Nothing

The small print wasn’t even small when you made a deal with the devil. So why did people still sign up? The question had lived inside his head for as long as he could remember.

He took another drink and looked up at the disc of silver light that hung just above the horizon. Bathing in the reflected fury of a distant star, the lonely satellite crawled a path around its protector. It was nothing but a second hand jewel, an enslaved rock, and yet its mass was enough to drag the tides of the planet below. He squinted, holding the moon between his fingers. Perspective pulled it all down to flesh and blood, and flesh and blood pulled it all down to time.

Everything that had been before was gone. Time was illusion. The beginning and end of everything, wars, famine, disease were nothing. They fell like the insignificance of raindrops on an infinite ocean.

They were nothing.

But those billions upon billions upon billions of tiny drops of nothing also made up the ocean. Without even one of them that ocean of nothing would be a different place. Change one drop of nothing and you could change everything. And suddenly, each drop was the most important thing in the universe, without it the universe would be gone.

He had realised the implications when he agreed to sign the contract.  Touch one part you touched it all, move just one part of nothing and… The knock on effect was incredible.

Time had a suggestion of Lycra about it. People went around treating it like it would hold its shape no matter how many times you washed it. But it was more like the George Bailey scenario than they had ever imagined. That whole town had re-shaped because one man had never been born. The film had set its boundaries around Bedford Falls, and no one got to see what happened outside of that sweet shop utopia. Throw a stone into the water and the ripples grow bigger as they fly away from the centre. A butterfly flaps its wings and on the other side of the world a mountain crumbles.

He emptied his glass and turned back to his desk. It wasn’t complicated, it was just pyramid selling with time. And once this contract kicked in, the moon was in for a shock. Everyone was. He flicked his eyes over the parchment. He’d been in marketing for years and this was pretty standard stuff. Hyper realism at its best, the whole industry was built on the damn stuff. Give them what they want in a way they don’t expect, no wonder the world was in such a bloody mess. Even the putrid spewings of politics had been vindicated by that rag-tag line.

The best part of this was that the man had come to him. His pathetic flesh crawling with desire, begging for that one selfish thing that felt like nothing.

He grinned, in a way he’d miss the Human Race, he’d have to go a long way to find another species so wrapped up in perceived reality. But hey, a deal was a deal, there was no going back now. And how did that old saying go?

The Devil is always in the Detail. 

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Weekly Tanka Prompt Challenge – Week 16 – Decorations & Pumpkins

carve out your pumpkins

hang up your decorations

dress me in reason

in twenty first century

and forget, to be afraid

 

Tanka: 5-7-5-7-7

Decorations & Pumpkins prompt from: Ramblings of a writer 

Blue 

I keep your photograph face down. Wandering my mind in fairy tale. No story book. No rewind in the soft, silk of your Disney blue. I don’t remember you. The curl of your fingers. Your feet lost in shared blankets. The trail of you overgrown, shadowed in that glare of second hand ghosts. I don’t remember you. And I smile with the sweetness of you. The beauty of your face. The one I see, there in the unadorned. There with your blue. Face down. The mist of you in my arms until I fail with the weight. That isn’t there. Just your blue. And even the sky is wrong with it. I don’t remember you. What it’s like to hold you. Just a photograph. Face down. Reminds me that I don’t remember you. But I do remember the blue. Of your eyes. And if I could ask you, would you smile your photograph and whisper that blue, was enough?

 

Normal

Nothing about this was normal. But then, that was Normal all over. Most people didn’t realise that the damn thing had been hanging out with them until it buggered off. Waking up to find a recycling bin rammed through the windshield of your second hand BMW and a dollop of sketchy looking poo sliding majestically down the inside letterbox was a boot camp reminder of how fickle a companion normal could be.

See, that was the other bastard thing about normal- you could only measure it by its opposite. Which always felt like a kind of roundabout way of doing things. Conner looked over at the man perched perkily on the edge of his favourite chair. Good old normal had its non-descript fingers in every pie imaginable. It had happily skipped with him through long, golden days and it had cowered with him under the duvet as the black dog paced the dark halls of his mind. It was littered across the monochrome grey of scarlet battlefields and feathered with the peacock colours of love. In a line up, normal would stand, perplexedly overlooked and ordinary next to the average looking guy, while whispering corrupted stars into the ears of the serial killer.

