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Writer's Corner - May 2008


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Freedom

RIGHT THEN.

Greetings my feisty little cherubs. This month, there are no rules. None whatsoever. That's right, not one. Except for these:

1. One thousand words or less. More barely any.

2. The deadline for posting your stories and poems is the end of May, on the dot.

3. The deadline for your votes is 9am on the 5th of June.

4. Criticisms are welcome, but please keep it in the nature of the corner.

5. Have a go - you don't have to use the word, it's just a guideline.

If you're already feeling lost and seek wee sparks of inspiration to be conjured within your skulls: freedom is everywhere and a part of most things. Freedom is what allows one to use this forum on the internet, go for a walk or vote for Boris Johnson as the Mayor of London. Write about your own personal freedoms, the freedom (or lack of) of a nation, a thinly disguised blog on how you're still living with your parents at 43, a state of mind, a behaviour...the list goes on and on.

Let's make this month as incredible and as enjoyable as the last.

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Freedom

"Hello?"

"Turn it! Come on. Turn it bitch! Turn it!"

"What did you say?"

"Turn it!"

"What are you talking about-"

"The fucking handle man, turn the fucking handle!"

"Oh."

"Well?"

"What?"

"Turn the fucking thing will you!"

"I don’t know."

"For fuck’s sake man! I’m gonna fucking die in here, turn the fucking handle"

"Yeah but-"

"There ain’t no ‘but’ bitch, turn the fucking handle!"

"Ummm"

"Listen you sour-eyed motherfucker, I’m gonna fucking die here, all you gotta do is turn the mother-fucking handle and that’s that."

"Bu-"

"No fucking buts, turn the mother fucker."

"Okay...Okay."

"Come on, come on, come on."

"What if I don’t want to?"

"What!?!"

"What if-"

"You gotta be freaking kidding me here."

"What if you’re a rapist?"

"What?"

"See, I don’t think I’d want to release a rapist from death."

"I ain’t no motherfucking rapist."

"Then maybe you’re a murderer!"

"I ain’t no fucking murderer either!"

"Are you sure?"

"Listen man, I’m in here on my way to court. I ain’t even been found guilty or nothing"

"See I don’t know that. You may well have been judged already."

"Believe me man, I’m fucking in here cos I got taken in for a spliff man, just a fucking spliff."

"Hmmm"

"Please, please man. I’m begging you here, let me out. It’s getting really fucking hot in here man."

"Why was that guard armed?"

"What?"

"That one over there, the one with his feet pointing toward us."

"I can’t see the motherfucker man, just turn the fucking thing please."

"He’s got a shotgun."

"So what man, that’s like standard procedure."

"I don’t think so."

"I don’t know man, shit. This is the first time I’ve ever been in one of these fucking things. Come on, I can smell smoke."

"I think maybe I will leave you now."

"What! C’mon man! Don’t fucking do this! I’m a fucking innocent!"

"Not an innocent no. I think I’m going now"

"No Wait."

"No."

"Wait! Please wait! Listen man, it was more than a spliff."

"Ah."

"But it was only weed man."

"What was?"

"I was caught with a load of weed. Fifteen keys man, that was all. Please let me out"

"Keys? What kilos? That sounds a lot of cannabis."

"It was. I was just the courier though, just a fucking lackey trying to make some quick cash. Please man, my hair is starting to smoke man."

"I still think that that doesn’t really warrant an armed guard."

"I think I can feel my skin peeling..."

"I mean, you are - by your own admission - a drug dealer."

"A courier man just a fucking driver."

"Just a driver even, and yet the authorities that be have considered you dangerous enough to warrant an armed guard while transporting you to court."

"So what man? That’s just fucking routine, especially in drug cases"

"But I don’t think that’s the case. This whole mess, it seems to me, looks a little contrived."

"What the fuck are you talking about man? For fuck’s sake, if you don’t let me out soon, I’m gonna fucking die in here. Do you understand that!?!"

"Yes, I do understand that. What I am trying to fathom out is why there are several dead guards, who look like they’ve been shot. As well as two civilians, who also seem to have been holding weapons when they were either shot - by the guards I suspect - or during the crash between the van and this truck."

"What about it?"

"Looks like someone was trying to break you out and it went well wrong."

"So fucking what! Does that mean I deserve to die? Just open the door man, please. I can give you money."

"Oh ho!"

"That what you want? I’ll pay you thirty grand man, in cash, just to open that fucking door."

"See, now-"

"Please"

"Let me speak."

"Okay"

"Now your true colours are coming through. What makes you think that I am concerned with money?"

"Everyone loves money"

"Not everyone."

"What do you want form me then? Please I’ll do any-fucking-thing."

"Anything?"

"Please, I can hardly breathe."

"The thing you have failed to grasp here, is that you have nothing to offer me. I, on the other hand can offer you everything."

"And?"

"Perhaps I don’t want you to live Jason."

"How do you-"

"Hasn’t the penny dropped yet?"

"So you know my name"

"That’s not all I know."

"You fucking bitch!"

"Shut up! Shut up! I know about the children Jason, the drugs, the hard drugs. I applaud you"

"I can change, please"

"Oh, so the sinner repents?"

"Yeah, I’m sorry, please it burns."

"Of course it burns. It will burn and burn. You lived your life like a dream, everyone you encountered was a nightmare."

"What the fuck are-"

"I had you from the day your father fucked you in the ass when you were seven, remember?"

"What? How the fuck would you know that?"

