Connections

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“Help! I’m stuck in the Internet!”
“Nan, you can’t be stuck in the Internet. You mean you’re stuck on the Internet. What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to get out!”
“OK. Well do you see a little cross in the top right-hand corner?”
“No I don’t Eamon, sorry. There’s just lots and lots of little boxes with faces in them.” She turned her voice to a whisper. “Some of them are other body parts!”
“It sounds like you’ve got a virus, Nan. I’ll come over and sort it out again OK?”
“Oh you are a good boy. Maybe I just need a kickstarter, eh?”
“See you soon Nan.”

***

There was no answer when Eamon knocked on the door, so he let himself in. Nan’s laptop was out on the kitchen table with the Windows default screensaver scrolling. Sticky notes bearing passwords in her distinctive scrawl were everywhere, but the woman herself couldn’t be seen.
“Nan? Where are you?”
“Oh hello, lovey! I told you, I’m in the Internet.”
The voice did indeed seem to be coming from the computer.
“Nan, what are you up to? Come out please.”
“Oh don’t be silly. I’m stuck here, else I would!”
“I haven’t got time for games, I’m supposed to be at a lecture in half an hour. Where are you?”
“I think you just have to give the mouse a waggle, that usually sorts it.”
Eamon gave the mouse a nudge; he had little choice but to play along with whatever prank the old lady had come up with this time. Sure enough, Nan’s image came up on the screen. Her hair had been freshly curled, and she’d put on some blusher and her favourite violet cardigan. Eamon looked for clues in the background as to where she might be hiding. Continue reading “Connections”

Hiding Habit

C.R. Dudley Author, Orchid's Lantern Blog

I’ve always had a habit of hiding. Hiding from their stares, from their words; from their judgement. It’s like being suspended in a space outside time, as though he who is not observed does not exist. I’ve always been good at it, too. As I child, I would sometimes stay hidden for hours at a time – in the cupboard under the stairs, in a hole in the ground, or high up in a tree – long after the seekers had given up.

It was after my first Valentine’s Day blunder that I learned how to step up my game. Shame expanded inside of me, making my skin puffy and red, yet strangely pliable. I wrung my hands together and squeezed water from my eyes, and in doing so I became smaller. I hid in my locker at school all day. Its darkness and cold metal edges held me tighter than anything I’d hid in before. I never wanted to leave.

I soon developed the ability to make neat little folds in my skin during such times. I’d practice pouring out the tears every evening until I was completely dry, which is necessary for the folding. It’s a bit like forcing the air out of an air bed to put it back in its box. I began hiding in smaller and smaller places, pushing myself further outside of time with each attempt. There was the cutlery drawer, I remember. Then the pencil case, and the teapot. Snuggly snuggly.

Now, several years later, I am in the midst of my most successful hide yet. I’m scrunched up in a Japanese puzzle box: one inch by two, 36 moves to solve. I’ve never felt so secure, which is probably why I’m able to write all of this down. But, although I feel secure, there is a tiny part of me – just one little fold somewhere near my heart – that hopes someone will come and find me. A puzzle-master in shining armor, perhaps. But no one ever does.

***

For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception – out now as an e-book and paperback.

On 20th February I will be attending the fourth Virtual Futures ‘Near-Future Fictions’ Event in London, where my new story ‘Toxic Duck Inc’ will be read to a live audience. Tickets are available here.

State of the Heart

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R. Dudley author

My heart beats hard inside its wet wrapping. Colours emerge; pink, red, and splashes of emerald green, but they are muted by those who behold them.

My heart sings in strange wave formations that would describe the nature of the quantum in no uncertain terms, could it only escape this plastic sheeting. Instead, these waves are refracted. They are thrust in all directions in dissonance, like the sound of an untuned piano key played over and over; a crude backing track to the stark wails of the human throat.

My heart rages. You may call it love, which is something akin to approaching a bear for a cute photo while it is growling out a warning. It wants to be free, not confined, and to love is to be attached.

My heart whimpers softly in the night, and I hear it in my dreams. But, instead of letting it loose to soar, I slay it anew each morning with my open eyelids and the offensive filter of ego that daylight brings. It makes distant, distorted cries as I bag it up, and I interpret it as the fluttering joy of life.

Words like ‘poor’ or thriving’ are not adequate in describing the state of the heart, for they suit only things a mind can judge. Still, whenever the question comes: how are you; how is your heart today? I use a word with even less importance, as though it were not even worth the effort of description: “OK,” I say. Because it is OK – isn’t it? Everything is surely OK.

*****

Have you ever wondered how future technology will affect the human psyche? What defines the line between imagination and reality? Whether it is possible to find spirituality in science? Check out my new book, Fragments of Perception, for 36 quirky, bite-sized stories to make you contemplate!

