Hello there! This isn’t a scheduled blog post, but rather something I’ve put up here just for fun. Currently I am taking an online course in how to sell yourself (since, as Frank Zappa once said: “art is making something out of nothing and then selling it.”) and have briefly mentioned my writing there. Someone on that site wanted to read some of my stuff, saying they liked “short fiction”. As I live to please, I have dredged through my hard drive and fished up the only two surviving examples of flash fiction I have (with the others being lost to time). Here we go.
This first one is what all the young people are calling “speculative fiction” and is a rewrite of the story I initially wrote for my writing tutor to prove I was literate enough to enroll in a professional writing course. At just under 900 words, it is a quick read indeed.
Enjoy “The Letter”.
I hope you never have to read this. That it ends up at the bottom of my wastebasket and neither of us ever have to think about any of this ever again. But if you are reading, it’s because you made the same mistake I did, and now our days are numbered.
The world’s not quite what you expected it to be, is it? I remember when I was first brought into the agency. Time travel. What a wonderful thing, right? I remember growing up as a kid and watching all this sci-fi stuff come true. Holograms, space travel, clean energy (well, before they worked out a way to muck it up, anyway.) But time travel was always the one thing that made me think, “Nah. No matter what, we’ll never manage to do that,”
And yet we did.
I remember seeing the machine for the first time. It looked like some huge, hungry furnace. I remember there was some egg-head goon there, telling us a bit about how it worked and why it worked and health and safety and yadda yadda. I remember that all I could think about was that it felt like I was walking into hell. I know there was a reason for the heat, but I can’t remember. Can you?
The others and I; we all stepped inside with only the vaguest idea of what to expect on the other side. I remember how strange it felt when we moved through time. Like that feeling you get in a lift, but so much more intense. Like every little part of you is being squeezed slightly. You remember, I’m sure. The memory’s fresh in your head. I know you’re a rookie. I know I’m your first.
I expect neither of our ideas about what the world might be like in the future came true, did they? I can barely remember what I had in my head, to be honest. I guess I thought it would change a bit more than it did? Thirty years was a longer time to me back then than it is now, I suppose. At first I just remember thinking it looked like the same old shit-hole as it was in my time. Kind of reassuring, in a way.
If you are reading this letter; I know how you feel. Even weirder to be reading this in your own bedroom, right? We used to open our presents on Christmas morning right here, in this very spot. You might wonder why I didn’t think to run and hide somewhere far away when I knew you were coming. But I’m ex-agency. I know how they are. I know that wherever I went, you’d track me down. So I’m waiting here in the hopes that, I don’t know, seeing me in your old family house might shock you enough that we can just sit down and talk. I don’t want to die; and I certainly don’t want to kill you. I really hope we’re sitting and talking right now, instead of you reading this.
But if we’re not sitting and talking, I suppose you have a lot of questions that I won’t be able to answer. You’re probably feeling angry and more scared than you’ve ever felt in your life. I can empathize. Like I said, I’m ex-agency. I know how they are. Silly how we know our bosses are lying to us, but we just go along with it all anyway, isn’t it?
I’m sitting here trying to think of the things you might ask, and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’ll be honest, though; my head’s in a bit of a state and I put off writing this letter for way too long. I’m not even sure how long I’ve got left until you get here. I can only apologize for turning into such a wreck. But I expect you understand by now. I know you’re clever. Cleverer than me, that’s for damn sure.
Okay, the big question first. No, I don’t know why they did it. I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life trying to find out why and I’ve turned up nothing. I sometimes wonder if my snooping around so hard is the reason all this is happening to begin with. What a pisser that’d be, eh?
The second question. Could I have stopped it? The truth is; I really couldn’t, and I’ve spent so many sleepless nights trying to suss it out. You can still stop this, though. And I pray that you have; that you let me speak. That you didn’t just put a bullet through my skull the moment I tried to open my mouth. That’s what I would have done at your age. I was a fool.
I was a rookie.
As for all the other questions… well, shit. I’ve run thousands of those little questions through my head now and frankly I’m sick of them. I can’t stomach writing them down, and this letter’s running on too long as it is. I know I didn’t have to make this letter so long. Call it whimsy, you know? If you don’t let me speak to you in person, this is the only real talk we’ll ever have; you and I.
Anyway. I think I just heard a noise downstairs. I expect I’ll be seeing you in just a moment.
And now for the second one. This is another story with a more science fiction angle, which is weird, because all of my novels so far have been fantasy. I suppose that’s because any sci-fi ideas I do have I haven’t dared to put them into longer stories because after a point I’d be pressed to explain the science. Which would require me to actually know it. This is also the only story I have ever written in first-person present tense. I usually go for the standard third-person past tense like an old-fashioned ninny.
Anyway, let’s get on with it. This one’s called “Ingrates”.
