311. See them run

See them run, pushing the boundaries of their weary bodies.

Smell their toiling sweat.

Watch them suffer.

Somehow they have convinced themselves there is still time. If the messenger is intercepted, they reason, perhaps the inevitability of it all is suspended. Perhaps they, their sons and brothers won’t have to enlist in an unwinnable war. Perhaps their families won’t starve from hunger this winter.

Have they not noticed the machinery is already turning? Do they not understand that wars are not started or avoided by scraps of paper but by pieces on a politician’s chess board and that the sacrificing of pawns has already begun?

Surely they can hear the thunder of the cannons behind the hills, they can see the black smoke rising? Or do they simply block out the impending conflict? Do they cling to fantasy, rather than acknowledge the reality of war?

See them run, still.

Watch how they delude themselves with visions of peace.

The fools.

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310. Cancer for sale

‘Cancer for sale’.

The sign on the lawn was written in crude, childish letters, which puzzled me even more than the message itself. As my next client had cancelled, leaving me with an idle hour, I decided to walk up to the door, knock, and ask what the sign meant.

It took a while for someone to arrive. Some cluttering and muttering was audible, followed by a slow shuffle, as of someone dragging a bag of sand behind them, before the door was opened and a small girl came peeking through the askew door with big, inquisitive eyes.

“Mummy and daddy aren’t home,” she said off the bat.

“Did you write that?” I asked.

She nodded.

“What does it mean?”

“It means what it means.”

“It says you sell cancer.”

“Then that’s what it means. You interested, mister?”

I was, I suppose, if only to quell the nagging enigma.

She flung open the door completely.

“You can park your keester on the couch. I’ll be right back.”

Though her face had not been different from that of any other girl, her body showed a wear and tear uncommon at her age. The dragging sound, heard before, came from her club foot. It wasn’t yet prevalent on the quaint picture that hung on the living room wall however, that saw her posing with a thirty-something couple, feigning a smile.

“Head’s up, mister.”

I turned around and in a reflex caught the green, glowing rod. Its radioactive energy soared through me like instant lightning.

“What have you done?” I yelled in agony, as I sunk to my knees and caught the pungent odour emanating from under the floorboards.

“I gave you what you wanted,” she said, her gloved hand picking up the rod.

“That’ll be 50 bucks.”

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309. Don’t worry, we have abandoned anal probing long ago

“Don’t worry, we have abandoned anal probing long ago,” the alien comforted him.

Hogan breathed a sigh of relief. The first thing that had sprung to mind after the tractor beam had swooped him up from the corn field were those stories the National Inquirer ran about abductees and their ordeal.

Still, Hogan was not quite confident yet that the alien meant no harm. He was still lying on his belly on a cold operating table after all, his hands and feet firmly strapped to the sides to prohibit any movement.

“Why did you take me?” Hogan asked.

“Oh, we like Ohio,” the alien said. “You are a friendly people. Don’t make much fuss. Once we beamed up a New Yorker. Never again, I can tell you that. Never. Again.”

Hogan heard clattering metal but from his position could not make out what exactly caused the sound.

“You weren’t lying about the probing, were you?”

“Would an advanced race like ours really travel light years just to ram a rod up an Ohio farmer’s anus?”

The clattering continued.

“So why did you travel to Earth?”

“To test a theory.”

“What theory?”

“If I told you, that would ruin it.”

The sound of metal on metal. Again.

“About that anal probing…” he said.

“We’re not doing that, I told you.”

Hogan’s nerves weren’t settling, despite the alien’s soothing voice.

“Then what are you doing?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Yet more clattering. Hogan snapped.

“For the love of God, I think I’d actually prefer to have that probe up my ass!”

The alien smiled, turned towards his colleague and collected the hundred credits.

“Told you they actually like this,” he said as he prepared the big metal rod for insertion.

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308. Straighten your back!

Straighten your back! Lift up your chin! Don’t slouch there in the corner, like a discarded bag of rice. Where is the proud man that I once knew? What has made him retreat in this lonesome corner, huddled up into a scared little ball?

Forget not that your name is still Shinzo Katana, warrior of Kyoto, scourge of the dark shoguns. Must I remind you of your legacy, of the victories you booked against vast ronin armies, of the statues people raised in your honour, of the flowers thrown at your feet, whose scent still fills these streets?

The man in the corner, his knees pulled up, his back arched in disillusionment, did not look up. He had heard these words before. He was fully aware of his fall from grace and the effort it would take to rise once more. But he had consigned himself to his state of depression. He no longer had the energy to fight.

