January Short Story: Detach

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during January 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Detach

I’m conscious, but sideways. This isn’t my bed either, but that’s less of a worry than the fact a red frog on my left foot is laughing, really shaking with unrestrained, uncontrolled mirth.

I’m glad somebody’s having a good time. Friday was disturbing, yesterday too… but this? It takes far too long to work out why I’m horizontal and not vertical. My body is affixed to some kind of wooden plank… not one, but many. A miniature rope bridge beneath my body; moving as I do, except hands and feet are tied.

The frog’s been joined by a mate, but he’s blue.

Red and blue are default safety colours. An entire simulation’s attempting to push me out of it, knowing heart-rate will have exceeded the safe limits for immersion but truthfully, at this point, being panicked ‘in here’ is far preferable that anything ‘out there’ could provide. Except this is the calmest I’ve felt since my employers insisted a break was needed. It’s because of their insistence that negative energy was emanating from both mind and body that I’m here, lying inside a VR Detox Unit… which means it’s returned to the starting position…

I should be vertical, was before consciousness was lost… as everything prior to now comes back, literal slap to the head. My VR helmet detaches without warning, reality suddenly replacing the Amazon rainforest. This unit’s door swings open, power suddenly cut. Something’s wrong. Part of my brain wonders if this is another simulation; maybe I’m being tested by concerned employers. Was that drop in productivity last month real, not an attempt to slack off…? Yup, body still aches in a way that I doubt any virtual application could ever grasp or reproduce.

I’m not fooled by visual stimulus. There’s time taken to understand what is truly felt and understood, without invasive influence from other opinions or circumstance. Everybody else in my department swallowed their lies and deceptions, but not me. That’s the real reason I’m here. Being told every day you’re not working hard enough, that targets are not being made when you know that’s not true is doublespeak, misdirection. My productivity steadily increased in six months, and I’m exhausted as a result; top of the outputters by quite some distance, but at a price.

In the distance there’s an alarm, muted but insistent. That, unmistakably, remains the smell of burning electrical wiring and it is high time to ignore operating protocols; releasing myself from the unit, it’s time to work out what the actual fuck has happened since I came here. The technician that should be outside is absent: nobody in the reception area either, and I’m suddenly reminded of the zombie apocalypse media that was so popular at the start of this century.

If those people had only known it wasn’t humanity that would become contaminated first.

Billions of tonnes of plastics, dragged down by currents into the oceans where nobody had ever explored: science knew more about the Moon than had ever been collected in those trenches or continental shelves. Far beneath us, ancient species began to evolve at frightening rates… That thought extinct, fuelled by fallen bodies of their ancestors began to rise, consuming everything else in the oceans. Humanity almost didn’t work out what was going on until it was too late: suddenly global warming and pollution were the least of our issues. We’d become food.

The Behemoth War altered everything, redefining middle of the 21st century before placing humanity on a far less destructive path. Forty years on, I wonder if this is the same, visceral fear my grandfather would have experienced when he registered everything had changed, forever. He’d been on first passenger ferry to be attacked by a Behemoth in British waters: one of only six survivors. He’d played dead in the water; perhaps I should do the same. Except the temperature’s increasing in here, smell of burning now considerably more pronounced. Time to go.

There’s an emergency door, behind the VR Suite, opposite pods. Normally this place would be packed on a Saturday, kids and adults lining up to play and indulge. I’d come here because an ultimatum had been delivered: recover from last blood donation. You’re giving again on Monday. With tensions so high across the country, automated facilities were being avoided for quite sensible reasons. My employers are 95% AI, continue to believe they’re no part of this issue, especially as their unique branch of medicine remains vital to humanity’s continued survival.

There is no need to panic: locate the exit, use ID to open it. Sorted. What I’m not expecting is to emerge outside: this cuboid structure is housed in a giant warehouse estate: half the other units have smoke issuing from somewhere, one clearly on fire. But where are the people? I’d expected a ‘Revolution’ to have far more noise and anger: where are the human beings wielding planks and metal poles, systematically destroying technology they say obliterates Humanity’s way of life? If the AI had seized power, setting fire to these places made perfect sense.

Maybe my employers decided to test fealty and this remains a simulation: trying not to run down the fire escape, this all seems worryingly real. There are ways to check, of course, but not until I’m at ground level and 100% confident I can make it out of the estate with ease… Swiping across left arm brings up nothing, pressing fingers to temples results in no heads up display. There’s a health chip in my wrist, accessed with a press, bringing up emergency contact details when adjacent to a terminal…

“I have been sent here as assistance, Alex Bishop.”

