RIDDLE ME REE

I have always hated riddles.

The English have a penchant for them apparently. It comes from the Saxons’ idea of how to beat boredom and passed for humour amongst the type of people who invaded other peoples’ lands on the pretext of ‘helping’ them.

You may have heard of the thing, though they appear to be less popular now than they were supposed to be when I was at school. They go – Question: What has six legs but no brain, three heads but cannot be driven by a hammer and is scared of a woman’s tongue? Answer: three drunken Saxons.

Oh! How we laughed.

I scratched my head and wondered what the hell they were on about, but apparently it was risqué and clever and amusing all in one, which made the English the cleverest race on God’s Earth. So they said.

But I knew a Gaelic proverb which, translated into the cleverest language on earth, goes: ‘Three things come without asking: fear, love and jealousy.’

That tells it from the shoulder without the hiding behind the addled humour of the riddle. That sums a man’s soul and warns you of the pitfalls of life, though no warning can prepare you for that triumvirate when they come.

I was delivered of them each in turn and had I thought of it, would have paid the price of the two for the chance of the one.

I looked at the lock of hair and wondered if there was a riddle in her going. I could only feel the pain. The fear of life without her and the jealousy of the man she went to. There may be life after loss but many is the day I have wished there weren’t.

The riddle was in the living.

CROSSING

[I decided to clear out some old hard copy content this lunch time. I know you shouldn’t, there will be things you may want to use at a later date, alter, rework, inspire yourself with, leave to posterity(?really!). But there are limits and this actually proves the point of not throwing things away (I think!). In the copies of copies of copies of stuff I have multiple electronic versions of, there was this short piece. I can’t remember exactly what it was. It may have been an exercise or a piece I sent or intended to send somewhere when ultra short fiction became a big thing. Whatever it was, it has all dialogue, (one short narrative sentence) and no he said/she saids etc. I think the idea was to differentiate the characters by verbal style alone. Not sur it worked but here it is:

‘It looks like you’re in trouble there. Can I help?’

‘Er, no thanks, I’ll be fine.’

‘Are you sure? Because I don’t want to worry you but there’s a train due in a minute.’

‘A train? Fu…! Sorry. I didn’t think this line was used. Have you got a mobile? Can you ring someone?’

‘I don’t think there’s time. We need to get you off the crossing now. If we both push we should be able to move it’

‘Can’t.  I dropped the keys into the engine compartment and they must have hit the button and locked the doors.’

‘Brakes on?’

‘Yes’

‘Can you get the keys?’

‘They’re too far down for me.’

‘Let me try, my hands are smaller.’

‘You can’t. I’ve got my finger stuck down by the wash bottle.’

‘Have you got any spare keys? I tape one under the rear wheel arch.’

‘No. What’s that noise?’

‘Hell! It’s the train.’

‘Oh God what am I going to do? Get me out of here!’

‘Okay, I’m going to pull. It will hurt.’

‘No! Oh, yes go on then. Stop! Stop, you’re tearing my skin off.’

‘It’s jammed tight. Wait there.’

‘Don’t leave me!’

‘Just getting something. It’s okay I’m a doctor. Right. Look down there. Can you see the train?’

‘Where? Hang on what are you doing? No don’t…! Aaaargh! Oh my God! What have you done! Look at the blood. Fucking hell you maniac!’

‘Move. Away from the car. No, you idiot, over here. Get down!’

The freight train smashed into the car sending debris flying down the line.

‘Oh my God! What happened to my car?!’

‘It’s just a car. Press that cloth on the stump while I see if the driver’s okay. This skirt is ruined.’

TL;DR?

Can people read more than 280 characters?

I was reading an article on the internet this morning:

https://sunilsuri.substack.com/p/gamingforgood

which I had been referred to by a gaming acquaintance. It is a fascinating article (to me at any rate) about using games for purposes other than straightforward entertainment. The obvious additional purposes include education – both in getting children to practice maths, engage with the concept of probability, social interaction and action/outcome ideas.

