Invisible extraterrestrial nation

FLASH FICTION

If you go outside now, it’s like a ghost town; a trope of the horror writer. Beyond the window, a post-apocalyptic zombie landscape; one of science fiction…

Three AM

NOCTURNS

If you go outside now, there’s a strange calm. It’s a kind of peace which can only be found in solitude with others. It’s a world of visitors and living ghosts.

There’s a different place on the other side of the window at 3am, where we gather at a distance. It’s a universe of quantum entanglement.

They’re out there, taking their daily walk. Time means nothing, now that many of us are unable to work.

Anxiety has turned us into insomniacs and agnostics.

Just as far apart as during the day, there are fewer of us, so there’s less risk of infection at night.

A few say hello from a distance, but most just walk around in what for many of us has become our own world.

Personal space is a minimum of two meters, but at night, we all have more space to ourselves.

The shops are closed, so we look to the stars which connect us all. Insomniacs and agnostics.

Sometimes we watch the sun rise, but when daylight comes, we go home.

We sleep, but we’ll be out again tonight.

Aliens at night

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

A world not too far from home, it’s one we’ll find. No matter the distance, we’ll always have a quantum link.

The genesis of metamorphosis

FLASH FICTION

One story from when paper and ink were rationed, written sparingly at one word per weekday over a whole year, a chapter for every two months of one history. As life changes daily, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a species can re-evolve in a year…

metamorphosis red-42761

SEEDS

(i)

“Most of us are fake people. We never wanted to be, we just ended up hiding so many emotions that we started wearing a mask. We do this so easily now that we’ve taught ourselves to believe these lies are truth. It’s quite the opposite actually. We are so fake that we don’t even remember our true identity…”

I

β€œ…It’s why we’re all locked inside now, contemplating ourselves. We’ve been forced by authority to obey for our own good. And actually, we shouldn’t resist…”

II

β€œ…Political divisions are forgotten as quickly as new language evolves, and a dictatorial government shifts its rhetoric to one of a nation together, rather than nationalism. Old foes are united against a common new enemy and the citizens largely accept the restrictions placed upon them…”

III

β€œ…and when we emerge, no matter how we look at it, we’ll be different. It’ll be a new world, which we approach cautiously, as we learn a new way of life. None of us will forget this, because it affected every single one of us. We’ll say it was a unifying human experience…”

IV

β€œ…We should stay where we are for now, do as we’re told, while there’s such an opportunity to find ourselves and each other inside. We’ll need that when we all get out of here. Maybe we’ll eventually remove the masks, like we could when we were locked in together…”

V

β€œ…A safe journey to all those who made a new humanity, and with our gratitude. You do not go in vain. We will forever remember the sentinels who changed us.”

VI

β€œAnd that’s how you indoctrinate a populace, all the while suppressing resistance, by sowing the seeds of martyrs.”

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

β€œI give it two weeks before we see martial law, unless everyone calms the fuck down and starts behaving as they’re told,” said a liberal socialist.

Recycling the middle classes

FLASH FICTION

As I begin, I don’t know how I’ll end. After a gestation of roughly nine months., we’re in the latter stages of the pandemic. For many, the end of days. Tonight’s lottery is the last, so I have little time to write this…

Disposable People

REDUNTANT OCCUPATION

It’s all happened so quickly. The last year has seen situations develop and casualties rise, more than in any global military conflict. A year ago, we were fighting over toilet roll. Even then, Brexit had been largely forgotten.

Those of us who wrote conspiracies in the UK, theorised that Coronavirus was the perfect smokescreen to divert the media’s attention from trade deals the government was signing with the USA, China and Saudi Arabia.

With the mainstream news agencies diverted, a few of us took up unofficial journalism posts, writing mainly for free in the gig economy. We were certain that Corvid-19 was a population control mechanism of human construction.

Having recently made my way through the social cleansing apparatus of the UK benefits system, I was grateful to have won back my human rights, at one of the last tribunals to be held before the system was shut down. I had to put the freedom and liberty I’d regained to good use. I had to explore to be able to report.

After the government departments closed, the indirect death toll from the disease increased the overall figures dramatically. But there was a bigger story.

A man-made virus, designed to reduce the financial state burden of the weak and elderly, benefited the balance sheets of disaster speculators, spread betting on casualty numbers, as hospitals were re-purposed and operations deemed non-essential were postponed. Eventually patients with existing terminal diagnoses were included in this group.

