Writing project, November 2020

This month’s word is incomplete, meaning “not complete; lacking some part”.

————–

I stared at my project, the thing I’d dedicated literal years of my life to. It felt… incomplete. I wasn’t sure why – I’d covered every base I could think of, researched and cross-referenced every angle I or any of my colleagues had come up with. Every i was dotted, every t crossed. And yet, it still seemed unfinished.

I looked at it from every angle I could find, couldn’t find anything missing. And yet…

I sighed.

I would have to destroy everything and start again. It was the only way.

Wasn’t it?

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, October 2020

This month’s word is water, meaning “a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, freezing at 32°F or 0°C and boiling at 212°F or 100°C, that in a more or less impure state constitutes rain, oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.: it contains 11.188 percent hydrogen and 88.812 percent oxygen, by weight” or “a special form or variety of this liquid, as rain”.

————–

It was wet. That hard pounding kind of rain, that seems to come both vertically and horizontally. I was soaked, after only moments outdoors, and I was still wondering what had possessed me to leave my warm dry bedroom and come out in it.

Surely I didn’t crave chocolate that much.

I laughed hollowly. Of course I did. I’d crawl over hot coals for my favourite chocolate bar, and my stash had run out. It was my own fault for coming home drunk last night and scarfing the lot on a whim. I was normally very good at keeping myself stocked up, but, well, here we were, taking a long walk to the one and only local shop that stocked my fave.

I could, of course, get chocolate closer, but it was inferior, and I was unwilling to allow it to sully my taste buds.

So here I was, completely sodden, and miserable, but determined not to turn back. After all, I was wet already, right?

How much worse could it get? I thought, only to curse myself seconds later as a car sped past me, spraying me head to foot with dirty water – and most annoyingly, down into my shoes – as it drove through a gigantic puddle. I was pissed off at having my feet wet, but even more so that my knee jerk reaction was still to superstitiously blame myself for tempting fate by saying that.

But the shop wasn’t much further, and it would be a shame to turn back now. I trudged onwards, mentally berating my drunken self from last night.

“You just had to eat it all, didn’t you? And now I have to deal with the conseoquences.”

The rain starts to fall even harder, and a strong wind blows it directly into my face. I pull my hood tighter around my face and keep walking. I can feel water sloshing around inside my shoes. It’s an unpleasant feeling. But I’m so close now, I can see the block where the shop is up ahead.

I can almost taste the chocolate slowly melting in my mouth. I close my eyes to savour the experience and promptly fall over, twisting my ankle. I get back up and limp on towards the shop. Nearly there, nearly there, I remind myself.

I can barely see through the driving rain, I’m navigating purely on instinct as I reach the door of the shop. I reach out and grope for the handle, then turn it. It doesn’t budge. I shake it a few times to no effect, then wipe water from my face so I can see.

There’s a sign on the door.

“Closed indefinitely due to flooding”.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, September 2020

This month’s word is lunch, meaning “a light midday meal between breakfast and dinner“.

Sorry this is so late.

————–

It was an odd meal. Should’ve been straightforward, this lunch with my new partner (and by partner I mean business partner; I don’t do romance), but it was anything but. I hadn’t met them before; everything had been online or through an intermediary. I’d never even spoken to them. All I really knew about them was that they had money, they were interested in my business, and their initials: H.J.S. I thought the S might have been Smith, but I wasn’t sure.

First thing was, I could not find the place. I followed the instructions on my phone, but there was no restaurant there, no shops, just a warehouse. And it was locked. I knocked on the door, rattled the doorknob, double- and triple-checked the location on my phone. After five minutes of pointless knocking and looking up and down the street I was ready to leave.

“Can I help you, per?” It was an unexpected interruption. I had no idea where this individual had come from, but there they were, bowing and offering assistance.

“I’m looking for The Restaurant“, I told them, thinking once again what an unhelpful name that was for an eating establishment.

“Of course, per. This way.”

They gestured towards a door that had definitely not been visible a minute ago, and we entered the place. My first impression was that it was deserted. There were a few booths scattered around, but I couldn’t see anyone through the dim lighting.

