Mortality

Based on this Flash Fiction Challenge.

“My mortality and I am closely acquainted.” Prompt by http://52lettersinthealphabet.wordpress.com/.

My mortality and I are closely related. We weren’t, of course. I was like a lot of young people – I was immortal. I had such energy, and everyone else around me was just so old. Nothing ever hurt me, really. I had never broken a bone, nor had any long-term medical treatment. I was a healthy, happy utter moron. I’d like to say that all that changed when I died, but the truth is that the ability to talk in the past tense about your own death, makes it kind of hard to take seriously.

Jamie and Carl really wanted to go to this club we’d heard about around fresher’s week. It was the “awesomest club that ever awesomed!” according to some tank-topped bint outside the Union. I hung back, smoked my cheap cigarette and feigned indifference while trying to work out whether she was wearing a bra or not. She wasn’t.

“She was so hot!” said Carl.

“Not bad, not bad.”

I stayed silent. I was an introvert even when I was alive. Well, you know. Alive-alive.

Anyway, long story short, we went. I wore a black shirt and the black jeans I thought made me look sexy, but actually just accentuated how fat didn’t really stick to my bones. Jamie and Carl dressed like the hipster twins – all vintage and bright colours and hair that was just vaguely ‘up’.

We got in easily enough. No ID checking during the first couple of weeks of term. You’ve gotta get the kiddies hooked. That’s the real fucking trick. Then they up the prices and squeezed the young ones. We climbed down these dark chipboard stairs and into the club proper.

Inside, the place looked like an aircraft hanger with too few lights and too much black paint. There was a stage in the dim distance with a hairy band fiddling with cables and instruments and shit. Between them and us was an army of hipsters, rockers and goth wannabes. Basically a load of kids like us – more money and less supervision than they’d ever had before. I went for a piss. One bearded fat kid was puking in a stall. There was an inch of water that kind of sold me on DMs as club wear. It was barely nine o’clock. I had an echoing thought in my head that I’d gone to the pussiest university in Britain.

The night went as these nights often do. Early on the hipster twins locked on to a pair of brand-wearing horny chicks who were a couple of drinks ahead of us. They weren’t bad looking, but they had the wide-eyed conviction that always preempted a certain amount of drama. When one of the chicks flashed her tattoo of ‘birds flying away to symbolise freedom’ on her shoulder blade, I was out. I’d be hearing one or the other of the guys bitching about this silly cow for months. I had no intention to listen to the prologue live. I’d wait for the whiney Cliff Notes.

I think I was on my third of fourth beer and sixth or seventh brightly-coloured shot that a cowgirl had been peddling around the damn place. The band had started up, and appeared to be a death metal band who exclusively covered Smash Mouth. The lead singer had something about him that told me he was a man who was nothing outside the fantasy he created for himself on stage. I figured he was doing some ball-achingly dull degree that his parents thought was a good idea. He also looked a bit desperate on his third rendition of ‘All Star’. I think another band cancelled.

Whatever, anyway, that was when she slinked up to me. ‘Slinked’ isn’t a word I’d ever used before, but it was the only one that seemed right for the way she moved. She was wearing jeans and a shiny red tank top. Nothing really spectacular about it except the woman who wore it. She moved like I imagine a mermaid would swim. She had black hair and light brown skin. She stared me straight in the eye and pinned me to the spot.

“Hello,” she said.
“Hey,” I said, straining for the indifference I’d flashed at Tank Top Girl that afternoon. I think my voice broke. It wasn’t my best performance.

“What are you looking at?”

“Um… you?”

She frowned at that as though she’d made a mistake.

“No, before me.”

I thought about it. Nothing really. Just people. I told her as much.

“And what do you see?”

“Kids. Student loans, sex and freedom.”

“I see.”

I wanted her to ask me what was so different about me. I didn’t know the answer, but I was desperate to have the chance to tell her. She licked her lips – a dark berry colour that made me think of sweet fruit or expensive ice cream.

