Me and Machine

The train poured out of the tunnel, and endless stream of boxcars and flat empty carriage holders, on and on and on, the engines roaring in a crescendo of deafening sound, yet the pull of the train too slow to warrant such a noise so it made it seem like a weak, outdated machine.

Maybe the train was just too heavy, and so the engines had to work extra hard. I counted forty boxcars and then I lost count, as more kept spilling out of the gaping hole of the tunnel at the furthest end of the station; the mouth of this huge cavern of a station echoing with humanity drowned in the noise of the machine. Boxcars filled by robots, operated by robots, stacked by robots and sent off by robots to factories run by artificial intelligence.

So much power created, and the world carried on pretending to be the humdrum efficient system humans had created it to be.

And still it kept coming, more and more, vomiting out boxcars as they trundled along to the ends of the earth. I watched them glide past, too fast to jump on without serious injury or even fatality, and too slow to not contemplate doing the latter.

In the end, when the noise faded after the last boxcar holder, devoid of its box, melted into the wavy distance of burning horizon, the station sat in silence. Hunched over after the hefty belch it had just expelled from its gut.

I looked around me. Emptiness. Stillness. The laughter and chatter I imagined beneath the roaring noise of firing pistons had disappeared with the train, and I was left alone.

Was it my imagination, there there were people around me? The heat blazed outside the gaping lips of the station, where trains go after they have surfaced from its gut. The sky was brilliantly blue, deliciously deceiving, for I knew my skin would burn and curl up into brown flakiness the minute I stepped out of the shadow. I was alone. Sitting on a bench. Clutching my canvas bag close to me, feeling my sweaty thighs meld together under the soft cotton of my dress, which felt a little damp from the sweat I imagined pooled there.

My throat was dry, but the shops were closed. I sat and waited for the next train, the next glimpse of humanity to cure my aching loneliness. I would imagine human chatter under the noise of mechanical efficiency. After all, machines were created by humans.

I can’t be the only one left in the aftershock of viral destruction. It can’t be just me and the machines. Me and the remnants of man.

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Swarm

She was eloquently gut wrenching.

It couldn’t be said any other way. Languidly staring out of the dust-encrusted windows, the hazy afternoon sunshine filtering in through cracks on the caked grime. The dust mites did their peaceful thing, swirling in the slants of the lights, deceiving you into sobriety while the world burned outside.

There was nothing to look at, really. Everything was covered with white drapes, to protect the furniture from the same dusty decline that the floorboards had succumbed to. Termites, most likely.

She tiptoed cautiously around the holes, her boots making a suspicious crunching sound on the floor, amid, I then saw, mounds of sand, and small curled dead insect bodies.

‘I used to live here.’ I murmured.

She didn’t say anything. I stared at the ceiling; years of cobwebs interlacing each other, like an old, grey, time-worn wedding gown. The wooden beams arched upwards, meeting in a concave point high above our heads. When she stopped walking, the silence hissed loudly, pressing in on us, trapped and seething beneath the heavy roof.

‘Dina?’ she began, tentatively.

‘Hmm?’

‘I’m sorry I lied.’

‘You told me you had stage four brain cancer.’ I said, shortly. The sign outside creaked ominously, breaking the hissing silence my words had left behind them.

She shrugged. Her eyes were unreadable. She would do it again, and again, and again. Who would her next naive, fully supporting victim be?

Her hands brushed gently over one of the white sheets covering something sharp. She made as though to pull it off.

‘No.’

She stopped, looking expectantly at me. When I didn’t say anything else, she pulled it off anyway. Her mouth was set and firm, and I watched with a smirk that etched itself on my face against my will as a swarm of wasps surged out from under the sheet and swarmed towards her, as the sheet drifted to the ground amid a cloud of dust and stray wasps. Her shriek was lost in the loud, swirling drone.

I backed away slowly, feeling the wall behind me until I was at the entrance, my feet scraping on the piles of dust beneath me. A force field developed around the obstacle before me. I was alarmed, yet a little excited. I wanted to watch, I wanted to help, but I also wanted to desperately to run away as fast as I could.

So I did. I shut my eyes and turned away, opening them to the dim, cobwebby hallway. I wrenched the front door open, the wood fat and swollen with rot, and it crumbled against the wall behind me as I raced out and through the empty street, my feet flying past the brown rubble and ash covered doorways.