"Oh Jason, don’t you get it yet?"

"Please, just let me out, I’m going to die."

"No, my slave, you are already dead."

"What?"

"Where the hell do you think you are?"

"I don’t know, please."

"Ha, you weren’t educated very well were you? Never listened to your great aunt then? The cunt."

"That mad witch? She just went on about eternal dam...na...tion..."

"Ha hah ha. Yes. The penny drops."

"Oh fuck."

"Let’s do this again."

"Do what?"

***

"Hello?"

"Turn it! Come on. Turn it bitch! Turn it!"

"What did you say?"

"Turn it!"

"What are you talking about-"

"The fucking handle man, turn the fucking handle!"

"Now, why the fuck would I do that?"

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Haven't written in a while, so criticism is very much welcome.

Freedom.

"...Was that all?" the elderly man stared eagerly in my direction. I could tell he wasn’t impressed, but he couldn’t hide the fact that he didn't want to express his indifference towards me. Not after what I'd done for him.

"No." I sniggered slightly, but not too much as to offend him, "No... far from it." I reached past a chocolate croissant to pick up a disposable cup full of coffee. It wasn't what I had ordered, but it was her first day in the job. At least it seemed that way. In any case, I shouldn't complain. What reason would I have to complain? Coffee is coffee. Besides, she was kind enough to bring over the few sachets of sugar that I had forgotten to take with me. I felt uncomfortable when she did, I felt like I was being served.

"Forgive me for the persistence, but your story is compelling. Might you tell me what is to follow?" the man asked politely, mid-slurp of his Earl Grey tea. His voice relaxed me. I had realized I hadn't conversed extensively with an elderly person for over six years, since my grandfather passed. I had forgotten how soothing a soft, slow, yet precise voice can be. It is as if my mind was reduced to a pulpous bed in a serene atmosphere, with his wise words dancing in the gentle breeze, like experience itself entailed reassurance. The experience was divine.

He brought with him the capacity for good conversation. I'm not usually one to talk much. I prefer listening, however there was something about this old man that placed emphasis on the desire to continue speaking with him. I found myself wanting to tell him more. I wanted to meet him on a regular basis, though I didn't want him to think I was being too forward. I decided to continue my explanation. I could see in his eyes how he translated every word into an exaggerated, epic tale. There was a sudden bout of words, like a brotherhood of sentences strung together in harmony.

"Well, our plan didn’t go quite as we expected. I slowly came to realization that it just wasn't possible. So we all returned to our homes."

"Goodness, why would such a world fail?" he felt almost robbed by the turn of events. The sadness in his eyes made me feel I should have lied. I should have made up a story to keep him happy, but I didn’t want to rob him further in any regards.

"I just don't think we were built for such measures. People get greedy."

"Were it the fault of anyone in particular? I mean, you started your story with great ambition. How could it have come to what you claim?” the old man hadn’t as much as teased his eyes towards the carrot cake before him. His interest in my story was paramount.

"I'm not sure. What can one do against such greed? We all have individual desires in this world. We attempted to spread these desires evenly in harmony, so that everyone could benefit."

“Without a government.” He reminded himself.

“Indeed. But when one individual wants more, the other feels compromised. Things eventually become unsettling, and it defeats the whole purpose.” I felt like I was throwing a calm tantrum. The more I spoke to him, the less I felt of his comforting presence. I attempted a pause, before I picked up the chocolate croissant to take a convenient bite. The pause was interrupted, and I felt rude chewing while the old man was speaking.

"Perhaps it is achievable through understanding. You just need to make everyone understand what you understand. If all have mutual understanding of themselves, others, and objects around them, there shouldn't exist greed." He finished just as I had swallowed. It felt like the croissant was my very pride.

“I’ve tried, Mr. Gibson. We’ve tried. Like all those before us, we’ve submitted to the only resolution in regards to the understanding you speak of.”

“Submission to a government.” Confirmed Mr. Gibson. I nodded.

The feeling of submission was one of the lowest points of my life. The realization that I could do nothing to help human kind be absolutely free was worthy of immature repent. Take a dream, become king of that dream. It is only a dream. There were never monsters behind the cupboard.

“I’m afraid I must go.” I wanted him to stay. Give me anything, any form of hope. I regretted continuing the story.

“Already?” I pleaded. It seemed he couldn’t read my eyes as well as I could be comforted by his.

“I would love to stay, you are very kind indeed. Though my darling wife will be wondering where I am. We’re going to the Isle of Wight tomorrow. It is where our adventure started fifty-three years ago, and it is where we plan for it to end.”

“That sounds nice.” Envy spoke in compliments.

“Take a dream, become king of that dream. The dream is yours, and nobody can take it from you. Nobody.” A tear formed in the corner of his eye. It was the least of his worries.

We finished our drinks. He wasn’t tempted by the carrot cake. I stood up from my seat and slung a backpack across my back, in such a style as if I were ready for my own adventure. An adventure free from worry, one that revolves around adapting to social change rather than allowing social change to eclipse itself over what you desire. I felt our meeting today was a coincidence, but I’d like to think the battery on his cart failed for a reason. On that day, I helped a complete stranger; I accompanied him to a warm drink and a bite to consider, before I helped him to his home. He turned out to be the perfect reminder that self-understanding is what you make from your own adventures. This is freedom for Mr. Gibson. It was poetically absurd.

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I'm having trouble with this month's word. I've only thought of one idea. And it's pretty shit.

