Another Day, Another Dollar

In training they teach you about wind deflection, about how you have to adjust your aim to allow for the tiniest bit of breeze that could otherwise alter your bullet’s trajectory. What they don’t go into, though, is the possibility of sonic deflection.

Here I am, perched high in the festival rigging, trying to set up a shot. I’m being assaulted by the noise from the stage. It feels as though I’m literally being buffeted by a physical force. I don’t know how on earth this can’t affect the path of my bullet? Hell, it wasn’t like this in Dallas; it was quiet there.

Oh well, another day, another dollar. Some days it’s the leader of the free world, others it’s a subversive enemy of the American people. I don’t ask why; I don’t make the decisions, I just turn up on time and pull the trigger. I was seriously concerned about the need to make allowances for the wall of sound I through which I was presently to fire a bullet. I came to the conclusion that as I was firing directly into the noise, any sonic pressure would merely slow the projectile down and not deflect it.

Time to take the shot. Aim through the scope… Exhale… Squeeze the trigger… Job done. Or is it? The gunshot was masked by the sound from the stage and attracted no attention from the crowd. Nothing has changed. The target is still standing, well I say standing but perhaps wildly gyrating would be a better description. Could he have moved fast enough to dodge a bullet? Well, as they say, timing is everything. I had no time to take a second shot. I needed to get away, so I quickly disassembled my rifle and melted away into the crowd and disappeared.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 132 with reference to the prompt: assassin; Woodstock; drama.

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Away With the Fairies

Fairies

It happened a long, long, time ago. At the edge of the woods where there was an ancient tree. A tree surrounded by what some call fairy rings. Nowadays there is a more prosaic explanation for these rings and whorls that cover the ground beneath the tree. Today scientists attribute these marking to various species of mushrooms which occur naturally in forested land. You may believe this or you may believe in the fairy explanation. I believe, through painful experience, that these rings occur as a result of fairy revels. I don’t just believe; I know. If you go down to the woods at night, you might be lucky enough to see the fairies dance. There are those that say it’s misfortune, rather than luck, to spot the little folk. I would agree with them.

I was unfortunate enough to be making my way home late one night when some lights at the edge of the trees caught my attention. At first I thought it was fireflies that I was seeing. As I went closer to investigate, it seemed that I was seeing thousands of the creatures. My mouth went dry as I realised what was causing the light. Glittering like fireflies, hundreds of little people littered the ground surrounding the old tree. These weren’t the fairy folk of Victorian writers and illustrators that I’ve since learned about, there was no whimsy here. No childlike, winged humans frolicking with small animal life here. This was an army. A slightly surreal army, but an army nonetheless. They weren’t, strictly speaking, humanoid. Rather, they had a similarity to the human form, a head perched atop an elongated body but any limbs were mere suggestions, shadows of arms and legs which were absent. Lit with an electric glow, they carpeted the ground beneath the old tree. What had caused them to gather together in such numbers was unknown but, was surely significant? Was it one of those special nights that occur a handful of times over the course of the year when fairies come out to play? Of course it was. Those special nights when the veil separating fairy land from our mundane world becomes frail and frayed, allowing all manner of creatures to pass through the dividing border. Midsummer’s eve; midwinter’s eve; Halloween; Walpurgis Night; to name but a few, were times when the distance between fairy land and reality reduced so much as to be imperceptible. Those privileged enough to view the spectacle were immobilised in awe. And as they stood, awestruck, became vulnerable to the capricious nature of those that they observed. Fairy time doesn’t flow the same way as mundane time. The unlucky would emerge from their revery to find that days or weeks had passed in the real world, for the truly unfortunate this could extend to years. As for those who managed to break free of the spell and join in the fairy dance, they learnt to their cost that life would never again be the same.