“Is per meeting someone?”

“Yes, I’m meeting H.J.S.”

“Ah, of course. This way, per.”

They led me over to one of the booths.

“Has per attended one of our establishments before?”

I shook my head.

“No, first time.”

“Well, it’s very simple, per. You order your food via this tablet, and the person you’re meeting will dial in to that screen opposite you.”

I stared at them.

“Dial in?”

“Oh yes, per. This is a socially distant establishment. Only one person per booth.”

I blinked in disbelief. I’d heard of these kinds of places, of course, but I’d never expected to be in one.

“Uh, thanks.”

“If per needs any help from myself, please press the red button in the centre of the table.”

“Th… Thanks, thanks,” I stuttered, feeling extremely out of my depth.

They bowed again and drifted gracefully away. I stared after them for a moment, then began to explore the menu on the tablet. I didn’t really understand why my partner had picked this of all places, given that the point of this lunch – I thought – was for us to meet each other, but my confusion was no reason to go hungry.

I ordered something from the mid-price section, not wanting to appear either cheap or greedy. Just after my drink appeared on the table, delivered in some mysterious fashion (I swear nobody approached me), there was a ping! and an avatar appeared on the screen in front of me. I knew it was an avatar, because it was a pink-and-purple-striped cat-faced flying horse.

I must have been staring blankly because it cleared its throat and spoke to me.

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

“Yes, yes,” I stammered. “I just thought… I thought I’d be meeting you in person, or at least seeing your face.”

“Oh, no no no,” it said. “I value my privacy.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Really I just want to see you eat.”

I stared at the avatar suspiciously.

“Is this a sex thing? Because I’m not up for that.”

“No, not at all,” it interjected smoothly. “I merely enjoy watching others eat good food.”

At some point during this conversation, my food had arrived. It smelled delicious, but I was now a little wary of eating.

“Please do eat,” it said. “It would be a shame for your food to get cold.”

I stared at it, then at the food – which looked as amazing as it smelled – and sighed.

“Fine, I’ll eat,” I said, taking my first forkful and closing my eyes to better savour the wonderful blend of taste and texture.

I swallowed.

“So are we going to discuss business?” I enquired.

“No, I’m just going to watch you eat. You can learn a lot about a person from that, you know.”

“If you say so.” I shrugged, unconvinced, and continued eating.

It was possibly the most awkward meal I’ve ever had, even more so than the time my sibling accidentally invited both the people they were dating to family dinner, and it turned out neither knew of the other’s existence. That at least had been fun to watch, on a trainwreck kind of way. This was just… weird.

It was slightly compensated by it also being the best meal I’d ever eaten.

When I was done, the avatar thanked me for my time, and then disappeared. A notification appeared on the tablet to say the meal had been paid for, and I got up to leave.

The person who’d shown me in reappeared to show me out.

“Did per enjoy per’s meal?”

“Yes, thank you. It was the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten.”

They bowed.

“I shall pass your compliments to the chef.”

“Please do.”

I stepped outside and stopped dead as they shut the door behind me. I was now in a totally different part of town, one much closer to my home. I turned around to see that the door to The Restaurant was now the door to a chicken shop. Just to be certain, I opened the door and stepped in. Yes, definitely a chicken shop.

I stepped back outside and began walking back to my flat. I wondered if I’d get another lunch invitation from H.J.S. It might be worth the weirdness to eat that food again. Maybe. Probably.

Oh, who was I kidding? I’d undergo any amount of awkwardness to eat like that again.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, August 2020

This month’s word is colourful, meaning “having intense colour or richly varied colours” or “vivid, rich, or distinctive in character”.

This one is late again, sorry!

————–

Everything’s so bright. I don’t remember it being so bright before. So… vibrant. Mostly what I remember before is a sort of muddy darkness, shades of brown, black and grey. This… colour is new, to me, anyway. I wonder what they’ve done to me this time.

As usual, I can’t move, just see and hear. I have a vague feeling that I used to be able to meet be, not a memory exactly, just a niggling thought that says “it used to be different”.

