A Triptych In Under 500 Words

(Those 500 words do not include this disclaimer: these three stories were written one after the other in a creative writing class on Wednesday night while I sat shaking in a chair due to excessive caffeine consumption. Enjoy. Any feedback is appreciated. Oh and once again, WordPress refuses to format things correctly.)

Work, play and education. Are these stories related?

Scottish Fiction

Did you know that old nitrate film stock is so flammable that the gasses they release would sometimes explode in the can?
If I were Tyler Durden I’d splice frames of porn into the latest releases.
I am Jock’s numb brain.
But I’m not, so my raison d’etre is abject boredom.

Sometimes I wish I were a projectionist in the 1940s, switching reels and changing the projectors in smoke filled theatres as people sit and watch the latest Orson Wells film.
So many old films are gone because they were too explosive to keep around. Now they are stored in warehouses in industrial estates kept far away from built up areas. Just in case.
If I were the antagonist in a Raymond Chandler film adaptation I’d take the old films out of their cans and set them on fire, turning this place into an inferno as I escaped out the back door.

But it’s not the 1940s and films are digital now, so I sit in the projectionists booth in this smoke free multiplex, press play and wait for this hell to end.
Taking solace in my own Scottish fiction.

Swift by Name, Swift by Nature: A Cautionary Tale of Passion Gone Awry

Like many boys of a certain age Riley Swift disliked his name. Things didn’t always used to be this way though. Riley Swift was once fond of his name.
At school sports day Riley was always the fastest in his year. He used to run around so much that his Mum bought him a quality pair of track shoes and his PE teacher thought he might even be an Olympian one day, such was his passion and energy for running.

During an outdoor competition on a gravel pitch (inexplicably), he’d made it to the final heat of an inter-school 100m race. He started the final race of the day in the outside lane and blitzed the competition.
He had gained an impressive lead, and was ahead in the race by a good metre or so and as he reached the finish line the ground gave way beneath him.
Sink holes.
He fell through it, falling so fast and sharp than when he hit the ground he had no time to flex his legs to absorb the impact, shattering his right knee.

He never felt the same about his name ever again.

Ninth Floor Men’s Room

The wall said:

“All we are is dust from the stars.” in red pen
“Speak for yourself. I’m a real live boy.” said someone in blue.
“Ah, but that’ll change.” stated the red.
“Maybe, but right now I’m Pinocchio, only it’s not the nose that grows, if you know what I mean.” replied the blue, a winking face drawn next to it.
“I like it. Can I have your number?!” asked the red.
“Maybe” responded the blue.
Someone in black said “Ah, young love” before the janitor erased the evidence.


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Day Three Hundred and Fifty Five: Every Day Horror Redux

Here’s a fragment for you about every day horror. And perhaps also about the facelessness of some corporations.

Teeth

The Industrial Shredding Company placed great pride in their fleet of Hammel 750D Industrial Shredders. Clocking in at a whopping £70,000, the company felt they were an essential part of their business yet did not feel it appropriate to ensure their employees safety around such dangerous equipment. Before the proper safety precautions were put in place, one man alone operated the machinery, first by pressing the big red begin button on the control panel on the front of the shredder then mounting the gangway that surrounded the machine before finally depositing whatever needed to be shredded in its metal mouth. Sometimes this was done by hand, most of the time it was emptied in from the back of a truck. During a lunch break one November afternoon a young man who had only started working at the plant two days earlier wanted to impress his colleagues with his tenacity and decided to work through lunch in order to increase his processing quota for the day. After emptying a truckload of electronic waste into the shredder he found that one piece of plastic was refusing to be consumed by the blades. Thinking that he could solve this issue, he used a large metal rod to try to push this last piece of waste between down through the blades. He was successful in pushing the plastic into the shredder’s large jagged teeth however the metal pole he used was consumed with it. Gobbling the pole out of his hand with so much force it knocked him off balance the serrated jaws of the Hammel dragged him between its teeth. The subsequent scream was heard throughout the entire plant. It was so sudden, so harsh and so violent that it startled most of the staff in the lunch room into a frozen silence. With the exception of the safety officer all the other staff members remained rooted to their seat. As the safety officer donned his hard hat to go and assess the situation the plant manager informed him that the 750D takes approximately fourteen minutes to complete a shredding cycle. The safety officer removed his hat and sat back down. Fourteen minutes later, and roughly seven minutes after the screaming had ceased, the safety officer went to check the machine for damage. All that remained was the young man’s foot severed just above the ankle and blood dripping from the shiny metal teeth. The machine however was still in perfect working order.

