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, December 2019

This month’s word is conversation, meaning “informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.”.

————–

“I don’t know what you want.”

“I just want to talk.”

“About?”

Sigh, shrug. “Oh, I don’t know.”

” You’re the one that wants to talk!”

“Well, you know. Since we’re stuck here til the fog lifts, might as well get to know each other.”

“Why? We’ll never see each other again; it’s just a waste of time.”

“Do you have anything else to do?”

“Yes, I’m going to sit here and wait.”

“You can talk and wait at the same time.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Of course you can.”

“No, I can’t. Waiting is a very active process for me, you’re just distracting me.”

“But I’m bored.”

“Not my problem. Just met you, don’t really like you.”

“Huh. Well, that’s rude.”

“Like I said, I don’t like you.”

“Well, if that’s your attitude, I’ll just leave you alone then.”

“Great, thanks.”

Pause.

“I’m still bored, though. Please talk to me. Please please please.”

“No.”

“Please please please please please please please please please please.”

“I am walking away from you now. Do not follow me.”

Pause.

“So, I bet you’d like to talk to me.”

“Uh …”

“Great! So, let me tell you about my life. I was born in….”

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, November 2019

This month’s word is wall, meaning “any of various permanent upright constructions having a length much greater than the thickness and presenting a continuous surface except where pierced by doors, windows, etc.: used for shelter, protection, or privacy, or to subdivide interior space, to support floors, roofs, or the like, to retain earth, to fence in an area, etc.” or “an immaterial or intangible barrier, obstruction, etc., suggesting a wall”.

————–

Walls make me feel safe. It’s always been that way, as long as I can remember. I’m never happier than when I’m indoors. The best, in fact, is sitting inside a closet. Two sets of walls, even if one set is wooden. I’ve occasionally considered putting up a tent within the closet, to maximise the number of walls, but I can’t find one small enough.

It’s not that I never go out. I go out regularly, in fact. It’s just that I’m never happy or relaxed when I am. And as soon as I enter a building, any building, I feel a weight lift off my shoulders. Home is best, of course, but anywhere will do.

When I was a kid, I used to build walls. Walls within walls within walls. Entrances offset from one another, so more of a maze, I suppose. Sometimes they’d be indoors, but more often outdoors. They were never high enough, barely kneehigh usually, but they filled a need – I did always have to start from the outside and build in, though. I’d be too scared otherwise.

All of that, I suppose, explains why I became an architect. Now I can design walls for a living. And I can do it inside.

All this is a prelude to explaining why, when I got an enquiry about designing a labyrinth, I jumped at it. I’ll admit I thought it was an odd request, but how often was I going to get a chance like this? To build walls, and walls within walls?

It was by competition, so others were submitting plans too. I knew I had to outdo them all, so I made the effort to travel to the proposed site so I could adapt my ideas to the location. I made my labyrinth a multi-storey structure, spiralling deep within the ground.

And I won.

At the time I was delighted. I felt like all my dreams had come true. I even supervised the construction in person, because I couldn’t bear to miss the sight of my ideas becoming reality.

But it turns out I was working for a modern-day King Minos, and once this labyrinth was finished, he had all the workmen killed. One of them managed to get out a scream, and that gave me enough time to flee into the labyrinth, but now I’m stuck here. I daren’t leave, because he knows who I am, but I’m afraid to stay. It feels wrong in here. I hear strange noises, and I’m reminded of something I once heard, about how all labyrinths are the same, that there’s only one true labyrinth, and all others connect to it. I laughed at the time, but now I’m not so sure it’s fiction. It’s easy to believe strange things, down here in the dark.

The walls that used to comfort me don’t anymore. I can hear them moving in the darkness, sliding from place to place, changing the layout until I couldn’t escape even if I wanted to. And it feels like there’s something else in here with me, something alive, something angry and malevolent, but there can’t be. Can there?

I don’t know anymore, but I’ve gathered my courage, and I’m going to travel further in. Maybe there’s a way out. Maybe I will end up in the one true labyrinth. Maybe I’ll die here. But whatever happens, I want to find the centre of the labyrinth. I can’t help but think there’s something worth finding there.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, October 2019

This month’s word is dark, meaning “gloomy; cheerless; dismal” or “evil; iniquitous; wicked”.

This is going to be a short one, because I am kind of behind on writing it.

————–

It had been raining for weeks. Everything was damp, or wet, or flooded. The sky was a constant grey, making everything gloomy and dim. The perfect weather for a slow, creeping kind of evil. Nothing flashy, nothing too noticeable, just something that spread and spread like a cold, bringing misery to as many as possible. The conditions were ideal for a small, unimportant demon like Xel.

Almost too good, Xel thought to themself. Perhaps it’s a trick.

After all, they did have a number of enemies, despite their insignificance. Other demons were constantly clawing for any advantage. Or perhaps a senior demon was amusing themself by baiting a trap for a minor demon.

That’s not unheard of, thought Xel. I need to be cautious.

Besides, if a senior demon had set things up, they would get the credit, and Xel would have put in a great deal of work for nothing. It was probably better to wait.

Yes, Xel muttered. I’ll wait. Better to wait than to let someone else take credit for my work. Yes.

So, once again, Xel did nothing, for fear of doing the wrong thing or of someone else benefiting. They received neither blame nor praise and as a result, had risen high in the infernal hierarchy, an occurrence which had caused anger amongst those demons who did take action and work to spread darkness over the earth. Xel was aware of this hatred, but was unconcerned by it, as they now outranked all of them.