The sound was deafening. The image of her vanishing beneath the swarm clung to my brain and tugged at the edges of my heart, or my gut. I don’t know. I didn’t look back. I kept going.

Reckless

Ploughing. Raking. Toiling. Burning, wiping, smearing.

Looking up through sweat soaked eyebrows and blinking roughly against the salty stinging  in his eyes. The heat hazed in the distance, the trees rustled, or seemed to, because they didn’t move and from where he stood, the sun scorching his scalp, they looked like a painting. Lined up at the top of the fields in the distance, the sky a lazy blue, not quite burgeoning into the deep colour of summer, almost as though the sun was so bright that the sky paled in comparison. So still. Was the world even real?

Midday. A bird chirped quietly somewhere nearby, too tired to break into song. A pickup truck trundled slowly down the dusty road just outside his garden. A face, browned and hardened from heat, stared at him, turning as the truck drove past. He stared back.

The truck slowed, it seemed, creeping along now. He gripped his shovel tighter, aware his fingers were slick with sweat under his gloves.

‘Hey,’ he said to the man. The truck was level with his now, and the man’s eyes were piercing. They reflected the light like a pair of sapphire beacons under the shadow of the truck.

The man said nothing, and the truck slowed to a halt.

‘Can I help you?’ he tried again, shifting to his other foot. He was aware of his own pulse in his neck. The world was so still around them, even the solitary bird nearby ceased to chirp.

Nothing.

Then the wheels spun viciously in the dusty road, and a brown cloud rose behind the car and it roared into being and started off, engine rattling loud enough that birds flew up into the sky in alarm. He watched as it sped off along the road, growing smaller in the distance.

As the dust settled, and the birds swooped back into the cool shadows once more, the heat of the day took over again, blanketing the world in hot, tired silence.

The trees in the distance didn’t move a branch. The summer haze lay languidly over the earth. The silence was vast, universal.

Was the world even real?

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Reaper

My attempt at a 100 word story.

Merrin Reaper was a charmer.

He belonged to the Hill people, renowned for their electric blue hair and waif figures. Five foot tall, and a brilliant smile. Everybody loved Merrin, even the big people down by the river. Too bulky to venture near the Hills for fear of trampling on those mines, they only ever dwelled on the banks.

Merrin tripped there daily. An ear for everyone, and a comforting shoulder for those in mourning. It was hinted at darkly that there was a dark shadow behind the small fellow.

Merrin knew better, of course. It was his brother, Grim.

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Love Letters #35

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled. Our fingers were grimy with mud and grease, and the summer wind rushed on our faces and separated every strand of our sun bleached hair. You burned severely one day, and your mother smothered you in aloe vera and I rolled around laughing as you squelched outside like a giant slug, a brilliant scowl on your face.

We were bloated with lemonade and stuffed full of sugar, our feet hardened over the span of the two months we were there, browned and baked by the heat and roughened by hot ground beneath our bare soles.

It ended though, as I knew it would. My father had an office to get back to and yours had patients to dissect. Our mothers bundled us away in our respective cars, stuffed blankets down by our feet as we sweltered within, our noses pressed to the windows, watching as the adults exchanged handshakes and claps on the back, and our cars trundled on the dusty road, the distance between them growing with each second.

They didn’t spare a thought for the little people. They dragged their children along wherever they went and they didn’t think that in leaving the holiday house they seared our hearts. Well, my heart. I’d never experienced anything like the friendship we had. the fearlessness, the secrets, the tents and the battles.

There was never a summer quite like that summer. I don’t know who you are, and my parents are vague whenever I ask them. So I leave it, thinking perhaps someday in the future we may meet again and rekindle that bond between spirits.

But I know it will never be the same. I am too old to feel that surge of excitement when I think of the day ahead. Ants and beetles on the ground are nothing to me now. Your voice echoes through the years sometimes, and that summer heavily influences all of my choices and the way I respond to the world.

It’s the smallest things, sometimes. The smallest things.

Snapshot

I took a snapshot in my memory the other day. It was a brilliant moment. A flash, if you will. A photograph seared in time.

