let us talk of androids and wondering chambers

I’ve been busy the last few months–publishing a book. Yikes! But I finally got back onto the flash-fiction challenge. This week at terribleminds the challenge is to start a story with the sentence “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.” Here’s my result:

The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber. The people inside the chamber lie twisted haphazardly amongst the cushions, blowing smoke rings and mumbling to themselves. The man that has noticed the android, however, sits up with a straight back and clear eyes. The android pauses.

“Come here,” the man says.

The android moves into the room, stepping carefully over the sprawled body of a woman. Her mouth is open and she snores heavily.

“Do you have a name?” The man squints at the android, his brows furrowing. The android considers the question.

“My serial number is NX/5733456.”

“Nix. Tell me, are you alive or dead?”
Continue reading Let us talk of androids and wondering chambers

Tropical Madness

Written for the I’ve Chosen Your Words Terrible Minds flash fiction challenge

I had to use ten of the following words. Can you spot which ones I used? Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.

Veronica stepped through the litter of smashed bird cages. Bent wire twisted along the ground beneath her feet. Lifting her dress, she stepped over the glittering remains of a glass water dish that had smashed against the concrete floor. A dove lay sprawled and bloody, one wing punctured with wire, raised in a salute.

“They’re all dead,” D’Emanuele said. She could hear the fever in his voice; a sweaty whine that lingered in the humid air. She looked to him, watched him draw out a linen handkerchief and mop his face. It quickly soaked through, and he dropped the sodden material with an exclamation of disgust. “This bloody heat! We shouldn’t have come here.”

“We came here for you,” she said. She looked back down at the dove. Now that she looked closer she could see the feathers were crawling with tiny fleas. “I wonder what happened. Do you think Mistress Daze is gone?”

“She had to have been some kind of crazy, trying to keep all these birds.” D’Emanuele leaned against the door frame. Veronica watched him covertly, saw him struggling to draw his breath. She knew he longed for England and for Sarah. She gently touched a finger to the locket at her throat. She knew that longing. Continue reading Tropical Madness

We rise above

Written for the Shuffle Flash Fiction Challenge at Terrible Minds. When I hit shuffle, I got We Rise Above, by Arcana.

“You are in detention.” The exercise book slapped onto Martin’s desk. Looking at the page it was open to, he saw the big red F at the top of the page, and the littering of angry red comments all the way down. He looked up at his teacher, whose nostrils were flaring. He found himself fascinated by them; their cavernous, fleshy depths.

“An absolutely horrific story! I want to see you after school to discuss this.” His teacher swept away, and Martin heard the giggles of the other students. He shrugged to himself, and pulled the book towards him. He frowned at his story, and then packed the exercise book back into his bag.

The bell sounded, tinny and harsh. Voices rose, giggles turned to laughter, gossip ripped through the ranks of students, chairs screeched across the cheap floor and the students became an amorphous creature that swelled into the corridors of the school. Martin watched them dreamily, the black jumpers and trousers blending into a wave of darkness punctuated by hands and faces. Continue reading We rise above

Cursed

Written for the ‘Something Amazing’ flash-fiction contest at Janet Reid. The contest was to write a 100 word story featuring these words: countdown, truck, fringe, argo, and rens.

Believe it or not, a truck is actually a part of a ship, plus I’m English so I can say fringe instead of bangs. Win.

Cursed

She pushed her fringe out of her eyes, peering through the salt-spray towards Rens, the small island ahead. Argo was a good ship, but the curse sat on the wooden frame like a shroud, a countdown towards death for all aboard. Could they reach the island in time?

Beside her elbow, the fairy winked into existence, her little face twisted into a grin, and pointed to the flagpole.

Lightening bolted from the sky and shattered the truck at the top of the flagpole. The flag burst into flame. She closed her eyes. Too far from land. They were doomed.

Ninety-Nine Dreams

Written for the Corporate Abuse Flash Fiction Challenge at terribleminds.

We lost.

That’s the wisdom I have for you. We lost. No surprise, when you look at history. Technology, wealth, education, privilege—what chance did mere numbers have against that? We sent wave after wave of people against them, to die futile deaths on the spikes of their citadel. The world burned, furious, fast. The world burned and turned to ash.

The corporations flexed their muscles—military weapons, economic chaos, the morale-sapping reality of poverty—and we conceded. Governments collapsed. The corporations, bloated, putrid, triumphant, took over the running of the world.

Work shifted to where it was cheapest. Wages bottomed out; a desperate man would work for a handful of bread. The corporations offered a deal: work for us and in return we will shelter you and feed you. We moved from camp to camp, making gadgets, luxury yachts, beautiful things that sold to other corporate CEOs. We worked on vast farms, feeding cows too weak to stand, who remained upright only because they were supported by the four walls that surrounded them.

Occasionally, from a distance, we would see a sleek car pass by the walls of the camp, the windows tinted black, and we imagined a warm little bubble, stinking of champagne, in which a rich man and his wife giggled together.

I had managed to acquire a book, stolen from a publishing house at which I had worked for a short time. Real books had become rare, those that could afford to read chose e-books, churned out by a writer-farm, a group of desperate word-smiths that typed-typed-typed for endless hours.

