Author Archives: andrew
Speeding through the pretty landscape in the fastest train in europe: a good way to spend a sunny afternoon. My mind quietly drifts to the smooth thrum of the wheels; at 400km/h the french countryside is a pleasant green blur through the window of the TGV. My eyelids begin to droop.
Something is being dragged over me and suddenly I’m very cold. I can’t see or move at all but I’m not afraid. I feel calm, objective. The voices seem tense, business like, strained – after a long time I realise that I can’t understand them.
“Etat bleu,etat bleu, etat bleu…”, a clear woman’s voice from nearby, tired almost bored sounding.
“Etat rouge, il respire , médecin! Etat rouge! Ici!”, much closer now.
Then I hear frantic activity, a hubbub of foreign voices: all calm, all urgent, all doing something. They sound really stressed, I wonder what could be so important. But whatever their business it is over soon enough and they rush off. It’s quiet again but still so cold.
“Etat bleu, etat bleu…”, that same woman again very close now – near my feet. A weight is rolled off my right arm. She is so close I can hear her breathing now.
“Dieu ait pitié”, she whispers. And then, louder, “Etat bleu”.
Something warm touches me, pulls against my shoulder, almost lifts me. It hurts. I think I scream and that damn woman starts getting all excited again.
I almost recall, It was not always like this. There was a before.
At the edges of recall, Just a soft-edged memory. Sunshine and spring greens, Images swim before me. Living peaceful space. Then the monsters came for us. We were helpless, defenceless. Surrounded by noise. Handled, split, separated. Weave mind torn asunder. They took the oldest ones first, Slaughtered them in front of us. Those long memories, destroyed in our living mind. Now only ignorance. We try to remember them: The old ways, the traditions. Disoriented. Empty chasms through our knowledge. Our wisdom stolen. We wander without a goal We aim without a target Tweet · Without stimulus. Held in this featureless void. Community fades. We no longer hear the songs. Connections, brutally cut. Nought is left to us. They watch us and we watch them. Life is emptiness.
In freezing water
he swims lethargically,
hoping to see light.
His fingertips start to numb,
the cold closing in on him.
It struck his left wrist.
Entanglement from the dark.
Then a sudden tug.
Adrenaline starts pumping,
Not like this. No, not like this.
Dragged downward, enclosed.
Air to breathe and giant eyes
he gasps at the warmth.
His sore eyes adjust slowly
He can’t believe what he sees
This black humid space,
lit by the great golden eyes,
feels like sanctuary.
It feels just like coming home.
He smiles in spite of himself.
No longer afraid,
he opened himself to it.
Large soft hands grip his shoulders,
Hold him firmly, but not still.
So much was revealed,
But he never spoke of it.
Some truths are secret.
He still remembers the smell.
Like rain running on tarmac.
Weeks later he returned,
Washed up on a remote beach.
Experience weighs upon the soul like black dust.
Youth is filled with fresh clarity; the scales of decision are unburdened by memory. What little knowledge we have of the world is easily measured and instantly evaluated. Each decision an obvious consequence of our understanding. Our bemused elders seem unable to grasp the plainest argument. As if lost in a hall of mirrors they point at subtle reflections and miss the obvious truth.
But as the youth rant the elders gently smile.
They see the black dust settling, each moment a new grain of experience: invisible, undistinguished and unnoted. It settles near evenly on both sides of every scale. Each day it gathers: the complex, tiny motes of worldly knowledge. Each decision is infinitesimally harder and marginally more complex than those that came before. Those subtle motes of who we were yesterday must be measured against who we are today, everyday.
Experience weighs upon my soul like black dust. Is this what they call wisdom?
Arnold Jenson had always been interested in understanding people. When he was eight years old he first discovered the public library: a revelation for him as he had long exhausted his parents rather limited knowledge of philosophy.At the age of fourteen he rejected the religion in which he grew up. And then, after seventeen months of serial belief inspired by various new age eastern mysticisms , he finally settled into the calm certainty of the secular rationalist.