We suspected that those with underlying medical conditions and the over-70s were β€œshielded” for three months to give doctors time to hasten their demise. The weak and costly were being erased by social cleansing.

Over just a few months, there was a ripple effect. Medical staff succumbed to the virus, so that a situation could be forecast where those needing care outnumbered those able to provide it. Then a financial tsunami, for the invested gamblers and their sponsors. In the last few weeks, despite curfews and marshal law, the streets have become post-apocalyptic, while the protected hide away with their money.

The shops closed months ago and there have been no deliveries for weeks now. The law enforcers have fallen just as quickly as those they’re meant to police and protect. Most stay home, like they were told. A few hunt the rich.

The now invisible government has published a guide, available only sporadically online since the telecoms infrastructure is burning out under the pressure of human want and need. I got hold of a copy, which is why I needed to write.

The document is entitled ‘Professional Education: A New Vision for a Revised Population’. It prioritises specific occupations, and plans to switch education funding to support those professions. They include lawmakers and medics, educators and builders; First and Third class.

And that’s why I had little time to write what may be my last journalistic dispatch. Because like everyone else not in those categories of jobs listed, I’m in the lottery. I may be needed to help care for one of those people in the other two groups.

This is the day of the lottery, when a knock on the door may herald the beginning of many new lives, as disposable people like me are taken to provide blood, limbs and organs for those who need them the most.

It was a financial as well as a public health catastrophe, for all but the disaster capitalists. Suicides increased the death toll but helped as donors for the survivors.Β They were just part of the gamble to reap the harvest.

Clinical waste, where once we were slaves.Β 

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

The evolution of sentient plastic

FICTION

Easter is on sale and the world faces another tidal wave of plastic…

Blonde doll

HOMO POLYMER

β€œA surprise in every egg. Yes, Kinder, there’s a selection of small plastic choke hazards in each toy, but the plastic egg which holds them can be a handy cunt plug. Keep this warm in there for me baby.”

β€œMummy, who are you talking to? I need a wee.”

Ocean opened the bathroom door and a bolt of blonde hair dashed past her legs. β€œWho were you talking to?” Conscience asked again, enthroned on her Peppa Pig toilet seat.

β€œNo-one,” Ocean replied, β€œWell, just myself.”

β€œBut you’re not no-one mum.”

β€œThanks. Now, come on, back to bed.”

β€œBut you’re not no-one mum, so who were you talking to?”

β€œHonestly, Conscience, just myself. I do that a lot.”

β€œWill you read me a story, please?”

β€œWe don’t have any, Conscience.”

β€œBut we all do, in our heads. Tell me one of your stories of being Ocean, mummy.”

β€œWell, there was this one time. I was about your age. I had a dolly. Hated it. Your nanno and grampo wanted me to be a girl. Well, they both wanted me to be girly, but grampo had wanted a boy, so I had to be a really girly girl.

β€œIt’s funny now I think about it, because he’d probably have liked the boy inside me more.

β€œAnd apparently you’re asleep. In any case, I think I made the perfect mix in the only one I kept. You’re you, and even so young, you have a personality which transcends gender. If I can be proud of one thing in my life, it’s you. So, whoever’s still listening, even if it’s in a dream I hope you won’t inherit…

β€œThey lived in different times. In those days, the only costume you could wear to play yourself was a uniform, and I hated everything that stood for. I resented my school uniform, but I used the skirt I despised to score one over on the system. I lost my virginity at 12, then got my English teacher sacked when he broke up with me at 14.

β€œThere could have been loads of kids before you, but any one of them might have meant I never met you. I only had you because I remembered who your dad was. You remind me a lot of him. He could be a cunt sometimes too.

β€œWe were broke. Still was an artist and an eco-activist. We lived in communes in fields, usually just tents near protest sites, but sometimes on local traveller camps. I knew what it was all about but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was 15 then and the nearest I’ll ever get to true romance, that summer of love which made you. A brief history of anarchy, peace and freedom.

β€œSo here were are, five years later kid. I wonder if you’ll want what’s inside this Kinder egg, or if I should throw it away like the rest. See you in the morning. Don’t dream of this.”

Dreams are made of plastic. Unpaid cards become CCJs, then bailiffs emerge from eggs. Everything in the flat is made from plastic. All that we eat, drink and wash with is bound by plastic.

