Fallout

The blast shield that covered the entrance to the fallout shelter was dull with age. As far as Lila knew, nobody had entered or exited through it in over two decades. She herself had only been a young girl when the government issued the lottery that decided who would have a place inside.

Her parents had not been permitted to come with her.

Cut off from the world, radio transmissions and satellite contact had ceased after a week inside the sunless underground complex. The last few seconds of video footage streamed to the shelter showed growing mushroom clouds in all directions, before it went dark. With no guarantee that the Earth above them would ever be the same, and enough facilities to live underground indefinitely, the vote was unanimous; they would stay underground until they had no choice but to leave.

In the decades since, the survivors of Fallout B had settled as far away from the blast shield as possible; the better to forget about the dead planet above them.

Lila wanted to remember, however. She would slip out of bunk at night and sit facing the blast shield, reminiscing.

A screech of metal echoed through the dim chamber. Movement caught her eye as she stood, eyeing the door warily.

Something was on the other side, trying to get in.

Discrepancy, Part Two

I don’t normally post two stories in the same universe…but yesterday’s Discrepancy was too good to pass up.

***

“Unidentified guest, please state your name and business. Security has been dispatched to your docking bay, please state your intention.” Continuing to power down her small craft, Morgan shivered at the cool, female voice of the resident AI of Research Station Gamma; she’d never liked these newer models of Artificial Intelligence.

“Morgan Eisen, Central Control. I’m here to conduct a Health and Safety audit,” she announced, pressed her I.D to the scanner.

“Welcome, Morgan Eisen. Security will arrive momentarily. Please exit your vehicle.”

Doing as requested, Morgan slipped over to the entrance to the docking bay and waited for her escort. After confirming her identity, security gave her a guest pass and escorted her to the computer hub.

Idiots, she thought derisively. I could be anyone, and they’ve taken me straight to the heart of the station.

Trailing past one of the many holographic screens, she pretended to listen to her nervous escorts while she pressed a small device underneath one of the consoles, out of the view of her escort and the cameras that were the eyes of the resident AI. Silently, she started a countdown.

“I’d like to see the biology labs now,” Morgan interrupted the anxious twittering of the guards, not bothering to be polite.

“Oh, oh of course Ma’am. Right this way.”

Still counting down, Morgan followed the guards, pretending to make notes on her portable holoscreen. When she reached zero, she slipped her screen back into her bag and reached for her gun. Have moved ahead a few steps, the guards never saw anything as she aimed and fired in quick succession, leaving them both stunned unconscious in her wake. The AI, infected as it was by the virus Morgan had left behind, said nothing.

Knowing her time was limited before the video feeds came back online, Morgan turned left and then into another brightly lit corridor. Bingo, she crowed mentally. Coming to a stop before the door she was looking for, she looked left and right before slipping into the bio-lab.

Infecting the AI was the first step. The contents of this lab was the next.

After that, the possibilities would be endless.

 

Discrepancy

Evan slid confidently between holographic displays, eyes flickering over the charts, timelogs and security footage. He noticed something odd, squinting at the discrepancy.

“Computer, why wasn’t this security breach reported?”

The cool female voice of the onboard computer replied; “There has been no breach in security, Agent Morton.”

“Uh, yes there has, Computer. Review footage from oh four hundred to oh five hundred, Computer.” Evan tried, curious that the AI would be denying the hard data before his eyes.

“Reviewing requested footage. Footage reviewed. All is well. There has been no breach in security, Agent Morton.”

Baffled, Agent Morton cycled through the holographic displays, double checking the logs and the footage. There – a dark, featureless figure edged down a white corridor in the main research lab, glancing in both directions before slipping through one of the doors – one of the bio-labs, Evan thought. But there was no corresponding time logged on the computer – either for access to the lab itself, or any of the computers inside. Fast forwarding the footage, he watched as the dark figure left the room, apparently taking nothing with him. No footage was available for inside the lab; unlike some of the other labs in this wing, the research done here was low level enough not to warrant security.

So what was this person looking for?

“Computer, run an analysis on this image. I want height and weight approximations, and see if you can get a clearer picture of his face – this person is still on the research station. I want them found.”

“Of course, Agent Morton,” came the calm voice from the speakers.  “Agent Morton, data for the image supplied is unavailable. Data analysis failed.”

Growling in frustration, Evan threw up his hands in defeat. He’d have to send the image and the other relevant data back to Earth to be analysed.

Something wasn’t right here.