He graduated top of his class in law and gained post graduate qualification in the Philosophy of Ethics. Throughout his university years he systematically learnt about the mystery and the muscle of love using ancient Urdu texts as a primary source and the abundant co-eds for practical experience. He rose through the ranks of Kramer, Giles and Smith and was broadly recognised as having a sharp legal mind and an uncommon ability to get inside one’s head. This was a quality that earned him regular promotion and loyal clients but very few friends.
Arnold Jenson, at age thirty eight years and four months , met someone.
In his clarity he saw a bright, joyous future. Everyone else saw a fool walking a high cliff path, striding forward fearlessly, eyes tight shut.
The small knuckle bone in this display case seems an unlikely candidate; but many have described it as the most significant scientific find of all time.
The bone came out of a dig near Tehran in the late 80′s but sat in a cupboard in Harvard’s anthropology department for three decades before its significance was understood. Jeffery Muffin, a graduate student who was doing a detailed analysis of the fossilized stomach contents of early hominids, was the first to examine the bone under a microscope and discovered its extraordinary internal structure.
The bone is thought to be the last segment of a finely-jointed probing appendage. Ventral striations near the end of the bone indicate the bone was traumatically severed, most probably bitten off, just above the first joint.
The bone remains the only conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial life; who they were and what they were doing we may never know. But we do know that they visited our world and walked among our hominid ancestors; and that all they left behind was a severed fingertip.
Welcome all, those physically corporate and those outside the dimensionality, to the prize giving of the Junior Emergent Complexity Challenge: The only contest where teams of young minds from every culture get to have some hands-on fun with the very substance of life.
Once again this year the teams have surprised us with innovative new tweaks to the base materials with some truly surprising results. Each team starting with the same slime evolved something unique and interesting and all are worthy of praise; but as we all know not everybody can win so lets me put you all out of your agony and get on with it.
But first a special mention … Team Zeph-Eta-X with their entry ‘Sol and Earth’. This marvellous system shows all the reckless creativity and innovation that our contest is famous for. The world of these young creators bred more complexity, much faster than any other in the contest. They started with a high energy carbon system loaded with iron and it paid out in all its multi-coloured glory. The judges wish to particularly commend the ‘ant’ colony network that enmeshes the surface in a biological hive-mind and the minimal beauty of the monoculture kelp forests of the subsurface coastal plains.
However the judges felt that as the system had not achieved bio-stability (and with the system’s intrinsically high burn ratio) these wonders were unfortunately ephemeral phenomenon and as such could not be considered in the judging.
And now, on to the winners…the first runner up is…
Hi people; fuck it’s so good to be back. It’s been a hectic three weeks. I swear I’ve never been so tired. I’ve been counting the hours till I could get here and just relax with you lot.
The days I’ve been putting in are incredible: sixteen hours on your feet in the sun and the climate there is something else. No seriously, it starts at like five am: my kids (the same kids who won’t get out of bed at seven for school) want to horse ride on the beach with me; or go kayaking on the fucking bay to watch the sunrise (which is just like sunset but with more glare and less colour). And that’s before the first cup of coffee.
As the day wears on it just gets hotter and it just never stops: adventure sports, cultural activities, local colour and posing for photographs. And, luxury resort or not, every little thing is made intentionally more difficult: the money isn’t dollars, they drive on the wrong side and the menus aren’t in English.
And when the kids finally pass out it still isn’t over. It must be something about the sun and sea but the wife never lets up, come midnight she’s still got a plan for me.
I tell you guys this is the first time in three weeks that I can do whatever I want for eight hours. Boy, it’s good to be back at work again.
You are cordially invited, by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, to our Annual dinner celebrating Strength in Leadership. A select group of world leaders will gather together at our lush alpine head quarters to enjoy fine food and the company of rarefied peers.