You are down, but you are not out. Rise again, Shinzo. Leave this pit of despair you have dug for yourself. Soar back into society and into the hearts of the people. Fulfil your destiny. Be a warrior.

Shinzo shook his head. His decision had been made.

I cannot tolerate this. Your demeanour trickles down to me. And I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to walk in a proud posture. I want to hold my chin up high. I want to break free from the shackles you impose on me.

“Go then,” Shinzo said. “I set you free.”

Farewell, my warrior. I’ll miss you. And I wish you well.

The dark blot at his feet detached itself, leaving Shinzo Katana – ironically, and for lack of a better phrase – a shadow of his former self.

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307. In the bowels of the Deep Web

In the bowels of the Deep Web, Paisley Jones was lost, with no place to crawl but deeper into its dark secrets. She was sure no-one else would be as thorough to find out the truth about her, but she was taking no chances, so further she crawled into murky digital waters, fishing for the information that could bury her and her career.

She had ventured further from the surface than she had originally intended, collecting along the way every piece of information that could be harmful, then destroying it. There were more of them than she had envisioned and the deeper she swam, the more snippets she encountered.

Her safety line had been cut long ago. Chances were she herself would not be returning to the calm surface. That she would be lost down here forever, along with her secrets. Most likely someone would come looking for her. Perhaps parts of her and her history would eventually float up to the surface and get caught in one of the millions of nets that littered the digital sea. Perhaps they finally would unravel her secret.

The snippets of truth flew by so amply and damning now that they clung to her, weighing her down and impeding her ability to annihilate them. They dragged her deeper and deeper until she was powerless to fight them.

***

He googled her name. There were no matches.

He tried again. And again.

But to the internet she was a ghost.

From experience he knew this was not a good sign. If an applicant was willing to erase every bit of information about her, it mostly meant she had something to hide.

He crossed out her name.

Soon Paisley Jones would be forgotten altogether.

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306. Eons of rain

Eons of rain had chiselled the Mountains of Vardez into a majestic labyrinth that provided a safe haven for petty thieves, smugglers and outlaws. Cairfax Munroe was one of them, a charismatic con man who had cheated naive villagers out of their inheritance.

The footsteps of his pursuers ricocheted against the cave walls as if to make ominously clear that escaping their wrath was impossible. But Cairfax knew these hollow halls would protect him. And indeed, the sounds subsided, until just the echo of his own breath remained.

As he counted his bounty, the yellow bolts of a violent thunderstorm raging outside lit the dusky caves in erratic intervals. Cairfax did not get worried until the lightning slowed down and then stopped altogether, even as the thunderclaps still boomed regularly above.

***

That night the infant son of a conned villager was treated to a new nursery rhyme.

The Mountains of Vardez,
A comfortable womb.
The Mountains of Vardez,
Yet sometimes a tomb.

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305. The green streaks

The green streaks in an otherwise silver-grey head of hair were perhaps the clearest indication Kendra liked to live the bohemian life. If that was not enough of a hint, the cutesy kitsch of her eighties outfit did the job.

Kendra had her own vintage shop, in one of the smallest – cosiest, she insisted – properties in a cul-de-sac of a sort-of side-lane of the second busiest street in town. Which meant that hardly a customer passed by.

To kill the time Kendra had taken up smoking, but she’d sworn not to overindulge in the bad habit. She never did. Case in point: she was a vegetarian at home, but not on restaurant. A ‘flexitarian’. One not able to distribute the tobacco confidently in the cigarette paper and roll it into a decent cigarette, alas.

The guy who walked by as she leant against the doorpost failing the cigarette test once more did not look the type who could help her out. His Saville Row suit, his timely trimmed five o’clock shadow, his squeaky Italian shoes. Everything about him screamed square, dull and uppity.

“I think I can be of assistance,” he nevertheless said, and before Kendra could reply, he rolled an impeccable cigarette, lit it for her and went back on his merry way.

She looked like the kind of person that just wanted to live her own, uncomplicated life, so he never said he liked her green streaks.

He looked like he’d never be interested in a girl like her, so she didn’t dare run after him to tell him he had lovely eyes.

Yet, her shop location in mind, Kendra smiled.

As did the guy, as he reached the end of the cul-de-sac and realized he had no choice but to walk back towards her shop.

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The future, and what it holds

Many of you have been asking me what my creative plans are for the next year. Now I’ve had some time to mull it over, I can finally reveal some details about my writing goals for the rest of 2014 and 2015.

