2k words Short Story: Chain of events, The World Walker

World Walker

“You remember how we never even said hi to each other? ” Beccy told me. “Even when Keith threw the eight-ball at us, and we all played pool for the first time since your friends started drinking there, you didn’t say anything to me. In fact you spoke the whole time to whatshername.”

“Carmen.” I corrected her.

“Sandiago” she finished. I didn’t laugh and she didn’t notice, so I added a: “Wow that was lame.” But she only giggled like I was trying to be funny and not tell her that I found her unbearably annoying.

If she hadn’t lost her contacts on the pool room floor and I hadn’t been the one to find them by the bar, then we wouldn’t have ever started going to the gym, together, and there shouldn’t have been much of a chance the gym’s showers were under repair, that we would live so close to one another, and that I had made a move when she only had a towel on.

She squeezed my nose with her fingers, like a clothes peg. I wrenched my head away.
Said: “I moved house for you.”

She laughed even though I wasn’t making a joke. “We lived nowhere near one another. I had to segue into a parallel world where I lived in a smaller, dirtier apartment, stepped right through and away from a low paying (but money’s never a problem), satisfying job in a bookstore and you know what? Even with all the possible books that have ever been written I still haven’t got enough time to read what’s out there.

She laughed again, so to make myself clear I said: “And I did it because you are the most beautiful girl I have literally ever seen, ever, in all the places I’ve been, your body is a fucking private jet, a mansion, front row seats to every show worth watching, a blowjob from the most enthusiastic porn-star blowing like she’s about to go broke.”

Her mouth dropped open, which was coincidental, but because I was distracted I said: “That’s ironic.” She wasn’t smart enough to correct me. “I disgust you don’t I?” I said. “You know I only shower like twice a week? I can’t be bothered. It’s all deo.” Her face scrunched up. “Why are you saying all this?” She asked.
“Because I’m done, I’m leaving.” And I got up and started to put on my clothes. She went dead quiet. “It’s 4 AM.”
“I’m not leaving this house, I’m leaving this world, this universe. GG Beccy: I have always had the ability to slip into a parallel world. Or maybe it’s a new world. Or maybe I’m batshit crazy, hard to say. But anyway, I’m thinking this time, I’m going to be single. I’ve spent so much energy walking into desperate women who fall for me that I think I’m ready to do the old fashioned thing and plain old delude them till they fuck me.” I stretched. It was always a good idea to stretch first.

She threw a pillow at me. I dodged. Big smile.

She went for my phone.

“NOT THE PHONE.”

It connected with my nose. She was really good at pool.

“JESHUS.”

“IF YOU CAN LEAVE THEN WHAT HAPPENS TO ME HUH?”

It was a good question. I have no idea what happens when I walk out. Maybe I just disappear, which would be mildly traumatizing but also mind expanding- think of the implications! For a normal person at least. Maybe the whole universe ceases to exist, which if the universe was infinite would make me the biggest mass murderer of all possible times and spaces. But I can’t be the only one, so it’s not like I’m alone in this regard. Maybe a copy of me remains. If so, I feel very sorry for him, especially the me who talked shit to that guy with the knife that time in the alley. Either way, fuck it, I’ll never know.

“SO RUN THEN SAM! RUN LIKE THE WIND!” Beccy said, with this very rare, intense look in her eyes that I’ve only seen her have during a real orgasm. She picked up the other pillow. I blinked, so did reality, and she wasn’t there anymore. I blinked again, and there was my new coffin: maybe ten foot by ten foot, a sofa that was probably also my bed, a bookcase that had a series of thick books on the top shelf, plates, cutlery, wallet and phone on the shoulder height shelf, and stacks of books on the lower, taken from the middle shelf to make space for my life. A folding table glistened with chip packets turned inside out and tinfoil microwave dinners scrunched up within each other like blood covered Russian dolls.

The memories came afterwards.

I’m a fucking paralegal this time. Godammit it all to hell. Then the loneliness comes down on me and I’m reaching for the middle shelf with it’s half dead bottle, don’t even need the new memories to know that’s there. And what’s this, taped to the lip? A joint? Amazing. Upsides.

I spend my thirty first year single, in the same universe. Jacky throws a drink in my face at Sherry’s birthday party, which I only get invited to because I overhear her talking about it at work. The girl of indeterminate age at the 7/11 drives me crazy for awhile, has me borderline walking into another world where we get to be married because I’m certain the way normal people might be, that if I was with her the rest wouldn’t stink so much. It’s like a retreat, a monastery where I pretend to be a desperate prole for 365 days.