The Scheme

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R. Dudley author

 “Sounds like you need to start selling your petaFLOPS, mate.”
  That is what Dave had said back in the good old days when they drunk in the Queen’s Head. At the time, Geoff had lost his job as an Accountant for one of the big 5 firms and was struggling to adjust to a life of leisure. He’d find himself staring into space for hours at a time, unsure of what to put his brain into next. Once upon a time, a GP might have prescribed him some ‘happy’ pills, but diagnosis of depression and stress was a thing of the past: the symptoms had long been recategorised as ‘misused capacity in the mind’.
 Dave’s suggestion for money-making wasn’t unusual, and the papers said the scheme could even become prevalent in years to come. With six pints swimming around his system, Geoff imagined he might be ahead of the curve; one of the trendsetters that would mark a new and enterprising use for the human brain. And, once the hangover of the next morning had subsided and he swore never to drink again, it still seemed like the only logical thing to do.

  Geoff signed up to have a tiny sub-dermal chip installed in his head that connected him to the worldwide network. It was a simple procedure, done under local anaesthetic, and had a surprisingly fast recovery time: in just two days he was ready to come online. He popped the prescribed pill under his tongue, sat back in his La-z-Boy and selected ‘join game’ on his console.
  And that is how it was, 9-5, Tuesdays through Saturdays. As per the deal, he would do one of two things: play a match-3 game or watch sitcom re-runs on TV. The former gave him enough of a dopamine hit to keep him awake and powered up; the latter allowed him to enjoy taking a passive role while still earning a healthy income. Repetitive, predictable tasks that used only a small proportion of potential brain function were essential, so that the remaining neurones could be isolated by the drug and fired over the network to perform a range of data-crunching tasks.
  Any number of corporations could bid for the use of human processors, which were sold in petaFLOPS. For them, the efficiency in terms of energy usage, space and cost was unparalleled. For Geoff, it was a dream form of employment. He bought Dave’s drinks all night whenever his generous pay packet came in, to thank him for his valuable suggestion.
  “Honestly mate, you can’t tell anything’s going on back there,” he told him one day. “You just sit making rows of colourful sweets all day without a care in the world, and you get paid for it. And another thing: you feel like you’ve done a day’s work. I feel as fulfilled as I ever did being a bean-counter.”
  Dave swigged his drink and wiped away froth from his beard. “Aren’t you ever tempted to – you know, take a peek behind the curtain as it were?”
  “Ah it’s against the rules.”
  “Not even once?”
 “To tell the truth, I wouldn’t even know how. Besides, I’m onto a good thing here, why would I risk throwing it away?”

  But a seed had been planted, and come the next Tuesday morning, Geoff was wondering. What exactly are they using my brain for? By Friday, he had decided to try and find out. He split one of the little pills in two, and put just half under his tongue. He spent the morning building up his puzzle game score as usual, but after lunch during Only Fools and Horses, columns of moving numbers began to overlay his vision. They made no sense at first; they were just vaguely hypnotic. He was elated that his brain could be used for feats he did not understand. To be a cog in a machine that would better the world was enough for him, and he swore to go back to taking the full pill straight away. But then he began to notice patterns in the numbers: it was a code, and it was recording transactions. Geoff grabbed a pen and paper and started scribbling down what he could see.

  On Saturday, his access to the game was prohibited: the agency had locked him out. A message appeared on the screen: Security violation detected. Await instructions. Geoff’s mind worked overtime thinking about what that could mean. It had to be something to do with what happened the day before. Did they think he knew something?
  “I swear,” he said aloud, “I saw nothing but a series of random numbers.”
  “Tut tut Mr O’Brien,” said a voice from behind him. “We can’t have our operators breaking the rules. Our confidentiality has been breached. You must be disconnected now.”
  A big hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. Another pushed his head back against the chair, and a third sliced into him with a scalpel, removing the chip amidst Geoff’s screams.
  “I swear!” He cried out in desperation,”I swear I know nothing!”
One of the hands held up the notebook he had used to scribble down the transactions.
  “But I don’t know what it means, it’s just a load of numbers!”
  “It’s all up here,” the man tapped his temple. “And now we have to remove it.”

*****

For more dark imaginings of our future with tech, and fictional explorations of ontology, check out my collection of very short stories: Fragments of Perception.

In Conversation With Trees

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R. Dudley author

As I wander through the woods, a mysterious shadow passes over me.
Something bad is here, I think, stopping to stare at the bark of a Scots Pine. There is evil in this tree.
But then the tree says back to me: “there is neither good nor evil in trees.”
And the next adds: “besides, whether something is good or bad rather depends on what you are trying to do.”

