Strong and Stable she tells me

Strong and stable she tells me.

Oh really I say, that sounds nice.

Strong and stable she tells me.

Interesting, I say.

Strong and stable she tells me.

Not very specific though, you know what I mean?

Strong and stable she tells me.

Like are you saying ‘strong’ in terms of defence and ‘stable’ in terms of horses?

Horses aren’t part of policy.

Although fox-hunting is. Does it refer to looking for a manger, you know that parable about the Christian saviour?

Overt religious affiliations aren’t part of policy.

I don’t think Boris would have been let in anyway. So, no room at any inn whatsoever then? (To be honest I can’t imagine Lenny’s a fan.) Could stable refer to our economy?

Strong and stable and exactly the way we’ve been doing things for the last 7 years.

So, stable means that we continue to grind people into the ground till there’s no joy, and we cut all the fat from the ‘back-office’ and the ‘waste’ that we don’t have, so that we can create greater problems in the long-run in policing, healthcare, housing, prisons, education and people’s wellbeing?

Strong and stable she tells me.

Does the strong refer to iron grip, like you have on your ministers and the press?

No comment.

Could it refer to your ‘Brexit’?

Strong and stable she tells me, not soft and poached.

A hard-boiled Brexit. Are you referring to some sort of Raymond Chandler novel that I’m not familiar with? Or are we actually discussing breakfast? (I’m very confused.)

Brexit means Brexit.

Right, Britain’s exit from the EU, which we have established is going ahead, we’re wondering more how you’re going to negotiate that and what it will involve…

A red, white and blue Brexit.

Ah so it’s going to be French then. That does make sense.

 

Alchemist: Fingerprints (Part Three)

He holds the card in his hand, while she hadn’t dared. She left it where it landed, as if tampering with it might illicit some complex chain of events, or leave fingerprints.

His are now all over it.

Behind them she spies the piece of bread, peppered with Hara’s blood.

He hadn’t thrown the bread across the room, or screamed at her so close spit flecks hit her face. He hadn’t grasped her wrist and twisted her to a kneeling position on the floor.

Instead he had swatted it to the ground.

She dislikes the waste of it, and something in her boils at the sight of bread on the floor, it’s more than wasteful, it’s a superstition, she’s sure.

She can see how he can be easily wound, like clockwork. She still held the knife.

He flips the card over, there’s no further information on the back.

“Who do you think it’s from?”

“I didn’t think anyone knew I was here.”

He smirks, “You’re kidding?”

She’s not kidding. The two of them stew in their own little worlds for a moment.

Hara confused by the woman he thought he knew, who he thought he shared common knowledge with, who he thought knew him.

He pulls the card up and put it in her eyeline, she glances at it carelessly.

He stands transfixed, and repeats the action as if he’s swiping something across a self-service checkout, and the barcode won’t ring up. He stares deep into his eyes, like a doctor might, to indicate the seriousness of their revelation, and to see if there’s anything there to stare back at them with understanding.

She blinks and draws herself back, her eyes dry. The knife is still in her hands, which are almost wooden; deaden. Hara’s no longer in her sightline. The card is back beside the mat on the floor, she takes a great shudder of breath, and realises she hadn’t been breathing.

She’d been paused.

“It’s some sort of cloaking device.” Hara calls from behind her.

He’s munching a sandwich, the silent observer, where she once had been.

“You stood there for a minute, maybe longer. Without moving, your breathing slowed, your heart-rate slowed, and you didn’t blink.”

He rubs his temple as if he’s scrolling through a series of images, which she realises he is. There’s a swirl of memory that takes over.

She’s in another place, a dilapidated building in another country, her mind is soaked in detail, a floorplan of the room pings direct to her eye, spreading out green in front of her. Voices whisper and distil within her cortex, filtering into key information, a target. She’s to go left, then right, then meet the man who she can hear in her mind, but first she needs to remember the code word.

She taps her temple, and rewinds through the bloody memories, to the man yelping in front of her.

“The Alchemist.”

Vermin

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There are flies everywhere.

They’re not swarming, or humming, or moving. They might be rippling if there were any air in here. The floor is crisp with them and crunchy; a carpet of flies, while overhead hang paper-strips thick with bodies.

One small new soul drones on with an intense whine, as he flails against the stick of flypaper, taking an obnoxiously long time to die.

Through the abnormally thick windows, like some poor kid’s milk-bottle glasses, the sun stumbles into the gloom hitting, who knows how many, years of grime. If you swiped those windows with a finger, you’d never get clean, but stepping into that room itself; would never leave you either.