1. Writing a non-fiction book about the movies

First up is a non-fiction book about my greatest passion: the movies. It’s a proposition I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now and I think I’ve finally found an interesting subject and angle for the contents of this book.

Great movie years don’t come along all that often. 1939 is often cited as the greatest year for American movies of all, with lots of timeless Hollywood classics. 1974 is another year that seems to have yielded more masterpieces than other years. These ‘anni mirabiles’ appear to occur only once every few decades. So I count myself lucky to have been able to experience one in my lifetime.

1999, in my mind, is one of those amazing years for the movies, where it seemed that every time you walked into a movie theatre, you were treated to a great film. Not necessarily all masterpieces (though there are quite a few), but definitely films that push the boundaries of a genre, make exquisite use of traditional conventions, elevated young auteurs to the forefront or reminded us that established filmmakers still had the magic touch.

The tentative title of the book is: ‘American Beauty – a case for 1999 as the greatest movie year in our lifetime’. I’m currently doing research and drawing up a structure and hope to start writing the chapters by the end of the month. In the most optimistic timeline, the book could be ready by Christmas 2014, though don’t pin me on that date. Chapters that I’m working on might pop up occasionally on the blog.

2. Writing a science-fiction novel

Spurred on by your supportive comments I will also be expanding on the short form stories I’ve written so far, by writing a full-blown novel. As I’ve discovered that writing science-fiction is where my heart lies, it will be a sci-fi novel.

I’m still mulling over the possibilities of a plot that contains enough interesting elements to fill 200-odd pages with, but there are a couple of certainties already. The story will be dystopian, it will contain a social critique on current society and the novel will take us to distant planets. I might use some elements from the short stories I’ve published on the site as well.

As to the tone of the novel: I’m torn between writing a straight-up sci-fi tale, in the vein of the works of Philip K. Dick, and choosing a more tongue-in-cheek route, along the lines of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels. Perhaps you could tell which approach you’d like best, based on the sci-fi stories I’ve written so far? In any case, I hope to have this novel ready sometime in 2015. Chapters that I’m working on might pop up occasionally on the blog.

3. Continuing to write flash fiction stories

Last but not least, I will – as I have promised before – updating this blog with new flash fiction stories of 300 words or less (at least one a week). Meanwhile, if you like my stories and think they deserve a wider audience, you could always tell your friends and family about the recently published book. Feel free to share this link on social media, on your blog or otherwise. I will happily do the same for you.

304. Margaret was a simple soul

Margaret was a simple soul, from humble origins, and all this pomp and circumstance surrounding the wedding was mostly lost on her, even though she was at the centre of it. The king had swept her off her feet but a fortnight ago and already the mud of her father’s pig farm was a remote memory.

In the quiet of her bedroom, after the festivities, Margaret’s mind immediately wandered to the book. It had been just one of many gifts, most of them far more valuable, but the important etiquette surrounding its offering intrigued her.

She opened the book. There were no words, just pictures of unspeakable acts, in graphic detail. Etchings of a naked man and woman, cavorting endlessly.

As her new husband entered the room, flabby and filthy and naked, the reality of the inevitable aftermath of a fairy tale wedding hit the naive country girl, now queen.

“There is no stork involved, is there?” she sobbed.

303. In the grand scheme of things

In the grand scheme of things the fate of Calvin Innerglot meant nothing. He was just another piece of cannon fodder the top brass would send over the top when his sacrifice was called for.

Calvin was young, didn’t have any special skills, didn’t have a whole lot of intelligence. Chances were his contribution to society would be confined to living on benefits, scrounging for jobs and living space, struggling to keep going. The army provided him with the best chance to make a difference to his country. The recruiters knew this. It hadn’t taken them a lot of convincing to get Calvin to sign on the dotted line.

He was almost immediately put on a plane, to a part of the world that had recently caught fire. His training would be on the job. They hadn’t even left him time to drive home and collect some personal stuff. The army would provide for everything now. Clothes, food, money, perhaps a chance at pride and glory.

When the plane set down on the foreign tarmac, amid a barrage of enemy fire, the top brass decided there was no such thing as serving your country too soon. They sent Calvin Innerglot over the top, in the full knowledge the recruiters had probably already found a replacement, ready to be shipped in immediately.

***

Back home, Maisie set the table for two. Her older brother hadn’t been home for two days. It wasn’t the first time that had happened, but she was sure he would eventually return. In case that was tonight, she had made Country Chicken, his favourite. She filled her plate and his, and prayed.

“Please, God, let Calvin return home safely.”

And she wondered what pickle he had gotten himself into this time.

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