I was one of the unlucky ones. At first I just watched but then I felt a small hand take mine, and I was off. It felt as though I danced for hours without getting tired. I whirled around in circles and danced around the rings. The tempo slowed then speeded up again. On occasion I gained the impression of shadowy figures standing apart, watching the endless dance. My sense of time deserted me. I gained the impression that the dance was stopping and restarting. I later realised that I was trapped and that the stopping and starting was occurring on separate nights and that my entrapment was going on for years. Sometimes I would seem to be conscious of observing the scene during the day.

In the cold light of day the area around the old tree would be seen to be covered in fairy rings. Traditionally these rings marked where the fairies dance, but to some they indicated places where fairy treasure was hidden. Many the unwary treasure hunter had come to grief attempting to excavate the ground in search of fairy treasure. A few had found fairy gold but found it to be valueless in our world when it became time to try to spend it. Others had disappeared without a trace, save for a few scattered tools where they’d been digging.

Some of those who disappeared joined me in the dance, others were lost forever. Occasionally we took a break from dancing and feasted on small cakes. Although I was never hungry, I somehow felt compelled to eat the fairy food. Looking back this was probably my undoing, the thing that kept me tied to the fairies for so long. Other than those times when I was aware of observing the fairy circles in daytime, I lost all sense of the passing of the seasons and of the years.

In the end, my luck returned. As I danced the night away I became aware of an intermittent tugging at my sleeve. This tugging awoke something in me that had been absent for a long, long time. I noticed a number of shadowy figures watching the dance. As I watched, I saw that they were linked together in a chain, with the figure closest to me reaching out to me. This was the source of the tugs at my sleeve. I awoke further, and the realisation struck me that I could escape from the seemingly endless dance. At each tug I let myself be pulled a little way from the centre of the dance. Finally, I could feel a hand grabbing my arm and I let myself be eased from the dance. I could see others dancing but I was still. I looked at my benefactors and saw a group of strangely dressed young people. They had created a human chain to rescue me from the dance. By clinging on to each other they had avoided being pulled into the madness and kept themselves safe where a single rescuer might have been swept into the dance.

I don’t know how long I’ve been caught up in the dance. In my day we didn’t know our figures and being aware of what year it was would have been an unnecessary luxury. What I do know is that I’ve emerged in a far better time, a time where food is plentiful and comes without unceasing toil. Clothing is soft, as are beds. Housing is warm, dry and uncrowded. I’m learning my letters now and one day I’ll find out where in history I come from.

Luck or misfortune? Whereas I was lucky enough to escape from the dance, I still miss my long gone family. Few know of the fairies these days but I’m grateful to my new friends for rescuing me.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink August 9th writing prompt competition

The Dreams of Others

Dream

Of late, my dreams have taken on a disturbing quality. They are still a surreal mash-up of everyday life but I seem to feature in them less and less. Instead of having a physical presence in my dreams I find myself increasingly experiencing a disembodied awareness or point of view. It’s as if I’m no longer a participant in my dreams but rather a discrete observer. My subconscious appears to be screening my dreams as entertainment for me and I watch my dreams as though I am a member of an audience watching a tv show or a film.

It didn’t use to be like this. Formerly I was front and centre and took a major role in my nighttime imaginings. Nowadays, I often don’t even have a walk-on part in my dreams. I seem to have been demoted from actor to audience. Frequently I find myself wondering whether the dreams I’m experiencing are even my own. Sometimes I can’t identify with the content as having any connection to my life. There’re none of the recognisable situations that link to past events. School; work; hobbies; family and friends; they are all absent. The only reasonable explanation would be if I was eavesdropping on somebody else’s dreams. The people populating my dreams are all unknown to me, there are no figures from popular culture, just strangers.