But there are bigger aims in some games, for example emergency response, planning, disease control, social planning etc. Whilst this is all good stuff, it may not be related even remotely to writing (although writing the scenarios, putting the results of gaming actions into stylised reporting/ narratives surely require authorial skills?). Something did leap out at me however which triggered a little thought regarding current writing practices and received wisdom about length of articles, stories, novels etc.

This is the quote which swapped tracks for me from a games to writing.

‘Consider news consumption. The Reuters Institute found that younger generations “do not want to work hard for their news.” In practice, news is often consumed on smartphones in small amounts to fit around other activities. Such consumption habits do not necessarily lend themselves to deeper engagement with the issues of the day.’

Well yeah. Difficult to get the nuances of anything in 140 characters (now 280, but 140 has a certain ring to it as the limit of human attention span in a digital world). Now most social media content is longer than that, but not by much.

Ah the horror of the modern world! Kids can’t concentrate. Millennials are so needy and have no depth! We’re all doomed.

Well I remember the heady days of proper print journalism and news that contained news on Television and radio.

And hardly anybody bought broadsheets, watched extended news programmes or listened to current affairs on the BBC Home Service.

There are more opportunities to read, hear and see extended, in depth, insightful news reports on thousands of items which would never have made it into the old ‘quality newspapers’ never mind red top tabloids or scandal sheets.

Attention span may have shortened but I remember many people consuming their news from ‘newspapers’ which had pages of hardly any content and masses of filler and still believing made up lies about European legislation which would ban bendy bananas and the British Banger.

The internet and social media may have made such gibberish slightly more available and a few more people than before may not have realised that reality checks need to be applied to anything, wherever you read, hear or see it. That doesn’t mean that any fewer people than before deeply engage with the issues of the day. I suspect there may be slightly more engagement in fact. Young people weren’t that bothered when I was a child/young adult. All those pictures and film clips of protestors on marches and rallies show the active minority, not the majority who were sat at home, or playing sport or working for their exams.

We shouldn’t get suckered in by fuzzy memories of halcyon days when everything was better. Goodness knows I have my doubts about the uses and abuses of digital technology but let’s not overstate them or use the idea as yet another stick to beat younger generations.

As for writing and reading, there seems to be a lot of appetite for reading about. Just because traditional media publishers haven’t always been up to speed on response doesn’t seem a good reason to bemoan the state of modern readers, or writers. Nor is it necessarily a reason to insist on brevity to point of meaninglessness. Yes, micro-fiction is a demanding and entertaining art form when done well, but its brevity is no more likely to get readers on the strength of its size alone than any other length of work. The good thing about reading is you can stop and start at will. Not many of us sit down and read a great slab of a book in one sitting no matter how good or engaging it is. I am however quite capable of remembering where I left off and resuming. I am sure ‘young’ people today are quite as capable of that feat if they wish as anyone else.

Your Call Is Very Important To Us

All Allinson needed to do was speak to someone. He might as well have wanted to be the Queen.

There was a telephone number he had kept from an earlier time.

He’d rung it on his legacy landline. The only reason he’d still got it was because he’d ignored the promises, offers and threats to change to a mobile. Same as he’d ignored all the increasingly aggressive communications about having his heating and lighting and kitchen appliances connected to the Net. They had tried to make him feel as if he were personally responsible for killing the planet. Each appliance he refused to connect was supposedly individually, directly, responsible for overheating a Polar Bear or choking a Dolphin. The role of the power companies, the motor manufacturers, Chinese coal fired industry, everyone else on the planet was apparently irrelevant. His gas fired central heating, installed under the slogans of efficiency, cleanliness and sustainability was now going to be cut off. No he didn’t have choice.

Everything was connected now, didn’t he know.

Everything until you wanted to ask a question, get an answer, tell someone something different.

He’d rung the number. It had redirected him. It was no longer staffed. An automated voice, possibly a human recording but most probably these days a computer voice simulation told him to go to a website or text a number or email but most answers could be found on one of several social media platforms which now supplied information which satisfied over ninety per cent of client enquiries. It offered to repeat the contact details and then terminated the call.