“What’s your name?”

“Mason- I mean Jonathan. Joe.”

“Well, Mr. Mason. Is this your usual ‘scene’?” She said the word like it tasted bad in her mouth. I could empathise.

“Not really. It’s like a noisy safari park. All the animals are hunting each other to a third-rate soundtrack,” the band over-dramatically finished one song with an synthesized twang as though to punctuate my point. “Only it’s stupid. The prey want to be caught, and choose their predator with their outfits and fucking ‘come hither’ bullshit.”

She nodded, considering my words. I was quite proud of them at the time in the way that only an eighteen year old Humanities student could be. She licked her lips again. Should I have offered her a drink?

“Sorry, would you like something to drink?”

“No thank you, Jonathan. I was thinking of leaving. Would you like to join me?” There was a glimmer in her half-lidded eyes. The kind of look I’d labelled ‘come hither bullshit’ seconds before. I didn’t care.

“Yes, please.”

She took me by the hand and led me through the crowd and into the street with her mermaid walk. She took me away from all the children. She took me away to die.

Commentary: It’s been a while since I’ve written every day, and this was a lot of fun. Almost cathartic, thinking back to those awful, sweaty nights in awful venues. I’d love to hear your comments, so please post below. 🙂

Jonathan Abel

Really lacking inspiration at the moment. The writing challenge petered out. The truth is, I thought I had my first novel, but that just turned out to be a bag of tropes. I’m trying to find a project now into which I can pour the same amount of time and passion, but I’m struggling. Here’s me trying to work out who the hell my sci-fi narrator is from here. This serves as a kind of prologue to the following post.

secret_agent1Jonathan Abel “Able Johnny” Reyes was famous, even if that wasn’t his real name. Not “lots of results on the Metanet” famous, but he was famous. Certain circles knew the right number to call to get something done. Indeed, as the human race started to expand out of the atmosphere, his kind were needed more and more.

For more than twenty years he was one of the best. No coup, industrial sabotage or revolution succeeded under his watchful eye. Of course, given the long leash the Human Alliance gave him, Johnny was able to partake in a wide variety of side projects. There wasn’t a gambler, importer or specialist retailer who didn’t know him in one context or another.

Then one day he disappeared. Able Johnny was just no longer on the grid. His comms went to answer services, his holos bounced and his name was irradiated from all records. That same week, though no one made the connection, a man apparently in his mid-thirties took over a grotty bar a mile above the London Gutters. He had cheap cybernetics in the shape of a left hand and walked with a limp a bar owner ought to be able to fix. That was five years ago.

Marcus Rodriguez didn’t like guests from his past. He assumed he didn’t, anyway. Tina was the first.

Living the Life Fantastic

Living on the Earth, living in the sky and living above the sky are three very different states of being. You have no idea.

On Earth

Earth

They don’t do tours of the Ground Floor, as a lot of city-dwellers call it. They can’t afford the insurance on the necessary gas masks. Even the Guttersnipes don’t walk around the Ground Floor without some kind of air filter or mask. The air smells like oil, grease and damp. The secretions of a couple of centuries of oil abuse now coat what we used to call ‘street level’. Even with modern electronic transport and the space fuel the throw down at us, we still can’t clear the filth that’s already here. And of course there are the industries down below who cannot or will not make that great extraterrestrial leap and who still pump their poison into the world. The Toffs have to have their tennis balls after all.

Of course, some ‘Snipes have their implants to keep them safe. Hell, sometimes you see a Joe on the street and he looks more toaster than man. Don’t know how they manage it myself. I like the pink squishy parts of a person myself. Then again, I don’t smuggle, smash or slide to earn my money. Not usually anyway.

Speaking of which, down here you can buy anything. I know that a lot of people say that, but I mean it. I once sat in a bar while a guy scarfed down a brown paper bag full of what looked like eyeballs. All blue. I stuck around though. Good beer in that place.