Day Three Hundred and Twenty Nine: Sad Clown

A little bit of flash fiction that I’ve been playing around with of late. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

Sad Clown

Across a busy road, shaking in front of a fifth floor window a man with his shoulders bobbing up and down. Is this silent mirth, or quiet melancholy? I look down at him from my seventh floor window. I look and I wonder. Sitting before his LCD screen, what is the man in the bank doing with his head in his hands? Framed by the window, shaking his head left and right and moving up and down, is he laughing?

Or is he crying? The tinted windows of this building make the sunniest of days look slate grey and even on a clear day such as this. Cars fly by in street below, en route to the city centre. People take off in buses; they bustle in and out of pubs and restaurants, and into the building where the man in the window sits shaking with his head in his hands. His pale blue shirt looks blunt as I spy him two floors down, quaking on his desk, elbows moving back and forth.

Through my headphones all I can hear is the radio, blocking out the office noise around me yet still this man sits in the window, shaking and quaking. Eventually he removes his hands from his face to reveal his face – painted like a clown. Only it’s smudged and smeared, with two lines down each cheek, wet from tears. He removes his navy blue tie and climbs onto his desk. He turns around and says something to the room behind him; the man sitting in the window to his left slowly rises from his chair and moves towards him. As he crawls towards the clown, he makes large gestures and sympathetic eyes however the sad clown moves backwards towards the window. He waves to the assembled office workers, all on their feet and staring in horror, before standing in the window frame and launching himself out of it. His descent is quick, like a seagull falling out of the air at sea. I don’t hear him hit the ground. No one in my offices notices, no one’s pay attention and in my ears, all I can hear is: “They’re asking us to die for something, while asking us to live for nothing.” resonating in my head.

Day Two Hundred and Ninety Six: Every Day Horror

Here’s a nice wee bit of flash fiction by one of Glasgow’s finest writers, James Kelman. It’s called ‘Acid’ and all rights belong to the author. It’s truly brilliant.

In this factory in the north of England acid was essential. It was contained in large vats. Gangways were laid above them. Before these gangways were completely safe a young man fell into a vat feet first. His screams of agony were heard all over the department. Except for one old fellow the large body of men was so horrified that for a time not one of them could move. In an instant this old fellow who was also the young man’s father had clambered up and along the gangway carrying a big pole. Sorry Hughie, he said. And then he ducked the young man below the surface. Obviously the old fellow had had to do this because only the head and shoulders – in fact, that which had been seen above the acid – was all that remained of the young man.

Day Two Hundred and Seventy Five: Automatic Writing In Practice

A few days ago I mentioned how I wrote a poem using a kind of automatic writing that we’d been instructed to do in my creative writing class. What follows is exactly what I wrote in that class (ok, that’s a lie, it’s been edited a tiny wee bit but not in a drastic way) and will almost certainly form the basis of a longer piece of fiction for my portfolio.

I asked her what she was thinking.
“The crack in the ceiling scares me. I don’t know what it will bring.”
Such an obscure statement demanded and answer but I had none. I could only reflect.
“Aren’t you going to say something?”
“I don’t know what to say. It’s a crack. I’ll call a plasterer.”
“It’s sinister.”
“That’s what Ginsberg would say.”
I flashed her a smile, she failed to reciprocate. Crossing the room and reaching high up into to our white bookcase, she produced a leather bound version of a book I knew would be familiar.
“If you’re going to quote Ginsberg to me, you better tell me which poem it’s from.”
I sat down in the chair next to her and she handed the book down to me. I took it and, without opening it, placed it on the table.
“It’s from ‘America’. ‘Burroughs is in the Tangiers. I don’t know if he’ll come back. It’s sinister’. The whole poem is sinister. Didn’t you know?”
“I don’t care, that crack is sinister. It’s evil.”
She glanced at the crack in the corner of the ceiling. It extended out toward the centre of the room like a morbid vein, white paint flaking away around the edges, revealing flecks of blue, yellow, gray and green, telling stories from the past, hinting at the lives that were here before us, quietly suggesting that we compare ourselves. Are we better? Worse? More or less dysfunctional? One kid? Two kids, four? None at all.
I agreed with her. It’s sinister.
“Alright. It’s sinister. I agree.”
She looked at me and smiled. I had no idea why.
“Are you sure you’re not just saying that to appease me?”
She crossed the room and sat in my lap. I took the cigarettes that were hanging out of her back pocket, like always, opened the carton and sparked one.
“No. It’s sinister. Ginsberg would have a field day.”

Day Forty Eight: Ash

Our dreams were their dreams. The fabric of reality ripped to shreds on the backs of flaming rockets and replaced by a new one, one with no sunlight, no vision, recycled air and a darkened skyline.

Everything society has worked for came apart at the seams at the start of a warm day in the warm month of July. Awakening to get ready for work, sirens called out louder than anything I’d ever heard before. Outside the window sunlight was casting its blanket over the landscape, when something far brighter, yet somehow far darker tore through the sky, piercing the horizon like a needle through silk, coating everything as far as the eye could see in a brilliant, deadly white light. I closed my eyes to save them, knowing that this was the day my father and grandfather feared, the day we all hoped would never come. Destruction was mutually assured.

