Extracts from a book I’ll never write

I look at my feet, the space between my toes and empty space and the expanse of sea before the line where it meets the sky. I remember how ancient Scandinavians believed that the Aurora Borealis was the refection of shoals of herring, of their iridescent scales projecting a light show among the stars. Today the sea and sky bleed into one another, a continuous stretch of grey reflecting grey and I think of how everything is a muted grey to me lately; every sound like the buzz of static, and I want to take that step towards the horizon.

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Forgetting

I

There it is, on the porch, tucked beneath the wood storage. Rickety stool, one leg shorter than the rest, teetering on the edge. Tiptoes. Just out of reach but – there – untangled the string of the wind chime: its dull scrape of driftwood and hollow chimes: how the sea would sound if it could speak. It is too windy for them here, a crude cacophony interrupting my sleep. I will move them somewhere sheltered. Nails, I need. Some logs for the fire, too. Nights are closing in now, the chill seeping under the doors. Cold days. Colder nights. I will have to take the bus into town, the three-o clock one, yes. A busy day. Things to do.

The bus is crowded. A female driver. She waves away my pass, ‘I know who you are, Mrs Jones,’ knows my name – I’m getting old – too old. A family on the seat in front are eating sandwiches: smells of tuna and cucumber and cheese flood the space as they’re passed around. A toddler turns and looks at me, owl-eyed. We’re slowing down, the bus swaying. This is my stop. Is it? Yes: the square with the hanging baskets and the tulips, all reds and oranges, outside the supermarket. Bright lights inside, disorientating, too much choice. All in one shop. It was never like this, the greengrocer used to let you try the strawberries before you bought them. Where am I, which aisle? Nails. I need nails. And logs, hard to make out my scrawl on this paper. The signs swim above the aisles: bread, kitchen, hardware – there. Rows and rows of nails, I grab a small pack, still too many, they will go to waste. I only need a handful. A hand by my shoulder, a young man in red. Spotty face. Continue reading “Forgetting”

Argus

Light.

A harsh, fluorescent bulb. Its low hum, a flicker every one, two, three, four seconds.

White walls. Sterile.

Someone is in the room.

A young man, wearing a lab coat too long at the sleeves. He is facing a dark pane of glass in the wall, gesticulating widely as he speaks. He looks nervous. The tail of his coat is lifted periodically by a breeze from the window, slightly cracked so that a slither of light paints a line across the room down to-

Hands.

A fist, two. Clenched and unclenched as the thought appears, blue light like veins passing beneath the skin. I want it closer and it raises. I want. I. My hand.

I…am. Continue reading “Argus”

Counterfactual Fiction Prompt

The nights are the worst.

Even now with the generators going in the main streets, casting harsh fluorescent light around as though this is all a film set. It feels like one sometimes, with the myriad of candles flickering in apartment windows like some gothic drama displaced in time. It’s as though the clock has been turned back on our world. Beyond the reach of the lights is a darkness so deep it seems to have seeped into the people, the ones who had to hide in the old world. We try not to walk alone now.

I wake early, just as the first slither of light appears above the cityscape and floods the store fronts with light, their broken windows casting shadows like mountains against the barren shelves. A city I grew up in but hardly recognise. One week. If the flare had happened one week later it would have been no more than an afterthought, something scientists might look at some time later and remark that we dodged a bullet. One week. A flap of a butterfly’s wings. A different world.

Continue reading “Counterfactual Fiction Prompt”

‘Life of a Woman in 1917 Lincoln’ Prompt

It feels like I never get to see the sun, waking up in the dark and walking home when it’s even darker. A swan drifting past is my guiding light today, tranquil among the waking sounds of the city, the yawn of machinery. It is the cleanest thing I can see, its arched neck the only thing not covered in grime or grease, or a thick layer of smog that hovers just over the water on a misty morning.

