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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

© 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. 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?

Helvetica sans serif and Georgia

FLASH FICTION

At Helvetica Haus, we’re only allowed one sheet of paper per day…

TSEE1  TSEE2TSEE3  TSEE4

MANNEQUIN MIRROR

With all that was churning in my head last night, I was reminded of my broken washing machine. If only I could launder myself, so that I was fresh again, back with everyone my illness had alienated. Or just burn my clothes, maybe with me in them. Anything to flood the deepest valleys in an ocean of depression, just for one day. To go swimming in a font of typesetting.

On the other side of my drawn curtains, I heard the sound of laughter and heels. If I could break through the window behind the drapes, I’d be out there.

Instead, I sat all evening, staring variously at dark curtains and the paper in my typewriter, respectively wondering and writing about the world outside. All the while, a gin and tonic by my side, like all writer stereotypes.

I hated myself, as anyone will when they stare at a wall which separates them from another world they can’t reach. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I wouldn’t blame anyone for punching that face.

Eventually I ran out of paper.

The joy I’d heard earlier outside the window returned, but it was dark now. Heels were clicking, the owners tripping.

My glass tipped, I needed more. I had to go out, despite myself. No matter how much I loathed the author of this night, I had to face him. I had to check I looked okay before I went outside.

I smashed my head into the first face I saw, then I carried on.

I was in the world of stilted lives outside, where grazed knees are all which many have to remember of the night, before they look in the mirror.

© Steve Laker, 2020

Feast on the forbidden inside. Wash your mask in the font. Wipe it clean with cotton paper. Spread the dark curtains and remove your make-up.

The journalist who ate himself

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

A self-consumed writer’s inner psychologist suggested writing just one page freestyle. I have one sheet of paper…

woman-finds-mysterious-typewriter-made-from-human-teethWoman finds mysterious typewriter made from human teeth (Sightings.info)

I’m lonely, but I like it that way. There are few actual people I like, and even fewer I actually enjoy spending time with beyond mime. If my life was a filmed social experiment, my behaviour would depend on the number of available rooms. If there was only one, I’d be there on my own. Like I am now, at the writing desk in my studio.

I write frantically most days, hoping something will sell so I can pay the bills. Most days it’s just freelance, writing copy for websites aimed at the enabled and entitled.

Some of the work is interesting: I recently wrote some articles for a US client about medicinal and recreational Cannabis. Most of it’s tedious though, an insult to the wordsmith who sells property on plantation land, and spread betting positions to speculators on the natural disasters market, for less than minimum wage. Often the brief is so vague as to give the client license for rejection of the copy, retraction by the author, and later plagiarism.

I feel better now there’s something at the top of the page. A blank sheet of paper in the typewriter is an empty universe. With something to look up at, I feel there’s a life of a writer above what I write next. If I had more paper, I could tell the whole story without having to chew on my fingernails. The freelance work I do is covered in non-disclosure clauses, but if I had freedom and a whistle, I’d be able to eat again.

The words I already wrote float like clouds of Alphabetti, which at very long odds have fallen into something legible. They only did that because I wrote them that way.

So apparently I can control the weather, at least with pasta steamed in its own container. My intestines know how I feel.

If I can play God, why do I just want to gather letters from my storm clouds and throw words at people? Because I’m lonely and want attention; I can’t just come out with it; or I’d like to share a meal?

In any case, I’m at the bottom of the page in the typewriter, I can’t afford more paper and I’m hungry.

An A4 sheet of Smythson White Wove contains few calories, but the seasoning of ink lends flavour. Tomorrow, maybe the sun will shine.

© Steve Laker, 2020

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.

Down here.”

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

So,” she said, “what’s up with you?”

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

Have you got fleas?”

If 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.”

Well, fleas don’t eat wood.”

What’s that got to do with anything?”

I think you have worms.”

Eh?”

You’ve buried yourself,” the chicken said. “You’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.

You’re right,” I said, “but I’ve not eaten for days.”

Why not?”

The oven blew up.”

Seriously?”

Literally. No, actually. The main element blew.”

Mind if I take a look?”

Be my guest.”

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

I haven’t.”

Well, I’m here. Could you open this door for me please?” She pointed to the oven. “Thanks.” Then she walked in. “Close the door. Please.” I did. “Now,” she said, more quietly, “turn the oven on.”

Are you sure?”

I want to test your faith,” the chicken said from behind the oven door.

So I put the oven on 190°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.

You’re right,” she said, clanging the door closed behind her, “it’s fucked.”

Like I said,” I said.

And yet you doubted me.”

You what?”

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

But I already told you it was busted.”

And yet you shut me in there and turned on the heat.”

Because I knew you’d be fine.”

So you believe in me.”

Well, you’re here.”

So you believe in God.”

If 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.”

But has it not occurred to you,” the chicken said, “that 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.

© 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? 

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

Kill me.”

It’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.