Although Xel’s fear of doing the wrong thing was an innate trait, they had begun to deliberately cultivate it once they realised how successful it was as a strategy. Xel had, in fact, managed to hack the system, something they were secretly smug about.

Pretty good for a minor imp, they thought to themself. My plan is working.

Xel gave a demonic laugh, breaking off suddenly as Pek, another demon, appeared in their doorway.

Lucifer wants to see you, Pek said.

Xel swallowed. That was never good news. They took a deep breath, stood up, and went to meet their fate.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, September 2019

This month’s word is doll, meaning “a small figure representing a baby or other human being, especially for use as a child’s toy”.

————–

I’m a floppy kind of thing, sprawled across the bedroom floor. Wool hair, button eyes, skin made of different scraps of fabric: I’m a unique creation.

I lie on the carpet, looking helpless, immobile. You think I’m inanimate, just an object to be moved around at your pleasure. But every night I crawl into your dreams and save you from monsters.

I’ve been with you since you were a baby. That was almost ten years ago. You think you’re too old for me, but somehow you never get round to throwing me away. I’ve been relegated to the floor, however, but it’s fine. I know how this will end: one day you’ll finally throw me out or give me away or, best case scenario, I’ll end up in a box somewhere. And you’ll wonder why your nightmares have gotten worse, but you’ll never put it together.

Humans never do.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, August 2019

This month’s word is pocket, meaning “a shaped piece of fabric attached inside or outside a garment and forming a pouch used especially for carrying small articles” or “any pouchlike receptacle, compartment, hollow, or cavity”.

————–

[start of file]

I put pockets in everything. Not just clothes, but in the sofa, in my mattress, in the curtains. I’m obsessed with them. It’s kind of like a magic trick: anything could be in there.

I like to fill them with random objects that I come across. Right now I have the following items in my right sofa pocket: a small pair of scissors, a penny, and two packs of chewing gum.

I spend a lot of time on my pockets: perfecting the size and shape, experimenting with different materials, trying out different types of closures. My favourite pocket at the moment is big enough to get my entire hand in up to the wrist, made of suede, and closes with a popper. It’s a curtain pocket, so I have to be careful what I put in it, otherwise it drags the curtain down on that side.

I spend a lot of time thinking about pockets, is what I’m saying. So it was inevitable that once I heard about the concept of pocket dimensions I would become obsessed with them. I kept wondering if it would be possible to put one into an actual pocket, so that you had infinite storage. Retrieval would be an issue, of course, but consider the possibilities!

I had many sleepless nights thinking about it. I repeatedly contacted cosmologists, astronomers and physicists with queries, to the extent that I’m banned from every university in the country. I tried, and failed, to create one on my own, but I did successfully cause a massive explosion, and that is why I’m now writing you from a secret government facility. It turns out that I somehow invented a new kind of explosive. Not as cool as a new pocket, or a workable pocket dimension, of course, but pretty good for someone who is entirely self-taught.

I will put this note in the portable waterproof, fireproof, unshreddable pocket and drop it in the bin so you can retrieve it from the incinerator, as arranged. This message will be the last; they’re moving me elsewhere tomorrow.

I hope all is well with you, and say hi to everyone for me. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. After all, they need me.

[end of file: text found on desk of [redacted] at [redacted] after sudden cardiac arrest. “pocket” referenced could not be found.]

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, April 2019

This month’s word is voice, meaning “the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc.”.

————–

I have an amazing voice. Everyone says so.

Sorry, I know that’s not what you asked. How did I first realise my talent, wasn’t it? I’m not sure I’d really call it a talent! It’s just a feature of me. I think, though, it was when I started going to school. I always thought that everyone reacted to children’s voices the way my family did to mine. I mean, you do, don’t you, when you’re little? You think everyone’s family is the same as yours. I thought everyone gathered around to listen adoringly to their children.

When I went to school, I suppose. I noticed that the teachers responded differently to the other children. And after a few weeks someone contacted the authorities and I was taken away from my family.

For my own good, they told me. They said it would be safer. Although they never made it clear who for.

After that, it was testing, testing and more testing. And then they decided to train me as a diplomat. Well, you know how that turned out! Accusations of undue influence, a UN resolution passed banning the use of people with “special abilities” in diplomatic positions, and of course, the Search.

Yes, I wish the Search had found someone else, anyone else, who was like me. It’s lonely being the only one. It’s lonely being me. I can’t even date, because I can’t turn it off. Why do you think I have this speech-to-text setup? Why do you think you’re in a separate room?

Because nobody trusts me, that’s why. Nobody wants to hear me speak any more. Because they’re afraid – you’re afraid – that I’m the monster. And I’m not useful any more, either, so why not lock me away? Can’t trust people like me, even if there are no other people like me. Can’t let me go, don’t want to kill me, just in case.

In case of what? That’s obvious, isn’t it? Never throw away a potential asset, right?

I don’t want to talk to you any more.

What do I want? I want to be normal. I want… I want to be able to have a conversation where the other person disagrees with me. I want to have a conversation where the other person can disagree with me.

You can’t give me that. Nobody can. So please go. And tell them I won’t give any more interviews. I’m tired, I’m done with this. I don’t want to be here any more.

Just leave me alone. It’s the only thing you can do for me now.

© bardofupton 2019