I walk a carefully constructed passage-way, across this carpet of death, carcasses crackling to dust under my heel. The room itself isn’t a crime scene. It’s as clean and white as any good exhibition space. There is not a hint of blood to be found. There are no bodies marauding around the corner, although there is a sense that there could be. Unlike some cheap carnival ride, it wouldn’t be a man in a skeleton costume jumping out at you, it could be untold horrors. Horrors you couldn’t grasp.

Horrors you didn’t want to see.

If you sneezed tiny fly carcasses, or what was left of them, would scatter in some grandiose and disturbing ripple effect, coating everything with their remains.

It wasn’t just the windows daubed with grime, or the outpost that was this ‘gallery’, or the fresh fly dying; a soundtrack played underneath that, something cinematic; tense. There was a general sense of unease, like you were a voyeur on something tragic, but unknown. You’d walked in on a scene after it had been cleared of nearly all the remnants of despair, save the flies, and even they were dead.

You had missed it all.

Was it due to negligence, ignorance or fear that you hadn’t seen what had happened here?

This was the artist playing tricks with your mind. You hadn’t missed anything. She had constructed this scene. She’d daubed the floors and ceiling with bloody flesh and left it to fester with flies.

All these tiny creatures had suffered for the artist’s vision.

She was the cruel one, not you.

This was only the first room, there were many. It played on your mind that it wasn’t so hard that she would graduate from flies to something larger. The fruit fly itself has roughly 75% DNA equivalence to humans. In terms of genetics; the previous room was a human massacre; a genocide.

In the next space, I found myself walking past endless freezers on either side of this narrow corridor-like room. Clean, clinical – they almost blended into the white of the exhibition space. They were all waist height, save for two large American-style freezers at the end of the room, near the doors.

Half-way through one door was left ajar. A small glow of light rippled from its interior, a slight puddle at its feet, a soft drip against the tiled floor.

At some point it would spread across the room, fade into corners and crevices, coat the floor, while whatever was hidden within slowly leaked out.

Everything else was uniform.

This single open door was something I could easily walk past.

No need to question it or probe further, I could walk on and leave it there, hanging like a question mark. If I were someone else I might open every freezer door, delve into everything available in this room.

It was just the one door that bothered me. I tried to leave the room, but instead hovered at the doorway.

I’d made myself come this far, and I was certain I would never visit this place again.

Once I left it would be final.

I edged back the way I came and bent down to look at the drawers. There were four, iced over and stiff. I had to wrestle to get them to open. Within were multiple plastic bags, packed tight. I wriggled one free and pulled it up to the light.

I gasped at what I saw.

A silly theatrical gasp. The thing was frozen and couldn’t harm me.

A rat, packaged in a freezer bag and stored in there for perpetuity.  Having pulled it free from multiple others, I grew uneasy.

Only one freezer door had been left open.  I stood and looked around at the sea of white-goods around me.

Was this the only sight that was meant to make me stumble, to question what might be hidden in here?

Or was this a careful ruse, so that I with a frozen rat in my hand didn’t question what might be hidden in every other freezer in this room.

Alchemist: A Guest (Part 2)

A scraggly black man with a general weary look sits across from her at the kitchen table.

She offered him coffee, or at least she waved the pot at him and he waved his mug back at her, never giving up his stream of talk. She wasn’t certain if that was what you did with a captor. Did you offer them a hot drink? It seemed polite, but he wasn’t particularly threatening, more pissed off.

It was as if he knew her, like she’d done something like this before.

He gulped the coffee like he hadn’t been fed in long while and kept calling her Kathleen, to which she found herself tilting her head like she was questioning it.

This felt different to the unexpected arrival of the card. It was still lying by the mat at the door. He had stepped over it, briskly. Did he have an air of high ranking military? But he slouched, was dirty, his boots were poorly laced. He gave the sense of having had to march, without breakfast.

Perhaps she should offer him a meal as well? She realises he’s staring at her in silence.

“Where are you Kathleen? You haven’t said a word since I got here.”

She tilts her head in reply, he pushes his chair back and stands in one swift movement; exasperated. It’s that feeling again, like he’s dealing with a difficult child. A consistent runaway, who’s forever causing him problems. Who won’t listen, who goes against orders.

Who consistently tilts her head rather than replying.

“Did you not think we’d get word? A woman hiding in the valley, her face half-burned, wandering round covering her face when she decides to speak to delivery boys. Only choosing to talk to fourteen-year-old boys strikes people as odd. Disturbing. You may not have any electric in your home, but everyone round here does.”

The woman watches him silent still. She doesn’t know his name, he walked in like she should know him, he talks to her like she should know him. He acts like he followed her, but he doesn’t seem dangerous.

He isn’t a threat.

She sips her coffee, he’s bothered by this she can tell. Her silent evaluation of him. It’s pissing him off more than whatever it is she did originally. Did she run from him? That doesn’t sit right. Was he by her at The Plaza?