I prefer the grease on my hands, though, to the pallid skin of the canary girls that work in the other warehouse. Everything they touch seems to turn yellow too. It is a reminder of what we are doing, I suppose, proof that we are helping in some way. Not that I need a reminder. I’m still sorting through shallow trays of bullets when I close my eyes some nights, watching them roll endlessly by on infinite rows of worktops or piecing together shell after shell in my dreams. I can’t imagine what they dream of on the front.

Continue reading “‘Life of a Woman in 1917 Lincoln’ Prompt”

freewriting

I’m laughing along with everyone though I’m not sure how, it doesn’t feel like I have the breath. Doesn’t feel like I’m in my body anymore. I’m watching from somewhere outside, pulling the strings on my face into a smile I don’t feel at all. Careless, crinkled eyes; even I would believe this act. I try to convince myself that’s not what it is. This only happens in films: the music fading into the background, everything slowing down as I see them together. I think a part of me has broken, here, in the last five seconds, reacting slower than my instinct not to let it show. That can wait until later, when I’m alone. When the stack of rubble that my spine is now can crumble, when the hollow cavity of my chest can collapse in on itself. I have no right to feel this way. I wish I didn’t feel anything, and that’s what I try to do as I finish my drink, finish another, finish the night by slinking away unnoticed. I’ll feel it in the morning.

Be Right Back

Introduction

Anyway it’s not how that bothers me, it’s why. The how almost doesn’t matter. Everyone has a story of how or where or when. It happens every day, it happens to everyone. But that’s all people want to ask: how. How did it happen? How are you? How? I feel like I’ve rehearsed the answer now, perfected it. Just the right amount of emotion so they don’t get uncomfortable. Like the realness of it scares them more than the answer. They get more uncomfortable when I ask them why instead. Nobody answers; nobody tries save for those reflexive statements hollowed out from overuse. Mostly they touch my shoulder, tilt their heads at me; change the subject. I keep asking until I feel like a toddler. Why why why why? Why is grass green? Why doesn’t the sun fall out the sky? Why-
Why her? Continue reading “Be Right Back”

Camouflage

It brings to mind soldiers and hunting. Or else those fish you saw at the bottom of aquariums, hidden in plain sight amongst their vibrant counterparts. Or maybe it isn’t always so matter-of-fact. It can be in movements or in words, in that instinctive need to bear resemblance to one’s surroundings.

Camouflage. More than a mess of disjointed shapes in forest colours. It is a light-hearted evasion passed off with a hollow smile. Derived from the French word ‘Camouflet’, it means ‘whiff of smoke in the face’, a deception. More than concealment: it is survival. Synonymous with disguise, mask, cover. Things which we use to obscure or alter appearances so that other things are lost to view in the background. Not that protruding pattern worn when you were young and with that unmindful confidence all children seem to possess: Here I Am. Continue reading “Camouflage”

Coffee

This moment between turning the sign from closed to open is the quietest. Past the glass of the door the world seems to move slower, and I have five minutes of stillness and sips of coffee before the café opens. Business suits with clipped orders for espressos, the slow drawl of caramel macchiatos with extra cream to fuel those half-written novels and the tired requests for coffee leave my complimentary muffin forgotten. The morning rush is a mess of coffee spills and pastry flakes and when the whirring of the blenders starts to slow I can stop to breathe. To watch. Continue reading “Coffee”

Cemetery Thief

His plan was flawless. Unconventional, maybe, but he was far from worries of morality when he lived in the backseat of a car. Getting the sign was his biggest setback. In the end he called in a favour from a talented friend with a stencil and an ask-no-questions attitude. It cost him his car radio, but the local news section was a small price to pay. He’d rather have the paint and scrap metal.

Beware: pickpockets. The sign was official looking enough to prompt caution from most visitors. If people wondered why they were being warned of theft in a place populated by skeletons, they didn’t say anything. Pockets were checked and bags secured, and it told him exactly where to strike.

Continue reading “Cemetery Thief”