A story of smartphones and the not-so-smart humans that use them.
250 words in two weeks.
An exclusive event.
A prestigious location.
A select audience.
Tell us about it in about 150 words, over 2 weeks.
[Original Photo: Cherry Blossom Wedding Invitation Suite]
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’.
The doctor tried to tell me I have kleptomania. That’s bullshit. I am perfectly in control of the things I steal. I mean, sure, I like to steal a lot of stuff, but it’s not like I’ll just pick up any old random piece of crap. It’s got to be right. It’s got to be the next one in the sequence.
It started when I was twelve. I found an old leather bookmark down the back of the couch. There was something about it. The shape, the smell, the feel of it. Minimal but functional.
Now I have 207. Reckon I can break 300 before the year’s out.
So very bookmarked.
That chiseled jaw. That perfectly coiffured hair.
I scritch and scratch about seven lines into my notebook. I’ve been working on my technique. Character sketches in as few lines as possible. Not to be too boastful, but I’m getting pretty good. Six months of sketching every day will do that.
“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?”
Chiseled jaw. Perfectly coiffured hair. He’s standing right here. In front of me. Talking to me.
My pen, my jaw, my defenses: dropped.
Oh. Em. Gee.
I pull out the chair and smile back with my best, broadest, grin.
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”
Well, no sense in pussy-footing around: I might as well dive right in.
Any second now.
Another hotel guest bustles out past me, clipping my shoulder as they do so, forcing me out into the street.
Well, that did it I guess. I’m outside.
I breath deep to pull in the smells of the market. Some strong smell makes me cough and splutter, despite the filters on my nasal unit. Phew. Sort of spicy and cold and salty all at the same time. I tweak the settings, hoping not to embarrass myself.
Let’s see if this language module works as advertised.
Feeling a bit more brave, I stride up to the very first street food stall I see.
“Good morning!” I proclaim.
“Morning,” the vendor (he, she, ve? I can never remember what Graxians prefer.) replies, raising a spiky eyebrow. “What can I do for you, human?”
“Two of… those, please” I say, pointing at a puddle of something vaguely tasty-looking off to one side in a strangely decorated container.
“That,” the vendor says, picking up and sharpening his knife, “is my third-born brood. I’m going to have to take an arm from you for that insult.”
The colour drains from my face and my life flashes before my eyes. So young. I’m so young. I had so much to see.
“Oh, your face,” the vendor chuckles. “You lot are such easy targets.” He puts down the knife and picks up a plate. “What do they teach in your xenobiology classes these days?” He shakes his head, spoons a few tendrils on to the plate, and passes it to me. “That’s 35, please, buddy.”
I snap back from my frozen state and scan the credits over to him.
“Um,” gulp, “thanks.”
I pick up a piece and turn it around, inspecting it.
The Graxian makes an eating motion, suggesting I do it down-in-one. What is it they say: travel broadens the mind and loosens the bowels?
Any second now.
“Not in here, cupcake,” Jake chirped as he crushed the zombie’s head with the baseball bat. The corpse crumpled to the floor and he took another swift swing, knocking the head clean off its slimy shoulders. He turned and smiled at Jane.
“Nice work, pardner,” she nodded nonchalantly at him. “Uh oh.” She pointed at the undead interloper with her grimy golf club. “See the shakin’? We gots ourselves an asploder.” She rushed up and rolled the body over their flung-together fence and collapsed them both onto their cabooses just in time to hear it snack, crackle, and pop into a hundred pestilent pieces.
“Shee-it! When did they start doing that?” he said, brushing bone and blood off his jeans.
“Just afore you got arrived. You ain’t see ‘em blow up before? Are you new here?”
Stereo speakers up in the corner of the room fizzled and futzed: “Level 3.”
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.
I come thundering around the corner, dripping sweat. My car wouldn’t start: I ran all the way here. I pluck off my fedora and fan my face. It’s too damn hot today. I pray I’m not too late, that I haven’t missed my chance. I tune to the right frequency and hear spotty banter, chit chat. Everyone’s in a holding pattern. No-one’s spotted her yet: I still have my chance.
I put my hat back on and try to act casual as I make my way across the bus station tarmac to the ticket office. To my spot. Where I would be best positioned to keep watch.
