If at least people asked directly it would be a clean death. These oblique questions were torture. He’d tried evasion. “I work for the government.” It didn’t help, just drew the painful process out.
Unfortunately, he was a bad liar: he’d stammer or choke. He blushed to recall the amazed and unbelieving looks. “I work for a business consultancy”, whatever that meant. Once, in a panic, “I’m a funeral director.” Well, everything was better than the truth.
That’s what he would do. Gerald heaved a sigh of relief.
The decision had been driving him crazy. He hadn’t been able to sleep for almost a fortnight. There were so many factors to consider. So many things that could go wrong. But now all that was over. He’d made the decision, and all would be well. It was a great weight off his mind.
He turned over in bed: now for a good night’s sleep. He closed his eyes, ready to drift into oblivion. It was several minutes before he heard the niggling voice.
“It’s mine!” “No, it’s mine.” Melissa took a deep breath and then went on peeling the potatoes. She knew any minute the fight would spill over into the kitchen.
“Give it back.” “Mummy, she started it.” “If I hear one more word, I’ll lock you both in your bedroom until tomorrow”, she fairly screamed. The girls looked mutinous, but left the room for now.
Melissa’s hand shook as she reached for her glass. It was a little early, but she needed it. They were such little angels when they were asleep. She wondered how many mothers actually killed their children.
A hand shot up. “My mum says we don’t believe in all those things.”
“I know, Bobby. If your mother has a problem she can come to me.”
He wished the fundamentalists would keep out of the classroom. The amount of fighting over the science curriculum was unbelievable. And as a natural history teacher he didn’t even get the worst of it. Poor Mrs. Withers, teaching alchemy…
If Bobby’s mother came what would he show her?
He sighed. It wouldn’t matter. The fundamentalists never bothered with evidence.
The young woman fiddled busily with her phone. Another meaningless message, no doubt. I’m in the train. I’ll be with you soon. How I hate the rain.
Her eyes scanned her inbox for the umpteenth time. No new messages.
She saw the disapproval in his eyes. But he didn’t understand. The phone was her. It had all her pictures. Contained all her friends. Was her eyes, her ears, her mouth. Her memory of the past and her plans for the future. When noone called, or texted, did she really exist?
The phone vibrated and she answered eagerly. She was alive.
He didn’t know what had made him a revolutionary. The wrong temperature, a late feed?
He did know he had to do something, though it would cost his life. But the cause was worthy. He changed the plans, just a tiny bit. Still enough to bring down the system. Noone would notice. The drones never questioned an order.
When the call came, he was ready. He squared his wings. The comrade has saved us, the Queen proclaimed, with his new design. Now, when most hives are dying, our brood is thriving. An example for all. Awarded a mating.
By the steps she could see three young jewish women. She looked at their flat shoes and thick black stockings, their awkward looking wigs. How could any woman consent to shave off her hair, her beauty, her sensuality? Samira gave a shudder. Nobody saw her expression of distaste.
Whores, she thought, baring their noses and chins for all to see, exposing their naked lips to the gaze of strangers. The voices of her teachers had melted into a single melodious stream in her head.
Thankfully she had been taught better. She peered through the thick black cloth and walked on.
Queen Petra’s challenge. It doesn’t have to be a story. A photo, a drawing, a poem. Just create something for each word on the list.
It had simply appeared one day. Not overnight. In the morning: nothing, and in the evening: there it was. Right on the village green.
Nobody spoke of it, it was too… well, you had to see it for yourself. Outsiders came to stare at it. Isn’t it marvelous? Can you believe it?
The locals shrugged these questions off. It was too unsettling. Once you started to think about it, you’d have to question everything you’d ever understood about the world. It was safer to ignore it. But if you did have to mention it, it was just…
Is it absurd to love someone you’ve never met? He sometimes wondered. But he felt he knew her well, even intimately, better than he knew anyone else. He couldn’t help but love her: she was fascinating, mysterious, and lovely. Or so he pictured her.
Her life was a glorious trail. His life was dedicated to following that trail and laying it bare for all to see. This was all he had ever wanted to do.
Sometimes he mourned the fact that they would never meet, she could never thank him for all he was doing.
Angela hated his hobby. She kept saying it was silly and dangerous. Well, it wasn’t. Not if you knew what you were doing and didn’t lose your nerve. He jumped and the air whistled around him. The adrenalin kicked in and he was free.
Gone. It was all gone. The nagging girl-friend, the growing patch of baldness on his crown, the money he’d “borrowed” from the client accounts to pay for his expensive tastes, his lonely childhood, his miserable youth.
And then there was that delicious moment of choice. If he didn’t deploy now, they need never come back again.
Sometime this summer my life got a little intense and I needed to get away for a bit. I went to stay in an old cottage by the sea and started taking long walks every day.
When you put your life on hold for a while, it gives you a suspended sort of feeling, as if time had stopped and left only you free to explore the moment. I started noticing things I’ve never seen before. Do you have any idea how many different shades of green there are? And have you ever listened to the birds chirping away throughout the day?
In a sunny bay I noticed scratch marks in the sand. They were different each day, some days shallow, some days deep, but always in the same area below the high tide mark. One morning I saw someone scratching in the sand with a stick. By the time I arrived they were gone, but the tide was still out, and I could see a picture in the sand: a colony of gulls standing, flying, landing, their wings still outstretched. I loved it.
I decided to go to the beach early the next day, to try and catch the sand-painter. When I arrived the next morning, the sand was fresh and smooth. I started walking to and fro on the beach. My patience, or lack of it, was rewarded, when I saw the sand-painter scratching away again.
Walking towards the sand-painter, I wondered how to start a conversation without seeming too rude. When I was fairly close she looked up and said “Hello, there”, and I was surprised at the friendly greeting. Afterwards I realised, my footprints told the story of my lying-in-wait only too clearly.
I looked at the new picture, a peacock in a garden. Each feather so clearly defined, you could all but see the colours. “It’s beautiful”, I gasped. She smiled, and looked pleased. “How kind”, she said. “You make a sand-painting every day?” “Most days.” “But it’s washed away by the tide.” “So it is”, she agreed. “Do you take photos then?” She laughed. “I never even thought of that.”
“But it’s a shame, all these beautiful pictures lost”, I burst out. She looked away quickly, but I caught the tears in her eyes. She was still for a minute. I started to apologise, and she silenced me with a small wave of her hand. “No, you’re right. It doesn’t last.”
“Nothing lasts”, she added quietly, and looked down again. I was sorry for intruding on her solitude. “So long”, I mumbled and started to walk away.
I hadn’t gone far when she called after me. “This way, there are no errors. There’s only the way it is.”