Allinson went for a walk into town. Or where the town had been. The place he had grown up thinking was the centre of the town, the place where you could get all the requirements of life; food, drink clothes, shoes, access to the offices of those supplying amenities like water, power, telephone, had been gutted like a fish. No worse than a fish. There the spine and ribs remained. Here there was nothing. There were some takeaway food shops, some betting shops, a couple of charity shops recycling things, an opticians and some hairstylists. The remaining food shops were supermarkets on the outer ring road. The council offices where you could pay your rates in the old days, your council tax now, were closed to the public. There was a website and a mobile app to pay. A building that used to be a labour exchange, then a Job Centre and now a place where terminals scrolled online jobs, lowered over the end of the street. Inside euphemistically named jobs coaches threatened to cut your benefits if you didn’t attend the indoctrinations to indentured non jobs and enslaving zero hour contract treadmills

Allinson considered firebombing something but you couldn’t get the petrol and the 24/7 total coverage face recognition cctv guaranteed capture, probably before the crime was committed.

In shops he’d been able to have conversations. To talk to people.

Now the monitoring of staff performance by chips, key loggers and video meant staff were part of the machine and if they wanted to outcompete their automated replacements for a few more paydays, they threw the purchases at you and didn’t have time to say even please and thank you. Most of the checkouts were automated anyway and only security guards patrolled the line of pay desks. He’d tried using cash once to exercise his legal right to pay using coin of the realm, only to be told that didn’t exist any more and besides the company’s commercial considerations  rated higher than his poxy rights. He’d complained until they had thrown him out and then complained some more until the police came and moved him on for causing a disturbance. He’d tried to complain about that, but the town ‘hub’ computers wouldn’t let him download the complaint form or complete the online version as it was not within the purview of the authorities IT remit. He’d tried complaining about that but…

And now he wanted to warn them of something.

He wanted to speak to someone about something the FAQs and circular non-contact contact links hadn’t bargained for.

The police station was closed to the public.

The contact numbers didn’t contact anyone.

Emergency  numbers only turned out responses for immediate threats or occurrences of violence. Longer term or lesser threats were logged on another system but it would be better if you could fill in an online form.

Allinson went back home.

The alien was still there.

The translation machine hummed and it said;

‘Any luck?’

Allinson shook his head.

‘No.’

‘They won’t negotiate?’

‘I don’t know I can’t get through to anyone.’

‘Same as us then?’

‘Afraid so.’

‘We shall have to mark this species as too primitive and self absorbed to be preserved you know?’

‘You said.’

‘We’ll be off then.’

‘Okay.’

‘Would you like to come with us? You have been most helpful, within the limits of your system.’

Allinson thought about it a moment.

‘Can I take my dog, Lexxy?’

The alien paused for a moment, spoke into a small cube, then listened to a metallic crackling.

It switched the translator on again.

‘I’ll need authorisation, but there’s no-one staffing the desk at the moment. Can you fill in an online form to request the transfer?’

Allinson stared.

‘I think I’ll stay where I am thanks.’

VOICE

With a snarl Ramirez cut the last line and the boat smacked into the waves. It was only by a miracle that Jarvis and I were not thrown into the heaving green waters. Even Ramirez’s two companions had to hold on for dear life.

‘Take the oars damn you!’ he cursed, ‘Or we’ll be beam on and the next roller will have us over.’

Miller and Nairut scrambled for the oars as we rocked and plunged…

‘It’ll never sell you know.’

They got the blades into the rowlocks and began to…

‘Who said that?’

‘Nobody said anything, you were in descriptive mode.’

‘That’s right I was…no. You, who are you?’

Nothing.

They got the blades [is that the right word? Can’t use “oars” again, can I? Oh I don’t know, if it’s the right word, use it twice and use it three times to show them you meant it. I think Will Self said that.]

‘He says a lot of things.’

‘I know he’s good isn’t he?’

‘If you like that sort of thing. But that’s what I mean, a ripping yarn at sea isn’t what people buy now is it? It’s not what he writes.

