Short Story – “Pod Pals”

Spiderman passed through the decontamination showers in his plain, white jumpsuit. The simple jumpsuit-look had replaced the jeans and t-shirt combination, from the previous century, as the standard for neutral fashion. It began as a necessity, for moving through various zones where you’d be shot by multiple jets of cleansing waters, but over time, people just got sick of changing, and so the new standard trend was born. Spiderman didn’t mind his uncomfortable plastic-wear, but as he had only turned eighteen this past week, his knowledge of the comforts of thread and wool were minimal.

He was the first to arrive inside Pod-216-B-CO, not just today, but ever. The Pod-216 unit was a new development that Spiderman had been lucky enough to make the waiting list of. Last year, when he had turned seventeen, he put his name down for pre-registration. On the off-chance that when he came of age, he would frequent a Pod nearly two decades newer than the one he had shared with his family. As he stepped across the threshold of Pod-216-B-CO, with the pressurised doors closing behind him, he was not disappointed. Spiderman could see all of the modern amenities, including a model of the latest SoundCube™ and metallic, longline sofa covers.

All in all, 216-B was a little smaller than an old-world shipping container, only inviting, and perhaps even cosy. This was the design of most Pods, certainly all of those used by the general public anyway. Spiderman sat down on one of the two opposing sofas and waited for his Pod-Pals. “Pod-Pals”, he hated that term. It was nothing but branding on the part of the government, in order to make spending an hour in a confined space with complete strangers more settling. In truth, it was weird. Spiderman felt nervous just thinking about who could walk through that door. If he was lucky, then it would be a group of eighteen year-olds, so at least they could bond over being new to this situation. He thought that the worst case scenario would be three, newly released convicts, each assigned to the same civilian Pod by mistake.

The pressurised doors hissed and slid apart, Spiderman picked up a nearby Pad and started tapping away nonchalantly.
‘Hey-ay!’ A hyper-feminised voice called out, as the doors closed behind its’ speaker.
Spiderman looked up from his device to see someone older than he had been expecting, a woman with blueish green hair and a broad smile. ‘Hi,’ he waved his hand up before returning his attention to checking his profiles.
‘My name’s Cupcake, what’s yours?’ Cupcake approached the seated Spiderman, tilted her head to one side, and extended her hand out in a greeting.
‘Spider-man.’ His voice broke as he answered, so he cleared his throat and went for round two, ‘Spiderman. My name’s Spiderman.’
‘So traditional, I love it, I love it.’ Cupcake reached for a nearby Pad and shot Spiderman a quick friend request. ‘Looks like we’re Pod-Pals now!’ She squealed with genuine glee, before audibly yay-ing.

Continue reading “Short Story – “Pod Pals””

Short Story – “Floor 44”

This is the single most important day of my life so far. That initial thought is entirely hyperbolic, but it certainly cracks the top five. If I had the time to think about it, which given that the bus replacement service has broken down I probably do, I’d say that the birth of my son comes in at number one. That’s been the only singular day in my life where I’ve felt a deep and spiritual change. Any number of other crucial life moments, that I now find myself ruminating on, seem to fall flat compared to that morning in the maternity ward. I thought it would be total bollocks; the idea that a child of your own can completely change the fabric of who you are as an individual, and maybe it still is for some, but it punched me right in the gut.

I suppose if I’m being fair, today probably ranks at three or four. Somewhere behind the second and possibly first wedding day. It’s very typical, this listing of births and unions as the key moments in my life, it’s as though we’re all preprogrammed to work and build towards the same events. I’m glad it’s just my thoughts and I, on this dingey bus, I’d hate to be considered this conformist by the masses, even though that’s exactly who and what I am.

Anyway, it’s hard to know if I should rank the first marriage higher than this upcoming interview. Those were still genuine feelings I felt at the time, whether I still feel them now or not. Twelve years down the line I remember the screaming, lying and the bad blood boiling over the rim of the pan, but on that single day at the beginning of the end, I was happy. I cannot deny that.