So, whose dreams are they? Without being able to identify any of the characters featuring in them, it’s impossible to tell. One further oddity of these dreams was that whilst dreaming I’d sometimes imagine I was looking at my phone and see that I had a message indicating that I’d received a new text or email. Sure enough, on waking and checking his phone, I would invariably find such a message to exist. I tried to convince myself that this was a product of my imagination and that it was something that occurred when I was expecting to receive a message of some kind. It occurred to me that I could try some of the techniques used by adherents of lucid dreaming in order to gain information about whose dreams I was experiencing. If I was truly receiving messages on my phone during my dreams, I wondered if I could use my phone to take photos during a dream and have evidence of what I’d dreamt the next day. I resolved to try this out at my next opportunity and photograph as many of these strangers as I could.

On waking the next morning, this turned out to be even more disturbing than the dreams themselves. Sure enough, there were pictures on my phone that appeared to have been taken while I was dreaming. Many of them were poor, some were hazy, and the colours had a weird quality, but the people were recognisable. How was this possible? I had been asleep, dreaming, and taking photos with an imaginary phone, a dream version of my ageing iPhone. It defied all reasoning.

Over the next few days I ran these pictures through one of the major search engines, search by image function. Slowly a story emerged, they represented a group of people who all knew each other, they’d been to the same school and many of them had worked together in later life. They were residents of a town miles away from where I lived, a place I’d seldom visited. It was safe to rule them out as belonging to my dreams. Their connectivity pointed to them being close friends of whoever was dreaming the dreams that I was receiving. The problem remained of identifying who the true, or intended recipient of these dreams was. The dreamer, the one-person audience for these dreams, was never seen. Barring the presence of a mirror, this was likely to continue to be the case. Personally, I couldn’t remember seeing a mirror in any of my own dreams. I was certain I’d never seen my own reflection in a dream, nor even myself as a character in any of my dreams.

I tried searching social media to find any hidden links but came up against a dead end. My skills as a detective were just not up to the task. How could I identify an unnamed friend or associate from social media? The answer came to me in a flash – selfies! I renewed my search concentrating on selfies taken by those who had featured in the dreams that I’d managed to take photos of. I soon began to build up a library of possible subjects. I felt that I recognised some of them from the dreams. They must be people I was used to seeing but who I’d not yet managed to photograph. This narrowed the field down to a handful of individuals so I concentrated my search on them.

Over time, I refined my search, removing individuals from my list of suspects as I managed to get dream photos of them. Social media is a curious thing. Some participants remain opaque, hidden behind a wall of disposable chatter, whilst others tell you their life story on a day-by-day basis. I ended up with three possible subjects but I could think of no way of proving which was the actual dreamer. I hit on the idea of a scattergun approach. I joined the social circles of all three suspects and began to post snippets about my recent dreams. This was no sure-fire way of identifying the actual dreamer but it was the best I’d been able to come up with. There was no guarantee that the dreamer would recall the same aspects of their dreams that I was able to. After all, I’d been obsessing about these dreams for months now, keeping notes and taking dream photos, I had a far greater recollection of these dreams than I used to have of my own.

Every now and again I’d gain a hint that I was on the right track and was eventually able to rule out two of my suspects when I started to read things on social media to the effect of, that’s weird, I having exactly the same dreams. I’d found my dreamer. But what next? I tried to learn as much as I could about the dreamer as I could. I decided that I quite liked her and made an effort to get in touch with her to discuss her dreams.

That’s why I’m in here. Confined to a cell with no computer and no connection to the internet. The judge described me as a stalker and vowed to make an example of me, hence the custodial sentence. I no longer have a cell phone or a life, but I still have the dreams. If I did have a phone, it would be full of dream photos taken during her dreams. I continue to try to make contact with her as we both dream the same dreams.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink August 2nd writing prompt competition

Done Manifesting

I turned around and noticed a person standing on the opposite sidewalk, just… watching. Watching what though? That was the question. Actually, that was the second question. It wasn’t clear from this distance whether it was a man or a woman who was staring in my direction or what exactly it was that was being stared at. I suspected that I was the subject of his or hers interest. Things hadn’t been going that well of late. Sometimes it was the arms or legs that went wrong, I usually manifested the correct number but somehow they didn’t turn out quite right. I ran a quick inventory… Left leg? OK. Right leg? OK. Feet? Check, two, and they were even pointing in the correct direction, forward. Arms? Check, two, present and correct. Hands? Two, one on each arm.