One better day in Soho Square

FICTION

Kirsty Bench

CAMDEN TOWN TO SOHO SQUARE

An old man in a three piece suit sits in the road, by Arlington House in Camden. The first cigarette is for contemplation, of the day before and the one to follow. He looks down at his shoes, flecked with the human remains of an October night.

He tossed his cigarette end through a drain cover, a portcullis to London’s intestines below. As he rose to his feet, a younger man walked almost alongside him, then boarded the same train at Camden Town, southbound on the Northern Line. At Euston, the young man wrote in a journal.

The old boy opposite doesn’t look so good. He’s wearing an LU uniform: Kinda hope he’s not gonna drive a train. Doesn’t matter to me, I’m off soon. He’s fallen asleep.

No-one knows I’m meeting her tonight. I don’t want to be a part of someone else’s Christmas, when at home I’m just a memorial, an empty chair at the dining table, with silver cutlery and a bone dry glass laid out for a ghost.

We’ve stopped just outside Warren Street. Above me, there life walks, and the city breathes, like a heavy smoker.

Old girl, new girl;
mother, daughter, Seven Sisters.
Roaming your many ways:
Shakespeare’s.

Saviour, black heart;
Angel, Bermondsey, Moorgate.
All that’s precious:
China.

Tears, laughter;
West End, Soho, Arnos Grove.
Where my heart is:
Push.

We’re on the move. I’ll get off at Tottenham Court Road and walk to Soho Square…

The old man was stirred by an on-train announcement:

Ladies and gentlemen, due to an incident, this train will terminate here. All change please. All change.”

He spotted the notebook, open on the seat opposite.

I’ll get off at Tottenham Court Road and I’ll walk to Soho Square, where I hope to see you. No empty bench, but my London, my life.

We met and we clicked,
like Bonnie and Clyde.
So similar:
Jekyll and Hyde.

We went out,
like Mickey and Mallory.
Why don’t you come on over,
Valerie.

We done stuff,
like Courtney and Kurt.
Laughed then slept:
Ernie and Bert.

Holding throats, not hands.
Necromancy.
Over there:
Sid and Nancy.

See you soon,

A man on the underground.

Emerging from beneath Tottenham Court Road, a young man blinked in the lights and mizzle, on the way to Soho Square. He sniffed, and snow fell in the back of his throat. He waited on the bench.

An old man in a three piece suit sits in the road, outside Arlington House in Camden. The first cigarette is for contemplation, of the day before and the one to follow. He looks down at his shoes, flecked with the human remains of an October night.

© Steve Laker, 2014.

Kirsty MacColl

Kirsty MacColl, 10.10.1959 – 18.12.2000

A sense of taste deprivation

FICTION

A place I found glancing around my mind, this is a flash fiction (500 words) trip, a story of an introvert recluse, and a parable of paranoia in a world where humans are merging with technology, but where a place is preserved for nostalgia…

horror-collectiblesNightmareToys.com

THE FLAVOUR OF AIR

The writer’s life is a solitary one, usually writing alone and only connecting with others when they read his work. In such a lonely place, being an author has its advantages: In a place of sensory deprivation, the writer can create people, places and events. He (in my case) can escape into situations he creates, and he can make places an extension of his real world so that he can better explore them. Alone and dealing with much in his mind, the writer gains support in his venture when readers want to know what he’s writing.

Welcome to my world, just one of many of I made. Sometimes I re-visit those old planets, but this is a new place, created around the life inside my head. This is a fictional world made real because I’ve written it. I might come back in future, or only visit briefly once.

It’s neither warm nor cold here. If the feeling of the place could be painted, it would be green. It’s fairly dark, an ambience of dawn mist hanging in streets lit by fluorescent tubes with peeling paint.

It’s best to be out in the village at night, as that’s when the mechabugs swarm windows. They look in every window with someone behind it. They form clouds at the front of the MetroMart, as us villagers stock up on what’s fresh that day.

Today there’s an offer on gourmet cat food. I don’t have a cat but the posh stuff can be passed off in a cottage pie. Some mushrooms complete that day’s single meal.

The flies disperse when the sun rises, a light grey orb behind clouds of dirty cotton wool, and the villagers return home. The village is deserted by day, the odd homeless person drifting through but never staying long.

Land sharks swim in the monochrome daylight, sharp fins of flint able to cut through granite. A few of the older villagers are amputees, mainly of one leg. At least one lost both legs and an arm to a land shark’s fin scything through the road.

We keep our curtains closed to the light, as a break in the clouds carries trillions of nano machines on the sun’s photons. They’re small enough to pass through solid materials at a molecular level but layers add filters. I use three layers to block out the sun, so my techninfection is fairly low compared to the average out there.

I know all this as tales reach me from the village. I don’t go out at night, so another villager pops in as I’m about to start writing, then drops my shopping off in the morning. He brought me a gift today, something not on my shopping list. He said it would remind me of outside.

Alone and dealing with much in his mind, the writer hopes his voice will be heard, that people will read what he’s written and know what he’s thinking.

Outside tastes of lime milkshake.

© Steve Laker, 2019