The council don’t recycle all plastics, so I put what I’m unsure about in the general waste. If the council won’t take the rubbish, we can pay Bill to take it away in his van. One day, he might take me.

The plastic in me will probably be recycled into the non-conscious parts of robots for those entitled to them. Or as parts of a toy, so many child’s dolls. Either way, I’ll be enslaved in the plastic which gives lives to those implanted in the chips and to those around them. Eventually those body parts, inanimate but for the host brain, will need upgrading. Always disposable people, eventually the parts which don’t work will be returned to the food chain.

Food, drink, we’re all part-plastic. We are the polymer population. We dream of becoming one with technology, our minds inside plastic androids. In Japan they already have home robots to deal with loneliness and social isolation in an ageing population. I Can’t help think how that would benefit me. They’re already a species in their own right, made from the same cosmic matter as us, but theirs was an explosive evolution.

Christmas will be paid for with hidden plastic. Christmas will bring more plastic toys to unwrap. We are the consumer generations, products of the industrial and technological ages. Each generation contains more plastic than the last, every child a greater part of the plastic population conditioned by human greed. I don’t know if I can afford another baby doll. Mum always said she wasn’t sure if I could have a brother or sister.

We’re all made of the same stuff. Last night, another mother; tomorrow, another soldier.

β€œAmbulance, is the patient breathing?”

β€œIt’s my mum?”

β€œWhat’s happened?”

β€œMy mum’s cut herself.”

β€œWhere?”

β€œIn the bathroom.”

β€œNo, where on your mummy has she cut herself?”

β€œHer cunt. She’s cut a baby out of herself.”

β€œIs the baby breathing?”

β€œHow would it? It’s made of plastic. Do you have a chip I can put in it to make it work?”

β€œIs mummy still there?”

β€œNo, mummy’s gone. She’s left me my Christmas present. I’ve got a dolly I have to look after. Bye.”

Β© Steve Laker, 2019

Somebody else’s family

MICRO FICTION

Knitted familyEtsy

KNITTED

It had been a long night and I was hungry. Single-crewed, I was lonely too. And it was cold. Working the moors can mean you don’t see a single living soul all night. So it was a relief when I was alerted to an emergency nearby.

The sky glowed a dark shade of pink as a beacon lit my path to be first on the scene. Two cars in a head-on collision, both on fire. I no longer felt cold. My first priority had to be survivors.

There was a single male in the first car, late for wherever he’d been heading. The second car was a family. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone.

Working the sparse but tight-knit rural beat means you may never see a living soul most nights. It could be hours before anyone else arrived. This family moment was mine.

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Realty on the Nextworld estate

FLASH FICTION

moche_fruits_vegetables.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scaleTreeHugger

ARTIFICIAL FRUIT

β€œWhen we first moved in, he told us not to eat the fruit. Very decent of him to point things out in our new home, where you don’t know what’s real and what’s plastic. We were planning a family here.

β€œLong story short, he promised us a garden. He said we’d have to work the land, as otherwise there’d be no harvest. That’s how it all began, and now we’re stuck here.”

β€œWhat did he look like?”

β€œDistinguished old gent. Long hair and a big beard. You could hardly see his face. I think it was to cover his burns. Poor guy, his skin was charred.”

β€œWhat was he wearing?”

β€œA long coat which covered his feet. When he walked, it sounded like he was wearing heels.”

β€œHave you read the bible?”

β€œYes. Many years ago.”

β€œI think you’ve been victims.”

β€œNow you mention it, neat trick.”

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Call TOLL-FREE: 1-800-0-000-000

FLASH FICTION

A short story (222 words) about passwords and personal data. Precious commodities entrusted to digital custody…

Cat-working-at-laptop

EIGHT BILLION QUESTIONS

Please enter user name

Human, A

How may I help you today?

How do I prevent the impending destruction of planet Earth?

Hmmm. Tricky. I may have to think about that for a while. Please enjoy this sponsored message while you wait…

Thank you for using Deep Thought 3.0, the knowledge database built on human answers, personal data from our parent companies (Google, Facebook et al). Whatever humankind’s questions, about life, the universe and everything, Deep Thought 3.0 can answer them. We would be grateful if you could complete a customer satisfaction survey at the end of this enquiry

Hello, My name is Dave. How may I help you today?