The Biped Rover stands as I turn around, holding something in upper grips that it takes me a moment to recognise, before clothes are shed without a thought. I should be bothered being naked in front of a robot, but as it’s here to save my life pointless embarrassment is forgotten.

Emergency HazMat suit self seals, oxygen immediately flooding a helmet that’s quickly taking stock of all my vital signs as left wrist sensor vibrates into life. Definitely no longer a simulation, Alex. This, whatever it is, became extremely real incredibly fast. Now, I’m scared.

“Your adrenaline levels indicate increased stress, which under current circumstances is understandable. This LLE has been programmed, offering transport to a place of safety. Please board the unit as soon as possible as area is increasingly dangerous for tissue-based lifeforms.”

As I climb into the LLE’s only seat, am belted into place, I think maybe the AI got attacked here by something a little more sophisticated than wood and metal. I’m a tissue-based life form. This Unit’s a Low Level Electronic life form capable of basic, autonomous decision-making. Somewhere in the last year it stopped being woman and machine. Now everything created equal is deemed sacred; inevitable consequence of humanity needing to skip some ethical questions, in order to defeat giant monsters our own arrogance with chemical compounds initially created.

If Grandad had not survived the Holyhead Massacre, he’d have never been DNA tested for water-borne pathogen resistance. They’d never have discovered that 5% of the modified population had natural immunity to poisonous, petroleum derived substances all Behemoths spewed as weapons. Massive ingestion of plastics altered them just as it played about with genetically modified DNA. Grandad Pete didn’t drop dead from a congenital heart defect, and those early Genetic Engineers didn’t factor in how petroleum might spontaneously mutate tissue across generations.

‘Take a break,’ they said. ‘Get away from it all,’ they said. This is absolutely NOT what I had in mind, but suddenly complaint seems… well, missing the point of my experience… this wasn’t about relaxation, in the end, but enlightenment, personal importance suitably reinforced. Emerging from the warehouse dome, Sheffield is on fire. Waiting for us are a dozen Rovers, all armed, and I’m rerunning a news broadcast from yesterday in my head. Paris in flames, humans attacking robots which didn’t fight back but yet might. It wasn’t just an isolated incident.

I choose to take a side, protected by AI employers, not humans who begged me to ignore them. I finally detach emotion from the question of what ‘life’ really means.

Beneath this skin, fused to bone beats a 100% artificial heart they provided to save my life: making us the same.


 

The Slightest Touch

How did January change your outlook on life?

Thirty-one days feels like about three months, looking back on what I achieved: nearly thirty-nine hours of exercise. Thirteen thousand calories burnt. Every day, even when I curled up in a ball and cried, there was still work done. I’ve completed the first portion of Mental health Champion training. Eight separate literary submissions. Significant developments in my personal ability to cope plus maintain momentum and progress.

All of this did not happen by magic.

Undoubtedly, progress came from adversity: my unexpected tooth extraction (which is still not 100% healed, and will be addressed next week) wasn’t where this all started. We have to go back to the ultimatum from my Doctor (or rather the head Practice Nurse) to change my diet and lifestyle. I tucked into my first pizza last night for what was probably four months plus. It was lovely, but I’m not sad to go back to training tomorrow.

You see, for a long time there was never really an acceptance of my own shortcomings in some key areas. Once that happened, and pressure was on to lose weight not for vanity or appearance but to improve my health, a lot of stuff stopped mattering. It helps that I know what’s been causing mental instability for years. It’s also useful to know how that can sometimes unexpectedly manifest. All of this is about learning.

In January, I finally learnt to accept what I really am.

Now therefore it is all about using this month as a foundation to build something fundamentally stronger and more attractive: that’s a subjective word to use in this context, but there are reasons for doing so. I know what I like, and what looks attractive to me. So, therefore, it is time to share that with a wider audience. This isn’t about me either, but things that are around me: how I see and make the world.

Other people may not agree with my ideas: this is something I’m used to. However, if true creativity is going to be released and expanded upon, that’s an obvious content of sharing work on a wider stage. It’s not about being liked, but appreciated. It’s trying to make others see the ideas I’m trying to build from using words and imagery. Honestly it doesn’t matter about anything else except that process.