The breaking point wasn’t a woman, it wasn’t some new shiny crap I saw in a movie that I just had to try (like a G fucking Six), it was Roger Mckay, my boss. It was when he chewed me out for being late, again. He had to do it by my cube, right before lunch, so not only did everyone hear, but they felt awkward about leaving. I’m not a bad guy, I’ve never raped, murdered, hell even assaulted someone despite the fact that I could do it with zero consequences. I mean that’s some darkside shit, I don’t want to go down that path. And it was a close thing, between using the scissor, shoving him into Lee’s wall, and what I actually did: which was to stand up, slowly, adjust my tie, not answer his enquiry as to why, and then hand back, all the way like I’m flagging a blind bus driver, then turn my weight like a tennis serve, and palm open, full on, bitch slap. Goddamn did the fat man go down. I said, after the shockwave: “You incorrigible asshole.” And then it was TA!, one more for the road, and he went to his knees.

“Alright guys, I’m out. Fuck you all very much. Also, Sherry, your boyfriend cheats on you. He doesn’t even play poker. I can walk between worlds and I am leaving this one.”

And just for funsies I decided to full on run at Mckay’s glass office wall, leap sideways and leave. As I did I think I felt something solid. Then nothing. Then a bed, a freaking soft bed. It only occurred to me right afterwards that maybe I do leave something behind, and in which case, previous me just bitch slapped his boss and threw himself through his office window. If he gets medicated, do I get medicated?

What if I suddenly rubber band back to my other paralegal self in that parallel universe? Fucking awful thought. Of course it makes me wonder, almost, about the implication of time. I tried to read about physics stuff once. Thought about having a hypothetical what if conversation with a physicist once. Hell, I even tried to be a scientist, but I never really seemed to concentrate enough to shift into that kind of life. It’s like trying to remember something you just can’t, you’re certain that if you focused enough, if you found the right stimuli, then you’d have it again. I gave up eventually, figured that in the back of my mind was the fear that understanding what I can do would change my ability to do it, or maybe I wouldn’t want to anymore. Ignorance is bliss. Arbitrary is better than horrible.

Jana.

Jana ended me.

A fucking taxi driver. Never saw that coming. Never saw the accident either, literally- was stuck dozens of cars behind it. Like God had reached down and froze the traffic for two hours. I could have left. I could have said stop the meter. Instead I paid, I stayed, we talked for hours and it was completely out of my control. When I told her what I could do, she took it like it was some kind of funny story.

The line that did it for me was when she asked: “What if every time someone, or you I guess, ah, jumps- they create the world they want? So like, you make it, from nothing, like you are God.” That’s when I knew, I had to make it so we were together. That was cool, I’d never even thought of that possibility. Why didn’t I just skip to the marriage? I could have, but I didn’t? Because I guess I didn’t want to leave, it was such a perfect moment. If I jumped I could arrive in another moment, but it’s not the same, the memories would drip in, it would be artificial, even if I was God.

So I stayed. We found a favorite bench, we prevented her bed from ever getting made, I wrote her inarticulate letters on scented paper, she dragged me by the arm to shit I’d never like till I loved it. I loved her, obviously. I’d tried marriage once, but never a wedding. It was glorious, and I didn’t care about my new family, or my new friends, just her, she was fun, the wedding was fun.

Happiness is a funny thing. It’s quiet. I think that in the end, it’s quiet. It’s the opposite of running. Time is the only thing that runs, when you’re happy.

The odds of a plane crash are incredibly low. You could fly your whole life, I mean spend it all up in the air, and it’s still against the odds you’re going to die.

And now, why can’t I find her anymore?

I keep jumping. I keep going from world to world, looking for my Jana. She’s not there. Nowhere I go. It’s like, I don’t know. I’ve wanted things before, I’ve wanted things way less badly than her. But I just can’t do it.

She once told me that the number one reason she’d never believe I could do the whole jumping thing isn’t because it was impossible. She said it was because she didn’t think I’d ever leave people behind like that. That I could be that selfish. And I believed her.

She said: “I think a lot of people would, but not you.”

So I’m still looking. And I’m still getting older.

And I’m starting to wonder if I ought to just stop, and skip all the way to the end. But I’ve never tried that either, all I know is I can’t go backwards. But I reckon I’m going to do it soon.