Conner cleared his throat, ‘Well I for one need a cup of tea, can I get you anything?’ he ran his hands over his face, feeling unwelcome stubble catch at his fingertips. The man certainly looked better, there was a healthy colour to his cheeks and he sat with an annoying authority that made Conner feel decidedly uncomfortable. The prospect of an ambulance being the solution to all his problems was rapidly fading along with the evening light. Even the most tolerant of paramedics would look unkindly on him calling them out to a patient who vaulted onto the stretcher as they arrived through the doorway. He just had to keep reminding himself that whatever happened, he was not answerable to this stranger.

‘The outline of civilisation scours chalk from willow fingers…’ the man spoke softly, threading the line like poetry. His voice also cut out the middle man and interfaced directly with Conner’s brain.

Good old normality eh? It was so easy to overlook just how great it was until it had thanked the crowd and gone for a drink at the hospitality bar. People talked about weird shit like telepathy, but no one actually believed it was real. Conner battled on, ‘I have Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Green, White… Peppermint?’ Strictly speaking, Peppermint wasn’t a real tea, but these were desperate times.

‘Specters of acrid hope.’

Conner laughed easily, but it was the daisy chain laugh of a deceiver, ‘Is that some kind of Himalayan blend?’ He had never been so freaked out in all his life.

‘Snakes of peroxide venom are the martyred weavers.’

‘I have decaff if you’d rather?’

The man twisted his head like a bird, ‘Sanctuary and oblivion flicker with the same tepid fires.’

The words roamed around inside Conner’s mind, trying to find a purchase of understanding. He grinned hopefully, ‘I’ll put the kettle on then shall I?’

In the relative safety of the kitchen, Conner leaned against the dishwasher and wondered if the milk was still in date. He wished he had an answer for what the hell was happening here, but he didn’t. He just had tea. And tea would have to do because tea was normal. And in all honestly, normal was the only thing left to hold onto in situations like this.

 

 

 

 

The island

The island was exactly 50 paces across. Not so strange in itself, except that it didn’t seem to matter which direction Seth went in or what size steps he used, the land always ran out on that 50th step.

He wriggled his toes in the clear water and looked up at the sky. It was almost noon and time for the weekly food drop off. Lately he had admitted to feeling almost excited at the thought of company. But he also knew that with each encounter came a curious sort of emotional hangover which had become harder and harder to shift.

Sentenced to solitary confinement for heinous and unforgivable crimes,’ Seth winked, ‘I mean, come on you have to admit it has a nice ring to it.’ There was no one around to agree with him, but he laughed anyway. He’d found that talking to the empty sea made more sense than talking to himself. What he wouldn’t give now for the flash of silver fish, the music of birds… even a tree to hug. But there was nothing else on this damn island, nothing. There was just Seth.

In those first few months he’d been so angry, throwing himself into escape plans and building life rafts out of his torrid dreams. But the truth was that there was nowhere to run to, not even death. And when that desperate day finally came, the same sea that had offered him oblivion had just washed him ashore, broken and screaming with rage. He sighed, it was obvious now that his anger had at least been something meaningful, because it was the damn fading of it that had finally shipwrecked him on this wasteland of sanity. 

The familiar grating noise that tasted of lemons and made his ears pop, pulled him from his thoughts. He took a deep breath and turned, knowing there was no time for his usual contrived politeness, ‘When I stepped through the gate, and I crossed the border into this world, I knew that the killings would stop. But, but I didn’t think, I didn’t expect, that it would be…’ He looked up at the shape, hiding in the shadows.

‘You didn’t expect it to be you?’ the dark figure swapped the empty packet of food tablets for a full one before turning away. 

‘Wait,’ Seth scrabbled forward, ‘can’t I at least have another jailer? Someone less…’

‘Evil?’

‘Familiar,’ Seth gave a jovial little shrug.

‘You’re the crime, the carrier and the final sentence,’ the figure said, ‘That’s whole the point of this place. You decide your own fate and then you enforce it.’

Seth fought against the urge to make a break for the open door, this was the one brief moment of interaction left in his world of isolation and he wasn’t going to waste it, ‘At least tell me how this 50 paces thing works?’

‘It works because you’re cruel.’

The door had begun to count down, there were only a few seconds left, ‘Come on, give me a clue at least?’

‘Look at what’s fixed,’ the figure said, stepping through the fading door.