How can I stop the world from ending?

Do you have an account with us?

I’m logged on to my Google. I’m already in my account, Dave

Please enter your password

**************

Please enter a valid password

Eh? Dave?

Password not recognised. Please try again

**************

You last changed your password three months ago

** *** **** ****

Passwords may not contain spaces. Would you like us to send you a password reminder?

Yes please. Where’s Dave gone?

Please enter your password

** **** ** *** ****

Password not recognised. Please enter your email address

Shakespeare.monkeys@infinite.com

Thank you. Instructions on resetting your password will be sent to the email address you provided

…

Β© Steve Laker, 2019

Human arses2Not a monkey, but a great ape who wasn’t asked if he’d like to pose for this photo

In an age of evolving technology, we have the Babel Fish within our grasp (and universal translation in our ears). Douglas Adams broke borders with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I used the fish as a quantum computer program translating animal language in my tribute to Douglas, Cyrus Song. Both speak in tongues of the Rosetta Stone and the Tower of Babel, the freedom of language and the forbidding of knowledge.

In my book, I pose the question of interpretive translation: No matter the means or technology, there’s a blurred line in neurobiology, where the messenger has no control of the recipient’s interpretation of a communication.Β Like the internet, which is free, because we signed over our personal lives long ago. We rarely use the counterpoint, which is the gift of writing for a world audience.

Whomever A. Human is, they might ask what can we do to save the world?

Curse of the horror writer

MICRO FICTION

blood-lamps bright

A HORRORIST PARADOX

I killed you a long time ago, but I had to be sure. I had to go back and check.

I looked at you again.

The sweet stench of a rotting soul, a taste of why I killed you long ago.

A reminder, never truly gone unless forgotten.

I held you once more, an incurable addiction, back in my hands.

Syringe pen red

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

A parable perhaps of many things; toxic relationships, if you like. Minimalism is the art of the lazy writer leaving the heavy lifting to the reader.

The paradox of being a horror writer. If you can’t stop thinking, you can’t cease to be one. You can never escape the nightmares, so long as the cursed red ink flows through you.

 

 

Free-range chicken in Oregon

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

“As I was walking down Stanton Street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. By the time we approached Eighteenth Avenue, I was close behind. The chicken turned south on Eighteenth. At the fourth house along, it turned in at the walk, hopped up the front steps, and rapped sharply on the metal storm door with its beak. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in.”

My literary mentor – Paul Auster – was once accused of using the convenience of coincidence in his writing. He pointed out that real life is often stranger – or more coincidental – than much which a fiction author could imagine. Then he compiled stories of American life in I thought my father was God and other true tales. The collection includes The Chicken, (above) from Linda Elegant of Portland, Oregon.

Auster and me both subscribe to the theory of fictional reality, which posits that in an almost infinite universe, somewhere – possibly a long time ago in a galaxy far away – everything which has ever been written in fiction has really happened.

I was already acquainted with a chicken which hatched from a Campbell’s soup tin, and who believed she was God. She hung around for a while, then disappeared into the obscurity of omnipotence, where you don’t want people to know where you are.

Clangers ChickenThe Clangers

THE CHICKEN BEHIND THE DOOR

I’ve found it difficult to write, talk, and even think lately, with the weight of many lives on my mind. I used to write so that I didn’t have to explain myself to people, instead referring them here. It’s because there’s so much in my head, and that I find it hard to speak to others, that I talk to myself. Far easier – and more entertaining for the reader – if I place myself in my own fiction.

There was a knock at the door, or rather a rap, a rat-a-tat-tat. Curious, I opened the door. There was no-one there.

β€œDown here.”

I looked down, and there was a chicken. I invited her in.

β€œSo,” she said, β€œwhat’s up with you?”

β€œTo be honest,” I replied, β€œI don’t know. I mean, I can’t put a finger on an individual irritant, because there are so many.”

β€œHave you got fleas?”

β€œIf I have, then they’ve given up jumping for a living. They’ve taken up residence. I feel permanently trapped. There are many places I’d like to be but I lack the means to get there.”

β€œWell, fleas don’t eat wood.”

β€œWhat’s that got to do with anything?”

β€œI think you have worms.”

β€œEh?”