The conversation continues from tree to tree as I walk on. I can’t be sure the words are not merely imagined, but I am willing to hear them out all the same.
You mean what’s good for me could be bad for you, right?
“If you like.”
“You pull up a colossal energy wave with your willpower; I stand the ground with mine. Neither choice is good or bad for the thing we are together.”
The thing we are together?
“We are integrated. Underneath it all there is no you, and there is no I.”
Is that is why I can hear you in my head?
“Precisely. The thing we are together is at your root whenever you care to listen.”
“Some call it the wind of consciousness.”
“And we are simply differently shaped instruments through which it blows. It plays upon us all at once: we are part of the same song.”
“And our forms are moulded from one and the same.”
Moulded from song? Remarkable…

I begin to wonder what will come of me being in conversation with the trees, out here on my own. I feel as though I am fading; as though I am becoming a tree. It is probably time to leave.
“You cannot know what it is to be a tree, only what it is to hear the consciousness we share.”
“Humanity is for when consciousness wants to experience a particular kind of culture; to sound a particular note. Trees are for when it wants to form a different kind of relationship with other parts of itself.”
And I suppose, when we die, we all become one with it?
“Death means only that consciousness has stopped whistling through that instance of an instrument.”
“The illusion of the human breaks down – and with it, that thing you call ‘I’ – that’s when you become free. But, in being free, you will never again be human.”

I become aware that I am trembling and my head is spinning, but I make efforts to appear outwardly calm. Who for?
Thank you for your wisdom, brothers. I have to get out of here now.

“Goodbye traveller.”
“Goodbye traveller.”
“Goodbye traveller.”

I leave the woods immediately to scribble down these bizarre interactions, and to contemplate whether the trees have really spoken or whether I experienced spontaneous hallucination. Perhaps, for all intents and purposes, there really is no distinction.

*****

My collection of short, quirky stories to make you contemplate is out now in paperback and ebook. Visit my books page for the full blurb and list of stockists.

Polyphony

C.R. Dudley author Orchid's Lantern blog

Creative folk bounce in and out of one another’s lives: sometimes collaborating, sometimes revelling in symbiosis, and sometimes breaking one another’s hearts to discover new building materials.

And so, when Claude left Nancy, there came to be a trail of red paint on the carpet from the kitchen to the front porch, all the way out to where his beat-up hatchback had once stayed. Artists don’t like to walk around the outside of houses. Given the option of using a path or pulling waves through the floorboards to walk upon, they’ll go for impact every time. Luckily Nancy, being a musician, decided she quite liked the sound of the stain once it had soaked in. When she put her ear to it, it sung in mysterious tones; like sunlight hitting the moon. All through the winter she hummed along, accompanied by the new rhythm of her aching heart.

She was still humming it when she met Terence by the pond the following March. He was photographing the surface of the water: not the water itself, he stressed, just the surface. He was endlessly fascinated by surfaces of all natures, and fancied if their essences could only be isolated then our understanding of beauty would improve threefold.

Terence moved in with Nancy the very next week, and he covered her walls with home-developed photographs in black and white. Images of pavements overlapped with images of skin overlapped with images of the sea; all of them, he claimed, depicted something identical. He stuck them over, under and around the curly letters Stephanie had written a year before, making a brand new dancing visual poetry of the house. Nancy had a different tune then, and she hummed it with her fingers upon ivory keys. It still had remnants of the dried red paint, but this time against a quickened heartbeat, and with a distinctive smattering of surface qualia.

*****

Fragments of Perception and Other Stories is available now in paperback and ebook! Visit my books page to find out how to get your copy.

Rock Bottom

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I lay in the tub scrubbing away all meaning with a flannel and letting the warm water dissolve my worries. So many layers of unnecessary complication are hard on the soul. Surely there comes a time when we tire of it and simply let it all go?

There’s a knock at the bathroom door. I rise from my mountain of bubbles straight away, and open the lock before I’ve even thought of putting a towel around me.

It’s him! He looks different now, but then it has been twenty years. He still wears black but for the white scarf around his neck, and he still has dark shoulder length hair though now it is speckled with grey. With longing I look into his eyes – just two dark and endless craters, pulling me in and taking me beyond.

“I have made my decision,” he croaks. “I want to be with you always. Come with me and stay by my side?”

Hearing the words I have longed for all these years makes me instantly weak, as though I’m melting from the inside.

“That is all I ever wanted,” I say, falling into his arms. “I accept.”

He is cold and expressionless, but I don’t care. I know that he hasn’t reached his decision lightly, and I know that he really means it. I know this is how my myth ends. And so I let out all the water. I watch it swirling and glugging away down the plug hole. Then, with his hand to steady me, I climb back into the empty bathtub to lay down and close my eyes. The very next time I fall asleep must be the last.