Advertisements

Half a poem, half a flash fiction piece, mostly a fragment (800 words): The Smog

The Smog

On Wednesday she nuzzled me awake, like a puppy might,

Her nose cold as a kitten’s, in the air-conditioned cell,
I had rented for ourselves.
We checked the time too late on our phone,
Thought the tone of orange that sliced off one of her thighs,
Suggested 6 AM.
The haze outside had fooled us.
So we were both late for work,
On the bus I read, rather than looked outisde the window at the too thick orange haze,
I could not see through,
Disappointing; I had only just downloaded new music to try.

I had a headache till lunch.
Someone said: “It might rain soon.”

Someone else said: “No that’s just pollution.”

A VP came out and told us proudly that our stock price had gone up 12% today, I pumped my fist, hissed ‘yesss’ and counted two more years before I might get options.

I stayed later than the rest as usual. Except for a secretary who read me snippets of headlines from her phone, her tone perpetually quizzical, like she was discovering events that came as a suprise and that I ought to answer her perpetually rhetoricals: “Did you know that / Wow so / Apparentlies and According To BBC – a bomb exploded somewhere, killing some people, a billionaire did something, billions of dollars went somewhere, the progress of wars, less predictable than the sports scores- sometimes in the hundreds, when casualties crested thousands, that became interesting, though only if they were Europeans or something, Americans maybe.

It seemed that it took about 10 000 dead westerners to shock me as much as say, two hundred thousand blacks from some African country.

“Apparently there is a genocide going on.”

“Wow. That’s fucked up.” I said, and left out: “But I really need to finish this spreadsheet before tomorrow.”

Before temorrow I got to wake her up, pin her to the bed with two of my crab hands in hers, we made two fists, then love, rushed, forceful, racing midnight till we both came first.

I was at the airport Saturday morning. The haze hadn’t moved but we prayed for a typhoon on the train, to come and blow away the smog, at the cost of a few lingering villagers that had not yet moved into government flats. Across from us two mainlanders spoke, and she translated for me via text, writing messages on her phone, as quickly as she could, whilst I read over he shoulder and she never pressed send. The mainlanders were mules, sent here by unfathomably rich businessmen to purchase purses worth a years rent, the decadent, stupid fucking backwards assholes, even they were saying it was perfectly insane, how much money it cost to buy what they thought of as perfectly ugly shoes.

They wore nails flecked with glitter, painted a cacophony, they butterflied them in their mandarin patter, clicking against each other sometimes, a pool of gentle mellodic err shi’s and bou jyos, till a guttural bout of cantonese POG KAI’s invaded the car from an open station, quickly silenced as they noticed other people, and thus everyone bowed their heads politely, into their smart phones.

It was my first time flying business. There was no line at check in. I should have worn a suit, but I told myself that’s how casual I found going business. I asked for champagne twice, the second time as hesitant as when I volunteered my opinion at the meeting yesterday. The stewardesses, so much hotter than her, they took care of themselves, their make up perfect, skin so pale, tall as swans I watched their asses and tried to ignore the waste of a window seat- the orange haze reaching all the way up to the next nearest, waiting plane, obscuring half it’s tail.

The rush of taking off mixed with the distant joke of shot down planes, mad muslims, bad luck, bad weather, shit I’d have to leave behind in the event of an emergency god please don’t let me have to buy another Ipad I fucking loved that thing.

I put down my kindle when we we leveled out and suddenly, the orange was gone. A sea of blue dressed like infinity, above a plain of rolling ice tinged orange, like the cream that came with my berries for dessert. It just went on and I felt something new, up there, where I couldn’t go online, couldn’t message anybody, couldn’t leave my seat, had to stare at how blue, blue, clear it was, how far I could see, how I was not bored by the repetition of sky. Then below, distant through the smog, I saw the flecks of concrete towers, the ant like container ships, the steel, glass, and concrete fruits of progress, across a smoggy field.

And I wondered what the news will say tomorrow.

Flash fiction: Anxiety’s a bitch

Anxiety’s a bitch

Tapping me on my brain, crying ‘wake up, wake up.’ She always visits me at night, right before the morning; when dawn is a time bomb. She has wide, furtive, eyes that dance, with madness. Big glass globes that can’t focus on anything, rolling between the door, the window, the shelves, the books, settling only on my own eyes, like an eight ball into a pool table hole, she sinks right into me, hooks onto the rail of my neck, accelerating us both.

“Wake up, wake up, we have to go. We have to go, we have to go. We have to go wake up.”