They got the oars into the rowlocks and began to heave on them, turning the bow of the boat into the swell.

‘Help them, if you want to live!’

Jarvis and I let go our death grip on the hull and scrambled

[did I say scrambled earlier? Bugger yes. Think of another word.]

What would Will Self do?

‘Sod Will Self. There’s no point being an iconoclast if you use that iconoclasm to make new, iconoclastic rules a straitjacket is there?’

Jarvis and I let go our death grip [is that a cliche? It is isn’t it? Change it? Maybe later.] on the hull and made a grab for the other two oars [told you to say it three times} and…

Sticking with the iconoclasts new clothes then are we?’

‘Look, who said that?’

‘No-one, it’s not a quote.’

‘I KNOW! Who the hell is that voice?’

Nothing.

…and began heaving on them to save all our lives, murderers, thieves and honest men alike, all in the same boat.

‘That’s a cliche.’

‘It’s a knowing nod in a post modern acknowledgement to a past era of literary form.’

‘Pastiche is it then?

‘More an hommage.’

‘You say that when you’re taking the mickey.’

‘Do I?’

‘You know you do. Are you taking short cuts?

‘I’m establishing a mood, an atmosphere, using phrases and style familiar to readers of a certain genre of book to ground it in certain well travelled lines of expectation…’

‘And then you’re going to subvert them?

‘Possibly. You have a problem with that?’

‘Another cliche.’

‘Will you stop that!?’

Our small vessel nosed bow first into the waves now and Ramirez grinned, the knife still clutched in his hand. ‘We’ll make sailors of you yet boys!’ he laughed. [laughed? Should it be something less friendly? Such as?]

‘How about “cackled”?

‘And that’s not a cliche?’

‘Well I thought if you’ve given up I’d embrace the zeitgeist.

‘Given up?’

‘Well is this for real?

‘I don’t know. Are you?’

‘You tell me mate. You’re the one writing me.

GAMES

‘So! Dom. Dommy Dom Dom, the old Domster.’

‘What?’

‘Well, my old Dommeister in Chief, I was just wondering…’

‘Get on with it I’m busy.’

The head of the country looked up from his board game and surveyed the dithering Nominal Prime Minister.

‘Well. The er, thing is, not to er put too fine a point on it, the, if you will, crux, yes I think crux is the mot juste, is; do you think I should say something?’

Dom moved a piece on the board and paused, apparently lost in thought.

‘Well?’ The NPM prompted. ‘Tempus fugit and all that, and I think the populus Britannus may need a word from their Government…’ he hurried to qualify ‘…that is; me.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, panic aboard the ship of state, rats deserting the sinking, er, hand on the tiller, steady as she goes, into the eye of the storm, trim the sails and all that thing.’

Another piece completed the encirclement of yet another doomed enemy stronghold on the game board.

‘Yes. Good idea. Say something about masks. Go and get a briefing from Health.’

‘Yowser! Right to the point, good thinking , you are de man Dom! Health. Mask. Good film. Loved old Carey in that. Why can’t we have Archbishes like that now? Eh!?’

‘That was Jim Carrey, not George Carey. Now, go.’

‘Okay Dommy babes. One hot shot policy statement from Health, no wait, from me, on The Mask coming up.’

The NPM moved to the door.

‘Wait!’ came the imperious command.

‘What?’

‘Not Health, I haven’t purged them yet. Try Cabinet Office or Home Office. They haven’t got too many independent thinkers left there.’

‘Do the Home Office know a lot about The Mask then Dom Dom?’

‘Masks. No. Why should they?’

‘Well, if I’m going to make a speech about them, a bit of policy wonk babble can’t hurt can it? Can it?’

‘Just get a form of words telling everyone to wear them all the time.’

‘What even in, you know bed, rumpy pumpy time and all that?’

‘Always.’

‘Ooh er. I suppose the mem sahib might like that.’ He turned to go. ‘Hang on a minute Dom. Didn’t I make several statements saying there was no evidence they worked and the natural right of all free born Englishmen was to go to the pub and puke up over everyone? We had a party the weekend it happened didn’t we?’