The second time has been the charm, that’s not the saying but I’ve gone with it now so it’s there. Jess calmed me down a little and taught me to not take life so seriously, and she’s the mother of my son, so she has that going for her. I think even if I lost my love for her, the fact that she has saved me will be enough to never leave. A morbid thought at eight AM on a beat-up bus within inner-city London, but when else am I going to have these? I think I was probably happier on wedding day number one, but as only one of those led me to an actual marriage, I’m going to rank them appropriately.

Okay, so maybe this is the fourth most important day of my life so far. Still, in this moment it feels like the most crucial. If I succeed today I will possess something that most covet yet only some achieve; total and complete financial security. I’ll be able to pay for my son’s entire education, take those trips we’ve always wanted to take and not worry about the eventual impending costs of death. What a time we live in, where an inner-peace can be achieved through a series of ever-increasing numbers on a screen. I don’t care if it’s normal or boring, if it means I can take care of myself and those I care about, then fine, let it be the way.

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(Novella) ‘From Starlight’ – Part 3

The ground inside the Lume Tree was soft and springy. If Mica had reached down and touched the earth, he would have described it as “like a sponge”, however, he did not. He didn’t reach down to touch the earth below his feet because there was barely room to do so. Mica and The Scientist shuffled sideways, down and around the natural corridors of the colossal tree trunk, until they could see a glowing light ahead of them.
‘That’s what we’re here for.’ The Scientist said, with some relief. ‘I was starting to worry that this tree had not sprouted a fresh crop.’
‘I’m glad this long, tiring walk through a space jungle wasn’t for nothing.’ Mica responded, as he shimmied his way closer to the soft white glow.
‘There he goes, mister drama king, just relax, you’ll be home in no time.’

Suddenly, The Scientist disappeared from in front of Mica’s face, she had dropped down from a ledge, and Mica had heard the sound of shoes landing on the ground from a great height, followed by a grunt. He made his way to the edge of the thin corridor they had been winding around, and looked down below. Sure enough, there was the Scientist, who had made a jump that she perhaps should not have made unassisted.
‘I’m going to need some help.’ Mica called out to the Scientist, who had already started to walk away.
She turned around upon hearing his request, ‘Oh, sorry Mica! Sometimes, when you talk, I forget you have the body of a child.’ She held her arms open at the base of the drop. ‘Jump. I’ll catch you.’
‘Erm- are you sure?’ The fear washed over Mica’s question.
‘Absolutely. One-hundred-percent, never been more certain of anything in my life.’ She extended her arms out even wider and stood in an almost power-stance.
Mica simultaneously did and did not trust her. He trusted in the idea that she intended to catch him, whether she actually was capable or not was a different matter. Given the seven foot drop and lack of ladder or rope, it appeared that Mica had no other choice.

Continue reading “(Novella) ‘From Starlight’ – Part 3”

(Novella) ‘From Starlight’ – Part 2

‘Where’re we going?’ Mica asked, his voice vibrating slightly from the sheer speed they were whizzing through the cosmos.
‘To work,’ the Scientist replied as she frantically pulled on hanging chords, tapped on her handheld device and toyed with loose wires, all at once.
They were travelling in the light bulb balloon at a near-impossible speed, but given everything that had happened to Mica so far this evening, he decided to stop questioning the impossible, if only for a moment. Just as Mica became worried that he might need to throw-up some of his dinner again, the bright, astral balloon came to a slow halt, in what Mica thought to be another nondescript part of space.

‘Oh no.’ The Scientist expressed with a degree of sadness. Her voice cracked in a way that Mica had only experienced when listening to his Dad talk about his mother. ‘It’s gone out, something’s not right.’
‘What? What’s gone out?’ Mica started to become frustrated that he was missing out on something important, as any child would.
‘Here.’ The Scientist gently took a hold of Mica’s arm and extended his forefinger into a pointing gesture. She then moved his arm to the left and pointed it outward, into a specific direction, ‘Look closely, squint a little if you have to.’
At first, Mica still couldn’t see anything other than the blackness of space and thousands of stars, light years in the distance. Then, he squinted, and he saw it. Around one-hundred metres from the point they were floating in space, was another lightbulb. This bulb was not attached to a basket, and looked to be entirely stationary. Mica focused his eyes some more and could just about make-out a giant chord (or cable) emanating from the top of the bulb, this chord (or cable, he really wasn’t sure) reached infinitely into the space above, as though the bulb itself dangled from the roof of the heavens. Most importantly though, the bulb was switched off.