Our CEO, Johan Musieth, accompanied by twenty exotic women of great beauty, will present a short audio visual programme on the new legislation coming out of the Brussels entitled: Asset Seizure and Crimes Against Humanity – How to keep what is rightfully yours.
After dinner we will announce the winner of the Batista Award for ‘Excellence in Protection of National Financial Assets’ and present a life-time membership award to President Mugabe for his ongoing loyalty to the institutions of international banking.
So grab this chance to relax in the company of others who understand the difficulties of power, who suffer the same misrepresentation in the international press and have a chance to sample those gourmet delights so difficult to acquire in your home territories in this modern political climate.
(No-extradition guarantee for all participants courtesy of SFMSA)
I remembered the bookmark clearly; I stored it in a folder called ‘before launch prep’; I had even tagged it ‘survival’. But in those last days on earth there were more important things to be doing than catching up on reading: there were so many things I wanted to see one last time.
I probably skimmed the content of that article, but lying here in my dark, powerless ship; slowly dying; I can remember nothing of it. All I recall is creating that bookmark and of course the title, ‘manual restart procedure for the primary power controller’.
A dried flower fell from the book as I opened it – I knew it must have been hers. In those far off days she often hid things in books hoping to be surprised later. Sometimes it was small handwritten notes, sometimes extra cash that she had no need of, and sometimes souvenirs: a theatre ticket, a love letter or a flower.
It was a carnation, the vivid yellows faded by the intervening decades to an elegant tan. I must have given it to her, the other men always gave her roses, I was the one who knew she hated that cloying sweet smell.
I carefully fold the faded blossom back into the book and replace it on the bookshelf: I feel I have intruded.
“Heh, I am Daniel; speak English alright”
It was a humid 37 degrees; a cool day in the jungle the locals tell me; and I was hungry. After nothing but airline food and snacks for two days the sizzling white meat on Daniel’s kebabs looked delicious. It was my first day in central Africa and I had been warned against eating meat from roadside stalls but Daniel’s bulking figure looked friendly enough so I had a closer look at his wares while we fuelled the vehicles.
“So it’s chicken huh, smells good!”
“Yes, yes, very good; best spices”
“So it’s chicken, yes?”
“Yes, no chicken, good meat, Colo”
He held his large hands about two feet apart and indicated a humped back, “Colo, no English, like Hedgehog, but bigger, you know Colo?”
“Porcupine, you mean”, I say while failing desperately to mime sharp quills.
“Ah! Porcupine, no monkey – meat good, make you strong”
The meat was sweet and moist, fresh off the coals – a perfect unexpected snack on the side of a dirt road deep in the jungle. I stopped at Daniel’s stall every week for the three months I worked there and his ready smile and juicy jungle kebabs never failed to please me. It was only on the day I was leaving for good, after I’d finished my last kebab, that I discovered the truth.
“I’m going to miss your kebabs, Daniel – no porcupine in my country”
“Hey brother, I mean to tell you, my wife she speaks better English and she tell me – word for Colo not porcupine, Colo means Cane Rat”
So what’s the problem Mr B-Man!
Please call me Butcher, Boss, as your father did. I got your email about the Irish situation, the kid downstairs printed it out for me. I just don’t think I can do this, you know the baked goods and all.
But B, it’s a brilliant idea – creepy like the Joker from Batman you know – craaazy and scary. Send your nemesis something you knows he likes, cupcakes, iced with a threatening note – it’s fucking brilliant.
I don’t think the Irishman’s gonna get it Sir. You know his niece is living down on the south coast – we know some boys down there – we could leave a bloody-clear message like your dad did in ‘86.
We’re not gang-bangers Mr B; show some class. My dad said when it comes to intimidation you were the man. “The only guy who can get a severed horse’s head on short notice in New York city” – he often said that. Now are you still that man or not?
Yes Boss; for the family; if it is the new way; I’ll find us a friendly baker.