‘Yes. So?’

‘Well, dash it! Aren’t I going to look a complete arse if I just turn round and say the opposite now.’

‘It will look natural. You’ll show you aren’t afraid to change your mind on a whim. That you may have been to Eton, Oxford and the Bullingdon Club dinners but you can be as short sighted, capricious and petty as any working class oik, but with rumpled charm.’

‘Good oh! Ad astra per leporem!’

Before he could go through the door, Dom threw some dice and removed the last opposing piece from the board in front of him. He turned to the NPM hovering in the doorway.

‘And Prime Minister, use more Latin. Everyone likes that.’

MIDDLE EARTH 70 YEARS ON

‘Excuse me sir. Can I have a word about finalising the annual Harmonious Co-Existence Dinner invitations?’

The Minister’s face fell at the words.

‘I suppose so. Come in Emrik, have a seat.’

‘Thank you Minister. Here’s the provisional list of attendees suggested by the various Secretaries and Ambassadors. Not too long this year as the Eastern bloc have that unfortunate disease to cope with and won’t be travelling.’

‘Hoh! No bat’s wing on the menu then hey! Good. Can’t stand the stuff’.’

‘I believe bat eating might be part of the problem sir.’

The Minister was too busy scanning the list to catch his assistant’s attempt at humour.

‘Okay. Looks okay I guess.’ He looked up at Emrik, ‘I suppose we have to invite the Elves?’

‘Well it is rather the point isn’t it Sir? Harmony with those we find…’ he struggled for an acceptable word or phrase, ‘challenging, in a world setting?’

Minister Juguch snorted.

‘Challenging! Nobody likes them that’s the problem with them. Arrogant po faced sanctimonious goody two shoes. Can’t abide them. Bloody Elves.’

Emrik sighed a little. Just a small sigh but the Minister had good hearing and remarkable awareness of mood for an Orc.

‘What? Am I being insensitive? Racially stereotyping?’ he glared at Emrik who swallowed hard. Times were different he knew, but enraged Orc Ministers had appearances to keep up and while no-one had been disembowelled for several decades, this administration was elected on a return to Traditional Orcish Values ticket, and you never knew what may feel expedient to an embattled Minister.

Emrik brought his thumb and forefinger close together and with a grimace, nodded slightly. ‘Just a tad Minister.’ He said.

Juguch glared at the list again. Is this the seating order?

Emrik nodded.

‘I’m not spending all night having him whining about deforestation and how he can’t cultivate the right sort of moss on north facing bark because of global warming. Move Elendrip down two places, swap him with the Goblin.’

Emrik shuffled his list and sucked his not inconsiderably sized teeth. ‘That puts him next to Bingli, the Dwarf King’s representative. I mean I know it’s a Harmony Dinner, but that’s asking for trouble. And it’s Elendril not …drip Sir.’

‘Well put him somewhere else, on a table on his own in an antechamber for preference.’

‘He’s a Prince of the Blood, if he isn’t on the main table he’ll start a war. Not a good message for the efficacy of Orc based diplomacy is it Sir?’

‘S’pose not.’ mumbled Juguch. ‘How about the Tree things, what do you call ’em, Ants, they get on with them don’t they?’

‘Ents, Sir. But they aren’t coming this year.’

‘Oh, not this virus thingy from out east?’

‘No, Sir. The problem is they’re about forty feet high and don’t really say a lot. So rather than have the roof raised again we asked if they’d mind using social media to attend in a virtual capacity.’

‘And they were okay with that?’

‘Oh yes, they don’t really like being away from their woods anyway so they were very positive. Also I think they have fallen out with the Elves a bit. Some sort of contention about who cares more for the green spaces on the planet.’

‘Oh. I’d forgotten about the Elves.’ Juguch scanned the paper some more, his hand involuntarily beginning to crumple it into a ball.

‘How about I move the human representative next to you, put Elendril next to him and swap the Dwarf with the Goblin?’

The Minister looked at Emrik and the ministerial aide felt a cold sweat breaking out all over.