My advice? Wear a barker on your hip to save any part of you from ending up in a brown paper bag.

In the Sky

Sky

 

Here in the clouds you’ve got your styles and your fashions and whatnot. Up here with the Toffs, you can buy anything fancy. The architecture ranges from glass and steel from historical. None of the Old Earth landmarks are down where they started. A lot of them have been status-locked or reproduced up on Cloud 9.

The fashions are a little unpredictable. “Future of the Past” was a thing for a while; all silver jumpsuits and skin tints. A lot of the sentient gadgets got a boost for a while too. All pug-ugly if you ask me. Although I shagged a green ‘Martian’ fashionista once. That was fun. Couple of months later it was Victoriana chic. You couldn’t swing your cane without knocking off someone’s topper. I like Cloud 9, but it is a silly place.

In Space

SpaceI lived on an Outpost for a couple of years back in the ’20s. Just a small solar mine out near Venus. The funny thing about space and the asteroid quarries is that building this stuff is dirt cheap, so everyone lives in this idyllic Mediterranean community with a simulated sky and simulated sea breezes. The European ones, anyway. They’re also really subcultural. Aphro-3 was made up entirely of Italian Cybergoths and their families. Beautiful to behold but damn strange in their little mock-terracotta houses. Still, the pasta was good.

It’s funny the detail the build into these places though. I remember the fishing being excellent. In space. They were real fish, too. Not like the creepy little robots you get in the Earth resorts. I remember eating an Aphro-Salmon that was absolutely delicious. And not a circuit board in site.

As you can imagine, the night life is a bit niche-y, but an awful lot of fun. If you fancy getting off with a girl with a short skirt and plastic hair then I recommend Aphro-3 immensely. I’d skip Metabilis, though. Those chicks are freaks.

 

Writing Challenge Day 11

Day 11: What does your character do on a daily basis? What is their job? Do they have one? Write a scene from a normal day in your characters life.

I was having some real difficulty with Day 10, so I’m going to come back to it later. Is it cheating? Maybe. But I think I can give the blog police the slip if I’m careful.

 

It might surprise you to learn that I do in fact have a nine-to-five job. I do. No, really. It’s part of the Keepers’ Guild, so I can sleep out if needs be, but I really do do it. I work as an archivist at the City Library. I organise things, manage the online systems, direct people to where they need to go… oh, and I co-manage the secret library with a dragonblood.

Yeah, it sounds cool, but he’s always riding my arse about something or other. Despite the fact that Guild give me special dispensation as a “defender of the weak”. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it makes my extra-curricular work that much easier.

Florence the Dragon was waiting for me when I arrived. Yes, Florence. His long white hair was up in a ponytail above his tweed waistcoat and pants. I guess he’d already taken off his jacket and hung it over his scratched oak office chair. His shoes were cleaner and shinier than anything I owned.

He coughed significantly and gestured to a pile of translated Magic Era texts that I’d been avoiding and watched down his pointed noise as I approached. He didn’t say anything. Dragonbloods aren’t the chattiest of beings. When he was satisfied that my hands were getting dirty – quite literally; these books are old – he returned to his desk.

It took a couple of hours for us to get out first customer. By then my.admittedly shabby outfit was covered in dust, woodpolish and whatever other grime an ill-kempt library can accumulate. I shudder to think.

The customer was human, more or less. A warlock by the name of Jackie. Not a spellslinger or anything like that – that stuff isn’t possible in our world. All they can manage is a bit of low-level alchemy. He came in looking for magical viagra for one of his customers. I chuckled from the back shelves. He probably had “defender of the weak” status, too. I just got back to stacking the shelves.

Writing Challenge Day 9

Day 9: How was your characters first kiss? Who with? Where was it? How old were they? Write the scene.

