Corpus

shadow-people-hypothetic-realist

In murky backstreets, damp, flickering gaslight barely penetrates the fog.  A little realm is mapped out.  It’s a chilly realm built for shadows, for disembodied lives that are barely there.  They inherit that place with ease.  No one else cares to make any claim on it and nothing’s out of bounds, so long as it stays unseen.

It’s a place of gloomy opportunities and the shadows carve out a niche, as best they can.  Massed in close quarters, they come to terms with their place in the world and make sense of all the confusing treasures it offers up and snatches back.

Liz belongs there, among the rest of daylight’s immigrants; so she, too, chases each of those treasures, in turn.  A prettier shadow than some of the others, she gets the chance to whore that prettiness around as she patrols the borders, walking along the fringes of the flickering light.

“Wherever you see any glow it casts a deeper shadow.”  The thought flashes through Liz’s mind, to no purpose.

True, there’s always been a hint of brightness inside her.  Or so her mother said when she was little.  Then the young men said so, when she grew.  It means she stands out, in her fashion.  It means she doesn’t mind so much the resigned feelings that swamp the streets.

Without flinching, she haggles with rough customers.  Flinches aren’t attractive.  Flinches don’t pay the bills.  So, she says it’s an honour to be partnered with other embodiments of the darkness.  Saying it so many times, Liz can scarcely remember – so many memories, all somehow the same; even if each shadow acts differently.

It’s possible to like a few, disregard most, or be repulsed.  Others are best avoided.

Morality is too flexible to be avoided, even in places so densely filled with darkness and the urge to stay hid.  Inside these seedy alleys, morality means only this: that introducing shining objects is an unacceptable risk.  It’s a blinding-bright threat.  No one has that right.  Still, there’s always a shadow that’s grimmer than the others, who takes a shine to blood and tears; who carries bright scalpels with him and a routine of butchering.

Fleeting women are met in passing.  A collision of atoms happens.

The scalpel flashes through Liz’s belly, to no purpose.  She opens up like wet, sloshing curtains.  And where her blood spatters out onto the filthy cobblestones, it turns as bright and silvery as money.  It sparkles for generations of true crime authors, who whore her remains around the bestseller lists.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Tale Weaver’s Prompt#33 “Shadow People” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up are about shadows and share the atmosphere of the picture at the top of this post by Hypothetic Realist@Deviant Art.

Pulse 17

januz-miralles

Sitting tight in this chamber, I consider my role.  It’s inevitable.  No blame’s attached; not to you for inviting me here, under duress; not to me for the consummation.

Awkward silence; I hear your pulse go – 15, 16 times.  I hear the click, click of emptiness; another moment passing by, adding its weight to the other hollow moments.

I sense the tang of perspiration, tang of stale relief.  I sense eternities of impatience.

Next round – I count your pulse: 15, 16… at 17, combustion.  Thoughts blossom up the wall.

I’m glad we kept our appointment, glad we shared it all.  I’m sorry about the mess of Russian roulette.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Photo Challenge #34 “Wrap” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the picture by Januz Miralles at the top of this post.

Trust and Other Balancing Acts

matilda-emgc3a5rd-endless-walk-33

Roped together, precariously, and using dainty umbrellas as their only means of balancing on the tightrope that supported them, they made an unlikely team.  Lithe and unhealthily slender, like a tourist passing through from the spirit world, a red-headed girl led the way.  The black party dress she wore was her “disguise,” she said, and it fluttered wildly in the wind that whipped across the roofs.  Close behind her traipsed a crow.

“This is not a promising scenario for a jewellery heist, not at all,” complained the crow, with a forlorn little caw that was hardly heard above the wailing wind.  Still, he resolutely followed after his determined mistress, placing his talons carefully around the tightrope they ascended.  He worried about her motives, but his loyalty was unquestionable.  Then, staring down at the speck of a street far below them, the crow worried about his mistress’ fragile bones and how quickly they’d snap into tiny bony trinkets if a stronger gust of wind carried her off.  Very foolish, the crow pondered, in silence; never evolving wings like that.  What on earth was your gene pool thinking of all this time?