‘Should it be dark like that?’ Mica asked, without shifting his gaze from the broken bulb.
‘No. No it should not. We need to take a closer look.’ The Scientist pulled on a few of the chords that hung from her own bulb, gently this time. In doing so, they softly glided forwards, towards the extinguished lightsource.
‘Is that another one of your balloons?’ Mica asked, a perfectly reasonable question given his experiences so far.
‘Not quite. I suppose my balloon is more like one of these. If we’re being accurate.’
‘So what is it then?’
The Scientist responded at the moment they found themselves within touching distance of the giant hanging bulb, ‘This Mica, is a star.’

Continue reading “(Novella) ‘From Starlight’ – Part 2”

(Novella) ‘From Starlight’ – Part 1

Mica had always been a quiet child. His Dad referred to him as his little Plato, because he was always deep in one thought or another, yet rarely voiced his internal processes. At school, he ate lunch alone in one of the study rooms, as a way to avoid the routine bullying from some of the more simple-minded students. The fact that he never said anything back to them only fuelled their anger. If he would only cry and cower like the other kids, he would surely escape with a small punch on the shoulder. But Mica would just sit there, silent and almost smiling, as he took the abuse. This, of course, riled up any prospective bully and often resulted in a bloody nose on Mica’s part.

Mica found that the more time he spent alone, the more books he could read. Mica loved reading, by age nine he had read over four-hundred novels and had moved on to reading textbooks designed for freshman highschool students. His accurate reading age has been widely debated by several educators, but the average often falls somewhere around the fourteen or fifteen mark. His Dad was a hard-working single parent, and because of this, Mica learned to become incredibly self-sufficient. He enjoyed cooking for himself because it meant more reading, albeit cookbooks, and the only thing that inhibited his ability to be a culinary master was his height. He discovered that constantly shifting a step-ladder around the kitchen effects some of the more time-sensitive aspects of meal preparation.

Some parents would’ve been worried about Mica’s lack of verbal communication skills. Mica’s Dad was either not at all concerned or simply didn’t have the time to be. Either way, he loved his little Plato. When he looked into his sons’ eyes, he could see a galaxy of thoughts, and he didn’t mind if Mica didn’t want to share them. Besides, a small part of him was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with him intellectually. One morning, when Mica had been eight, he had found him reading a chapter of a textbook on distillation, he then realised that he wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to help him with that piece of homework. Fortunately for his father, it wasn’t homework. Mica was reading up on the subject for fun. You’re perhaps starting to understand why he was a child who was frequently targeted by bullies.

You’d think that a boy like Mica would take home a report card that featured phrases such as “a pleasure to teach” or “an active learner”, or even “what a child genius, somebody call Mensa!” In fact, it was quite the opposite. Teachers didn’t enjoy having Mica in their class, as he always declined to vocalize his knowledge and always kept himself to himself. On most occasions he would be at the back of the class, reading about a subject entirely unrelated to the 5th-grade curriculum, much to the frustration of his educators.

One teacher, Mr Potts, felt as though Mica could greatly help in the education of his peers, if only he would raise his hand for a correct answer once in awhile. On a particularly balmy day in the summer term, Mr Potts refused to carry on with a lesson until Mica verbally answered the history question asked of him. Mr Potts was fully aware that Mica knew the year that the Boston Tea Party had taken place, but Mica refused to answer the question. Instead, he defiantly continued to read his copy of Les Miserables, which drove Mr Potts over the edge. If you ask Mr Potts today, he’ll blame the heat as to why he flipped his own desk over in anger. Both he and Mica knew the accurate reason.

His teachers were right, in a way. Mica should’ve been more vocal in his classes, he was a child wise beyond his years, who was frustrated by those around him. This frustration manifested itself in prolonged bouts of solitary isolation. Mica couldn’t understand why the other children in his class weren’t reading the books he was, but had he raised this question to them, or answered those that the teachers asked, maybe they would’ve all understood a little more about each other, and grown as people. Either that, or they would’ve all united against him, pulled his shirt over his head and taken his self-prepared packed lunch.