My heart is finally slowing down as I scope out my surroundings in more detail. The ad screen behind me is too loud, so I pay the few bucks to mute it. I can claim back on expenses later, anyway. Probably. Maybe.
A quick visual and I spot two, three, maybe four familiar faces. The guy outside the diner. Newspaper, briefcase. So obvious. The ticket inspector waiting at lane 5. He’s good, real subtle. Something about the way his eyes are moving, though. Enhancements, maybe? Looks a little more sophisticated than anyone in his job should be. And the cleaner, far end. Uniform’s all wrong. Looks like he should be bell-hopping at the hotel down the road, not sweeping the floors here.
Intel says she’ll be coming here tonight. I check my scanner: due now. Due right now. Due in thirty seconds, according to predictions by our best analysts. I ping my recorder to make sure it’s on and rolling and initiate a scan. I start filtering out unwanted targets. Not her. Not her. Not her. Not even close.
I get that feeling that I sometimes do. Call it a hunch. Call it instinct. I leave my post and walk around behind the diner. And there she is. Beautiful. Incredible. Intel warned us that she would be pretty. They didn’t say she’d take my breath away.
10 wheeler. Diesel and electric hybrid. Two decks, bar on both. Solar panels on every surface that isn’t a window. My god. She’s a monster. A beautiful, amazing, monster.
I send out the call over the network: I’ve spotted her. She’s mine. The responses come in. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. Curse, spit, curse. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. I pull out my pad and key in the sequence that Intel gave me. The pad connects, checks, changes, and I now have a ticket for her. The Luxuron Plus. “The most advanced, sophisticated, luxury road travel vehicle in the world.”
Now it’s down to me. Get aboard, take notes. See what else she has that we don’t. Find ways of taking her ideas, making them better. There’s no way that we’re settling for second place this year. We will be best in class.
She pulls to a stop and I board, settle into my seat. I’m welcomed to her inaugural journey with a glass of champagne. It is delicious. Industrial espionage can be hard work. Today? Not so much.
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.
You shout abuse at the man in the sharp suit as he practically spins you around, bouncing off you as your paths collide. He waves an apology, continuing on his way.
You step to the curb and hail a cab. One pulls up immediately. You are surprised at your luck (a cab, at this time of day, downtown?), but choose not to look the gift horse in the mouth, and dive into the back seat. You cough at the musty air. The driver asks you “where to?” in a heavy Eastern European accent, and you give him the head office address.
You shuffle through your meeting notes. The stakeholders will not be pleased. The letters seem to swim around on the page. You rub your eyes to try and focus. It doesn’t help. You sigh deeply and sit back.
You glance through the glass partition at the driver’s identity card. The picture shows red eyes and short, stubby, horns on her head. How absurd, you think. You catch the driver’s eye in the mirror. You jump up, startled, hitting the roof. Her eyes: red. She turns her head around, grins menacingly at you, and you notice the horns. How did you not see them before? She growls something at you, but you are too paralysed with fear to understand.
You notice that the cab has stopped moving, so you throw yourself out the door and onto the street. You breath deep the fresh air. The cab pulls aways at speed. You notice a small pin on your lapel. You didn’t put that on yourself. That man, before you got into the cab: he put it on you. But why? As you reach gingerly for it, it puffs to ash.
You think you’re in shock. You reach for your hipflask.
Tell us a story of the people at the bus station: a ticket inspector; someone waiting for an arrival; someone leaving town with just the shirt on their back.
Make it a big(ish) one: three weeks, 500 words.
So that you don’t forget.
Paper, virtual, or mental.
Tell a story of some hot bookmarking action.
Project lasts two weeks: one story a week, 100 words a story.
Stories about the possibilities of every decision we make.
Week 1: a 300 word story that leads up to a decision.
Weeks 2, 3, and 4: each week, a 300 word story about the (different) decision made and the consequences of it.
Stories told in the 2nd person of an everyday ride that takes a turn for the unexpected. The ride should last about 250 words, and take about two weeks to write down.
Are they the brand new pair bought from big shiny sports store, or the roughed-up work boots found at the flea market? Why are they the favourite pair?
Write the story in 250 words over two weeks.