I wait, because that’s my only option. I try reaching out mentally, but there’s nothing there. I try speaking, but nothing happens. It’s just so much colour, and a low buzzing sound in my ears. Or at least I assume it’s in my ears. I can’t feel anything, but I can see and hear, so I must have eyes and ears, right?

I think I should feel panicked, should struggle to move, should be panting or gasping for breath, but instead there’s nothing but the colours and the noise.

After a long time I hear a voice.

“Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”

I shout yes but no sound emerges.

A second voice speaks.

“It’s no use, I told you. There’s nothing left. Just switch it off.”

“But what if…”

“It’s just a hybrid anyway. It’s already had two lives, if you can call this one living.”

“But what if I could repair it?”

“It’s not worth the effort. There are more important things to spend your time on. Just switch it off.”

I’m screaming and screaming but still not making a sound. And then click! The buzzing goes away, the colours go away, the voices go away, and it’s just me, screaming and screaming, all alone in the silent dark.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, July 2020

This month’s word is sunny, meaning “abounding in sunshine”, “exposed to, lighted, or warmed by the direct rays of the sun”, “pertaining to or proceeding from the sun; solar”, “resembling the sun” or “cheery, cheerful, or joyous”.

Sorry this one is so late; I had real trouble trying to finish it.

————–

They call me Sunny. It took me a long time to understand that this was a mean joke. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humour, it’s just different to most people’s. So I don’t get their jokes, and they don’t get mine. This makes it hard for me to make friends.

People always called me names, said I was humourless, weird, boring – different, wrong. But I never called them names, was never mean to them. I’d try to hide, but they’d always find me. I’d run, but they’d catch me.

So I learned to endure, to withdraw inside myself and present a stoic face to the world. So then they called me emotionless. It was at that point I realised there was no way to win, no way in which the decks were not stacked against me. That they would never let me be, let me be different, let me be myself. The only thing they would accept was the only thing I could not give: to be like them, to be one of them.

I’d tried to approximate it in the past, but it was never quite right. They were always having a conversation I couldn’t fully follow, always following rules I neither knew nor understood. I was always one step sideways, looking at them from an angle.

Always apart. Always different. But eventually, I realised, not wrong.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, June 2020

This month’s word is task, meaning “a definite piece of work assigned to, falling to, or expected of a person; duty”.

————–
I’ve been given a job, a little job, a simple task, really. But it’s mine, mine, mine. At last a chance to prove myself, to show off my skills. To “demonstrate my capability”, as my bosses always tell me just before they fire me.

“You never demonstrate your capability,” they say, and then they fire me.

But they never give me a chance! If they would just tell me what they wanted, but no, it’s all “be a self-starter, Phil”, “take some initiative, Phil”, “why can’t you just try harder, Phil?”. And my name’s not even Phil. It’s Theo. Not even close to Phil.

I mean, I did steal Phil’s name, ID badge, job, home and identity, but it still annoys me to be called by his name. I guess I should’ve stolen the identity of someone whose name I liked better. Something to consider next time, I guess.

Just so you know, I didn’t kill him. He died of natural causes. Maybe. I’m not a doctor, I couldn’t really tell you how he died, but the point is that I didn’t kill him. I just found his body, saw we looked similar, and decided this was my chance to escape from a few minor mistakes I’d made. Nothing too serious, just some fraud and embezzlement, but I mean, nobody got hurt, right? It’s just money, it’s not even real. It’s all just numbers in a computer. Right? Right. Victimless crime, as they say.

So back to my task. My little joblet, as I call it. It should be easy. I hope. I haven’t checked yet. I’m nervous, worried, not about actually doing the task, but about the opportunity it presents. The chance, finally, to impress the big bosses.