Seth sank down onto the sand, ‘Of course, it’s the damn number that is fixed, not the pace.’ And there it was, his punishment laid out for him in the plainest of terms. One pace for each year on the island. And the lengths he went to in order to change that were irrelevant.

He couldn’t help feeling a flicker of admiration. The nature of the torment was slow burning and brutal. There was no doubting it now, the person who had designed this prison was a real arsehole.

p1020056a

This story came out of a conversation with the lovely and wildly talented, Matthew over at  Twisted roads of madness . He had just posted a 50 word story based around a prompt, and his creation, Border, was so brilliant that I couldn’t wait to read the expanded version. Instead of dropping everything and immediatly penning a masterpiece as was my want, Matthew suggested that I too could write an extended version based on his 50 word story. What a meanie eh? 

You can read Matthew’s expanded story here 

 

 

Phantoms

 

Where are the ghosts in fairy tales?

 

Do they fly with the witches?

Rainbow hags in monochrome halls

Dressed dark under ebony windows

Curled around the taste of our blood

And turned to face the wall

 

Where are the ghosts in fairy tales?

 

Do they hide in the dark towers?

Sanctuaries of cerulean quicksand

Glass slippers and spider silk

Blind among the dragons

In the ancient settlements of ruin

 

Where are the ghosts in fairy tales?

 

Do they run with the beasts?

Down among the dead men

Speckled goblins, sanitised

Kissed in chains of foul beauty

Bound, and painted cold by the sun

 

Where are the ghosts in fairy tales?

 

Do they fade with the shadows?

Mirrors of the absolute

Photographed in refracted memory

And caught in the crossfire

Of a thousand myopic chandeliers

 

End of days

The sky boiled, spewing a caustic mirror across the broken city. As the young man lowered his hood, Isaac felt the familiar taste of shame stir in him. Rain had blown in through the open window and soaked the edge of the curtain in a yellow slime. The mustard coloured residue was all that remained now of that final attempt halt the pandemic. He made a despairing kind of noise, ‘Do you wanna know what I miss the most?’

‘I need to change,’ the boy said without lifting his head.

‘Video games,’ Isaac grinned, ‘and damn lucky for us we had them eh? Forty quid and a mild vitamin D deficiency was a small price to pay considering the tactical training we got.’

The kid showed no sign of returning his mirth, ‘My clothes are soaked in blood.’

‘Oh… sure, of course.’

This survivor hadn’t really needed rescuing. The gory truth of that lay scattered across the pavement outside. But the day was leaking away and all light would be gone within the hour. It wasn’t safe to be outside at night, not even for a kid with that many weapons.

Isaac raked through his cupboard, pulling out a set of grey sports clothes, ‘I’ll try the phone again, you never know.’ There was no response from the young man but Isaac didn’t expect any, mostly he was talking to the situation. ‘I’m also gonna have a quick look around the rest of the building,’ he said, handing over the dry clothes along with another grin, ‘see if I can find anyone else still alive.’

The boy finally looked up, ‘I’ve seen you before,’ he said softly, ‘I know who you are.’

‘Yeah well, seems like I have one of those faces.’

‘Why do you do this?’

‘You want to question my motivation?’ Isaac pulled air into his lungs more out of habit than anything else, ‘Isn’t saving your life enough?’

‘No it isn’t, not any more.’

‘Yeah well,’ Isaac sighed, ‘I’ve spent all of my life defending Human Rights, I’m not gonna throw that away, not even now.’

‘So that’s why you rescue people is it, to kick against a system that no longer exists?’

‘Plus I’m a vegetarian,’ Isaac hauled open the re-enforced door that led through to the lounge. A glitter ball caught the light and span in a thousand mirrored colours, ‘Guys, we have a new arrival,’ he yelled above the music.

‘You’re crazy, you know that,’ the boy said.

‘Comes with the territory kid,’ Isaac grinned, ‘and I figure that if this is the end of everything, well then we may as well have a party.’

‘So this is what you do now, you round up the living and party?’

‘Pretty much,’ Isaac winked at him, at least it could have been a wink, it was hard to tell when the accompanying eyeball was hanging against his cheek, ‘I mean of course I tried to organise something with the other zombies to begin with, but seriously, they just hung around in the kitchen groaning and eating out of the bin. And trying to get them to dance, honestly kid, I may as well have been at a damn funeral.’