This is about art created for the first time ever exactly as I see fit.

finallgetsit

I learnt a lot about myself this month, that’s for sure. The direction of my poetry is changing. Short stories are about to become a far bigger deal than they were, and novels need far more love than they are getting. On top of all of this, however, there’s a resilience that never existed until this moment right now, and it is time to make the most of every moment presented to me.

That’s still something that needs work on, if truth be told.

[PS: as part of this process, I’ve realised that EX/WHI will need a bit longer to get up to date than I’d originally anticipated: therefore it’ll be back next Friday then every other one going forward until I can build up some momentum with the narrative. Again, its finding time, and that is getting progressively easier.]

Sky High

We have reached the ‘Something has to Give’ portion of this month and sadly, it’s the most labour-intensive part of a larger equation that’s going to suffer. I’ve submitted to SIX different things so far this month, and with Red October January being labour intensive PLUS the Mental health Champion Training I’m not gonna lie, there’s really not been time for anything else. 

That includes self-care and family time as well, and as a result something really needs to give. Therefore, the video’s being put back to the end of February, the 28th to be precise, which will now allow me to tackle the backlog building so the website does not fall any further behind. It also gives me Sunday off this week which I intend to use doing as little as possible with a 5k run inserted somewhere.

Also, that header’s redundant. The poem I was going to use has changed.

A World of Colour

The new work is to tie in with video content I’ve already partially researched, and therefore this gives me more time to create summat that I have previous knowledge of. Don’t worry, the original poem will have its day in the sun, just not yet. It’s also given me a bit of space to work on what has ended up as a very submissions heavy month. These do tend to take quite a bit out of me, as I’m now discovering.

When everything was tentatively planned in December the actual workload was not really that clear: now it is, this gives me sufficient time and space to look past what’s happening now and plan ahead. I want a short story or two written as well going forward, as these are looking like an increasingly useful way of setting myself up a revenue stream. At some point, if I want progress, there has to be cash coming in.

The good news is that I’m getting a long weekend mid-February at the same Resort Parc (TM) where summer holiday turned into hospital stay. Let’s hope for everybody concerned there’s no repeat of that, and that I can spend a few days not worrying about anything except relaxing and enjoying myself. Once that’s done, it’ll be time to start working out the content for March, then we’re three months into the year…

Blimey, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun.

December Short Story: Stardust

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during December 2019 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Stardust



The biggest mistake I ever made was thinking the little things don’t matter. You see, one small mistake you can forget, hiding it away for no-one else to see… but after a while, all those small stupidities become a larger mess. When all of those come together you’re in trouble. How do you deal with decades of your own failings? I ran away for a long time, avoided responsibilities… making this the end of the story, not a beginning. Redemption will serve someone else well before it’s my turn. My time, however, is almost done… but not quite yet. Almost.

I get one more chance, then it’s done.

This time, I promise to not fuck anything up.


For him it was Tuesday, a double shift. Everybody else was celebrating Christmas Eve. On occasions such as these Joseph’s glad dance music is his only religion, no one else waiting at home. He’ll work straight through, taking breaks when it’s quiet: 10-ish, 2-ish and 6-ish, if previous experience is an indicator. It allows Jay to not be here and at the airport, Chrissie to drive north to see her family. Joseph’s Christmas gifts to his colleagues covers their arses.

Ruben’s waiting, night shift about to take their one day off this week. He’ll go eat Christmas Meatloaf with his mum across town: Joseph’s bought them some Jim Beam, as requested. The kid’s still too young to be as good as he is, deserves a better gig than the middle of nowhere. It’s easier not to think about being nearly a decade older than a stick-thin, tattoo-covered boy. He’s the closest thing to a decent friend Joseph possesses in this town, mirror to his own ambitions and failures. Maybe one day they will get the cash to open a restaurant together.

This year, the boy’s made him a gift, and it’s a genuine surprise. The notebook’s full of recipes they’ve created together, cuttings from the press… printouts of their growing online fan base’s support and encouragement. The T&C Diner is edging ever closer to greatness, success. There’s that familiar ache too as he walks away, out the back exit, into falling snow. How do you tell someone that you want to be more than friends? How do relationships work, exactly… Joseph requires a Christmas Miracle, probably several bottles of Jim Beam to make it happen.