Maria Fleming. She was amazing. She was a skinny little blonde thing who could read people’s minds. I didn’t meet her until about a year later – after her granddaughter had taught me a great deal about the Underworld as he rather melodramatically called it.

There was a party for all the ‘folk’ at a dingy little Working Mens’ Club a few miles away. It wasn’t the first time I’d met people like me – Mr. Fleming had introduced me to the community once or twice – but it was always an eye-opener. One time I went, I’d been in a mood because of some adolescent thing I couldn’t remember. I asked a dwarf about Snow White. He didn’t like that much.

Anyway, on this occasion I came out of the school around 5 to meet Mr. Fleming at his little pea green VW. He was leant against the bonnet smoking a handmade cigarette and talking to an angel sent down from heaven. Or at least that’s what my hormone-pickled brain thought at the time.

A bad experience in college taught me that angels don’t exist, just so you know.

Slim, blonde, skirt-wearing and outside (which is worth a lot to a boarding school kid), it was like Cupid’s arrow had hit me right between the eyes.

Cupid does exist. He’s gay and kind of a dick.

“Jamie, what took you so long? This is my granddaughter, Maria. Maria, this is my protege, Jamie.”

“Nice to meet you,” she almost-whispered in my direction. I think I just smiled like an idiot.

We jumped in the car – Maria and I in the cramped back seat ‘to have a chance to get to know each other.’ We didn’t say a word the whole way.

At the Working Men’s Club, the Unity, we quickly got lost in a crowd of handshakes and introductions. Non-humans have a real way about hospitality in my experience. Lovely, but terribly overwhelming when you’re a confused teenager. After a half-troll’s slightly sticky bear hug, I had to sleep away. I told everyone I was going to the bathroom and hid inside the fraying black velvet of the DJ booth. Like I said; classy place.

I had discovered my hidey hole on my last stressful visit to meet everyone. It was pretty spacious, since there wasn’t any built in equipment; just places to plug it in. Nonetheless, it was a bit cramped since it appeared to be full of an angelic blonde girl gripping her knees. I saw for the first time that she was a little younger than me. I pushed my nerves up into what I hoped was a comforting smile and scootched in next to her.
“First time?” I asked with a sudden burst of confidence.
She just nodded, not lifting her forehead from her knees.
“Yeah, they’re kind of intense.”
She nodded again.
“Are you okay?”
Finally she lifted her head.
“It’s just a bit scary.”
“I know. I think that’s why your granddad only comes every other month.”
She giggled. “Maybe. I’ll tell him you asked.”
“No!” I mock-gasped.
She smiled at me while the noise escalates outside our den.
“Thank you, Jamie.” She kissed me on the cheek and crawled out of oĂ­r hiding space.

I do have another story of teenage lust where I got my first ‘real’ kiss, but this is the kiss I always go back to: the kiss I earned. That was my first kiss.

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Writing Challenge Day 8

English: The old Victorian building that house...

English: The old Victorian building that housed Lutterworth’s Sherrier Primary School until 1983. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 8:What about their earlier school days? Write a scene of your character in grade school or middle school.

So since I covered early years here, I’m going to keep going chronologically. It’s not exactly sticking to the challenge, but I think it’s an important part of where we end up. This follows immediately on from Day 6.

That was how ended up at the Ventnor Court School for Special Needs. It was a redbrick Victorian construction that had been adapted for the needs of the school. A central hall led out into classrooms and activity spaces, while upstairs held the bedrooms. ‘Carers’ stood guard at all times and helped those who couldn’t help themselves.

Memories of Ventnor come back to me in flashes, really. The first year was all gratitude that I wasn’t getting beaten for being weird anymore. Everyone here was weird. It was just the way it was. The fact that I knew things I didn’t know I knew was barely more than a quirk amongst all these kids who really needed help.

Scott was the first person I met after my parents bid me a tearful goodbye outside my room. He was sitting on his bunk watching us hug and cry out in the hall. When I came in he nodded and said,

“Relieved.”