He’s not who she’d been expecting. It occurs to her that she doesn’t know who she’d been expecting. That she was acting on something else, some memory like a groove in a record player, she was waiting for the needle to hit it right, for it all to sync up, to harmonize.

It hadn’t. He was still exasperated in her kitchen.

Was his name Henry? Harold? Albert? Bert? Cane?

“Kane, you look starved, I have some bread, some cheese?”

He looks back at her hungry but angry.

“Kane?”

He’s not Kane then.

He stands to attention. “I didn’t know we were reverting to last names, ma’am. “

Is that why Kathleen didn’t sit right? It wasn’t her name anyway, she had always been Kat, but he had been Harashan. He was Hara, it was sort of awkwardly falling into place like half-folded origami.

She pulled the bread and cheese from the cupboards and hoped sandwiches might make things better, bring things to light.

“Did you send me the card?”

“What card?” His face crumpled, he was no longer angry, but concerned.

She busies herself with sawing at the bread. He pulls at her shoulder, “Kat, what card?”

She finds herself with the knife at his throat, a drop of blood at the blade. He puts his hands up, and backs away finally realising he hadn’t walked into a familiar setting.

“You know me Kat.”

She continues sawing at the bread, the glance of blood now threaded through its veins.

“I’m not sure what I know.”

Alchemist: Going Dark (Part 1)

She kneeled on the wooden floorboards staring down at the bit of paper. It was more than paper; it was smooth and crisp, textured, with a gold embossed font.

An emblem, with simple text: Alchemist.

A business card worthy of American Psycho, but lacking any way to get in touch.

She got back up off the floor and looked warily past the thick and floral curtains to the dead grass outside her beaten front-door.

It had been slipped underneath her door. No note, no messenger, no package.

Did it signal a delivery?

A warning?

She left it where she’d found it and walked back and forth across the floorboards, her feet cold, while her mind ran hot.

She’d been careful. There was no internet access here. No phone signal, she hadn’t installed a phone line. She didn’t own a mobile device. There were no electronics in this house whatsoever. Not even a microwave or toaster. She cooked with gas.

She hadn’t even latched on to some unsuspecting neighbour’s WIFI, nor snuck into their  house and borrowed some device. She had no hidden pool of electronics under her floorboards that she was itching to tap into. Although she was itching.

In her dreams, she always found herself back at The Plaza, tapping at the screen, nearly covering her tracks while everything went red-hot and burned around her.

She kept getting further, nearly finding a way, but it always ended with her waking up screaming. Remembering her face singeing.

She hadn’t hacked anything. She was off grid. There had been no slip-ups. No chatter.

There weren’t neighbours here, really. There wasn’t CCTV, not down these dirt track roads, GPS barely got you to this location, what with the valley distorting the signal.

A black-spot.

There can’t be many of those nowadays. Maybe it was a case of crossing each of them off the list.

Problem was the ‘community’, they had a hive mentality, she didn’t deal with people directly, didn’t like to show her face. This need to keep her face out of circulation, could have tipped them off. Did they talk about the woman in the valley in the deadened house, who knocked out the electricity, and doesn’t own a radio? The woman who picks up a newspaper and her groceries from a pre-decided stop-off point. Who only speaks to the fourteen-year-old delivery boy, when nothing arrives.

It hadn’t arrived yesterday, neither the newspaper nor the groceries. It had happened before, nothing new, but now it seemed suspect. She had a few things stored away in the cupboards so she hadn’t felt the need to cycle her way down into the village, and remind them.

She figured it would turn up in a few days.

She had no bank accounts. Her bank notes were rolled up under her mattress.

She’d asked for clean bills, the majority had been crisp and fresh. She used the others in a myriad of locations, handed them out to travellers in exchange for anything of use, dumped them in beggars’ bowls, to stump the trackers.

Suddenly the whole plan seemed hurried, unthought out. Would she have been safer in the city? Surrounded by technology, cloaking herself with someone else’s neural tracker. Piggybacking access, rewriting her past, redistributing chunks of information, rather than walking away from it all. Shutting it all down, going dark.

She’d needed to recover, she hadn’t the energy to keep that sort of charade up, to be that purposely clandestine. She’d gone away to hide and lick her wounds, to recalibrate, to let the information sink into place. It was a lot of data, and she’d only had three months.

Or had they given her three months?

There was a knock on the door.

 

 

Death comes out of the closet, and steps into the flashbulbs of modern society

With the new Freedom of Information Act out came a frebranding-ripeast of previously untapped information. The most startling of which involved the governmentand their rather shady body: DDL or ‘Death, Dismemberment and Liquidation’ which have now undergone a thorough re-branding since the hiring of PR firm ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’. The newly formed Life Affirmation Unit (LAU), no longer have the rather insensitive ‘Catch and Release’ policy but rather one of R&R, which I’m assured stands for ‘Release and Relaxation’. Speaking to Death , and its personal PR representative, on the subject I got an in-depth look at how one works at such a prestigious and important department.