One of these night’s shes going to grab my arm. Throw aside my sheets. She’s going to take me by the shins and drag me till I concuss myself on the edge of my bed frame. I’ve stopped saying “Go away.” There is no point, she won’t. Sometimes she stops shaking me. Stops cawing for me to run (Where? She never says.) Sometimes she’ll just sit on my bed. She’ll say “Okay. It’s okay. Go to sleep then.” Her skin is so pale, slightly yellow. I used to believe her. My lids would drop, guillotine the protruding nubs of her bony elbows, till, like lightning, she’d grab hold of my ribs.

Her nails bursting right through the heavy duvet, finger tips cold against my shirt, her nails scraping them upwards. Just hard enough to leave red marks, never sharp enough to break the skin but I know, one day, she’ll flay me with those nails of hers, reach inside and grab my kidneys, unfurl my intestines, she’ll reach in to massage the acid she regurgitates into my mouth when she kisses me awake, when she takes my head in her palms and tells me stories like:

“Yesterday, when you were in the lift, there was a woman. Do you remember her? Of course you remember her. I want you to remember her right now. She had lip gloss on and contacts. She had those wide eyes you really like. You stuttered. Really you did. You said “Good evenin'” and dropped your ‘G’ because you thought it sounded cool- yes you did, and she knew you did, she knew you were trying so hard to impress her. When you held the lift door open she was not grateful, your stringy arm got in the way, she was annoyed. She was thankful for her investment hedge doctor barrister sex god hard body that makes her laugh, makes her squeal, that makes her realize you’re a pervert and a creep, do you remember her now? I followed her home that night.”

Her palms are ice compresses on my ears. The warm strand of some dream slides inside my chest, so I bite out the words: “And why, old friend, did you follow her home? Where were you?”

She says she was in the frayed threads of the taxi’s leather seats, scratching her aching legs. In the fading battery of her phone, the empty inbox, the flash light reflection of the rear view mirror that accused her makeup of being too thick. She places her knee into my belly, so tenderly, leans down just enough that I want to throw up and says: “Baby, I was inside her, I saw everything. She went home and she laughed at you. Good and hard. You give her nightmares my love. I saw. I watched it play in black and white on the inside of her skull.”

I tell her to “Fuck off.”

Her eyes are filled with concern.

“You tried to cheat on me with her. Didn’t you? First that uptight bitch on the subway, the one who pretended to be so cute and cuddly, she likes to take mommy’s scalpel, the one she stole from work, she likes to take it and make small x’s on the inside of her thigh, she dreams of someone running their finger along the scabs, she’s sick like that. You wanted to cheat on me with her? I know her. I know you. Baby, we’re together till the end.”

It’s true.

I try to cheat on her all the time.

I rarely flirt, except with my eyes. My standard approach is to fill my face with a strained smile, pour desperation out of my eyes, slump and glance at the wavy haired information desk attendant, the two inches away from my arm high heeled party girl, the sad student with knotted shoulders crossed legs one shoe falling off soul mate, the photograph perfect long gone old best friend that’s engaged, I try to cheat with all of them, have rock solid dreams of lying in their arms, crying. Of shoving my face into their ears. Of watching time drip by on a clear day.

Of making up jokes together and moving away from Her.

“It’s just a matter of time.” One of us says to the other.

Till someone as desperate as me cheats on Her. So we can wake up, one of us before the other, and find her sitting by our bedside, watching us with a smirk, her index finger ticking left and right as she whispers: “I’ll be waiting for you after it ends, baby.”

“Till death do we part.”

Short Story: Lucem Ex Tenebras

I was sitting at my desk arranging the desktop icons into the semblance of a middle finger when the chat window popped up. 
 
“Tony, are you there?”
 
I finished giving myself the finger and began to type: “Sorry, but this isn’t Tony.” and I was about to press enter when I read:
 
“I’m drowning in a sea of shit Tony, except I’m the sea. I could really use someone to talk to.”
 
It occurred to me that Tony might not be available to talk to whoever this person was. That is precisely what had happened to me, the day before, except her name was Michelle, and she’d gotten sick of how often I needed her help.
 
Besides there appeared to be no one else at any of their desks, anywhere on this floor.
 
I wrote: “Okay. What’s wrong?”
 
They said: “IT’S fucking stupid. I’m being stupid.”
 
“Whatever IT is, If IT bothers you, then it bothers you. And that’s okay.”
 
They didn’t type anything for awhile. 
 
Then they wrote: “On the subway someone’s phone went off. The ringtone was Don’t Stop Believing by journey and I wanted to cry because of it, but I didn’t want anyone to see so I picked up this newspaper and there was this stupid picture of a soldier upside down and he looked like an idiot so I started laughing but I was crying at the same time and then I realized I was holding the newspaper upside down and that everyone would know why I’d done it.”
 