Perhaps my brain has already changed it. I remember it so vividly, and it is an incredible and saddening thought to me that my brain edits the things I remember. Do you ever wonder if your memories are real, or just mere constructions of your psych?

 

The moment the sun gave its last kiss to her part of the earth as it sunk below the horizon. Its last hurrah, she thought, watching as the bellies of the clouds illuminated from below. The sky in stunning shades, so vibrant. The silhouettes of the trees and houses just before. The lake, still and silent. The gentle breath of wind on her cheek, caressing her skin so softly.

It was a moment come and a moment gone. A moment in which her very heartbeat stilled, and the world around her ceased to turn. A moment through which clarity beckoned, so fleeting that she missed its soft call, before the sun disappeared and the world began to turn again. Heavily, slowly, like ancient cogs on a vast machine.

The sun vanished, and the cold settled in, and she wrapped her wrappers tightly about her shoulders and made her way back home in the increasing darkness.

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Poppy

Resilient.

That is what I would call her. She flounders, sometimes, in the shallows of life. Her heart may seem weak, but I secretly know she is just sensitive. She thinks too deeply about things.

He says she is drowning in ‘her vortex’.

Why, she asks, do they write about sad things, and try to make jokes out of them?

I think about what she means. She means those dark comedy sitcoms. You know, where the family are poor and there are lots of rude sex jokes, and dirty people saying filthy things, and jokes about mental instability and emotional unavailability.

Those are dark things. She says, Things you should keep hidden away. Things you mustn’t make light of.

Why?

Because the world needs to see happiness and hope. Not misery accompanied by obnoxious music. If I am unhappy, why would I want to laugh at other people’s unhappiness?

It’s just a TV show.

People drink too much alcohol and are seen as ‘party types’, adventurous and daring. People have ‘daddy issues’ and are blunt and rude about other people. People joking about the pills they pop to hide their deepest pains. People unconscious because of intoxication. When did this become a norm in society? What happened to living and laughing and talking genuinely about real things?

It’s just.. a TV show, Poppy.

She dances quietly in the rain, sometimes. Her movements, although rhythm-less, have a certain cadence. The way her arms move around her head, the way her bare feet touch the wet grass, gently kissing the sodden blades before moving on to another spot. The way her throat supports her face, craned towards the pregnant, grey heavens.

I think, sometimes, that you have to let life into your skin.

I don’t know what that means, Poppy.

When she works, she is vigilant. She is furious. When she sleeps, she is restless. Her eyes are always wandering.

Once she saw an old lady outside with no stockings. She rushed indoors and brought her a cape. The old woman, pushing her trolley before her, shook her away irritably.

What do you think I am, senile?!

Poppy stared as she hobbled away down the road. I couldn’t read the expression on her face.

She was vibrant, alive. But there was always a heavy sadness clinging to her. In her eyes, sometimes, when she thought I wasn’t looking.

I feel lonely, Sebastian.

I’m here, Poppy.

I .. know.

Your life, always, over mine, Poppy.

 

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Dream

She was a dream. No, she was dreaming.

She thought that dreams were just thoughts your brain is trying to have, but because it is asleep, it jumbles them up and gets confused. Poor thing.

She found this out because last night when she was trying to sleep she was asking her friend why her shoulders were over there. That was strange. There was a bird in a cage.

It made sense when she was awake, though. Because she was thinking of Barney’s canary. And Barney had wonderfully large shoulders. That was slightly sexual. She didn’t want to think of Barney’s shoulders, because what kind of name was Barney? A big fat purple dinosaur name, that’s what it was.

She couldn’t tell if this was a dream, or reality. She was standing, and she felt pretty tall. And Barney was there in his purple jacket, kneeling on the stone before her. The stunning view that was Granada fell away behind his back, and all she could see where the white houses tripping down the mountainside, cobbled streets winding around them like gleaming snakes in the bright sunshine. There was sweat on her back and behind her hair, and her lips were sticky with the remains of an ice cold coke, that left a hot, melty film around her mouth. It was horrible. She needed a drink. And he was on his goddamn knees.

Wait. He was on his knees. Dusty with the stone of one of the towers. Palm trees and red sand in the distance. Sweltering heat and tapas bars blaring sultry music. And he was on his knees.