I sit in a café overlooking the Victorian-esque streets of London, littered with greying figures escaping the cold weather. Out of nowhere a whirl of snowflakes brings the striking figure of Death, testing out the new black cape designed for the eminence by Chanel. It strides forward with PR representative Carol, from ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ the firm signed to the newly re-branded ‘Life Affirmation Unit’, previously known as ‘Transitional Services’, and before that DDL (‘Death, Dismemberment and Liquidation.’) Although Death assures me these are all different sections, and that it is solely assigned death duties.

We sit down to some steaming beverages on this most chilly morning. Death sips delicately on its green tea, with the recent release of Death’s details, Death’s celebrity status has allowed it to really publicise healthy living, something it assures me has always been close to its heart and was really an issue it felt strongly about and needed more public support. What better celebrity spokesperson than someone who can truly see the other side of the issue. Grim Reaper it is certainly not with such a stressful, 24-hour job, Death enjoys chilling out with a nice bottle of wine, and some DVD box sets of “whatever is current at the moment” or as Carol says, ‘The Crown’ on Netflix.

When we move onto the change in the law Carol gets positively giddy, she apparently was formally in the DDL unit but was unable to tell “even her husband” of her job title due to their ambiguity clause. Although, even now, she doesn’t go into details about her previous job description. Due to the unit’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy the offices had rather complicated administrative procedures, and kept friends, family and co-workers in the dark. It was a shadowy affair, and Death and Carol are in positive agreement that if the Freedom of Information Act hadn’t come about they would have been knocking down doors to bring us into this era of enlightenment and out of the dark ages. Death is highly positive about “FIA” as it fondly calls it, saying it feels it’s a really positive and important step forward for human kind “in this most United of Kingdoms.”  Carol smiles, bites her lip and then hastens to correct him, “the UK and the rest of the globe.”

Death’s introduction to society hasn’t been so happily welcomed in other nations, where they are quite insistent it align itself with some sort of deity or religious system, and are rather alarmed with its allegiance to the British Nation. Death assures me it is but a regional figurehead, and that there are thousands of Reapers working within the country at this very moment, and many more doing so abroad. It adds that every assurance has been taken so that there will be no interruption to the service LAU provides, while its involved in important meetings, “such as these,” adds Carol. An appointed substitute has been in put in place, and “we are still very much on target,” says Carol.

I have heard that the pope apparently finds fault with Death’s Charter and would really like some clarification. The only thing Carol can add to this is that her contract is of ‘20 earthly years and several years of “non-denominational” after-life, which her Union are in talks with LAU to have clarified. She hastens to add that LAU is an equal opportunity employer. This is in fact a hot topic, and I get the feeling that Death is used to such lines of questioning from its own staff, no wonder wanting to make sure they’re on the right track, when working for Death. Although their press secretary was at pains to tell me that “there is no special treatment.” The only help employees are given is a health plan; “certain problem areas are highlighted and we encourage people to follow through with their own personal action plan.”

The contracts, such as Carol’s, are purely speculative and in no way indicate her time remaining on this earth, that’s why, the press secretary adds, “we are constantly renewing contracts, or find they end early. It would be most troubling to know one’s date of death, and we keep all sensitive information such as that out of the public domain, until the act has occurred.” Death however, is not “bothered,” Carol smiles, Death’s clearly got its fingers on the pulse, if maybe a few years too late. Death states that it doesn’t get involved with earthly distinctions such as faith and that HR deals with employment.

Reaper is more interested in discussing the great leaps and bounds that have taken place in “spirit transfers.”  The transfer of souls is now down to a record 8 seconds, in keeping with government guidelines and targets. Carol tells me rather breathlessly that the whole department is putting forward plans to decrease the time taken to bare milliseconds. Death remains silent on this matter. There have been rumblings in the press from some high up officials that can’t be named that Death feels hemmed in and hampered by the sudden media glare it finds itself under, and the rather incongruous targets put forth by its department. “Each death is individual, and administration is really not its forte” it is believed to have said, reports a former aide.  Death shakes its cape when I raise these questions. It states that yes, like most celebrities it finds the media glare rather unnecessary and bewildering, but understands, or has had it put to itself that this comes with the trappings of job nowadays. The millisecond plan, though, Reaper adds is wonderful, and one it is wholeheartedly behind and doing its utmost to secure within the ten-year window it has been given. Carol chirpily pipes in: “Five years.”

“Right, I’m sure that’s far more convenient for all those on NHS waiting lists.”

 

An archived piece from my idea Rebranding RIP/Transitional Services, inspired by my time working at the Probate Service.