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

© 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

…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

…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

…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

…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

…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

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

© Steve Laker, 2020

I 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 “shielded” 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. They were just part of the gamble to reap the harvest.

Clinical waste, where once we were slaves. 

© Steve Laker, 2020

Actual Bodily Harm by doggerel

POETRY

I write poetry whether anyone asks for it or not. If they didn’t, then it’s usually for me. And still if they didn’t, I’ll ask – only a very few people – if they’d like me to. Sometimes they say okay, because I can write poetry which is violent, makes them take another look, and see how others see. Bodily harm in poetry is just invisible tattoos with a blunter instrument…

THE INVISIBLE TATTOOIST

Broken Mirror Poem Impact

There’s a difference between wanting to be helped and being found. When help doesn’t need to be wanted but it knows it can, then it longs to be given. I can’t help writing poetry, even in terrible dreams. I’ll always be a writer who can find beauty in horror and vice versa in the mirror.

A story written in indelible ink

FICTION

Blood dripping

1329953557707 (1)

THE PERPETUITY OF MEMORY

When you see what Dom Pablo has done, at first you may recoil. But Dom’s art is personal and subjective. Each work is unique and creates another life for the owner. A gift from an admirer.”

The invitation to be part of a rare commission by Dom Pablo Solanas was a work of art in itself: exquisitely crafted by the artist and a future priceless piece. This alone was a luxurious gift, even to someone of Christiana Kunsak’s means, yet it was merely an invitation to a private audience with Solanas himself. A box, carved from a single piece each of ebony and rare boxwood, interlocked to form a puzzle.

The piece is entitled La armonia. The accompanying notes state that the name only exists for as long as the puzzle is in its unsolved form: once the puzzle is solved and the two pieces separated, a mechanism inside the piece ensures that they cannot be re-joined. Once the puzzle is complete, La armonia ceases to exist and the work becomes La ansiedad.

La armonia was a rare and beautiful thing. It also held a secret: an invitation to meet with Dom Pablo Solanas. The nature of that meeting was unknown and therein lay a form of gamble; a wager with oneself: La armonia was unique and intricately crafted; its aesthetics were unquestionable in that initial state. Further value must be added for the simple fact that the piece contains a secret. If that secret is revealed, it may reduce the value of the work. The invitation will be spent.

La ansiedad may not be as pleasing to the eye as La armonia and it is the permanent replacement, with La armonia destroyed forever. Conversely, the construction of the work is so fine and detailed as to invite curiosity, more of what it might become than what it is: should that beauty be left as potential, or revealed? Is it something which may be left to a subsequent benefactor? What might they find inside La armonia?

Christiana could not deny herself a pleasure which someone else might yet have, and which she may never see.

As soon as the first link clicked audibly out of place somewhere inside the box, La armonia was no longer. There were no instructions on how to create La ansiedad: it was a work to be created by a new artist from the original. Only when the puzzle was complete would it reveal its secret and until then, it was nameless and fluid.

Held in both hands, the wooden box – around the size of a large cigar box – felt as heavy as it should, carved from solid wood and not hollowed out. It was slightly heavier at one end than the other. The seamless interlocking of the ebony and boxwood formed variously alternate, interlocking and enclosing patterns of dark and light. Aside from the initial click, no amount of tilting, pressing, pulling, twisting and pushing of the device produced any change. Christiana alone had been privy to that first movement, so to anyone other than her, La armonia still existed. But she wanted to create and to see La ansiedad.

The box remained unaffected by manipulation, until Christiana’s housemaid picked it up to clean around it. Snatching the box from the maid’s hand, Christiana heard another click from the device and almost immediately noticed a change: the box remained a cuboid but the dimensions and patterns had altered. Closer examination of the new patterns revealed some to have assumed shapes which suggested movement: swirls, series of dots and even directional arrows. The introduction of a third party had revealed a form of instruction.

Over a period of around four weeks, the wooden box became a collaborative project, with guests to Christiana’s apartment invited to examine the puzzle and attempt to solve it. During that time, the box took on many geometric forms: pyramid, cone, octahedron and latterly, a perfect cube, with opposite ebony and boxwood faces: it was more perfect in form that it had ever been but it still harboured something inside.

The geometrically perfect cube would let up no further information and remained static for a number of days, until the housemaid picked it up once more while she was cleaning. The top half separated from the bottom, the base now a half-cube on the table. The surfaces of the half cubes where they’d separated were a chequerboard design: a game of miniature chess could be played on each ebony and boxwood surface, the size of drinks coasters.

Christiana placed the two halves back together and a perfect cube once again sat upon the table, for a while. After around five seconds, the cube began to make a whirring sound, as though a clockwork mechanism had been invisibly wound inside. Slowly and with a smoothness suggesting the most intricate mechanical construction, the individual tiles on top of the cube folded back from the centre to the edges, eventually forming a five-sided cube with a checked interior.