Being a demon living in a human world can be difficult. Humans have such a restricted repertoire, they pretty much all look the same. Demons? Well, we’re a mixed bunch and come in an assortment of imaginative shapes. Occasionally it’s all too easy to overlook that extra limb, or eye, or set of wings. Oh God, it wasn’t the wings again? Nope, must be something smaller, less significant. I looked at my reflection in a nearby shop window. At first glance everything looked fine. I was looking at the image of a regular human male, nothing seemed out of place. Then I realised. It’s happened to me before, skin is weird. At least I’d got the colour right, if not the shade. Although I have to say it worked out OK that St Patrick’s Day when I’d come out green. I always find shades of red difficult and have never understood this human affinity for fleshy pink. What was wrong with bright crimson?

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 130. The remit was to include one or two prompt lines from a list of 13. In this case:

“Skin is weird.” and “I turn around and notice a person standing on the opposite sidewalk, just…watching.”

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This piece gained a Special Mention for clever concept and tied for the winner of the Community Pick.

I was really amused by the idea of the demon’s uncertainty when he had to manifest in human form.

Twins

Twins

We stand next to each other, two different people inhabiting the same body. We see each other in entirely different ways. She sees me as dull and dowdy; I see her as frivolous and flirty. To you, we both look the same. The same face, the same figure. The same gestures and style of movement. If you saw us facing each other in conversation if it wasn’t for handedness you’d take it that you were seeking one person reflected in a mirror. Over the course of our conversation you’d see the same gestures and gesticulations mirroring each other. Two heads cocked at the same angle, the right arm raised, fingers extended to make a point. The next moment you’d see that same right hand brush hair to one side, tucking it behind the same ear. You see two identical women moving and behaving in exactly the same manner and, deep down, it gives you an uncomfortable feeling. It’s a feeling akin to the concept of the uncanny valley, the suggestion that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. Perhaps that is also true of identical twins, we are somehow slightly unreal and elicit those same feelings of eeriness.

As far as we are concerned, we couldn’t be more different. When either of us looks in the mirror we don’t see each other, we see ourselves. We each see an individual, an individual totally separate from our sister, and what we see can vary from day to day. This morning I was feeling dull and frumpy, I could have sworn that I’d put on weight overnight. As soon as I saw her I fell into a jealous (but silent) rage. She looked so slim and pretty and her hair was just right. On another day the roles could easily be reversed, me looking the picture of perfection, her wracked by uncertainty and envious of me.

We’ve tried to look different but it never works. It’s a relic of when we were young and mischievous, we would relish the opportunity to play pranks on friends and relatives. The urge to be two separate individuals came later in life but it never seems to take. If one of us changes her hair, within weeks the style will drift back to what it was before. We’ve given up on dressing differently, we both have the same sense of fashion and find it uncomfortable to try to be other than we are. It’s too easy for us when either of us goes shopping alone to end up buying two sets of any clothing that takes our fancy and passing one set on to our twin.

Superficially we are identical, we do tend to dress the same, but not necessarily the same outfits on the same day. We know who we are… two individuals. Unfortunately, we seem to be cursed with the same taste and interests as each other. It doesn’t help that all you zombies out there treat us in the same way. We’re tired of seeing you do a double-take when we walk into view together. We’re tired of your tongue-tied confusion on addressing us. It pleases us to lead you on, never letting you know which twin you’re actually talking to.