‘A human? A miserable weak kneed, cowardly, no special powers, abilities or significance except out breeding everyone else on the planet, whining human?’

‘Well, yes. It’s that or…’

‘Sod it, put Elendrip next to me, then the Goblin, then the Dwarf. Even an Elf’s better than a night listening to a human drone on. Stick them next to the Trolls at the end, by the Ent screen. That should keep them quiet.’

The aide rose.

‘Oh, but Emrik, get me a briefing note on moss types. I’ll have to pretend to have something in common with the boring tree hugger.’

‘Yes Minister.’

 

I have a horrible feeling this slides into whimsy. I hate whimsy. Apologies, but the idea just tickled me. It won’t happen again. Probably.

STOPPING

‘All the way up the valley was water.’

I grunted. I had told him that. Part of being a Dad is listening to your own stories, hearing your own thoughts, recognising you, being played back at you. It starts off being cute. A five year old telling someone about how electricity can’t leak out of a plug socket because the electrons don’t flow unless there is a circuit, makes everyone smile.

It takes commitment to listen to the same story for the twentieth time without the smile becoming a little frozen. Imagine that experience repeated for several hundred stories, aphorisms, ideas, thoughts, feelings, nuggets and gems of ‘wisdom’ and you begin, perhaps, to see why I grunted.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested. I was. I had been. I suppose I wanted him to tell me things I didn’t know. I loved finding out new things and, yes, repeating them with little or no embellishment to anyone who would listen. When I was young of course, that meant my mother and father most of the time. Yes, you presume correctly; the people usually who had told me the thing in the first place. Now that gave me an insight into the need for tolerance. I’d driven people mad too, so I should probably suck it up now.

‘Ships used to come all the way up here, even before there was a castle.’ He said.

I smiled as we walked across the flood plain. ‘How deep do you think it was then?’

We walked on to the bridge and he stopped half way over, looking upstream, the narrow, murky water below barely glimpsed through the grasses and reeds. Something moved through the undergrowth, the sound drawing our attention from the view up the valley.

‘Something down there.’ I said

‘Maybe a bird.’

‘Possibly. Too much noise for a water vole.’ That made me think of a new tack. ‘I wonder if they get mink here?’

‘Probably a rat.’ he said dismissively.

That was unexpected. It was a much more likely explanation than my flights of fancy.

‘What’s a mink?’ he asked.

So I told him as we walked across the bridge and through the gate.

He nodded.’ Can we go up the hill? I want to take some photos of the valley.’

‘Sure, it’s a lovely evening for it.’

‘It’s a lovely valley. When I came here with Huw in the floods, it was about five feet deep on the flood plain I think.’

He hadn’t let it go of course. He had his thoughts on the valley and the floods and he was going to tell me them regardless of distractions from mink, rats, voles or birds. To be fair he was answering my question. We walked up the side of the valley for a better vantage point.

‘That’s a storage warehouse at the base.’

A brick building, warm red brown in the evening sun, peeped from among the trees on a distant hillside.

‘I don’t think they’d have got ships that far.’ Small joke.

‘The tunnelling drained the aquifer before they built that.’

‘Right.’

‘The water that sustained the lake here drained away.’

‘I think that might be the ammunition factory rather than a storage facility.’

He took another picture.

‘I’m done. We can go back now.’ he said waving his hand towards the bridge.

Memes. Dawkins characterisation of viral transmission of ideas, phrases, gestures. That was the really unsettling thing about fatherhood. Seeing yourself part replicated, however imperfectly.

‘I’m done. We can go back now.’ My father reverberated, words and gesture across the decades. The building blocks of syntax, concept and movement flashed before me. Him to me, me to the grandson he never met but whom he shaped by onward transmission of more than genetics. How far back did it go? A shudder ran through me.

‘You okay Dad?’

‘Yes thanks.’

We turned and walked back down the way we had come, and there was a repeated scream form the trees ahead.

‘What’s that?’

I scanned the tree line but couldn’t see anything.

‘There it is!’

His young eyes outranging mine easily.

‘What is it Dad?’