“What?”

“Your parents. They’re a bit relieved you’re gone.”

And that was how our relationship started. Looking back, I’m sure he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. We fought over that for a while; probably because he was right. As a kid, just thought he was rude and smart. I wasn’t wrong, I just didn’t know at the time that that was a thing.

The bedroom had a cold fireplace and two hard single beds. The girls lived on the other side of the stairwell. At 12 I was only just starting to realise why that was important.

We took classes like any other kids our age: English, maths, science, etc. A few of us were given classes away from the other kids at a higher level. I remember Scott describing the other class as “Pencil-use 101”. I didn’t really know what he meant, so I just nodded.

As usual in class, whenever I was asked a direct question I could answer it. The funny thing was that a lot of the time, so could Scott. He devoured books like no one else I’d ever met. He could apply his entire mind to a thing – like a book or a math problem – and it would be done and past in the amount of time it to the rest of us to get halfway through the book or understand the question.

History class was the most interesting to me. I was fascinated by all the swords and horse-riding and Kings and murder. Our teacher, Mr Mirrlees was a very intense man with a shaved head who used to jog to work every morning with a huge bag on his back. We used to talk about how it was full of bricks and how he’d been a spy or a marine or something. Even as an adult I can’t completely convince myself that these things weren’t true.

I remember one day Mr Mirrlees took me aside one day after class. We’d been studying the Aztecs and Conquistadors. Ironic in hindsight. Anyway, he’d asked me the names of all the Kings of Tenochtitlan. And I had. That was when he sent me to speak to Mr. Fleming.

“Do it now, Wilson.”

I’ll never forget that last order. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be working in a bank now if I’d ignored it.

Mr. Fleming was at least a thousand years old. He had and unconvincingly dyed beard and teeth that all seemed to have their own routes to success. He had an office in the Victorian depths of the building decorated with the smell and heft of old, leather-bound books. He sat behind a polished oak desk. Scott once pointed out that it’s dimensions were such that it had clearly been built either inside the room or before the walls had been completed.

It was Mr. Fleming who first started teaching me about some of the other sapient species who share our Earth. He taught me the alternative history, taught me about my power. Fleming was my mentor. But I won’t bore you with all that Dumbledore stuff. What really changed things for me was when he introduced me to his granddaughter, Maria.

Okay, this one petered out. I don’t write YA fiction for a reason.

To the full list of challenges.

Writing Challenge Day 7

Day 7: FREE DAY! Write any scene you want!

Today I’m going to work on a piece that I wanted to advance, and that was the inspiration to start these challenges. I’m hoping that by the end I’ll have something formed in my mind that can ultimately become a longer-form piece. Anyway, I’ll put the original in italics and go from there (including a little editing). I hope you enjoy it. As always, critiques are welcome.

She uses her body in a very interesting way – in exactly the way most woman get it wrong. She does not wear particularly tight or revealing clothes, and yet she uses her body in a way that ensures she keeps his interest entirely. Whenever she answers, her eyes flick from left to right as though she’s tracking some invisible sprite of conversational inspiration. As her large brown eyes are her best feature, this is a clever strategy. His eyes are fixed to hers. When she laughs, she tosses her head back and laughs with her whole body. Her lips shape each word perfectly and distinctly, engaging even those of us who can’t hear or understand what she says.

Her whole way is to make her utterly and completely inescapable. It works perfectly on the uninitiated. Hell, it almost works on me from the opposite end of the greasy train carriage. Then I remember why I’m following her. I remember what’s she’s done and worse; I remember who sent me and the things he would do if I failed. I needed to focus, I needed to forget about this ignorant idiot, but most of all, I needed another cup of coffee.