That can be tonight’s thought before sleep: right now the diner’s beginning to fill. Andy’s out front, all hands and teeth as usual taking Trudii Richards’ order. Will she stick to tradition, bacon and egg hash on brown or will their special Festive Menu alter creature of habit? He catches older woman’s eye, pulls out his best kilowatt smile and knows she’ll drop everything for turkey bacon with sage and onion biscuits. Today started special, will only get better if he believes the hype everyone else seems increasingly willing to generate on his behalf.

That’s how the day goes too: smiles as connection, fuel for preparation. Elise and May Ann’s voices, harmonising through Christmas songs that sound fresh, joyous in the throats of young women. Customers tipping far more than is sensible when everyone’s cloth is cut to the bone. The serving window slowly begins to fill, gifts from hardcore clientele who know him only too well: hand-knitted jumpers and socks, chutneys and preserves plus a couple of bottles of decent red wine. Rhonda’s kids made him multicoloured Christmas cookies, each one hand decorated.

It’s already lunchtime and suddenly there’s real singing to replace Joseph’s battered Christmas CD: the local band made good are back home for their holidays. Hearing he’s serving Turkey Meatloaf and Cornbread the Diner’s broadcasting live via phone to fans as they eat then play. These guys will be opening for the electronic duo Joseph’s followed since his teens next March, 60 date US and European tour. If that’s not the definition of success, it’s hard to know what is. Yet here they are selling his praises without the need to ask, enjoying Christmas Eve.

Within an hour, there are dozens of people at the Diner. Joseph excels at improvisation: main meals evolve into snacks. Plates are piled with finger-food, Andy drafted in as extra help in preparation. Without needing to make a call Rhonda appears, plastic boxes laden with treats.

‘Boy, I KNEW you’d want my help without getting the call: don’t you worry, Momma R’s gonna make sure all these people are happy before they pay for our hard work…’

If Joseph didn’t already grasp he needs Rhonda on board making sweet dessert magic full time, this was the sign.

That afternoon he teaches the band to sling hash. May Ann’s brother and Elise’s aunt come help out too, more than enough cash to pay them full rate at day’s end. As sun goes down the band pack up to leave, yet diner’s at capacity. Only then does Joseph realise he’s being watched. The guy with Santa’s beard, in red shirt and black trousers, at the back by the jukebox, single table that’s reserved for locals who struggle paying. He’s been there, off and on, across the last few weeks; never saying much but always grateful. Today however, he looks different.

Joseph knows he’s unable to afford palliative care, lucky to have made it to Christmas at all. Over the last few months he’s struggled but refused any assistance. Weighing a fraction of what he was, huge frame is no longer tense, uncomfortable. This old man is finally at peace. Rhonda’s asking about wine glasses, dessert options: distraction pulls him away pointing, sudden concern: when he turns back the man’s gone. Instead, on his chair, there’s a bag. Red suitcase sits, distinctly out of place; Elise retrieves it, carrying carefully to kitchen door.

There’s heaviness in his heart, sudden realisation what symbolism means: Santa won’t be coming back. This is his last delivery, walking away from the Diner one final time, into the snow. They’d talked about it, he’d tried to change the old man’s mind. No dice, son. I’m through. Joseph had promised: when the time came, no fuss or bother. The things in that suitcase were his now, gift from one man to another. He’d let him go, and not call the cops, because there were things he’d done that would make life difficult this late in the game. Accept this gift.


Then, you let me go.

He’s always been a good boy. Looked after his momma well after I was long gone, plus when this broken body’s just dust and memory he’ll finally understand why it was the fool could never stay. Maybe I should have told the truth. Maybe. It’s better this way. By the time things work out, I’ll be a memory, like it was all those times before. It was his momma who got mad, never him. That boy always understood what it was to be different. He’s the man I could never become.

I’m proud of chef who remains steadfast, always true to his own self, producing baby back ribs so tender Angels themselves will openly weep when tasting his special barbecue sauce: never overly sweet, exactly spicy enough.

I’ll miss them both in God’s eternal embrace.

Bye, son.


The suitcase remains unopened, propping open back door until last customer left her booth. Joseph could open it here but is compelled to do the deed away from staff. It’s surprisingly heavy, carried up stairs to apartment above his workplace, laid on kitchen table with care. The man thinks of dad, dumb enough to believe son had no idea who he was, that he’d just let the guy spend last days alone with terminal illness. The woman who’s looking after him right now’s being paid for thanks to medical insurance, so she’ll call him later with an update.