One evening, toward the end of the school summer holidays, Mica carried out his nightly routine of building a blanket fort, to read inside. He may have been well-developed mentally, but ultimately he was still a nine-year-old, and nine-year-olds love blanket forts. He typically built his “fortress of knowledge” at around nine thirty, at which time his Dad would enter and wish him a universe full of sweet dreams. Mica would then read for hours on end, by torchlight, until he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. This evening was no different, well, other than the Scientist landing in his backyard.

Continue reading “(Novella) ‘From Starlight’ – Part 1”

Short Story – “Last Post From The Bugle”

None of us thought that there’d be any real consequences to the cease and desist letters we’d received over the preceding months. After all, we were just a tiny, digital production from Portland. That’s Portland, Maine. Not Portland, Oregon. Had we been from Portland, Oregon, you better believe they would’ve closed in on us fast, long before we reached this sorry state of affairs we’ve found ourselves in. In this moment, in what could be our final moments, I still think that events escalated to this point due to the fact that we were allowed to fly under the radar for so long. One evening we were four kids in a basement, playing at journalism to an audience of twenty-thousand. The next, we had the armies of America at the door, ready to shut us up, and shut us down.

The Backwoods Bugle started out as a small project between my brother and I. We were twins. Well, we still are twins, although I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be much of anything. Growing up, Chris and I shared similar interests. It’s hard not to when your parents send you to the same after-school clubs, and often buy you the same birthday and christmas presents. Chris was always a lot smarter than me, in the traditional sense. We both had book-smarts, two skinny white kids from Maine were never going to have street-smarts, but Chris excelled at anything scientific or technological. Whereas you’d usually find me with a work of fiction, as opposed to a computer science textbook.

We both attended different local colleges, our mother had been sick for most of our lives, so we didn’t want to stray too far from the family home. Our father, on the other hand, has been non-existent for most of his life. Non-existent from our perspective at least. As kids we used to pretend our Dad was an astronaut, or an explorer. One morning, mother caught us having a make-believe adventure with our father, we were somewhere deep in the heart of the African jungle, and the couch was our travelling elephant guide; named Tim. She snapped us out our playtime daydream, became very upset, and sat us down for a serious talk about the realities of our father. She revealed to us that he was far more likely to be dead in a gutter, than searching for habitable planets across the stars. This conversation, this moment in my life, is one that I always return to in moments of doubt or crisis. Moments just like the one we’re inhabiting today.

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Short Story – “Santa Kramp”

I’ve decided that it’s worth writing down just how all of this came about. A major shift took place last year and it’s my belief that future generations will want to read about it for themselves. A hundred years from now they’ll probably be teaching the events of 2016 in schools. First though, as official librarian for our organisation, I think it’s important that I discuss a little about our history, in order to truly explain exactly what happened this past season.

The role of Santa is the single most important position at the North Pole. Sure, you have the head-elves, the wise-elves, the production managers, the workshop managers and the floor managers, but Santa is absolutely the most important. Without the big guy holding us all together, our production tends to stall, or fall apart completely. Due to the importance of this role, it has never been an elected position in the same way that the roles of head-elves are decided. We felt very early on that this would lead to a corrupt system, making the focus of each new season campaigning, instead of christmas.

For this reason, the role of Santa has always been passed down through generations. The way in which we handle everything is very much like a traditional monarchy. The same family (the Clauses) held the position of Santa for over six-hundred years, and everyone at the North Pole has been happy with their work, for the most part. You see, the position of Santa is important, but it’s also purely ceremonial. The work that he carries out on the evening of the 24th of December each year, uses copious amounts of magic. So really, any person in a red suit and half a brain could complete the duties required of the role. Trust me, most of the hard work and difficult decisions are carried out by the elves here at the North Pole.

This isn’t to say we don’t respect Santa, because we do. It’s just that these days, the role still exists because of all the branding that’s firmly in place with humanity. Market research shows that if a tiny elf in a red jacket came shuffling down the chimney on Christmas Eve, children would be both confused and disappointed. We actually trialled this once, in the Indonesian market, where brand perception and recognition fell by 70% that year. Santa isn’t going anywhere, that role will continue to exist for as long as our operation does. However, last year, after a series of unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, the family filling the position would need to change.

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