“We’ll be watching your progress with interest,” is what my boss said. I think that’s good. It must be, right? Yeah, definitely. They’re taking an interest in me. That’s got to be good. Finally I can get the recognition I deserve. Well, that Phil deserves. Maybe I’ll get a promotion. Maybe I’ll get my own office. I really hate these cubicles. Sometimes I dream about having a door I can close. Think of all the naps I could take on work time! All the porn I could watch, if I watched porn. All the online shopping I could do with the corporate credit card that would obviously come with my promotion. And I can almost taste the steak I’ll be ordering on my company expense account. Yep, this promotion is going to be awesome.

I pick up the envelope and take a deep breath. This is it, this is finally it. I open it slowly, carefully, enjoying the anticipation. I close my eyes and slide my fingers into the envelope, pulling the contents out and placing them on my desk. I open my eyes and look down.

There’s a cheque for £15,000 and a letter on company headed paper. Odd, I wasn’t expecting money. They probably need me to buy some equipment or something.

I pick up the letter.

“Dear Phil, we know you’re not really Phil. Please take this money in lieu of notice. Do not return to the office or contact us again. We won’t be able to give you a reference, and if questioned, will deny you ever worked here.”

I stare at it, stunned. How could it all go so wrong? And who told them I wasn’t Phil?

I slam my fists on the desk, causing heads to pop up all over the cube farm. I breathe in and out, slowly, forcing my rage down, put the cheque and letter in my trouser pocket, grab my jacket and force myself to saunter slowly out.

I was tired of this place anyway.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, May 2020

This month’s word is misery, meaning “wretchedness of condition or circumstances”, “distress or suffering caused by need, privation, or poverty”, “great mental or emotional distress; extreme unhappiness” or “a cause or source of distress”.

CW: mental health

It’s a little late, sorry.

————–

My life’s okay, I think. Nothing amazing, nothing terrible. And yet I feel a crushing weight upon me.

I eat, breathe, sleep, with a constant darkness within me. I don’t know why; it came upon me slowly, subtly, sneaking up on me. One day I just started to cry, for no particular reason, and I realised something was wrong.

But maybe it’s always been like that, and I just never realised. Maybe I’ve always been in pain, but I just didn’t know it.

It doesn’t really matter how I got here; the fact is that I am here, and I have to deal with that. If I can.

I’ll start with one thing. Just one thing. One, tiny, little, insignificant thing. All I need to do is pick up the phone. Pick up the phone and dial. Pick up the phone and dial a friend.

That’s it. That’s all. Just one thing. Just reach out, just say hello, just say “help me”.

Just one thing. One little thing.

The hardest thing in the world.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, April 2020

This month’s word is isolation, meaning “an act or instance of isolating”, “the state of being isolated” or “the complete separation from others of a person suffering from contagious or infectious disease; quarantine”.

CW: mention of suicide, mention of abuse

————–

Sometimes someone hurts you so much, so deeply, that all you can do is run.

I look at the sentence I’ve just written, and it makes me shudder with the truth of it.

I ran. It wasn’t even a thought, more of an instinct. I didn’t consider any practicalities like money, clothes, food; I just saw an opening and I bolted before it closed.

I didn’t think of the others; I couldn’t, wrapped within my own misery and pain, it was impossible to consider them, and what might happen to them. What he might do, having lost one victim, to those who remained behind.

I fled for years, across galaxies, leaving world after world behind me. Every time I started to settle down, to feel a little bit safe, I would start to worry that maybe he had also gotten on a spaceship and was chasing me across the universe. And I’d gather my things, and run.

I keep trying to believe that he’s dead. I tell myself that time dilation is on my side, that it’s been centuries for him. But I won’t believe he’s dead until I see a corpse. Oh, I checked the records, of course I did, but it was nearly two centuries by then and records can be faked. Especially old ones. They say he’s dead, but I just can’t believe it. I can’t let myself believe it, because what if it’s a lie? What if he’s tracking me across space, across time?

I never really believed he would just let me go.

********

I’ve never been able to face what happened, to think about it in terms more specific than “what he did” or “the thing that happened”. I always just wrapped it up with all the feelings I had, pain and anger and misery and even love, and squashed it down somewhere inside me. I just never think about it, but I’m thinking about it now that I have nothing but time.