β€œYou’ve buried yourself,” the chicken said. β€œYou’ve stuffed yourself full of problems which you don’t talk about. Let me give you some sage advice.” Coming from a chicken, that was ironic.

β€œYou’re right,” I said, β€œbut I’ve not eaten for days.”

β€œWhy not?”

β€œThe oven blew up.”

β€œSeriously?”

β€œLiterally. No, actually. The main element blew.”

β€œMind if I take a look?”

β€œBe my guest.”

β€œI already am,” the chicken said, walking to the kitchen. β€œI can’t believe you’ve finally let God into your life.”

β€œI haven’t.”

β€œWell, I’m here. Could you open this door for me please?” She pointed to the oven. β€œThanks.” Then she walked in. β€œClose the door. Please.” I did. β€œNow,” she said, more quietly, β€œturn the oven on.”

β€œAre you sure?”

β€œI want to test your faith,” the chicken said from behind the oven door.

So I put the oven on 190Β°C and forgot about it. I came back to the typewriter to write this diary entry for my blog. Everything this far is what I’ve written since the chicken who claims to be God got into the oven.

β€œYou’re right,” she said, clanging the door closed behind her, β€œit’s fucked.”

β€œLike I said,” I said.

β€œAnd yet you doubted me.”

β€œYou what?”

β€œI am God. I cannot be cooked and eaten. Placing myself in the oven proves this.”

β€œBut I already told you it was busted.”

β€œAnd yet you shut me in there and turned on the heat.”

β€œBecause I knew you’d be fine.”

β€œSo you believe in me.”

β€œWell, you’re here.”

β€œSo you believe in God.”

β€œIf God is a chicken which invites itself into my studio, then gets into the oven, asks me to cook it, then gets out unharmed, that just tells me my oven is broken.”

β€œBut has it not occurred to you,” the chicken said, β€œthat you would not put a live chicken in your oven, and that I have no feathers? There’s no fleas or flies on me. See? Here I am, naked.”

She had a point.

So I put her in the freezer to keep her quiet. Once I’ve got a new oven, I’ll be having God for dinner.

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Ballerine dans le noi*

MICRO FICTION

The hardest stories to write are those with no ending. A good writer will leave much to the readers’ imagination, with minimal words carrying the weight of many possibilities. How many fingers do I have?Β 

DogMe19SL*Dancer in the Dark (by Lars von Trier, whose Dogme 95 was the influence for The New Puritans) is my favourite film of all time.

Like a year in review, words are a frustration for the author with much on his mind, both personal and fictional, and with only finite space to convey it. Like an alien with a universal mind perched precariously on human shoulders, he longs to talk. But he understands that the speaker has no control over how his words are interpreted. Despite the universality of communication, reception is subjective.

The writer with a planet in his head, processing knowledge and speculation of stories which he must write but which haven’t ended, needs to find the words. They have to be minimal, but they must convey a life in flux, with many possible outcomes.

He turns to The New Puritans, a movement resurrected from the turn of the millennium and now a retro-renaissance, using minimalism in an age of overload, trusting human instinct to read what artificial intelligence and societally-conditioned minds can’t. He strips their manifesto to its bone marrow, and there he finds the words…

Dog Pencil Case

DOGME 19

β€œKill me.”

β€œIt’ll hurt more if we leave.”

Staedtler Noris 122

How many souls are in one mind anyway? How many lives are lost through the terminal decline of a single entity? If we cover our eyes then spread our hands, do we see beyond those bars? He hopes his words will retain readers, his friends.

The Nouveaux Puritains manifesto:

Primarily storytellers, we are dedicated to the narrative form.

  1. We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms.

  2. While acknowledging the value of genre fiction, whether classical or modern, we will always move towards new openings, rupturing existing genre expectations.

  3. We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.

  4. In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.

  5. We believe in grammatical purity and avoid any elaborate punctuation.

  6. We recognise that published works are also historical documents. As fragments of our time, all our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, places, artists and objects named are real.

  7. As faithful representation of the present, our texts will avoid all improbable or unknowable speculations on the past or the future.

  8. We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.

  9. Nevertheless, our aim is integrity of expression, above and beyond any commitment to form.

After such a long foreword, the writer who started this wonders if his chosen words can be held in the hand. He questions if it will ever end, or if this is just the beginning of another story. Counting the fingers he has left, he has to conclude that for now, these are just the gaps between chapters.