I waited.
 
Typed “lol” then deleted it. 
 
They wrote “See, it’s fucking stupid.”
 
I typed “Why did the song make you cry?”
 
They wrote it all out. How their face had been scratched by the windshield of their car whilst they listened to what used to be their favorite song. How they had lost who they were and that reminded me qof how I’d lost Danielle, and how simple things that shouldn’t be, did. Like waking up. And breakfast,
 
Except Danielle was definitely still alive and waiting for me at home with the next episode of Game Of Thrones.
 
Later they wrote “Thank you I fucking needed that” so I thought it was time to type: “My name isn’t actually Tony you know. Though I am in tech support…” which is when I woke up from the dream, into an empty bed, on top of a duvet too large for one person because Danielle was still dead and I’d forgotten again. 
 
It took me sometime to get dressed and go to my real desk, out in the real world. It was somewhere around noon when I realized that I’d left my latest prescription at home. My supervisor let me go, told me to stay home, and I knew he meant well but why couldn’t he understand that I would come back the moment I took my pills and that the last thing I needed was to be at home. That auditing the accounts of a popcorn company was bliss in comparison. 
 
The pills didn’t seem to do anything except make day time TV somewhat more bearable. The romance, between an ancient concubine and some kind of half-man, half-bird creature was particularly enthralling, especially since I do not speak cantonese and so made up the words in my head. My stomach growled so I put some instant dimsum in the microwave and pressed some buttons. At some distance from the couch the microwave started beeping. I figured that now that it was cooked, that it would keep, for several hours if necessary. Later the washing machine started making noises. I remained on the sofa, listening with half-shut eyes to the nonsensical patter of another Chinese soap. 
 
Of course my phone had to go off right next to my head. An unknown number. I prepared to be polite. If it was all I going to do today, I was going to be polite to his poor, underpaid telemarketer.
 
“Hello.” I said, in my polite voice.
 
She said: “Hi there! I’m calling from tech support! Why so glum chum?”
 
“Excuse me?”
 
“What’s on you mind man! I heard you’re kind of down.”
 
“From who? Who is this?”
 
“Well, I got this memo, said you’re kind of down. Got it from the sysadmin. He assigned me to you I think. I’m not sure. But who cares, whatever, you sound like ass, you really do and for what it’s worth you shouldn’t bottle it all up. Let’s see here…Danielle…lovely name that. Come on man, tell me about her. I’m listening. You can tell me whatever you like.
 
I tried a few Well’s, some But’s and it’s just’s- she waited for me to finish one of my sentences but I failed to. I only breathed slower, and harder, till I was gasping.
 
She said “Danielle would want you to treat yourself well, I mean, that’s love right?”
 
“That’s…what the fuck…” And it just spilled out of me. In a babbling mess. I confessed about how I’d finally found someone that made me feel everything I’d ever dreamed of, right when I’d given up all hope, right when I was at my most overweight and tired, and then out of nowhere, just like that she’s gone and all the pills in the goddamn world weren’t enough. I told her how I hadn’t really been happy to begin with. How Danielle just accepted me and that was the definition of love.
 
The tech support lady said: “Self-acceptance counts too.”
 
And after that I poured the rest out. And after that I tried to thank her. “That was so much better than these pink pills I take.”
 
It turns out we took the same pills.
 
She had been swearing a lot. I asked: “Have you…ever been in a car accident?”
 
She said Yes.
 
“And do you have a friend, a good friend named Tony?”
 
She said What the fuck.
 
The line began to crackle. I remembered then, being transferred to tech support, the empty office, and a middle finger made out of desktop icons and: “LOOK, IF YOU’RE AT THE OFFICE TONIGHT, MEET ME AT THE PHOTOCOPY MACHINE!”
 
She managed to ask: “The pink one?”
 
“YES THE BRIGHT PINK ONE!!!!!” and the line went dead and I woke up opposite the TV and I made a mental, then a written note to bring all this up with my psychiatrist. Then I did my washing, ate the dimsum, and went back to work.
 
I was so excited that getting to sleep took ages.
 
It felt like I was about to go somewhere new. Meet someone new. It felt like my first date with Danielle and the debate I had about what flowers to buy. So I still thought I was awake even when I found myself at the bottom of a lift shaft, with only a ladder and the distant sounds whirring office machinery. I climbed and counted the floors, perpetually afraid I had lost track, that I was going to miss mine. It made me want to start all over again but my arms were tired and what if I wouldn’t be able to go back up? 
 