Out here in the sticks the world always turned slowly, but now it ground to halt as cities came unstitched across the globe, and were burned from the world. Nothing could prepare you for the sound – a crack of thunder exploding in an echo chamber, followed by a rush of fire, whooshing everywhere at once. Out here in the sticks we were lucky, nothing but the seam where the sky meets the land burned from here but even so, windows exploded, buildings buckled and car alarms sang out in unison. The chilling sound of dogs barking, cats meowing and babies crying joined the unholy chorus, sounding like a choir from the depths of hell.

Then, silence. A cloudburst that seemed a million miles high, ensconced in fire rose up into the sky, piercing the cloud cover above. I stood transfixed at this – a beautiful monstrosity in red and black before daylight vanished, unsure of when it would return. Jolted from my apocalypse I reached for the phone – nothing. Attempted to switch on the television – empty. I ran to my computer and tried to power it up – dead. The radio? Silenced. A lightswitch? Clicks but delivers only darkness. A knocking at the door as my neighbour, looking incredulous, invites himself in. He says nothing. I say nothing. We both know what’s happening.

We walk into the street to get a closer look at the scene, oil black sky hangs its self up as far as the eye can see. Ash starts to drift in from the east. We go in doors, feeling older than we’ve ever felt before, and contemplate what to do next. Paralysed by silence, by fear, by mourning.

Our dreams were their dreams, and now we shall have dreams no more.

Day Thirty Seven: Sales

Day One.

For the first time, I feel like a man. Where I’m going is just the start, it’s new, exciting and I get paid for it.

Week One

This is new. Very different from school. Each morning I wake up; switch on, travel out, and then clock in. For the next fifty years I will do this five times a week with varying degrees of authority in a few different places. It tickles my silicone to take care of myself but it doesn’t matter how I feel, at least I get paid for it.

When I arrive I switch into business mode. I upload the days targets to my brain then hit the shop floor. There will be breaks of course, both bathroom and lunch, and at the end of the month I get paid for it.

Week Two

From education to obligation, now the biggest part of my week is capitulation. To a boss, a computer screen, sales figures or the taxman. I’m recharged after the weekend. Powered up and feeling fresh. Ready to do my best and get paid for it.

The novelty is starting to wear thin. I’ve completed my training and now I’m autonomous. Statistics and averages, numbers and weights, I process information daily now. Calculating the best way maximize money for the business and for myself. Which is good, because I get paid for it.

>u>Week Three

It helps if you don’t think about it, I’ve found. On the whole people buy what they don’t need, and part of the job is to add to their false economy but it’s fine, because they want to spend money on it and I get paid for it.

I’m starting to go numb.

One Month

It’s a daily rhythm. In fact, it’s probably a monthly rhythm. Sell, lunch, sell, home five times a week followed by a weekend of drinking. I’m ambivalent to the hustle and bustle of the store now. My routine is targets, my habits in numbers. But it’s ok, at least I get paid for it.

My legs are growing cold.

Month Six

Holidays are few and far between. Even the bank holidays are working days here. Numbers, stats, numbers, targets, numbers, managers shouting, numbers, selling things to people that don’t need them; just numbers.

On my lunch break I think, what is the point, really? Another fifty years of robotically filling columns, performance measured, tethered to this profession for my natural born life. Junk fuel consumed, I leave to go back to work, through the swing doors and into the shop floor. Ready to run the routine again. And get paid for it.

Month Seven

There is no escaping here. I hate that I’m getting paid for it.

Month Nine

Senior sales, is my new designation. I have had numerous new bots to train. All of this arose because I heartlessly and calculatingly sold a lot of merchandise to an elderly man who didn’t need it, and who didn’t know better. I got paid for it.

As time goes, I’ve learned to accept my fate. Accept that this is my destination. The 8 hours a day I work I am cold and emotionless with a heart encased in steel. Each week there is one sales meeting where figures have gone up and down. I’ve seen lesser beings, people who are still human, getting ejected for poor performance. There is leeway in the probationary period that allows for this. But none of it really matters. I still get paid for it.

One Year

Weekends are automatic – long lie, shop, pub, pass out, hangover, video games, iron then bed. Two days merge into one. Bzzzt. I recharge each day. I- I- I-

One Year and One Day

Back to work as senio-kkkkkzttttt. I have new tazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzk krew.

*clink clink*

*bloop*

1010101010

The excessive stress caused by unit 3401 has caused a memory error. Please re-load the operating system and reboot the machine.

One Year and Two Days

For the first time I feel like a robot man. I get paid for it.