Sometimes, oh how I wish that I was unique. As does my sister. At times we would both like to be individuals but, as long as we both live, that is something denied to us. So here we stand, side by side, two identical people in a world of individuals.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink July 26th writing prompt competition

 

Being in Two Minds

I was besides myself with excitement. Literally. There was another me standing next to myself and I was in a scared and excited state. I had no idea how this had come about. I turned to myself and asked, ‘Do you know what’s going on? How can there be two of us standing here side by side?’ ‘I’ve no idea,’ I replied, ‘although it might have something to do with that phial of green liquid that you are holding in your right hand.’

I looked down at my hand and saw that I was holding a small bottle containing an opalescent green liquor. Cautiously I lifted it to my face and sniffed, a pungent odour assaulted my nostrils and I became aware of a sour taste in my mouth, I suspected the two were related.

‘I think you may be right.’ I said to my other self.

‘What do we do next?’ I asked in reply.

We both looked around, taking in our surroundings. We seemed to be in an old-fashioned doctor’s surgery. There was a knock at the door. It slowly opened inwards revealing a tall gentleman wearing a top hat and heavy overcoat. He entered the room and walked towards the two of us, looking us both up and down.

‘It’s a shame I was called away. I would have loved to have witnessed your transformation.’

We both looked at him blankly.

I spoke first, ‘I must apologise, neither myself or my…’ I hesitated, ‘my twin… have any recollection of who you are or what we are doing here and, most puzzling of all, how come there are two of us.’

‘Let me explain, my name is Dr Jekyll and you, having read of my work, approached me to explore your other self.’

He continued to recount his own tale of how he had developed a serum that released the other self. And how, after some initial “difficulties” he had tamed his alter ego and now live a quiet contented life trying to help others. He had to confess confusion when faced with the apparent duplication of myself. Although he had been two people, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it had been at separate times. Jekyll was at a loss to explain how, once I’d drunk the serum, I’d split into two seemingly identical separate entities.

Both of me were feeling very self conscious, fearful and vulnerable, wondering what each other was thinking. Fortunately we appeared to be of a single mind, albeit one split between two bodies. We both wanted things to go back to the way that they had been, back to being a single entity.

Dr Jekyll sensed our uneasiness and started busying himself mixing together various chemicals in a flask. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I hope to return you to your former state with a further dose of the serum. Drink this’

He handed me the flask. We both took a sip and I became one, feeling twice the man I’d been before.

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Written  for the Tell a Tale – Gothic fiction competition

The competition was in connection with a touring production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the remit was to write a 500-word tale of terror using the following quotation from the play’s script as inspiration:

“It might be possible, of course, that far from being one, we may possess two selves.”

No Rhyme No Reason

The famous playwright disagreed with the composer who was writing the score for his new play. Although he was reworking a Shakespeare play, setting it in a sixties setting, he objected to the composer’s fixation on iambic pentameter.

‘I really feel,’ he said, ‘that setting the music to a rhythm dictated by, “da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM,” is a very obvious ploy. Given that the cast includes a refugee and an interracial couple I think something with an ethnic beat might be more appropriate.’

His star actor agreed with this sentiment and suggested a second composer who he thought could do a better job. A play focusing on the big issues of the sixties: the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, Cuba, and apartheid, deserved something better than an in joke referring to sixteenth century poetic form. All the subjects discussed in the play touched on ethnicity to some extent or other so a soundtrack based on world music would be far more fitting.

The new production was to be a play in the form of a memoir about putting on a mystery play, much like in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, encompassing drama, comedy, and romance. The playwright concurred with his star and took the immediate action of firing the first composer and hiring the second one.

Later, when the newly hired composer spoke to the star to thank him for his recommendation, he expressed his astonishment about how rapidly things were moving.
‘I understand that time is of the essence but I was most surprised in view of his dislike of iambic pentameter to receive this note from the writer, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”’

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 129 with reference to the prompt: Playwright; Shakespeare Play; Drama

This piece gained an Honourable Mention:

An honorable mention goes to No Rhyme No Reason. It did a great job balancing in-the-moment dialogue and summaries of long periods of time. The theme of adapting scripts hits very close to my
heart.