I stared as he pointed me in right direction.

A large white blob sat near the top of a tree.

‘It’s a bird of prey. Looks too bright to be a buzzard but it’s big.’

He took a photo and as my brain caught up with what I as seeing it flew gracefully across the valley to another stand of trees, silently, majestically with two powerful beats of its wings.

‘What is it?’

‘Barn owl’

‘In the day?’

‘It’s late and they do hunt in daylight sometimes.’

‘Cool.’

I thought about telling him of the reputation owls have, especially in Wales, as birds of evil portent. Of Blodeuwedd in the Mabinogion and her fate. But I stopped. Some memes don’t need passing on. Some prejudices however ancient and unintentional need an antiviral.

‘It was wasn’t it? Let’s go home and show Mum.’

‘Really cool flight, so quiet and big.’

‘Yes.’

  1. ‘Those ships must have been shallow to get up here.’

NIGHT TERRORS

It was light outside. Edward could see the faint crepuscular glow creeping up over the top of the curtain and down, under the pelmet. He blinked into waking, pushing aside the visions of dreams that were not running into the corners of his mind to hide as quickly as he could have wished, in either a waking or sleeping state. Things scurried, claws scraped, and corners of salivating, sore scabbed lips, drooled reluctantly, tardily away into his unconscious with an unspoken promise of return.

It was hot under the duvet but Ed shuddered underneath it as the creeping things let the last neural stones fall on top of their daytime slumber. He let his arm slide across the sheet. Nothing. He was alone. He knew he was but he never failed to check. A routine lest his other routines failed him.

There was the tall ominous figure in the doorway, but it was, as it had always been so far thank God, his dressing gown hanging on the back of the door. Cowled, visually menacing in the gloom of early morning, but impotent against anything more sinister than a cold front from the Atlantic.

His brain completing the transition from the world of dreams to what passed for reality in these trouble times, Ed slid a foot out from under the duvet to discover the ambient temperature of the room. Indeterminate he decided. He let his consciousness sink back into himself, retreating from engagement with the environment to determine his status. He was sure he was alive but there was a need for reassurance, for the responsibility of not assuming, for completing the battery of checks he had built up by observation and logic.

He was sure the movement he felt in his chest the throb in his neck below the ear was a pulse. But there was a suggestion the victim was not always sufficiently self aware to realise the changed state. How few of us are anyway he thought, living or dead? He felt for a pulse in his wrist. A surer test than imagining chest and head feelings.

He scrabbled for a moment, unable to feel anything among the tendons and bones. Had it happened? When had he been exposed? How was he so clear headed? Evidence available suggested it was unlikely such clear thoughts swam through the brains of those affected. And then; there it was, a strong if no longer steady pulse, thanks to the panic of doubt that surged through him.

He reached out for a drink from the water by his bedside. There was a definite coldness to the air he decided. But he would do the decent thing and put the pulse oximeter on his finger. The body and brain could fool themselves, but the machinery would tell him unequivocally if were still really alive or had unknowingly slipped during the night into the growing statistics of those who had succumbed.

The plastic peg snicked closed on his index finger and he pressed the on switch.

Now he’d know for sure.

He stared, waiting for the red led display to register his existence.

 

Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.co/a5/44d540d1″>Dani Rubio :)</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re7/62a3f849″>Visual hunt</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”&gt; CC BY-NC-ND</a>

CLOSURE

A silver disc was rising in the darkening sky above the Cotswolds. I helped her over the stile, my hands on her waist. She let herself fall into me and she kissed me full on the lips. We always kissed here. She stepped back, smiled, but I knew this was probably the last time we would do this. In a month the road diggers would bulldoze where we stood and as one link opened another connection would close. We crossed the field. Ridge and furrow. Up and down. The moon was full, but every moon wanes. I wiped a tear.

 

This very short bit of Flash Fiction was an entry into the National Association Of Writers Groups 100×100 competition which ended 31 May 2020. It didn’t win.

The winning entry can be seen here.

Winner NAWG 100×100 Competition

Congratulations to them for a splendid effort. 

 

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