She felt sick, suddenly. Barney with his purple jacket in the heat. Like the big fat singing dinosaur. The coke churned very realistically, very uncomfortably in her stomach.

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Love Letters #24

Dear Pip,

Penelope.

Penny.

Pip, I have known you for approximately six years. And forty seven days. And three and a half hours (at the time of writing this).

We met the day I met with my fate. My fate was you, of course. Didn’t you know?

We were both looking at the same teapot. It was yellow and had blue spots on and I remember thinking you had to be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of taste to like such a teapot because let me tell you, it was hideous.

But there was only one of them left and you said, ‘Oh, you have it.’

And I said, ‘Please, no, you have it.’ Because I didn’t even want it in the first place.

And you said, ‘Oh, no, I was only looking. You have it.’

And I said, ‘I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I took it when a young lady has her eye on it. It would be daylight robbery.’

And you snorted and said, ‘Well how about we halfsies it and then share it.’

‘What, like, monthly swaps?’ I asked, ‘or shall we cut it in half?’

‘Sure.’ You were nonchalant. Casual. You even shrugged and that is when I noticed the apple green jacket you are wearing. It was hideous also. (Please don’t hate me. We have discussed the ways colours are worn. And apple green blazers were out of the question. I even made a graph. Please see attached piece of paper for reference.)

‘Well,’ I said very carefully, ‘that then means, of course, that we shall have to swap details.’

‘Let’s buy this thing.’ You picked it up gently and as I reached into my pocket to take out my wallet my elbow jerked yours and it slipped out of your hands and fell down, down down onto the brightly polished John Lewis floors.

We both stared at it.

‘Ah well,’ you said, ‘I was only looking at it because I was curious about something so ugly. Good riddance, I say! I’m Pip. What’s your name?’

I stared at you in pleasant surprise and I felt my lips stretching out my face of their own accord.

‘James.’ I said, and then, ‘let us look for more ugly teapots.’

Of course we had to pay for that ugly yellow polka dot tea pot. It was atrocious. And then for your birthday present a year later I got you a similar teapot which you use for your indoor geraniums. It was from John Lewis and you killed yourself laughing at it and told me I was a money waster because there was no way you would use that for anybody. It could never grace your table.

I remember asking you all wounded, like, ‘What, not even for the reason that it was graced by my hands?’ I was also slightly flirting even though we were firm friends by then, but I could not resist. I can never resist you, Pip.

‘Nope.’ You were very firm.

I am writing to tell you that I want to marry you. I can’t say it to your face because you have beautiful eyes and I know exactly how they will look at me and I will not be able to help myself because I will kiss you and then I will be done for. I know you will be impatient with that and tell me that is nonsense and of course I can help myself but I will not want to. Help myself. At all.

Also I asked my aunt if she read those French books I gave her and she said yes, they were lovely books. You were right. She didn’t read them. Else she would have called me to lecture me horrendously about them. Lovely books indeed. She asks about you a lot and tells me I should marry you quicktimes before you grow too old to have kids.

So back to my fate. You are my fate either way. If you say yes then it will have been a good fate and if you say no I will be broken hearted forever and when I do eventually heal and marry somebody for realsies I will still remember you as the first ever woman who broke my heart.

You know love is a strange thing. So strange. I used to think I loved a woman before. I was seventeen. She wasn’t particularly beautiful but I was infatuated by her and loved her to pieces but she always treated me badly. And one day she went too far and I discovered she was sleeping with a right old tramp of a fellow, but I forgave her. Well I told her I did but I don’t think I really did. Something inside of me snapped that day. She walked on me one too many times. And three miserable months of forced smiles and fake kisses later I met you and the day afterwards she wanted to see me and I called her and I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t do this anymore.’

And when I was with her I thought there could never be anyone else because she was my first love. But it was meagre and ridiculous and pathetic and also desperate. Compared to what I feel about you. I am crazy about you. I look at you and I see my future. And I want to spend all my time with you and walk home from work with you and call you every single day but I stop myself because I don’t want you to get sick of me. I also want to kiss your forehead. It is so gentle and smooth and beautiful.

But see, if we were married I could call you everyday and it wouldn’t be weird, right? I could also kiss your forehead and it would be comfortable.

So, what do you say, Pip?

Yours sincerely and faithfully and truly (scrumptious),

Jim

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