I'm the same. I've written a story for this months word but its garbage and I've drawn a blank on anything else. Hoping to have a last minute brain storm or something.

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There's nothing inspiring about it, and I think that's the problem. It's a little too broad and doesn't really suggest anything to me, unlike, say, the word zombie (curse you Rowan!). A gamble, and although I usually feel quite hedged in by the month's word, this suggests they're actually quite important to me.

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The first thing that popped into my head upon reading the word was to wrote a piece about the making of George Michael's 'Freedom' video from the perspective of Linda Evangelista, and I've been so enamoured by the idea that I can't think of anything else. Not enamoured enough to actually write it, you understand, just to think about it.

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Here's something I knocked up today at work. It's unedited and rough.

Fass had drunk himself into such a torpid state that he didn’t notice the Makeen that had, after much toil and searching, deposited an implausibly large pile of books next to him.

“Wake up please General” The Makeen droned, in its monotone voice, “I have returned with fuel”. Noticing that Fass was unconscious the Makeen picked a book at random and begin to peruse its worn pages. The book contained an ancient treatise on methods of ensuring entry into the upper layers of Heaven. With nothing better to do the Makeen flicked to a page at random and began to read aloud.

“Part 74. Important Notes on the Collection of the Physical Soul. It is imperative that during the course of one’s entire life proper preparation for the collection of the Soul is observed. The Soul exists as a physical embodiment inside the abdomen, just underneath the ovipositor. Maintaining a regular Soul grooming regime will ensure that when the Overarch comes to collect, he will not be repulsed by unsightly wax deposits or pungent Soul-grease accumulations. What follows are several methods and products one can use to keep a clean and healthy-“

The Makeen, already bored with the book and recognising it as an inflated advertisement for insectoid cleaning products, tossed it into the fire. Even for such a worthless volume of information the Makeen felt a sense of guilt at burning the book and, as with each book that had preceded it, had been tempted to commit it to memory before using it to keep the fire going.

Why am I held in sway to this selfish lump of organic matter? As it sits there in its self induced stupor burning precious information, just to keep its squishy processes going - the Makeen thought to itself as it reached for another book and began reading from a page in the middle.

“-time’ Miranda said as she mixed herself another gin and tonic. ‘How long have we been married? How long have I sat in the background, playing the part of the devoted housewife while you spend all your time womanising? It’s all over the neighbourhood you know. Everyone knows about these sordid little meetings you make.’ Without another word she walked over and threw the drink in her husband’s face.

‘You promised to love me, to honour me and obey me till death do us part Miranda.’ Peter walked over to the bureau desk and took from the draw a small revolver-“

Again the Makeen tossed the book into the fire and watched as Fass began to stir.

‘What were you saying?’ he asked groggily.

‘Nothing of importance General, I was merely reading. These books once burned will never be seen again. I feel as if I should give each at least a cursory glance before they are put to the important task of keeping you warm.’

‘Hmmn’ Fass said as he pulled his blankets tighter round himself ‘Two questions; firstly how much flammable crap is there left in this mausoleum and is there any of that ceremonial wine left?’

‘I think a more important issue to discuss would be the lack of contact from the outside. I left a few remote sensors at the entrance before I blocked it and I’m not picking up anything on any frequency. We may have to assume that the entire battalion has been eliminated or lost in the snow storm.’ The Makeen said as he reached over for another book.

Fass picked up one of the empty glass bottles next to him. The bottle was decorated with incredibly detailed glass carvings depicting moments in the deceased’s life. The wine itself was for the party held in the underworld celebrating the tomb’s owner safely crossing the path of the dead. Fass tossed it aside and watched as the small glass figurines splintered and shattered. ‘That’s not what I asked’ he said.

The Makeen opened the next book he had selected at random and once more began to read aloud.

“Many failed to question the motives of the visitors, instead only rejoicing in the knowledge that after centuries of speculation we could finally answer the question of whether we were alone in the universe. And it was answered in a spectacular fashion. The visitors’ fleet was made up of ships varying wildly in design and specification, each one reflecting the ideals, perceptions and personalities of their builder species. Warships hung in orbit, in formation with pleasure ships, scouting vessels and merchant cargo carriers. No one questioned the motives of the visitors and had we done so it would have been fruitless. None of us could understand the mindset of the visitors who, at first, we had assumed to be a unified conglomeration of species working together. But the ships were only manned by one species, their original occupants murdered. The fleet would more accurately be described as a swarm. And they fell on us from orbit taking all they could and laying waste to anything they deemed useless.”

The Makeen hesitated before throwing the book into the fire. ‘In answer to your questions; after the books the only fuel we shall have left to burn will be the mummified corpse of this tomb’s inhabitant. If I might also add General that according to the charts I’m programmed with this is the only remaining tomb that hasn’t been plundered by your forces. The books we are burning are the last remaining copies, and if we burn the corpse then there will not be a single example of the anatomy of this planet’s original inhabitants left... and the wine is all gone.’

Fass sighed and muttered curses under his breath. ‘History from the losers’ point of view, that’s all it is.’ Fass picked up another ceremonial bottle and, after checking for dregs, tossed it behind him. The Makeen could have sworn the General grinned slightly to himself when he heard the tinkling crash of the bottle breaking.

Fass smiled at the Makeen ‘I’m cold.’

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It’s dark.

And cramp.

And wet.