I’ve come so far, in all senses of that phrase, but when I think about him now I still revert to the terrified being that I was then. I think I’m stronger these days; I want to be stronger, but sometimes I think I’m the same, that, despite everything I’ve done in the intervening years, nothing has changed.

********

It took me years, and light years, to start believing I had escaped him, that he couldn’t find me. To begin to think that I could be free.

Only to end up here. Trapped, again, but this time by physics and chemistry, down on this planet with an atmosphere that would kill me if I left my ship. If the gravity didn’t crush me first.

I’ve sent a distress call, but I don’t know if anyone received it, if anyone is coming, or if they’ll even make it in time. So I’ve been wondering what will kill me first.

The gravity? My ship is strong, but it wasn’t made for this. I can hear it creaking and groaning all the time.

The atmosphere? A tiny crack could let enough of it in to kill me, so I monitor the hull integrity obsessively.

Starvation? That’s unlikely, I’ve got supplies for years.

Myself? Maybe. Maybe. But I have tried so hard to survive, given up so much, taken so many chances, I can’t really see myself giving up now. As long as I’m alive, there’s always a chance someone will come for me. Or maybe I’ll think of something clever and escape on my own.

I never believed in hope; it always seemed like a lie designed to stop you from trying to leave. And yet, somehow, down here in this murky atmosphere, I’m starting to feel the first stirrings of it.

I kind of like it. I think I’ll sit with it, and with my memories, and trust that whatever happens will happen. Finally, I think I’m learning how to settle down.

It’s just a shame it took this to make it happen.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, March 2020

This month’s word is flight, meaning “the act, manner, or power of flying” or “an act or instance of fleeing or running away; hasty departure”. Sorry it’s late, life is kinda distracting at the moment. And it’s very short, too, for the same reason.

————–

Flight.

I always thought it would be the coolest superpower. Just, y’know, speeding through the air, all alone, up above everything and everyone.

The reality is not like that.

It’s cold, the air is full of crap (and don’t get me started on the insects if you fly low), and I constantly get lost because it turns out I am not good at judging distances or recognising landmarks.

So yeah, I can fly, but the truth is, I’d rather take the bus.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, February 2020

This month’s word is hair, meaning “any of the numerous fine, usually cylindrical, keratinous filaments growing from the skin of humans and animals; a pilus”.

It’s a little bit late, sorry.

————–

Hair. It’s the first thing anyone notices when they meet me. Not the colour, although the rippling rainbow hues are noticeable. Not the length, despite it falling below my waist. No, what people notice about my hair is that it’s alive. It’s always in motion, and has a bit of a flair for the dramatic. Plus, it loves hugs. If I hug you, you get a bonus hair-hug too.

Nobody’s ever been able to explain it. I was born this way, apparently. The other kids nicknamed me Medusa, but that’s not right because my hair’s not snakes. Plus I’ve never turned anyone to stone. My hair did choke someone, but he attacked me first.

Sometimes I wish I had normal hair: I can’t style it, because it doesn’t like hairspray, or gel, or having pins or clips or even a fricking hairband. I can wash it, and that’s about it. It does have preferences in shampoo, though: it likes citrus scents.

What else can I say about it? It’s hard to explain what it’s like, since I’ve never known any different. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, like when it gets excited in a shop and knocks things over. Sometimes I get angry with it, like when everyone else has a cool new hairstyle and I can’t even put mine in a ponytail.

Overall it’s fine. I always feel like a bit of an alien, though. I can’t forget it’s there, not even for a minute, and it makes me self-conscious. I can’t forget that I’m different.

Would I change it? Yes, in a second. I just want to be like everyone else. I want to walk down the street without being stared at. I want to cut my hair into funky styles and dye it amazing colours. I want to wear hats, and have someone run their hands through my hair.

I want to be normal.

[Sigh]

It’s okay, I know it could be a lot worse. After all, my brother is a magnet for insects. He can’t step out of his sealed room without being covered in clouds of bugs. I’d much rather have freaky hair.

I’d still rather be normal, though. If I had the choice.

© bardofupton 2020