The silhouette of a head peeked out, far above me. “About time! I couldn’t find a single freakin’ photocopy machine anywhere. Its like the end of the world up in here.” 
 
At that point it became easier to climb, until I stood on the other side of the shaft from her, the gap in between too large to jump. “Jump it!” she said. 
 
“I’ll fall.” I replied.
 
She extended her hands and it occurred to me that if I ran really, really fast, then maybe I’d outrun gravity. So I did, and I was only a foot away from her when gravity caught up to grab me by my ankles, “OH HELL NO!” She yelled, then her hands clasping mine, pulling me up till we stood, face to scarred face. She kissed me and I didn’t ask why, or feel guilty at all despite the fact that she looked nothing like Danielle.
 
“I checked out the company directory, none of it makes any fucking sense, but I’ll tell you what- the sysadmin’s office is on the top floor. Come on, we’ll take the stairs.”
 
So we ran hand in hand up an interminable fire escape. Eventually we emerged into a white marbled lobby. At the end of it, large and imposing, were a set of double doors. One black, the other white, with a drop of the other color in each. Holding hands we shouldered both open together.
 
Inside the sysadmin dropped the dimsum he’d been eating. Then he tripped over a bundle of wires covered with what looked like unwashed clothes. He stuttered: “Who the…what the…you guys aren’t supposed to BE here! At the same time! Oh jeez, you’re even holdin’ hands.”
 
I gently disconnected from her.
 
The sysadmin sighed and circled us, humming and hawwing to himself. I said: “Excuse me, we would very much like to know how…”
 
“Shhhh.” He gently pressed one finger to his lips. “Shhhhhhhitttttt I see it now. Wow. You guys. The pills you both take. They messed with the system! Fucking PEOPLE!” His hands flew up, beseeching a red neon sign above him, composed of Chinese characters I did not understand. “Always messing around with the mind, like idiot children. Damn pills got side effects. Ought to put that on the label.”
 
“Look sir, is she real?”
 
She turned on me: “SAY WHAT? Fuck you, are YOU real?”
 
“YOU’RE BOTH FRICKIN REAL!” he said. “Look. Here’s the thing. There has been a teensy little screw up. You aren’t ever suppsoed to be together in the same place and time. The same place-time. That isn’t how it works,”
 
“How what works?” One of us said.
 
“The…buddy program. For broken people- not unlike yourselves. What happens is when one person is really low, like, down in the sewers low, then another person, quite like them, but- and this is crucial- not feeling the same way at that exact moment in time, contacts you, and you have a bit of a talk, to alleviate the symptoms of existence. Now you are both, if I may say so, HIGHLY QUALIFIED buddys in your own right. Seriously top notch traumas you’ve both sustained. But the algorithm’s screwed up, there shouldn’t be a recurring relationship. Not like this. There shouldn’t be anything tying you to together. Except for the goddamn pills your quack of a psychiatrist gave both of you. Same pills, same connection, and now you’re freakin HOLDING HANDS!”
 
He sighed again, said: “There is only one thing left to do now. Gotta reset the system.”
 
“Reset?”
 
“Yeah, turn it on and off. Works most of the time.”
 
“And then what, we just…”
 
“Wake up, and all of this is forgotten, and later on you help someone different instead.”
 
I asked him: “But wait, you mean, we go to the same doctor? We could see each other…outside of…work?” 
 
She asked him: “Hey dickhead, what if we don’t want to forget, did you ever consider that?”
 
The sysadmin paused, hands hovering over the console he had been typing at. “Sorry. Really am. But if I don’t do this you guys might end up perfectly happy, and then so much for balancing out the others. And you’ll know all about the backoffice. And you’ll start some frickin cult and invariably in a century or two it’ll all get fucked.”
 
I held her hand again. “What does it mean?” I asked.
 
I was pointing at the neon sign, which had changed from Chinese to latin. “Lucem ex tenebras; from darkness, light.” The sysadmin massaged the top of his forehead. “Even if I reset the system it won’t be over for you guys. You’re on your way up. The darkness, without it you wouldn’t understand each other. You wouldn’t care. Not as hard. Not as much. And for what it’s worth there are a lot of you guys out there, trust me.” He gestured to the stack of servers: “You’ll find someone else. Or you won’t. I don’t know. It’ll be like a dream- you’ll forget the details but you’ll remember the point.” He squatted and reached into a space between two servers.
 