It was seemingly the lack of any further outside intervention which allowed the wooden device to complete a long transformation by self-re-assembly and after a while, the device resembled a chequered wooden hand. A slot opened in the palm and a card was offered between the forefinger and thumb: a card roughly the size of a visiting card and folded with such accuracy as to disguise the fact that it was anything other. Yet unfurled, it was an octavo sheet: eight leaves. The reverse of the flat sheet was blank but the eight pages to view on the face were images of art.

Oil and watercolour paintings; portraits, landscapes, sill life and abstract; cubist, surrealist and classical. Wooden, metal and glass sculptures; pieces made using prefabricated materials, notably shop window mannequins, plastic dolls, action men and tin soldiers. Body art as well: tattoos drawn in such a way as to give them a third dimension: an arm with skin pulled back to reveal muscle and bone beneath by way of a zip; a human chest splayed open to reveal a metallic cyborg beneath: living art made from human flesh, these two suggesting something beneath the skin visible only with the benefit of intimacy with the bearer. Another tattoo made the wearer’s right leg appear as though the limb were an intricate sculpture made from wood: one organic material transformed into another, which can be transformed in a way that the material it’s made from cannot, to create the illusion of just such a thing.

All of these things had been made by the hands of Dom Pablo Solanas. All were arresting at first sight and invited closer inspection. Even as facsimiles and at such small sizes, the works of Solanas were breathtaking. At the bottom of the sheet was a phone number: apparently a direct line to Dom Pablo himself.

La ansiedad quietly whirred into motion again, the mechanical fingers retracting into the wooden flesh of the hand until the sculpture was briefly a chequered ovoid, before flipping open like a clam shell. It continued to change form, seemingly with perpetuity.

Dom Pablo arrived promptly and attired in a fashion exhibited in many public portraits of him: conflicting primary colours which somehow worked, on a man who also wore a fedora hat at all times, and who sported a perfectly manicured handlebar moustache.

Ms. Kunsak. A pleasure to meet you.”

Please sir: Christiana. Likewise, Mr Solanas.” Christiana offered her hand, which Solanas held firmly.

As you wish. And please, call me Dom Pablo.” His voice was deep and relaxed. “Christiana: what is it that you’d like to do today?”

I already have a great gift before me. This is a chance for me to turn your natural gift into something I can share. I have everything I could need around me, but this is an opportunity to own something which is so treasured, I may not wish to leave this apartment again.”

Indeed. That is one of the rules I apply to my arts. Just as I turn my raw materials into others – like flesh into wood – so I wish to allow others to use me as a creative tool, so that what I create is their own. My subjects and prefabricated materials are artworks in themselves but together, we make unique pieces. By allowing a subject to commission me, I am subverting the art and holding a mirror to the process.

You will of course have an idea of who the giver of this gift is. Association with such a person is to be in the membership of a society which respects certain things, like privacy. Therefore, I never discuss the details of a commission with the subject. It is highly unlikely that anyone should wish to attract attention to anyone outside of a certain group, that they have been a part of my work. All of my pieces are unique and personal.”

It is those very people, those within my inner circles, that I have in mind as I enter into this: it was within my closest circles that I came to receive this, and only those of a certain standing will have access. Dom Pablo: I should like to carry your work with me in those circles; I would like you to use me as a canvas and make me a living work of art.”

A truly beautiful idea. Although the canvas is living, I must render it inanimate so that I may work. As such, I shall administer a general anaesthetic, so that you feel no discomfort. I don’t like to talk when I work. When you awake, we will have new art and the Dom Pablo art changes lives. You will enter an even more exclusive, innermost circle of my very own. Excited? Sleep now…

***

“…When you see what Dom Pablo has done, at first you may recoil. But Dom’s art is personal and subjective; each work is unique and creates another life for the owner. My art remains with you, just as the motion of La ansiedad is perpetual. This latest work is entitledThe perpetuity of memory.”

Christiana stared into the mirror, and the illusion of wood carved from human flesh was real. It would take a level of intimacy permitted to very few, to see the original material beneath the artwork, made by Dom Pablo. The mannequin beneath the wooden skin.

© Steve Laker, 2015

Both The Perpetuity of Memory and The Unfinished Literary Agency, are available now in paperback.

The evolution of sentient plastic

FICTION

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

Blonde doll

HOMO POLYMER

A 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.”

Mummy, who are you talking to? I need a wee.”

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

No-one,” Ocean replied, “Well, just myself.”

But you’re not no-one mum.”

Thanks. Now, come on, back to bed.”

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

Honestly, Conscience, just myself. I do that a lot.”

Will you read me a story, please?”

We don’t have any, Conscience.”

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

Well, 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.

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

And 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…

They 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.

There 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.

We 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.

So 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.

Ambulance, is the patient breathing?”

It’s my mum?”

What’s happened?”

My mum’s cut herself.”

Where?”

In the bathroom.”

No, where on your mummy has she cut herself?”

Her cunt. She’s cut a baby out of herself.”

Is the baby breathing?”

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

Is mummy still there?”

No, mummy’s gone. She’s left me my Christmas present. I’ve got a dolly I have to look after. Bye.”

© 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.

© Steve Laker, 2020