I’ve no idea how long I’ve been in here, but it feels like forever. I’ve become quite accustomed to it. I almost consider it my home. I can't see my hand in front of my face. I can only hear distant muffled noises. But I like it here; on my own. Alone with my thoughts.

It gives me a chance to learn.

I'm treated relatively well. Fed regularly, kept warm, protected. Why would I ever want to leave? I can survive in here. It's the unknown that truly scares me. The thought of what is beyond these walls. And I suspect it won’t be long until I have to leave.

Whether I like it or not.

I’ve noticed changes in the situation. It feels like the walls have been closing in and pushing me into uncomfortable positions. It feels like I’m moving. Constantly. The noises from outside have been getting more fierce. Almost panicked. Much of the fluid inside has drained away.

Something is changing.

I’ve tried to resist it. I’ve struck out. But as always, any attempt I try to make to contact those outside has resulted in nothing. They know I’m here. They must do. But they seem to hold me purposely at arms length. Its as if they can’t talk to me. Like I’m incredibly close, but also so far way. In an impossible, unimaginable situation.

I’m not a captive to them. This I’m sure of. I’m something else.

Something they’re afraid of maybe?

What have they been waiting for?

The panicked noises from outside grow more intense. There is shouting, but one voice, the clearest voice, is screaming. Every cry reverberates through the walls and through my body, as if I’m screaming too. It occurs to me that this screaming belongs to the voice I most recognise, but I’ve never heard it like this before. It has always been somewhat soothing, but now it’s calling for blood. Is it dying?

Who is it?

Suddenly, I feel something press against my head. It seems so long since I last experienced something new. A new encounter, a touch, takes time to register with my sheltered mind.

The feeling is cold and it covers the entire length of my head.

It takes hold.

At the same time the noises become more severe. And clearer. The world is coming into sharper focus. I begin to realise that the key to what has been happening to me all this time might not be where I am, but where I am going. I’ve never really questioned the outside, other than the voices. I’ve never questioned what might be waiting for me if I ever left.

I’m suddenly terrified of what might be ahead of you me.

I can’t stop myself from bursting into tears.

“PUSH!”

Blinded. The light is too much. The noise is excruciating. I scream until my lungs feel like they could burst. The cold feeling works it’s way from my head to my sides, and within the briefest of moments, I’m totally liberated. The sensory overload is too much. I cry and kick and resist.

I want to go back.

But this is it now.

My whole life is in front of me.

I’m free.

I’m frightened.

I find myself held in another’s arms. She’s crying, but not like I am. She’s crying for a different reason. I feel like I recognise her. I feel like I know her. Like I’ve known her forever. Her hold and voice are so familiar. So close to me.

I stop crying.

“Congratulations, Mr and Mrs Scott. He’s a healthy baby boy.”

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I'm really sorry for this sorry attempt. I left it way too late and couldn't think of anything good. So it's just a brief commentary on an everyday night in.

Skin, hair and nails supplements. One a day. 30 tablets. My mind is wandering. I toss the bottle from my sight. Next to me piles of everyday debris. Monotony. Adult Single. Ticket No. 3587. Route 6. Scattered coins and forgotten scribblings. Shit all around. I try to reach for the nearest cd case but I'm afraid to put it down amongst the crumpled and soiled tissues. Don't touch the tissues, whatever you do!

The disc is already in. Headphones plugged. Wires tangled round my ankles. Glass poured and drink mat set. And so I begin. The low afternoon sun is heavy on my back. I should close the curtains, but the wires discourage me. I'm here now. The sun will be setting soon enough. G - scroll through immediate results. I really should use the bookmarks. Oh! It's wandering again... Off on a blurry tangent. All fingers point to the glistening ochre culprit. Can I really cut back on this stuff? I know I feel better with it. Certainly. No less a fool without it, that's for sure. Perhaps a short break. If only to appease the other half.

Clawing at my hairy skull. A shower is on the cards. The creak of the chair, as if in protest against my tired and heavy back. My pivotal nocturnal hub. My free time. My alone time. I think I need a new cushion. This thing is pretty fucked to be fair. I can feel the cold steel frame against my equally bony physique. Spilled drink and burning crotch. Shower comes early. Who the fuck's paying for this heat anyway? I can't wait 'til I'm older. More responsibility. More choice. More freedom. More bills.

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With the exception of the real birds, it’s as silent as he remembers. It’s made the early start and three hour drive all the more worthwhile.

This journey really began two months ago, hearing the birdsong radio station for the first time. Instead of the calming effect he’d expected, it only emphasised how much he missed the quiet, and the frustration this realisation subsequently brought. The more he listened to the digital birds, the more it highlighted how noisy his life had become - the perpetual drone of his urban surroundings. He felt trapped, crushed by a noise he had learnt to barely notice.

Specifically, he began to think about his old newspaper round, and the silent countryside mornings it frequented. He used to walk the forty five minute route without encountering another single car or person. Such isolation felt like another world, a past that never really existed. A dream within a dream, a silent, still utopia that he assumed no longer existed.

Until one evening, and birdsong.

Alone on his wife’s side of the bed, the recordings finally triggered some form of release. Whether a simple mid-life distraction, a harmless reminisce, or a reluctance to shake off the past - it didn’t matter. It stirred him into action for the first time in months, bringing him here – stood outside the village newsagents at five in the morning, savouring the silence.

He is going to walk his old paper round. His life coach whole heartedly recommends against it.