***

 

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” – anybody else getting that vibe from this? I know I was…

Between the sheets

Hands intertwined, they writhed in unison against the mattress. Soft pants of exertion and the susurrus of skin against cotton filled the room.

A cry shatters the quiet moment, their bodies strained against each other; one pinned against the other.

“Ha! I win! I am the thumb war queen!”

Worn out and grinning inanely, they slump against the pillows, utterly spent.

 

***

What? Doesn’t everybody have thumb wars in bed? Tiny, tiny piece of fiction today, but as you can see…I’m in a bit of a bizarre mood.

 

 

Cliffs at Midnight

Blood shone wetly in the moonlight.

A brisk wind was blowing in from the south, raising goosebumps on his quickly cooling skin. The adrenaline in his veins fading to a warm glow, he listened as waves crashed against rocks at the base of the cliffs, drowning out every other sound with their thunderous roar. Occasionally ocean spray would mist over him, though not enough to shift the slick redness streaked on his hands and forearms.

Turning from his contemplation of the cliff edge, he gripped the bloodstained body beside him under the arms and hauled it close to the grassy edge, before nudging it over with a booted foot. The body flopped grotesquely as it rolled and he grinned as it disappeared, before tossing the sticky blood-slicked blade after its victim, into the the roaring white foam of the ocean. The knife would eventually wash up, clean of any evidence of his nighttime activities. The body however, bloody and tossed into shark infested waters, would likely never be seen again – whole, at any rate.

Satisfied that nobody would ever know what he’d done, he sauntered back down the slope towards the beach. A midnight swim would be just the thing to relive the sensation of steel sliding hotly between ribs, of surprised screaming cut off abruptly with a wet gurgle.

Once he’d washed the blood off, that is.

 

Anxiety Cat knows where it’s at

Who’s that laughing? Why are they laughing? Are they laughing at me? Oh god, they’re laughing at me, why are they laughing at me? Question after panicked question tumbled over each other in my mind as Anxious Thoughts took hold without my consent.

Don’t be ridiculous, Rational Thought interrupted derisively. Why would they be laughing at you? They aren’t even looking at you. You aren’t that important, you know.

They are though! They’re laughing at me! Is there something on my face? On my clothes? There’s something on my clothes, isn’t there? At this, with Anxious Thoughts twittering nervously inside my head, my heart fluttered and beat faster and faster, my throat clenching with fear as I struggled to catch a deep breath. Even after double checking to make sure nothing was wrong with my clothes, and glancing at my face in a shop window to ensure that nothing was smudged, the clammy palms and thundering heart remained, unaffected by anything Rational Thought had to say.

Nobody is looking at you. Nobody is laughing. You’re just going to go to the Post Office to pick up your package, and then to the bank. There’s nothing to worry about. Nobody will laugh, or stare, or think that you’re weird. Calm down, Rational Thought repeated again and again. Calm down. Just calm down. You’ll be fine.

Will not, whined Anxious Thoughts. I’m stupid, and ugly and everybody is staring at me because they can tell that I’m a freak who can’t even walk into a shopping centre without getting the shakes. As soon as I open my mouth, I’ll stutter, and say the wrong thing, and then they’ll know for sure.

Fighting a panic attack, I line up at the Post Office, and force a deep breath. You can do this.

Yes, yes I can.

***

 

Anxiety, particularly Social Anxiety is a nasty, horrible condition that turns even the most mundane activity into an ordeal. What some psychologists call ‘hot thoughts’ wars with your rational mind, and even though you know you’re being irrational, you can’t help yourself. The small piece above is my attempt at putting that war into words.

Dance Class

His hand is cautious in the small of her back, slipping casually from its previous spot on her upper back. She rolls her eyes minutely, squeezing his other hand in hers and giving him a significant look.

“Hand up, mate. It’s meant to be ballroom, not salsa dancing in an underground club.”

The hand shifts upwards, apologetic, before he twirls her off to the next person.

This time, the hand in her back stays stiffly appropriate, the other damp in hers. They stumble through the steps, and he releases her from the spin quickly, as though eager to be rid of her.

On and on it goes, girls on the outside, boys on the inside – all of them different; tall, short, cocky, nervous – until the song ends and class is dismissed.

Feet trodden and quickly bruising, hands damp with the sweat of others and having been covertly felt up by half the boys in the class, she thinks morosely of the compulsory weekly dance lessons that stretch out until the end of the year.

What had she gotten herself into?