The few paper books that remained were works of art, full of colourful pictures and clever typesetting. This book I had was no exception. The insides were filled with bright drawings, of a man clad in black skin-tight clothes leaping from buildings. At first, I admired the art, but later his masked visage started to haunt my dreams. For freedom. That is what he said, whenever he rescued a child, or defeated a comically flamboyant villain. For freedom! I read it many times, looking at the pictures of the mansion in which the black-clad hero lived and wondering what it would be like to have a bathtub and a bed.

I tried to teach my daughter to read it, but she was more animal than little girl. She picked fruit with ferocious intensity, and nearly always claimed the ‘pickers prize’, a hunk of bread filled with dripping steak. She treated me with contempt, which was fair enough—we were all worthy of contempt, living in that pit.

But I read that book again and again.

One day, I upended the family and went hunting for work in the textiles industry. It was not a favoured industry—working there invariably led to asbestosis and other lung diseases. My daughter wept as she worked the giant looms, her tears streaking a white trail down dusty cheeks. She hated the fetid air and gloom of the factory, and longed for the open orchards where she had been prized.

My wife accepted the move with dumb resignation. She worked less and less these days, and ate less as a result. I tried to give her my portion, but she just stared at it. Her ribs stood out on her white skin, and her eyes were sunken and bloodshot. I tried to ignore her, and focus on my plan.

Difficult to steal from the company, as armed guards—they ate for every stolen item they found and confiscated, so were diligent to the point of fraud—searched us hourly. I gave them obvious wins and took what I really wanted over the course of many weeks.

My wife stopped going to work. She lay on the iron bunk that passed as a bed, and stared at the pockmarked steel of the bed above. Her fingers twitched against her stomach like skitterish spiders. My daughter, still two years from independence, ran away. I wished her well, but I had little hope she would survive long. The best fruit-pickers were children, adults got slower and slower. Her skills would not last.

I worked on my secret project after dark, when everyone else slept the exhausted sleep of workers that had worked eighteen hour shifts. I could barely see, working by moonlight and touch, and the costume was a ragged mockery of the one from the bright pages of the book. I loved it all the same, though the fabric sagged about my spindly limbs and stretched across the swollen paunch of my belly. Even so, the cloak furled and swished most satisfyingly.

On the night my wife finally died, her face a skull, her body shrunk to little more than bones and skin, I cut a drawing from the comic, a close-up rendering of a red rose, and folded it into her long fingers.

We lost. That’s the wisdom I have for you. Yet here I am, ignoring my own wisdom, running into the black night to start again. Taking up the fight, armed with nothing but a dream plucked from the pages of a brightly coloured book. Oh, but what a dream!

Not My Fault

Written for the Flash Fiction contest at Terribleminds.

Not my fault. That’s what I told the teacher. We’d only been joshing him.

Not my fault. That’s what I told the ambulance crew. Just a game. Every day we tried to push him further. Cry harder.

Not my fault. That’s what I told the police. The judge. Dan’s parents, statues in the courtroom.

He hadn’t even thrashed. Just given up. Stubborn jerk—if he’d struggled, I could have let him up. A reaction was all I wanted.

Not my fault. That’s what I told myself, when his bloated face floated in the darkness of the cell. Not my fault.

Connected

Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Brand New Monster at Terribleminds.

Harris lifted a hand to his head, groaning. Beside him, Sarah rolled over. “Feeling it, are you?” she asked without sympathy. Each word struck like an axe, and synapses screamed.

“Coffee?” Harris asked. One hand scrubbed across dry, gritty eyes, the other twitched on the cover of their bed. His wife snored; too theatrically to be real. Sighing, Harris clambered out of bed, and squinted at the bedroom door. His legs trembled; his tongue, furry and swollen, tasted like it had started to rot in his mouth.

“Shit,” Harris said.

“You kept me up until twenty past four,” Sarah said.

“Sorry, honey.” Harris stumbled to the door, creaked it open and picked his way down the stairs. They had a small house, him and Sarah, but it was clean, homely, and he had never been jealous of his friends as they had moved up the corporate ladder, buying bigger and bigger houses, but spending less and less time in them. Yawning, he went to the kitchen and started changing the filter in the coffee machine. The kitchen table was covered with empty cans. His stomach turned over at the smell of stale beer and he quickly looked out the window.

He saw a body, sprawled halfway down the stone stairs that led down to the road. Continue reading Connected

Moving House

The mugs clink together onto the tray. The tea towel frayed blue, thin with washing. A dozen pairs of identical white socks hang on the clothes horse, drying in front of the radiator. She is stunned briefly, that all of this casual domesticity belongs to her. Wrapped in a thick dressing gown, hair damp, she hugs herself. She is woven through and through, her cups have left these stains, these tangled wires are the ghosts of gadgets she has owned and lost. The dust on the TV is hers, made of her skin, her hair. She has watered this cactus, and it holds a mute green memory of years. The toothpaste smear in the bathroom sink, the scratchy rust taking hold of her baking tin. She is written into this house, not in stone, but in a thousand tiny traceries.

Solace

a tangled splay of sweaty limbs and god knows i want you to take me away from all this

let me wake up tomorrow, let me wake up without dreams of death, let me wake up to a sunsplayed day, let us make love, let us create a little dream that barrs the world, let me take solace in your body and let the moments stand for themselves and themselves only.