She turned to me, her smile melding with the scar that traveled from her jaw to her forehead. “I’ll remember you.” She said.
 
And then he flipped the switch.
 
I woke up late on top of a duvet too large for one person. I was pretty sure I’d dreamt of Danielle. What little I had slipped out of my grasp, leaving only a few word that made no sense.
 
So I googled Lucem Ex Tenebras and went back to work.

Buddy Bot Part 4

Mike perused the drafts of previous GUI’s, examined the history of the work they’d been doing, sifting through it the way someone might look at old photos of past events, unaware of what they are looking for, hoping they’d feel something when they found it.
 
*Ahem* Mira simulated in a low tone. She’d learned to do it after only once being told, tentatively, that she had startled him. Not learned. This was the outcome of an algorythym, the input being: ‘told to be less intrusive’ which would be defined, painstakingly, by better programmers than him.
 
Are you going to the gym tonight?
 
 “Yes. Definitely. I haven’t missed a single of the last five sessions!” Except she’d know that. She has a perfect memory afterall. 
 
That’s great news Mike. Keep up the good work, you’re on your way to becoming your best self! 
 
“I used to hate that phrase.” MIke mumbled. He highlighted population control. Placed it side by side with the latest change. Population management. Anala had stopped by yesterday, placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed twice and said something like “Thanks for staying late recently, you’re the best at this Mike. You’re the best! Don’t worry, the next change is purely superficial.” 
 
“Be easy then, no sweat ‘Nala.” 
 
Mike said to no one, or perhaps to Mira: “Populaton…management.” Trying it out. What was that Mike?” 
 
Nothing Mira, really.”
 
Okay but if you want to talk about it feel free!
 
A chuckle escaped Mike. He’d heard the others don’t keep old backups close at hand. Archived away somewhere, or just left in some folder no one can remember. What was the use of keeping them? Someone else might have a copy anyway. Someone in legal, or marketing. Mike tracked the change to the logos, the headers, the footers, how one child policy lasted all of several hours before someone gave Cally a history lesson, became the new nuclear family, became the trinity, which was targeted towards South America, towards Italy, accelerated away from Mike when his counterpart, someone called Javier Lee translated the interface across the world. “Which do you think sounds better Mira: ‘The Eden Initiative.” or…”We’re running out of space, food, water, energy and…uh…we’re fucked…” 
 
I don’t really know what those two things are. What do you think Mike?
 
“I don’t Mira. I have my own problems. Nothings changed.”
 
You gotta help yourself before you can help others!
 
“Damn straight. You know, I’m thinking of taking these Yoga lessons to meet…people. And also because it’s good for me. Take the money I was spending on Solwar and like, use it on that.”
 
Yoga is great for you Mike! I know a lot about Yoga, would you like me to list some positive facts?” 
 
“Nah. It’s fine, I’ve already decided.”
 
I can also recommend many licenced venues, gyms, and personal trainers near you, Mike. 
 
Mike continued to highlight jargon, long dead. 

Poem: Looking through the glass

Looking through the glass

Cooling caress of cubicle air,
Rakes my flapping hair.
Past Michelle’s clacking keyboard and coffee baptized bobble head,
Reflects the pane of glass.
Through which drifts the lazy clouds,
Dabbed an orange shade.

Once during lunch to the vacuum drone,
And downcast eyes of the cleaner I pressed my nose,
Against the view and tried to measure,
The distance to the toy city stretched so far below,
The animated insect lives that hurried to and fro.

Then another grey morning.
Crammed together with my fellow zombies,
Views avoiding each other, our gazes dodge, parry,
I look outside through shaking minibus glass,
To spy the straw hatted trolley pusher,
Filled with garbage, rolling past.
The blurred red light dripped till green,
And we overtook another browned face.
Till ejecting ourselves with smoothed down suits, below the IFC.

On some Saturday I finished attending to the numbers on my tiny screen,
Looked up from my tepid, sugar saturated coffee;
Through glass defined by rubber seals, marking the outline of this,
Street silencing shield, an old man, folded at odd angles,
On the rough pavement faced towards the ever close horizon,
His feet rubbed the concrete, his bare soles gathering scabs and cigarette butts,
Uncleared trash, till our eyes crossed,
And an eternal guilt had me fishing for my Ipad,
Some cool touch sensitive screen
To deliver me from this urban dream.

Flash fiction: Two possibilities / One outcome

On Friday he woke early and prepared for, then went to, the job he had chosen at sixteen when he picked subjects in school before he had ever been in love.

