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

Inkwarriors, part 6 (Fiction)

The wizard hurried up the steps towards their mentor’s rooms. They needed to resolve the situation with the inkwarrior as soon as they could, because it was making it hard to focus on the spell they were trying to create. They simply couldn’t cope with the constant barrage of attention. It was distracting, and annoying, and a complete waste of time. They would never have thought of her again, had she not constantly forced her way into their head.

They were relieved to see that the door was open, meaning that their mentor was available. They entered and nodded politely to their mentor, who was sitting by the window looking through a small telescope.

“What do you think of these devices? Easier than magic, to be sure.”

The wizard sighed. Technological advances were their mentor’s bugbear. They were both fascinated and horrified by new inventions that, as they saw it, encroached into what should be the exclusive preserve of wizards.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” the wizard admitted.

“Too busy doing magic, I suppose?”

“Trying to, but…” the wizard began.

“Ha! Mark my words, young one, they’ll replace us with things like this!” The mentor leapt up and began to pace, brandishing the telescope angrily. “First it’ll be the army using these instead of hiring wizards…”

“But no wizards want to go out with the army,” the wizard pointed out.

“Irrelevant! We need to preserve our position!”

The wizard sighed quietly, and resigned themself to waiting until their mentor had said all they had to say on this topic. They sat down on a stool in the corner, well out of the way of the wild gesticulations their mentor was making as they became more and more worked up by their own rhetoric.

***********

Meril was confused. She’d taken all her exams, and she was pretty sure she’d failed them all. Everyone else in her cohort had received their results, but she was still waiting.

Maybe they’re trying to figure out what to do with me, she thought. Maybe there’s never been an inkwarrior as terrible as me.

She tried to distract herself by thinking about her wizard, but for once the thought of them couldn’t keep her attention. Despite all her talk about not wanting to be an inkwarrior, she didn’t actually have any other real skills. Certainly not any that would support her if they threw her out.

She swallowed. Or maybe they would kill her. She’d never heard of an inkwarrior as bad as she was, perhaps that was why.

She began pacing her room, which she’d been confined to since everyone else had been given their results. Surely they would come and explain everything to her soon. Wouldn’t they?

© 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

Writing project, January 2020

This month’s word is alien, meaning “any being or thing foreign to the environment in which it now exists”. It’s a bit late, sorry!

————–

There were no great fleets of ships, no invading armies with futuristic weapons, not even a statement broadcast simultaneously on every screen in the world. They were suddenly just… there.

Little groups of them, everywhere. Two or three or four or five, never more than that, and never alone. They didn’t look that different to us, if you overlooked the rainbow hues of their skin, rippling as they moved. At least, we all assumed it was skin. Could’ve been some kind of skintight all-over bodysuit, I guess.

It was startling at first, but people got used to it quickly. Not that we had any choice. A few people tried to attack them and were… I suppose disintegrated is the proper word: just turned to dust. After a couple videos of that were streamed, there was no more trouble. We just gave them a wide berth.

And they themselves didn’t cause any trouble. They were curious, yes, but they never went inside any homes, and they never interacted with anyone. They just watched.

Opinions varied as to whether they were tourists or scientists. I thought tourists, personally, but then who can understand aliens? Especially ones who make no effort to communicate.

So we got used to them. For two years they were everywhere, and then they just disappeared. One morning we woke up and they were all gone. Most people shrugged and carried on with their lives, while a few speculated on why they’d come, and why they left.

The series of massive solar flares which occurred hours later, destroying all our satellites and communications, and the prolonged bombardment of huge asteroids which followed, settled the question for the few who remained.

© 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