Sisters

A common occurrence between siblings…

Surrounded by pillows, we lie firmly in each others space; arms pressed together, legs tangled casually beneath the blankets. The detritus of earlier snacking sits between us; half empty packets of Tim Tams, plain chips, a bag of jelly snakes. A stack of movies sits to the side; chick flicks and Disney movies and movies made for perving.

We didn’t often get the time any more for nights filled with gossip and junk food, but when we did it was as though no time at all had passed.

“Oi, move over will you? My butt’s about to fall off the bed, fatso!”

Well. We were sisters – just because we hadn’t seen each other in a while didn’t mean we had to be nice to each other…

Bad books?

Is there such a thing?

I’m the first to admit that there are books I absolutely detest. Can’t read them, won’t read them – and depending on the book, I will judge anyone else for reading them. Books like Fifty Shades of Grey (Don’t even get me started), Mrs Dalloway (Stream of consciousness drives me up the wall), Great Expectations (nothing like being forced to read for uni to put you off) and pretty much anything from Harlequin or Mills and Boon (heaving bosoms and tumescent rods, anyone?)

I acknowledge that there are people out there who do read them, and wholeheartedly enjoy them – but I cannot understand why. Every week, my place of work receives donations of at least three sets each of the Fifty Shades and Twilight novels. Hundreds of Mills and Boon novellas. Dozens of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’. When we put them out on the shelves, they stay there for weeks. Harry Potter novels, in contrast, rarely get donated, are often in an extremely well-loved condition when we do receive them, and are promptly snapped up soon after they hit the floor. Books by Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell – these books appear in droves, and disappear just as quickly. None of these books are particularly cerebral, or difficult to read – so why is one more popular than another? Is it the writing? The story? The characters? Something else?

Of course, some of these books that I despise are considered high literature, and deserve their reputations – or at least I assume so, considering that I am reading/attempting to read them decades or even centuries after they were written. But why do I connect better to Shakespeare than I do Virginia Woolf? Why R.L Stevenson and not Henry James?

So my question is, are there bad books? Or are there simply books that last as long as the media will report on it, or the public continues to talk about it? Are books that have stood the test of time good by default? Am I a bad reader if I can’t read this story that is a century old? Or is it just a case of a story, or a way of storytelling, connecting with one person, but not another?

I’ve asked a lot of questions today, but this I know: there’s no one answer to what makes a good book or a bad book – after all, someone thought it was good enough to publish.

 

So what are your most hated books? Books that you started and couldn’t make yourself finish? Books you refuse to read on principle? Why?

 

 

 

 

Word Fiend – August Edition

As in previous months, today I’m posting three pieces of flash fiction based around selections from Merriam Webster’s ‘Word of the Day’ archives for August.

#1 – Florescence (not to be mistaken for ‘fluorescence’)

The vivid florescence of the storefront was breathtaking in the warm spring sunshine. Cheerful daffodils were propped up near sunny variegated gerberas and bunches of classic red roses, their fresh floral perfumes filling the air.

Overwhelmed with the sheer amount of colours and scents, I stood uncertainly in their midst. Stroking the petals of one flower, lifting another to my nose, I wandered aimlessly between storefront and interior, unable to make a decision.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Thank God, I thought.

 

#2 – Wyvern

An unearthly roar split the air, raising goosebumps on my arms. A shadow rose ponderously into air in the distance, its reptilian shape lifted by enormous leathery wings.

“A dragon? Here?” I asked disbelievingly, brain still catching up to what my eyes were seeing.

“Uh, technically ma’am…its a wyvern,” a voice murmured to my left.

“I’m sorry?”

“Uh – it, it’s a wyvern, ma’am. Poisonous, rather than fire-breathing. Slightly smaller, and – uh – well, more territorial. Ma’am.”

“I see. Well, alert all units Captain – we have a Class A creature on the loose, and dragon or wyvern or whatever, I want it captured and removed away from the civilian population.”

“Yes ma’am!”

Not bothering to turn as the Captain saluted smartly and trotted away, I stared out across the sky at the creature, watching as it circled anxiously, its thundering call echoing through my bones.

 

#3 – Viridity

The sheer viridity of the Scottish Highlands astounded me. More familiar with arid ochre landscapes and dry, yellowed summer scenery, the verdant greenery of Scotland was a marvel.

Ben Nevis was topped with low-hanging cloud in the distance, and around me, the craggy landscape ran with rivulets of moisture – an abundance of which I had never seen. Green clung in nameless shades to every surface – moss, grass, plants and trees dominated in every direction.

Chilled by the wind even in mid-summer, I stood silently in awe at the stark green wilderness around me.

 

***

To see the July edition of Word Fiend, click here.