He sets off briskly, hoping to remember the route as he goes. The main lane through the village has barely changed, and it’s the smallest details he recognises first – bronzed house numbers, latches on gates, wall mounted letter boxes. It could be twenty years ago. He can almost feel the weight of his old walkman, almost hear his first album.

Outside of his memories, he actually hears nothing. At this early hour nothing stirs, the air carbon neutral. This is the land of Post Office closures, of back in 5 mins, of perpetual Christmas morning. The first commuter won’t rise for another hour or so. It may be years before this lane hears the noise of a siren.

Silence. It’s just what he came for.

As he reaches the church corner he catches his breath, before turning onto the main riverbank, grand houses facing the valley below. It’s breathtaking, the view and the scent of morning bringing him to a halt. For a split second he is cars covered in blossom, distant farm vehicles rumbling, double history followed by double maths. A split second in which he considers moving back, packing it all in and buying one of the houses he adored so much as a child. Maybe taking on this paper round, continuing it until his finances or dignity demanded otherwise.

Every front door has a new memory to savour. He passes a house where he received hand knitted gloves from a plain-haired lady wearing only her dressing gown, a scenario that over the following weeks grew into his first sexual fantasy. By the time he reaches the Dalkeith house he still hasn't seen any sign of life – no front room light or early morning dog walk. He stops once more, slightly short of breath, the walk as physically tiring as it is emotional. He’s perspiring now, and could do with a drink before the next uphill segment. He briefly considers knocking on the door of the dressing gown lady, wondering if she’d recognise him after all this time, if the lines on his face really did suggest a bad paper round.

The hill feels tougher than ever, but he makes it to the top, sweating heavily. Nerves are starting to contribute, especially with the White House farm below. It’s the furthest point of the round – a small farmhouse at the end of a lane flanked by fields of rapeseed yellow. Away from the street lighting of the village, winter mornings would imagine every sort of horror waiting in these dark fields. Sometimes he would run all the way back up the lane, terrified by his own imagination.

No chance of that now he thinks, his imagination and stamina lost with maturity. The fields rustle in the morning air, like something’s been awakened, something that’s been waiting for him all these years. Despite convincing himself that he’s convinced himself otherwise, he quickens his pace, reaching the farm with a racing pulse. With no delivery to make, he turns and heads straight back.

A third of the way up, he struggles for breath.

Two thirds of the way up, his heart is back in the first third.

He stops to bend over, his rasping breaths punctuating the silence. Even though it’s daylight he’s scared. This is now a real, adult fear, but that still doesn’t stop his imagination now realising the horrors of the field, his childhood demons pouring out onto the deserted country lane whilst his adult health roots him to the spot. He wants to hurry even more, even though he knows it’s precisely the opposite of what he should be doing.

Breathing becomes difficult, then impossible, and he falls to his knees, a third of the way from safety. All his hopes for this journey are now condensed into one simple goal - to make it to the top, even though it now feels like a goal too far.

The top of the hill has become that impossible utopia.

He slumps onto the tarmac. His hands go cold, and he regrets not bringing those gloves with him. All his wishes seemingly reverse – he is now desperate to see another person, another car, another anything. The real paper round will start in another hour. Maybe if he can hold out until then, maybe he won’t end up being tomorrow’s news.

The noise he hears is deafening, his heart twittering a violent birdsong of its own making. The morning, with the exception of the real birds, is as silent as he remembers.

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The first thing that popped into my head upon reading the word was to wrote a piece about the making of George Michael's 'Freedom' video from the perspective of Linda Evangelista, and I've been so enamoured by the idea that I can't think of anything else. Not enamoured enough to actually write it, you understand, just to think about it.

That's a great idea! You could fill it with ironic foresights like:

"Wow, if there's one man on the planet that's not gay it's definitely him!"

and

"That's one man who'll never get caught exposing himself to a police officer in a public toilet!

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Peter finished off the last bite of his sandwich just as the alarm went off. Bacon, lettuce and tomato this time. He brought out a small black device from his pocket and flipped the lid open. The beeping stopped and he lightly pressed his fingers against the faded screen. A woman’s voice crackled out from the small speaker at the side, harsh and tinny.

“Destination entered. #23,612. Preparing jump preparations. One passenger. Preparations completed. Engage when ready.”

Peter stroked the device, feeling the smooth texture of the plastic under his fingers. He looked around the room and sighed, the wrinkled features of his face contorting in to a muzzle of anger and sadness. He looked in to the mirror opposite him. The years had taken their toll, he was virtually unrecognisable from the man he was about to see. He put his plate down on a nearby bedside table and tapped the screen one more time.

“Engaged. Jumping in 3, 2, 1.”

Peter closed his eyes and felt the same warm glow he always did. He didn’t like keeping them open anyway, the strain of the adjustment on the eyes when jumping had always been too much for him to take.

“Jump complete. Successful arrival at location. Date. 21st November 2045. Time: 12:05am.”

Peter opened his eyes and looked down at the screen. He was always surprised it had been that many. He folded the lid back over and put the device in his pocket. He looked in the mirror again. Different mirror, the same old, bedraggled reflection. He stretched his arms out, trying to fix the kink in his back. It clicked in several places, and Peter shuddered as he was reminded of his own frailties. He heard the doorbell ring through the closed door and jumped. He hadn’t always wasted time like this, but it had become habit now, and a bad one. Peter jogged across the room to the cupboard in the corner, and had only just managed to close the door behind him before the door burst open.