His mistress, of course, failed to notice his concern.  Set, as she was, on forging ahead along that slender bit of rope that twanged a little at each step, her attention remained fixed on the promised prize, on the riches that lay in wait.  And so she only heard the crow’s complaint.  “What have I told you about this aura of negativity you carry around with you constantly?  It’ll drag you down in the end, it really will.  And I don’t want that, especially now, when we’re roped together like this.  Do try to brighten up a bit,” she tried to flash a little smile over her shoulder, to bolster some good cheer in him.  But, nearly losing her footing on the swaying tightrope, her attention switched back to righting herself and she merely shot back a disgruntled sneer in the crow’s direction.

The crow frowned at his mistress’ accidental sneer.  “I’m a crow,” he sighed, “I don’t do ‘bright’; it would look foolish on me.  You ought to have formed an alliance with a budgerigar if you wanted bright.”

“But budgerigar’s aren’t very bright… I mean, they’re not very clever.  Crows, meanwhile, are outrageously clever.”  At this, the crow gave a little nod and ruffled his gloomy plumes.

“Tis an astute observation and yet it hardly constitutes a plan.”

“There is a plan,” his mistress nodded.  “Most definitely.”

“Care to share?” the crow deadpanned.

“Take jewels.  Flee.  I’ve always wanted to flee, you see.”

“I do see.  Although… the authorities might not want to let you flee too far, only into a cell of their choosing.”

“I’ve thought of that.”

“Oh good.”

“If the plan goes unaccountably wrong and I’m caught during tonight’s little spree then I’ll face a lie detector test.  And what happens then?  I can’t pretend I didn’t commit the robbery because, as you see, I did.  Or rather I will.  So, that’s not an option.”

“It might perhaps still be an option never to steal the jewels?  Have we considered that yet?”

“No, that’s not an option either.  I deserve those jewels.  Those jewels deserve me.  End of argument.”

“Very well, I’ve no wish to argue.  And I feel sure you’re deserving of many jewels.  I like you.  You’re my favourite mistress.  And my favourite jewel thief, too.”

“Why, thank you!”

“It’s my pleasure.  But…”

“But?”  The girl paused on the tightrope and turned around, with wobbling care, to confront any objections face-to-face.

“But that still doesn’t explain my role here, tightrope walking my way onto the ‘Most Wanted’ list, as an accessory before the fact.”

“Well, once they strap me into that lie detector of theirs, I’ll have no choice but to confess to my crimes.  But I won’t stop there.  No, I’ll go on to admit, in great detail, that my accomplice was you, a very bright, though not bright, little crow.  No doubt they’ll decide I’m not fit to stand trial after hearing that.  And it’s just so much easier to escape from some cosy asylum, in a pleasant countryside setting, than it is from any gaol.  Trust me, I know.”

The crow gazed into his mistress’ sparkling eyes and nodded his gloomy head.  Then, turning their faces into the howling wind once more, they inched further along the tightrope towards all sorts of treasures.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Photo Challenge #33 “Endless Walk” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the picture by Matilda Emgård at the top of this post.

Little Luxuries

 

Little luxuries

From damp trees in autumn –

These medieval breaths

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This poem was written for Heeding Haiku With HA: The Art of Breathing, in which we were invited to feel ourselves breathing and share the experience in the form of a haiku or a tanka. Meanwhile, to accompany the poem, here’s a curious video of Kate Bush wrapped in cling-film…

S/L/O/P/E

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In 2027 the first unexplained deaths were recorded.  Nothing like it had been seen before.  There was no overt sign of any struggle in the vicinity of the body, but a number of factors indicated homicide – the victims were in good health, their living standards were high, and the symptoms were consistent in each case, i.e. most strikingly, the victims’ eyes were turned entirely green in each case, as though grisly balls of lichen were staring out of their heads.  Tests were conducted for new breeds of toxins, germs and/or chemical agents.  The tests proved inconclusive.

In 2028 a series of show trials saw the first murder charges brought against the most plausible suspects – terrorist groups in most instances, with a smattering of religious cults making up the numbers here and there around the globe, according to local prejudice.  The suspects were convicted, en masse, regardless of gaping holes in the evidence that might have seen each case summarily dismissed.  That couldn’t happen.  It was inconceivable.  The victims were too high-profile for acquittal to be an option, they were leading citizens of the world’s leading nations.  No, that needs rephrasing: they were wealthy citizens of wealthy nations.  No, that needs rephrasing: it wasn’t simply that they were wealthy; the first victims were the wealthiest men and women bestriding the planet at the time.