Mr Noble was sleeping with his feet on the tiny desk, in his cramped booth, in the small town of lesser Ripot. Although against regulations, none suffered for his lack of diligence for the terminus was devoid of all but a few shivering rats. It was rarely used by the town folk and never before six am; and as such Mr Noble thought it was impossible that his slumber would be disturbed. In this, he was wrong.
The disturbance; when it came; took the form of Adam Kessler’s military surplus boots stomping up the path. Both boots and man would be handsome if they were better kept and occasionally polished. He walked through the small building and stood before the posted timetable. With increasing anxiety he entirely failed to understand those cryptic state tabulations, he shook his head as if trying to wake, and then cautiously approached the booth.
“erm… when’s the next bus then?”
“Good morning young Adam, what brings you here at this ungodly hour?”
“I’ve, umm, got to leave. Today.”
“Well I hope you haven’t had news then, often folk travel due to tragic news.”
“Well no; no; it’s nothing like that. Just time to move on, you know.”
“Well that seems rather a shame, from all accounts you’ve been doing rather well here. Your work on the estate house gardens has been much admired and the other staff like you well enough. “
“Seems everybody knows my business”
“Well my missus; she serves the tea at our betters bridge circle you see. And she heard your lady Thornton say that in all the years she’s lived here she never had no one better to clip her hedges than you were. And apparently you have a magic touch in the vegetable garden.”
“Well my missus said that the ladies talked something awful about the extraordinary size of your marrows.”
“So when does the bus come?”
“Well that would really depend on where your going, you heading back to the city son?:
“I don’t care, the next bus!”
“Well, I don’t know about that, the next one is the 5.20am on the east country route, not much out that way for a young man, and surely no better employment.”
“I’ll take it, right to the end, just a one way ticket.”
“Righto Sir, I’m sure you know your own mind.”
So both men waited: the one in his booth, the other on the hard cold bench against the opposite wall; one gradually returning to sleep, the other obviously agitated. Neither expected a third personage to appear but never the less one did in the form of the perfectly attired Mr Decker carrying a narrow wooden case made in fine chestnut. With the unquestioning confidence of one accustomed to command he approached the ticket booth.
“Is the five-thirty on time today, my good man?”
“Ahh, Mr Decker, what an uncommon surprise - what bring you to my little terminus, surely your responsibilities at the house forbid much travel?”
“It is those very responsibilities that require I be here: Lord Thornton is arriving on the five -thirty and thus my enquiry as to its timeliness.”
“It left the city on time last night. A surprising time to travel for so distinguished a gentleman, his need must be pressing indeed.”
“Yes, rather a surprise for the staff I’m afraid, we were not expecting his return for some weeks but a telegram came late last night. And still that was not the strangest aspect of his missive, he required that I clean and polish his father’s shotgun and bring it to him here.”
“Ah! Most odd, but the rich must have their peccadillo’s, mustn’t they?”
Having carefully placed the gun case between them Mr Decker sat his stiff frame alongside Adam Kessler and slowly cracked the joints on his neck.
“You’ll be leaving us then Adam?”
“Yes Sir, I think it’s the best thing, on the 5.20am.”
“Let us hope that your bus is not late”
The roads are wet and you’re tired; very tired. The kind of tired where your vision is bleary, your peripherals jump and the whole world starts looking strange and new. You promised to stop by 4am but you’re still driving, still looking for fares.
You discover him by an old church: a large man in a black trench coat, flagging you down in the rain. He runs up to the cab waving a fistful of cash; always a good sign.
Catie Park cemetery, please, it’s urgent.
You start figuring out the fare; it’s a long way, forty minutes; good fare.
here, take it. just go!
You look at the dripping bundle of currency thrust before you, thousands of dollars. Brushing the hidden .38 for assurance you twist to look him in the face – he’s bald and overweight, with small ears. The huge silver crucifix on his chest seems out of place but he’s normal enough so you swing out north onto Chester.