“You fucking bitch!” screamed the voice of a young man, echoing in to the room. A young woman entered and grabbed the door handle, letting out a “Fuck you!” before slamming the door closed behind her. Peter slunk down to the bottom of the cupboard, bringing his eye up to look through the slots. The young woman had flung herself upon the bed, and was sobbing in to a pillow, her long, dark hair wet from the torrents of rain outside. Peter looked at her without blinking, taking in every moment. This was the only part he could bear to watch.

There was a thud at the door, and the woman jerked her head up. “Open this fucking door,” came an angry yell through the wood. The woman looked up and made no sound. “I mean it Beth,” came another yell. The woman still sat there, motionless. Peter leaned back and closed his eyes as the door came crashing down. His lips moved with the conversation, word for word, beat for beat. The scene played out in his mind yet again. Every thought remembered, every action memorised

He had long given up hope that anything would ever change. Ever since the technology had been developed he had wanted to know if anything could. If he had been free. If he could have done otherwise. These were the principles of justice, the foundations of society, or so he had thought. There had to have been some where or some time where things had gone another way. When he hadn’t been so angry. Where he had control. He remembered when he had promised himself he would stop, at 5,000, at 10,000, but he knew it would never happen. He had no choice in that either. As with everything else, his fate was sealed. He would forever be trying to absolve himself.

“You cheat on me with my best friend and all I get is a fuck you?” screamed the young man, the sound of incredulity in his voice. Beth looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks, her lips trembling up and down, unable to speak.

“Answer me, Beth!”

No response came. His younger self looked down in to her eyes, indignant with rage. He raised his hand in the air, as the sound of contact echoed around the room. Beth staggered back, grabbing hold of a small glass trinket. She brought it down, smashing it on his head as he came at her, fragments of glass piercing the right side of his face.

“You bitch,” came the cry, as he lunged for her throat, blood trickling down his ears.

As he heard the sound of footsteps pounding down the stairs Peter emerged from the cupboard. He looked at the scene around him, everything exactly the same, as always. He huddled over the limp body on the bed, cradling the young woman in his arms. He lifted her up and laid her gently on the bed, and went about the usual routine of clearing the crime scene.

Peter finished off the last bite of his sandwich just as the alarm went off. Smoked salmon and cream cheese this time. He brought out the small black device and tapped the screen. A woman’s voice crackled out from the small speaker at the side.

“Destination entered. #23,613. Preparing jump preparations. One passenger. Preparations completed. Engage when ready.”

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Been enjoying these threads for a while, and thought i'd join in this month.

I already know it’ll never work.

My hand hovers in front of the hole. Though I can hear shouting behind me, I hesitate. I can feel the sweat on my fingers rubbing into the wood. I am brightly aware that this is insanity, and fight the urge to laugh.

My big break came whilst on my way to the showers, three years ago.

Shuffling back to my cell, in single file, the guy in front of me flips out. He just goes crazy, screaming his head off, lunging back and forth between the corridor walls. He’s a man monster, six-five and muscle, his torso an upside down triangle, and he’s just bouncing between the walls yelling like he’s on fire. I don’t know why. Maybe he’s rebelling. Perhaps he missed desert. Or maybe the enormity of his sentence has just struck home, as he realises he’ll spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Thankfully he’s cuffed, hands behind his back. It isn’t the first time he’s had a tantrum. The guards are smiling. I suppose this is a highlight for them, a perk of the job. They set themselves, and lay into him. I try not to watch.

The shouting is getting louder. I don’t have much time left, but I’m in no hurry. My head feels much too light. My thumb and index finger caress the stick in my hand. I stare at it, feeling mild disbelief, knowing I’ve pinned all my hopes on something so fragile.

As I look at everything other than the guards at work, I hear a tinkling. One of them has dropped his keys. He hasn’t noticed, focused as he is on the fine art of putting the boot in.

I know these keys well. There’s a key for everything. There are keys for cuffs, for doors, for access panels. There are keys for hopes, for dreams, for every fantasy I’ve had in the last two decades that didn’t feature a woman.

I’m hardly thinking, it’s all happening on an instinctive level. I realise there’s one key I need. The cuffs, the cell doors, they’re not always shut. But one key in particular, opens one door in particular. It’s a weak spot. It’s my shot.

They’re dragging the retarded mountain by his heels, I hear exhausted gasps of laughter and pleasure, a job well done. They don’t say anything to me. They don’t need to, they know I’m not even going to look at them, let alone move. They turn a corner, and I dive at the keys. I’m holding a towel and a bar of soap, still damp from my shower, and I press the key into the soap. I dry the key with the towel, and spring back into position. It’s taken five seconds. I’m holding my breath, so they can’t hear my heart.

They’re back, and he scoops up his keys. There’s a moment, I feel his eyes on me, but I haven’t moved, I’ve looked at everything apart from them, and I’m nothing.

‘Move it’ he says.

They’re shaking the door behind me now. I can hear them barking at me, at each other. I’d shrug, if I thought anyone was watching. I guess I’d better try it.

Back in my cell, I stare at the bar of soap. The imprint is perfect.

I consider my options. The metal detectors rule out the obvious. I wouldn’t be able to shape it, anyway. Plastics offer an alternative, but after breaking three toothbrushes, I realise they’re just too brittle to work with.

My second big break comes just after lunch, two years ago, when a man attempts to kill me using a very small piece of wood with a nail stuck through it. I’m not sure why he does this. People do some crazy stuff in this place. I punch him, which fixes that issue, and take the weapon.