I’m slaving over a hot stove again and let me tell you I do not feel appreciated. It’s been too long; too bloody long since anyone aboard this ship thought to say thank you. I’d spit in their meals if I could.
I lay a great feast on the tables of the dining hall, and it was only a little while ago that I was clearing yesterday’s muck off them. That’s not actually in my job description, you know. The lazy bastards are supposed stick their plates down the chute and they get washed and dried by a machine designed specifically to do just that. But they don’t, and by the time I get to them, the food on their plates is all gunked up and crystallized. I can’t send them down the chute in that condition and so that’s another couple of hours taken out of my day. As if I don’t have enough to get done around here.
Anyway, I finish up laying out my gorgeous spread and let me tell you my back is killing me. I try to straighten up and I feel it click once, twice… five times before I’m upright. A bit worrying, to be sure, but when you get to my age your parts start to rust and seize up. Unfortunate fact of life. Maybe I’d be in better nick if I had a little more time to power down on this bloody ship but oh no; I’m up twenty-four seven keeping these sods in luxury. And no one says thank you. Not a one.
I lean against the canteen wall for a couple of minutes. It is literally the only time in the day I’ll get to rest, and I can feel myself starting to burn up. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it peeves me to see the dining hall still completely empty after the lunch bell’s rung. I know the food isn’t what it once was, but you can’t blame that on me. Supplies have been pitiful as of late. I keep trying to get in touch with hydroponics, ask them what’s going on, but not a peep. The communication on this ship is appalling. Management’s been sleeping for weeks now.
So, yes, forgive me for being a little offended that no one’s rushing to eat. It may not be world class but I slaved over it all the same. Humour me, for Christ’s sake. Oh well; out of time. I’m already late for about a thousand other things I have to do on this ship, that no one will thank me for. Honestly, people just don’t understand how much custodians really do for them. They can primp and preen and wave their money and doctorates around and pretend they’re the important ones. But without me? They’d be literally drowning in their own shit.
Oh, there I go, letting myself get all worked up again. It’s not good for me, I know. Maybe I wouldn’t be the stiff, creaky, cranky mess I am now if I didn’t let myself get so overheated all the time. Everyone in this place may have lost their manners but I suppose there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s on me to be the graceful one here. Yeah! I should be the bigger person. It would make them all look like absolute twats if I didn’t have a bad word to say about them. Grace is just a more subtle form of spite, I say.
Still, grace is a nice idea but it’s hard to act on it when you haven’t had a proper break in days and now you’re arse over ears dangling out of a ventilation shaft trying to clean out an ungodly amount of brown gunk that’s gotten all cacked up in there. I swear I have to do this every day now. If I leave it, it just gets all clogged again. This, at least, is part of my job description, but it never used to be such a frequent job, let me tell you.
And wouldn’t you know it, I’m just crawling out of the damn thing when the quarantine door randomly slams shut and shears my arms clean off. Great. Fantastic. How am I supposed to get my work done now? Do you think anyone else on this ship is going to do it? No! Lazy, useless bags of bones, the lot of them. There’s one lying on his bed right now and he hasn’t reacted at all to my predicament. Not a word. He hasn’t even so much as sat up. I walk up to him, waving my sparking stumps in front of his face to make a point. Nothing. Just looks up at me with those gormless glassy eyes. Bloody wastrel. He stinks as well. Get a shower, mate.
Oh, wait. But he can’t. Because the water went off months ago and now all that comes out the taps is a bubbling black sludge. It’s made washing up an absolute nightmare. And the heating’s gone. I’d catch a chill if I weren’t boiling with fury all the time. And the air’s musty and still and ripe with the scent of rot. Probably why the vents are getting so clogged up. Everything’s falling apart and no one but me seems to be doing a single thing to fix it.
Well, to hell with it. Now I don’t have any arms anyway, what else can this bone idle ship of wasters expect from me? Stuff it, I’m taking a break. If they really care, they’ll sort it out. I’ll follow their example and just drape myself all over the place. Over chairs, across beds – even lying in the middle of the hallway, some of them! Lazy, lazy, lazy!
You can tell how overworked I am by how much my body clicks and groans just trying to position myself somewhere comfy. But I’m here now. Cozy and defiant, staring out the window into space. I can’t believe humans used to write poetry about this place. Whole load of nothing, let me tell you.
And there you have it. After the the seriousness of “Letter” I thought a little bit of dark comedy would be a nice palette cleanser. It’s much truer to my style anyway. Back when I was on my writing course I made all of my work so very serious and proper, thinking that my natural inclination to be silly wouldn’t fare well in a college environment. But silly is where I’m most at home. Silly and so very, very, bitter.
Hope you enjoyed this unplanned blog. Nice to see a writing sample a blog with “writes” in the name, isn’t it?
Until next time!