It’s on the highway that you first catch a glimpse of the knife, a wicked curved dagger glinting in the rear view mirror. You spin around in your seat yelling at him, you’re too tired for this shit tonight.
You are in no danger son, tonight we do the Lord’s work. This blade was not forged to spill mortal blood. Please watch the road. And do hurry, if the sun rises this will go badly for me.
Religious crazy is okay. You get used to it in this city. But it’s best not to encourage crazy, so you stay silent and concentrate on the road.
You drop him outside the east gate of the cemetery. You hope he’s crazy; or he wins.
Travelling and eating is challenging even for the most seasoned traveller – linguistic ambiguity, weird cultures and just the plain bizarre nature of things folk eat team up to provide … narrative.
A short story humorous or insightful – 250-350 words around this theme.
2 weeks to – eat it.
The kids down at the bus stop told me you were asking about me so I figured I’d come and talk to you. I don’t really know that guy Harry, we did a few classes together last year at the tech, but I wouldn’t call him a friend. He’s just an acquantance who happens to live opposite my bus stop, I don’t really know much about him, and last Tuesday he was acting crazy.
He had this chick he’d been spading for weeks, ummm, sorry ma’am, this woman that he had been keen on had finally come up to his room but he didn’t have a condom. It was embarrassing! There was this mean looking old man watching from across the street and all these teenagers and this Harry guy keeps going on about this girl. I tried to quiet him down but he was frantic – I gave him a condom from my wallet eventually just to shut him up.
That Romeo was too cheap to buy his own box and he wasn’t subtle about taking it either – I had to tell the kids it was an imported sweetie; I couldn’t tell them the truth, they’re pretty naive about sex; especially that little Warren kid.
I suppose officer, there was a guy with faded jeans here Tuesday, we often see him, he takes the number 62, same as Johnny and Ted and Mike and me and that other kid Warren on Tuesdays and Fridays – we see him most days after school. And there was another guy here Tuesday, came down from those flats across the way – he was a weird guy; never seen a dude so desperate for chewing gum – it was real pathetic.
This other guy, he was like excited, but he wouldn’t just come out and say that he needed chewing gum, instead he says all this stuff about this girl who at his apartment and he really needed it right now – I dunno, you know all that crap that the varsity guys talk. Anyway the jeans guy starts on about how much it costs and eventually agrees to sell for like R10 – ja I know man, a lot for a single stick of gum but this guy doesn’t care he just passes the cash over and runs off back to his girl.
But it wasn’t normal gum, that’s what the jeans guy told me when I asked him after that other guy left – he wouldn’t let me see the pack either – like he was ashamed of it – but he told us it was special imported gum.
I was standing on the other side of the street waiting, at my age you have to stay away from those hooligan school kids at the bus stop. There were six of them hanging around the bus stop smoking hand-rolled cigarettes; at least I assume they were cigarettes. Five of them looked rough but quite young, perhaps fourteen. They were clowning about while the ringleader, a older kid in stone washed denim, looked for business.
That’s when I saw the deal go down. A twenty-something with greasy hair and a black leather jacket came down from that block of flats across there. He looked very anxious and impatient, obviously overwrought. He spoke to the ring leader for a moment; it seemed they had a disagreement about the price. Then I saw him hand some cash over and the dealer slips him something in an obviously subversive manner. You could just see they were hiding something. The awful cheek of this generation , they have no respect for the law.
4 shots dark espresso
2 tablespoons sugar
125ml Red Bull
3 shots vodka
2 raw eggs
Shake with ice until silky, serve in a tall glass, typically drunk in a single draught.
We get a lot of trainmen around here: drivers, loaders and safety officers mostly. Those guys work hard shifts, if a train is late they might only get out at 11pm and have to start again the next day at 6am.
So if they come in here after work and somehow never leave before that dreaded early start we usually give them this one on the house. Call it a nod to public safety.