Later that day, after extracting both wood and nail out of my arse, ponder the problem. The idea of a wooden key had come to me immediately after breaking his nose. But the prospect of whether it would work... my mind goes round and round in circles, trying to feel the answer. It’ll snap. My every instinct tells me it’ll snap. But as the idea spins around in my head, clenching my fists, denying me sleep, I realise it’s my only option. I pick up the bar of soap, examine it closely, and begin to whittle.

They’re almost through the door behind me. I can hear them screaming my name, yelling threats, or promises, with my name on either end. I can feel my heart trying to punch its way out of my chest, and my sanity flickering in the back of my head, like some sort of faulty fluorescent light fixture, buzzing behind me.

I insert the wooden key and twist.

It snaps.

I stifle a laugh.

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I have to go out in 20 minutes so I'm not going to make the midnight deadline.

I might want to write something though, so I'm going to do that anyway. It'll be in tomorrow at some point, I don't care if it's ineligible, I just need to get back into it.

Annoyingly I need to be in the right state of mind, which I currently am. Damn these other plans!

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I've had the idea for about five days now, but struglled with how to tell the story in 1000 words until now. Not what I initially had in mind, but here it is.

“This will help?” I asked.

“Yes,” he insists, frustrated on .

“It’s illegal,” I say, and at this point we’re still going in circles, but he was wearing me down.

“Only in England. Every where else its widely used. Old people use…” he stopped seeing the expression in my face.

“People of age?” he tried but that didn’t help.

“Mature people?”

Still no joy from me.

“People of your generation?”

I gave my nod of approval.

“People of your generation use it all the time in America. Like when your parents were using the internet when that first came about? Helps people socialise, get around, see things.”

“Don’t get me started on the internet,” I told him. I was bitter about it. Everyone ‘my generation’ was.

“I know. It’s not a fraction of what it used to be,” he’s heard it before, his generations iteration of people saying ‘in my day.’ “But this is like that. The only reason its banned because its use escapes detection.”

I read the instructions again. No more than two doses a day, at least eight hours apart from each other. Do not operate heavy machinery etc., strictly for people over twenty one only.

It is illegal to sell, make available, possess or use Spectra in the United Kingdom and its protectorates.

“I don’t know…”

It took ten more minutes of convincing, pleading for my grandson to convince me to break the law. If caught my pension could be revoked, benefits and transport pass stopped and access to the grid cut off. Wasn’t to concerned about that last one anymore.

I found myself holding two tablets in my hand, feeling the weight of them, and just as I was about to take them, he blocked my arm to impart more advise.

“It helps to concentrate on something after you take them. I read the instructions but it could be anything stationary with detail.”

I nod and before being frightened away with more instructions I take them, washing them down with some water.

“Don’t get up until you’re ready.”

“Stay away from check points and government buildings.”

I nod.

“It’s best kept to the neighbourhood in your first trip. Don’t do anything that makes you stand out. Like the vids, normal people won’t see you, but the Yard have agents dosed up everywhere. Act naturally and they’ll never know.”

I tell him he’s not making my mind more at ease for listening to him. I try to read the instructions again.

“When your vision begins to blur, don’t fight it and relax.”

“Once split, try and close your eyes but still see.”

I ask how one does that my vision splitting as described. He tells me I’d know. He was right.

“When done stand up slow. Move away from yourself, and you probably don’t want to look back.”

Everyone looks back there first time, me included. Most people feel like they will collapse or throw up in shock of seeing their bodies from the outside. This wasn’t like looking through a mirror. But for those of us who saw forty years of America being run by the same two families; nothing shocks any more, and I just awed in amazement.

He can’t see or hear me, not the real me anyway, but I can still hear him. He continues to instruct.

“To come back, just return here. Sit where you are sitting and open your eyes. And don’t be gone more than four hours.”

I would have asked why but he wouldn’t have heard me. Instead I pass my spectral hand through his head, just to make sure he wasn’t having me on.

“Effects get uncomfortable after four hours or so,” he paused and looked to where he thought I was, wrong though. “And don’t pass through people. Some can feel it.”

He looked a little cross. I didn’t care. It had suddenly dawned on me that my legs weren’t aching. They weren’t real legs of course, just a spectral representation of my legs. More imagination than substance, but still, they looked like my legs and they felt good. My hands didn’t feel brittle and though they still can’t pick anything up obviously, they no longer hurt. I can’t remember the last time I felt so comfortable. Even sleeping, there’s that aching shoulder, the stinging sweat and the knowledge that I’d soon have to get up to go the toilet. Here nothing. I felt as free as when I was in my youth. Freer.

I stepped outside. There was no need to open any doors or anything. I could and did just walk through the wall into the darkened street. He was saying something about checking …well I wasn’t paying attention at that point. I had myself four hours to spend I made sure I wasn’t going to waste it.

Checkpoints were everywhere, at every tube station, at the boarders of every district. You couldn’t pass from Islington into Camden without going through the checkpoints. Easy enough for a normal. You flash your card and if it clears you go through. Talk is that Spectral forms of Scotland Yard agents guard them, patrol the walls, making sure illegal spectrals don’t pass through. And if your spectral and not yard, you’re an illegal.

Still, I was miles away from such concerns, and as long as I acted like any normal seventy four year olds they wouldn’t know, not that its normal to be out and about this time of night.

The billboards are a stark reminder but I ignore them.