——————–

So here’s what happened: I was tracking down info on a cell phone for a rival company. Not a difficult job – just a case of finding the right email address, really. Anyways, I’m just leaving the Starbucks close to the cell company’s head office when a guy pulls me aside. Big guy. Like cartoon Superman big. All made out of square body parts. Big. Anyway, Big McBiggerson pulls me into an alley, right? Here’s me readying myself for a fight, and he says my full name and the job title the hidden folk use.

“James Matthew Wilson, Infomancer?”

I probably winced. I usually do. Damn silly name for a job. I kicked a juicy pizza box away before I answered. Best to show them you’re not afraid. This is doubly true if your underpants feel like an old pizza box. Did I mention he was big?

“How can I help?” I asked with my biggest shit-eating customer service smile. Under a gallon of beard, I don’t think he was impressed.

“It is time for you to repay your favour to Him.” I swear he pronounced the capital letter. I licked my lips and tried to think about how to say ‘no’ to Him. He had saved my life that time, but then again, he never called in nice favours. Then McBiggerson spoke again.

“Do not disappoint Him, Wilson. He would not appreciate that.”

——————–

packed-subway

So there I was on a late night train pretending not to watch her stalk this idiot norm. I’d never seen anyone flutter their eyelashes in real life before. It was utterly distracting. She led him off the train at the end of the orange line. I followed at a discrete distance. I ignored the beggars, street musicians and vendors of dubious food to the stairs out of the station. It was raining up at ground level and water had drenched my feet through the dark red Converse I’d chosen for a light stroll through town hours ago.

I followed them down a couple of crowded streets – she seemed entirely wrapped up in him and whatever he was saying. I knew that wasn’t true, of course. I’d seen her clock me by the ticket booth. It was only a matter of time before this became a confrontation. What was she? Far too smart to be a vampire, too real to be an elf and far far too beautiful to be a dwarf (no offense to any lady dwarves reading). I did a quick Google search using the area’s awful bandwidth, but to very little advantage, really. When it comes to monsters, there’s a lot of crap on the Internet.

Eventually, they came to a nondescript red door between two e.coli peddlers masquerading as fast food restaurants. She ushered him inside and leaned against the door jam. From my position at the other end of the dark street, I couldn’t see her too well. Ultimately I think she got bored. She looked towards me an beckoned with one slender arm.

She was waiting for me with hip and eyebrow cocked in amusement. She looked me up and down and licked her lips. Every movement carefully designed to turn my legs to jelly and my confidence to dust. Still, I managed to remain standing, and got the chance to hear her syrupy voice.

“Hello,” was all she said.

“Hello.”

“Why are you following me?”

“You know why.”

She looked me over again. Her nostrils flared and her tongue flicked out for a second. “Mmm.” She mmmed beautifully. “You aren’t a fighter.”

“No.”

She made to pounce at me, and I thought I saw her eye teeth begin to extend. I felt my heart stop for half a second and the world slowed down. My head Googled “mysterious animal attacks” without my permission and I saw what my body would look like in a few moments’ time.

That was when a dozen little metal flowers with yellow and red petals started sprouting all over her body. I tossed myself aside onto the wet concrete as her body jerked and shook. Hand-sized fangs burst through her gums before her body hit the ground. That was when a group of men in black combat gear started to surround us, their angry-looking tranq rifles still aimed at the downed creature. Not a vampire. Chemicals can’t take down a vampire. They don’t have the right internal organs to get bogged up the way humans do. And the way this thing did.

A man with a huge moustache and the biggest gun nodded down to me.

“Piss off, Wilson.”

I did as I was told. Sometimes survival was payment enough. That was when my phone rang.

“Good work, Infomancer. Although your debt to me is not yet paid.” It was Him. I’ve tried to remember what His voice sounded like. I just… can’t. I just remember the words. “You conducted yourself well. Although you might like to consider taking up arms. Your next test will not be so easy, nor will your backup be quite so formidable.

“I-”

The phone rang off. What comes of as mysterious in the movies is actually just bad manners. I hate that. I also hate imminent and inevitable danger.

To the full list of challenges.