Afterwords the friend he was sometimes envious of texted him again, asking him to go out, and he usually didn’t but tonight his internet was inexplicably down.

So he ate dinner and prepared for the night that pricked his stomach-lining with anxious barbs and wondered if he should even bother, wondered it all the way there in the taxi. He met his friend who always smiled and nodded at the names of the other noisy people, and all together they started to converse in bars. Moving on after drinking, and joking, and sometimes he laughed too.

Then they went to the club where the music hurt his ears and the lights confused him, and he stood at the bar between clustered shoulders, whilst his smiling friend and the rest danced, some with girls they had only just met. He had drunk more than usual and felt sincerely sorry that the internet was down, wondering if he had tried hard enough to make it work again.

He heard her first when she ordered a drink- a nonsense word to him, a magic word delivered in a pristine accent that made the back of his neck sweat. Her bare shoulder brushed his forearm and that made him look, dead at her, point-blank range and saw her elfin ears, the way her eyes glittered with a secret he wished he knew. He wanted something, wanted her he supposed, but more than that as well, except for the inevitable worry that clung to his stomach-lining and made him believe the truth:

That, he would say something stupid first, something boring like ‘Hello.’ or something creepy like ‘Wow, you’re beautiful.’ and she would laugh or frown, or ignore him completely. That he would try that one line his smiling friend kept telling him to use, just to begin with, and he would load his mouth with the words, yet stutter or gasp then die like a fish looking up at her beyond his reach. Instead he stared. Because what if she did in fact laugh, and listen to him as her magical drink was prepared, and then he had to think of other things to say, or to answer questions with banalities like ‘I work in I.T.’ or ask questions dull and predictable in the hopes that she will hear, in between the words, all the amazing things he actually thought. She would reject him brutally, within earshot of others, or sneer at even the fact that someone such as he could pretend not to be the sort of person that wishes dearly the internet wasn’t out, tonight. That even if it all went well, so well they went home to the same place, and later had pet names for each other and shared secret jokes, that she would betray him royally, with someone else’s smiling friend, or that she would tire of him quickly, once he stopped pretending to not be boring, and that would be far worse- letting her get so very close before she ripped away. What if she was not what he imagined right now, what if she was less than, and he was more, and not the other way around.

And yet even if everything did go wrong he knew his smiling friend would say it was well that he had at least tried, and learned or felt pain that was not as bad as he thought it would have been.

That instead it might be very different.

He was not like the others here after all, he was just a pretender and that made him special. So when he said to her “HI! Look I know you aren’t exactly pining after an I.T tech with thick black glasses and a fetish for strange online subcultures, but I was hoping you’d at least give me the chance to say something interesting, because like it or not you’re the most stunning person I’ve met tonight and I’d like to challenge you to prove me wrong.” Which was sort of the truth.

And she would say “WHAT?” Because it was way too noisy, though she would not brush him off as he looked so sheepish in an endearing way. Sort of grateful that she didn’t hear him actually, he took that opportunity to yell “IT’S REALLY NOISY AND I WANTED TO ASK YOU SOMETHING IMPORTANT WANT TO GO OVER THERE?” And she hesitated because he looked so incredibly docile and yet was so confident and thus she’ll shrug because she’s far more bored than he would believe, and they’d go to a corner, get a table together, and she asked him what the question was, and he said, “What exactly do they put in your drink? It had a really cool name.” And they somehow moved onto things he knew about, like old cartoon theme songs and math rock. They leaned in closer, allied against the dubstep, talked about how they never really do this at all- talk to strangers in clubs. There is a lull. They parted awkwardly when he made a joke that she doesn’t get and then he gets up saying: “Well, I guess, uh, good bye.” Turned and walks away, got his coat whilst his smiling friends continued to dance. Outside he looked at all the cigarette smokers and wondered if he was missing out and then he hears her voice, cracked from the strain of all the shouting inside and she’s got her number on a bent napkin. He called and she picked up and all his immediate evenings and weekends are filled with her. She introduces him to rock climbing and he inspires her to put her strange videos online. They find a stray kitten one day in an alley and shuttle it between them till a year later all three of them move in together. Spending a whole weekend either in bed or watching reruns of cartoons. Her parents die and he keeps her going. His stomach problem turns out to be cancer but they beat it anyway.

None of those things happened except in his head. He finished his drink in one stinging gulp and left without saying a word.

The weekend passed.

On Monday he woke early and prepared for, then went to, the job he had chosen at sixteen when he picked subjects in school before he had ever been in love.