Spectral is Illegal. Use is a violation of the 2014 security act. We can see you.

It was another thing I felt liberated from. The eye of London was no longer watching. No security cameras, no neighbourhood watch. No one looking over your shoulder, recording what your watching, what your buying, what you’re consuming. It felt better than being free of the arthritis and never realised how trapped it all makes you feel until its no longer there.

Four hours is all it lasted though. As I was warned; after that you only feel discomfort, though it wasn’t painful.

So now I sit here, watching the time, chiding myself for not taking it up sooner.

Two hours, seventeen minutes till I can take the next dose.

Alone now, I read the instructions once more.

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It’s a miracle how Liberty can keep their gas prices so low, or so I’m told. $3.60 a gallon while Sunoco, BP and the rest are tipping the scales at four dollars per. Not that I drive, or know much about petrol prices. I’m an alien here myself, but then, so are most of us.

We’re heading from Jersey to Virginia, to meet my fiancée’s family for a Memorial Day get-together and announce our engagement. I’ve been told that there will be a barbecue, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on some hot, greasy smoked meat. I’ve been a carnivore since the day I was born. While breast-feeding I probably took a few bites out of my mother’s teat.

With such treats ahead I should be leaving my stomach empty; nevertheless, we stop at a Cracker Barrel to tide us over. My partner takes the steak while I plump for something bamboozlingly described as chicken-fried chicken. Both platters are swamped with a savoury white sauce known here as ‘gravy’. I pick up some Pixie Sticks and a strange marshmallow candy – a Valomilk – in the restaurant’s gift shop, and we return to the car park through twin columns of rocking chairs, some for sale, some occupied by diners enjoying the balmy May air with their chicken-fried whatevers. The food’s cheap. It’s also delicious.

The savings we make should be going into the petrol flowing from Liberty’s pumps into our car’s tanks, but we’re saving here, too. It’s one of those unexpected little treats the US keeps doling out over the course of my visit – from the best Buffalo wings on Long Beach Island to the adorably squeaky-voiced greeter at the Cracker Barrel. It’s my first holiday in fifteen-some years and time after time it delivers.

Tank filled, we’re back on the road, passing cars as big as boats and vegetation that is strangely yellow and muted compared to the green green grass of home. The cars bear license plates that vary from the more familiar piss-yellow plates of New Jersey to strange out-of-state plates - Virginia, New York, Delaware. In this homogenised mass-marketed country where Dunkin Donuts franchises show up as often as potholes, everyone’s found a tribe to belong to. Next to me my fiancée throws a rainbow of curses at the cars in front and the cars behind, often urging the drivers to get back to their own state where their shitty driving is the norm. I let the swearing wash over me like a chorus of sunbeams and enjoy the ride.

We spend a large chunk of the day wending our way through Delaware and Maryland before finally edging into Virginia and reaching the palatial home of Dear Fiancée’s extended family. Delaware alternates between rural backwaters and chemical plants, and though we pass close to many wooden neighbourhoods (the whole country seems made of wood, like a misplaced fag-end could burn it to star-spangled ashes) we never find a town big enough to accommodate a diner for a drink or toilet break. DF’s family greets us warmly, congratulates us, and then there’s a hectic dash to the bathrooms (which contain showers but no baths) to relieve ourselves.

Toilet time over, the barbecue arrives. It brings with it mountains of pasta and potato salads in refrigerator-chilled bowls, and potato bread that is, like so much of American cuisine, strangely sweet. Grilled bratwursts and buffalo are served. The buffalo is pretty much beef with an extra chew to it. DF’s uncle reveals he bought the buffalo at the weekly farmer’s market, along with the salt-sweet popcorn we later feast upon and the small packet of buffalo jerky that I never get to try.

I die some time in the night. We sleep in an absent cousin’s bed, and her alarm clock is unplugged to make way for DF’s Macbook power supply so I can’t tell the time and neither can she. She sleeps in my slowly cooling arms until long after dawn.

It’s not entirely unexpected. We have such short lifespans, my people, but I’d hoped I’d last the holiday out. I watch, disembodied, as she awakes, prods me to wake up, grows fearful and angry and grief-stricken and mournful all in the space of a few minutes. It’s funny how these thin, wooden walls can keep her cries from the rest of the family as they wake and go about their morning chores, but they do. When she announces my death on the decking outside the kitchen they look confused and lost. I don’t know if she’d warned them ahead of time, but surely they’d read something about us, about me.

Weeks pass as she injects longevity drugs and my body is taken and shipped back home for regeneration. She follows it at a distance that lessens and vanishes as her plane overtakes the cargo ship I’m stashed upon. I flick between watching her devour tasteless flight food and my own deteriorating corpse, torn between never wanting to leave her side and knowing that the more I stay with her, the faster I’ll fade. I’m little more than a sigh by the time I arrive at the docks, and haunt my body while the cargo container’s unpacked and I’m loaded onto a lorry that looks little like the behemoths that tear up the New Jersey turnpike.

At the mausoleum she watches my cask as I watched her for the last month, spreads fingertips on the stone lid and waits for her place in the frozen hotel next door to be ready. They dose her with cryobots, settle her head on the pillow, flash-freeze her and stack her along with all the other men and women waiting for their loved ones to return from the dead. As I fade into the darkness I feel her heart slow to a crawl. I feel it stop.

Fifteen years from now we’ll have a few more weeks together.

I already popped the question.

After death, the aisle awaits.

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