One moment represents an entire life, livelihood kept and nurtured away from him growing up. Except Joseph remembers this case brand new: open on the couch one Christmas Eve, decades past. Dad’s saxophone, propped beside: a musician was always on the road. His house, another gig. He may have singularly failed as a father, but Moses as a musician had played with countless greats across the decades: saxophone solos littered within the spectrum of modern music. If there were memories of those times within this case, Joseph would find means to preserve them.

It takes longer than expected to open: both locks are stiff, one initially refusing to open. Frightened contents might be damaged if entry’s forced, Joseph is slow, cautious.

Finally successful –

the case is stuffed full to capacity, countless neat stacks of used $100 bills…


 

Intro

It’s December on Sunday. Probably time to get organised, then.

What to Expect in December

xmas1811.gif

Yes, there will be GIFs, don’t worry, all of that is in hand. It’s taken a while to work out the scheduling, as is inevitably the case in these situations, but we are now READY. There will be content in December on the @InternetofWords Twitter account as follows:

9am: The December Short Story is STARDUST. There’s no snow, just rain, a Diner in the middle of forever and a fry cook called Joseph. That’s all you get for now…

Stardust

1pm: It’s Christmas haiku / Seasoned accompaniment / With added pictures.

square frames

5pm: And then, yes, IT’S HAPPENING.

xmas1818.gif

THE GIFT OF GIF-MAS IS COMING PEOPLE PREPARE YOURSELVES (and maybe wrap it better.)

#Narrating2019 will be along at its scheduled spot of 9.30pm 😀

A Pile of Balls

That seems like a decent amount of content to elicit some festive cheer, WHAT SAY YOU?

Clean, Clean

As part of the ongoing process of standardising website design and making more sense of what is becoming a considerable written portfolio, you’ll start seeing some changes to the look and feel of the website going forward. Initially a lot of it will be cosmetic, but behind the scenes there will need to be some expansion of existing spaces. There are NEW THINGS coming in 2019, and I’ll need room to accommodate them all.

First of all, however, we need to clean up outstanding backlog.

Beneath

Beneath was begun in August and never completed, because I was on holiday and was subsequently hospitalised… and then it took me ages to get back to being organised, and… well, if you’re paying attention, you get the picture. I’m about to schedule the last ten parts of this story today, which marks the end of a fairly significant period of personal growth. I’ve learnt a lot about the craft in that time, especially thanks to attending Mslexicon in July.

Therefore, going forward, short stories will have more prominence. First and foremost the NaNo behemoth needs finishing first, but once the dust settles… these daily doses of fiction keep me keen, and force a particular working/writing style. I don’t want to be without them, but at the same time I have stand alone tales that won’t work in the format. Needless to say, there’s plans to make the most of them wherever they end up.

Stardust

This is a part of my output that gets a lot of attention on Social media, and I fully intend to keep capitalising on that interest going forward. To find new and better ways to tell stories using existing media has always been my desire… which means next year branching out to use other forms of media as a basis. Instagram has given me a lot of pause for thought in the last few months.

Telling stories there cannot be far off…

Let it Snow

December is not far away, and on it’s arrival, I’ve decided to try and be as thematic as it is possible to be without blowing the look and feel of the rest of the website. Therefore, we have a graphic which combines the three elements you’ll see in the #Soundtracking2019 and #Narrating2019 playlists, plus a return to the monthly short story after we have caught up from August.

There is also going to be some Instagram haiku, because why the hell not?

square frames.png

I also do a 24 Days of GIF-mas thing on the other Twitter account, this year we’ll be having a bit of fun with it rather than it being the serious, poetic part of proceedings. I’ll be honest with you, this is the first Christmas for many years that I’m really looking forward to, which is odd considering that I’ll not be able to eat or drink as is normally the case… but it doesn’t matter. There’s so much else to look forward to.

I have a tea advent calendar, the excitement for which really is off the charts. Today was the planning session for this year’s ‘Make your Own Gifts’ operation, which I hope is going to be as much fun as it was when this was done a couple of years ago. The tree will be going up next weekend, and after that you can expect me to be as festive as possible… because it means I can ignore the political chaos going on in the UK.

xmas1805.gif

The short story is planned, and I’ll be beginning the process of picking out tracks for the playlists next week. Hopefully this organisational head start that’s been granted by the success of NaNo (update on Monday) is going to spill over into lots of other areas going forward. I’ve also done a lot this week to rationalise my own virtual spaces, which makes me feel a great deal more comfortable working within them.

Sometimes, all you need to feel happy is the space in which to do so.