Throughout this period the panic and condemnation provided a feast for the media and for headline writers everywhere: “Into the Gates of Hell”; “Poisoned Apple Corp.s”; “God, Please Save the Queen!”; “Don’t be Evil? Tell that to these Murdering Scum.”

The fatalities were evidently linked, by modus operandi and by the financial status of the victims, but beyond that commentators struggled to see any parallels between the crimes.  Was this a serial killing spree the like of which the world had never seen?  Who had instigated it and why?  How were the killers, so disparate in terms of ideology and geography, organised?  Meanwhile the authorities pointed to the swelling number of convictions, to the life sentences that were handed down for the crimes, to the electrocutions and hangings and beheadings, and made assurances that the situation had been contained.

In 2029 the deaths not only continued, they accelerated.  In February of that year the world’s multi-billionaires were designated extinct, becoming the first classification of hominid to officially join the dinosaurs in over 50,000 years.  Next, the single digit billionaires were remorselessly targeted.  By the end of the year the world’s leading multi-millionaires were suffering the same cull.

Security measures had increased exponentially with each passing month.  The wealthiest citizens no longer tolerated the prospect of allowing neighbours within a mile-and-a-half radius of their homes.  Private armies stood guard over their every move.  The crunch of gunfire greeted any visitors not specifically vetted beforehand.  Yet still society’s most prominent multi-millionaires were murdered in identical fashion to their illustrious predecessors.  The killers came and went as though invisible, leaving no trace.  Business empires collapsed.  The populace sat glued to their screens, alarmed and enthralled.

By late 2029 laboratory testing had shifted focus: there was unsubstantiated talk of a plague.  People began to avoid those they considered dangerously wealthy.  There were daily attacks on society’s remaining plutocrats in the media; there were assaults, both verbal and physical.  Governments had no option but to intervene, segregating the millionaires and instituting a quarantine of a mile-and-a-half radius around their homes.  Despite years of testing and a painstaking process of research and elimination of possibilities, no conventional biological virus, germ or chemical agent had been discovered that could consistently account for the symptoms and fatalities.

In 2030 the breakthrough arrived.  Initially dismissed as a hoax, a white paper appeared anonymously, titled Biomorphism: its Technological Manifestation and the Ongoing Evolution of Cross-contamination Between Corporeal and Non-corporeal Sources; from which are taken the following quotes –

  • In viruses so called “antigenic shift” occurs when there is a major change in the genome of the virus. When this happens pandemics can result.
  • For a virus the conditions related to the environment in which it operates are entirely dependent on the host body; for this reason, all forms of virus are uniquely adaptable and are hard-wired to cross between environments.
  • Since its inception, the virtual environment has displayed a susceptibility to viral infection, the results of which have often proved damaging at a societal level but seldom directly harmful to health since there was no available method of cross-contamination to a human host body.
  • Surgical implanting of luxury, high-end, smart technology has granted virtual viruses direct access to a new form of hardware, i.e. the human nervous system. Communications and entertainment channels are routinely wired beneath the skin, with links to the optic nerves, eardrums and subcortical regions; heads-up displays are projected onto the retina.   The uber wealthy have been provided with instant access and oversight of their portfolios via software located in the enamel of their teeth.
  • In this environment a virus was generated, by means unknown, which infiltrated currency markets, financial institutions and bank accounts. When the virus entered its active phase it was responsible for systematically degrading the line of zeroes in any bank account it encountered.  Logically, the longer that line of zeroes the greater the contamination of both the financial software and the host hardware.
  • The virus was termed “S/L/O/P/E” by the Deep Web community, an alleged acronym for “soon lose our perspective, everyone.” Latest estimates regarding the virulence of the virus claim that the world’s population experienced a 1.4% decline as a direct result of the outbreak.

By 2031 worldwide inequality was reduced by 47%.  As income levels attained a new equilibrium the threat posed by the S/L/O/P/E virus receded.  While sporadic clusters of contamination were still recorded, after treatment and an extended period of isolation from smart technology, the majority of patients recovered well.

Today, to mark the five-year anniversary of the first deaths attributable to the plague, the world’s great capital cities are united in erecting cenotaphs to memorialise all that was lost.  A lasting cure to the S/L/O/P/E virus remains a priority inside the world’s leading medical and technological research institutions.

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This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Wordle Challenge #31 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the wordle at the top of this post.  The rules are that at least 10 of the given words are to be used. This time all of the words appear in the story.