Reality Cuts

2018-03-02 07.11.15

I leapt up, startled, in the dead of night. I’d been dreaming of the past again, and couldn’t be sure whether the sounds I heard were mental and menacing or real and benign.

“The bastard’s in here – get him!”

The words drifted up to the first floor room where I stood, and tapped on the window. I recognised them instantly as the words of my tormenter from high school. What were they doing ringing so lucid, invading the truth and the now that I wanted?

I took on a fighting stance, just as my teacher had instructed. Feet apart and equally weighted, knees bent. My twin was wrapped in sheets, cowering in the corner behind me. I will protect you, I thought. There was a reason the sword was left for us in this way. I gripped it tightly and focused upon the muscles and strength needed to maintain the posture it demanded. My breath became deep and purposeful.

The words continued to scratch at the window, desperate to get in and meet my ears full-on. They were squeezing through the frame… I turned to face them and swiped the sword through the air in one clean movement, cutting the threats in two. They fell away slowly like feathers until they were nowhere to be heard.

I couldn’t allow my to guard drop straight away, for next there was a creaking on the landing outside my room. Footfall on floorboards, or the house choking? I wasn’t taking any chances and brought the sword down once again, this time in the direction of the door. But then I had the sensation that someone was in the room, standing over me. Someone unearthly and monstrous. My eyes wide in the dark, I couldn’t quite make a figure out, and dry tears stung from the strain of trying. With nothing to lose, I took another slash with the blade out in front of me and felt something drop into a heap on the floor. My twin rejoined me then, and in exhaustion we fell backwards onto the bed as one. Back to the land of dreams.

When the morning light came, my thoughts had returned to normal. There was a gash in the reality between my bed and the wardrobe where I had struck something. It was like a tear in a canvas, but not so neat as to hide the in between. The in between was black and full of eyes that glared, pulling me in. Azrael, they whispered to my bones. I remembered what my teacher had said though: leave the wound well alone until it is healed.

There were more cuts all over the house: far more than I could remember making. As I left for work, I stepped over the biggest of them all on the doorstep: the place where a bad memory had once been. It was gaping wide and as I peered in I saw thousands of twinkling stars. I resisted the temptation to touch them and walked away.

All of the cuts healed over the coming few days and a tension I had carried for many years dropped from my shoulders. I could feel tall at last. Never again would I think of the bully’s words; from then on they existed only as pixelated impressions in the peripheries of my mind. That was when I knew I was truly ready for the next lesson my teacher had to give me.

*****

For more unusual, contemplative flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception. Available now in e-book and paperback worldwide.

Moon to my Waves

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I sit downstairs in a lonely, low-lit bar, nursing a double whisky on the rocks. A damp smell oozes from ageing posters of Frank Zappa and The Rolling Stones, and my feet are sticking to the floor. I’ve put Real Love by Swans on the jukebox. I don’t hear the lyrics, but its sombre tone is the moon to my waves. They rise up in my throat – salty lithium water – and the bartender looks concerned. Inside, there’s a trickster laughing at me, smothering me. See, I can’t even enjoy my last drink without being a bother to someone. I down the whisky, though it is but a homeopathic remedy in the sea that drowns me. I feel for the knife in my coat pocket and head for the bathroom. I’m ready.

***

It’s 3 am. The stereo is loud and my eyes are shining wildly in the moonlight. Real Love comes on at random and I pause at the top of my ladder. I have a paintbrush in one hand, a pot in the other, and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. There’s a distant pang of recognition at the song, like the flinching of a deadwood puppet in my mind. I let it play through, not because it fits my mood but because it’s a fleeting pleasure to mimic my other self. I glance at the scar we share on our left wrist, and I think of him sitting in the dark, sinking into the ground. The poor shit couldn’t see colour for all the pity and spite. I should look after him better next time. Then again, it’s entertaining as a replay. I toss my head back in laughter, and a faint voice tells me I should be careful, I’m toppling. But then the track flips over to Super Charger Heaven and I go back to making the grey walls blue.

*****

For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception: out now in paperback and e-book.

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

Erin – Robert Dickins

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Erin is a fast-paced novella written by psychonaut and editor, Robert Dickins. It follows protagonist Lije Baillie on an excursion to the Solpsycle festival with his friends, a cocktail of psychedelics, and some excess emotional baggage. Clinging to a warping, increasingly anarchic environment, he feels a darkness surging up within. It is something he isn’t admitting to himself: something only Erin can lead him to.

This book is a vibrant journey. It is a short read, but deceptively deep: something I didn’t fully appreciate until the very end when it left me contemplating. Dickins does a fantastic job of putting the reader right at the centre of the action, and I love his portrayal of a landscape I recognise:

“Grotesque, post-hippy caricatures are enticing me into their booths, trying to sell me sprawling colourful hats and baggy shawls, scratchy bags and day glo sticks. They want me to vanish as well; vanish into a cloudy, indistinguishable mass. But it’s impossible. I am lost and this is who I am…”

There are some laughs, some reflective chill-out moments, and some chaos. But Erin is more than that: it is an experiment in altered consciousness, not only for Lije but for the reader, too. There is a distinct impression that we are caught up in a trip: the gaps in Lije’s experience, a general confusion about the passage of time, and abstract sensory rhythms…

Continue reading “Erin – Robert Dickins”

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.

The Surrogate – Gavin Jefferson

C.R. Dudley author Orchid's Lantern blog

The Surrogate is a science fiction novella and debut release from author Gavin Jefferson. The setting is a world in which obesity has been eradicated, leaving behind a ‘healthy, beautiful, and promiscuous’ populous. All, that is, except for one man: a man named Ronald Calico, a.k.a. The Surrogate.

This book grabs the reader from the intriguing first scene where we meet an old man (with a much younger public face) boarding a cruiser with his robotic assistant. It is through his eyes that we are shown the way society has developed, and through his conversation that we learn who The Surrogate is and how his unusual career came about.

This is a straight forward read, and a quick one at just 100 or so pages. What amazes me is that in so little space, and without being immediately obvious, Jefferson skilfully poses important questions about the way we interact and, in particular, the way we perceive intimacy. The Surrogate addresses such issues as body image, sexuality, personhood, and the messages filtered down to the masses from powerful decision-makers. I was left contemplating the role direct and diverse human contact plays in our sense of connection, and whether it could be considered endangered as we reach new levels of scientific and technological discovery.

The characters are well-rounded: likeable but realistic, and the ending made me a bit emotional!

There is also a bonus story included in the book called ‘The Collector’, which is a great teaser for Jefferson’s next release ‘Almost Surely’. I am very much looking forward to reading that and more from this author.

The Future is Near

I was thrilled to find out this week that the two short stories I submitted to the Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions team have both been selected to be read and recorded at their events in London.

The first event will be held on 20th February at The Library, Covent Garden, where 8 stories about the potential future of disease will be performed. Multi-award winning science fiction author, Geoff Ryman, has been announced as a special guest and will be giving a talk and reading of his own. I have a brand new story – Toxic Duck Inc – for this event, in which the protagonist tells of her terrifying experience with a new kind of virus affecting the human brain. The recording will be shared publicly on YouTube later in the year, but for those of you who are local there are tickets available to attend the live event here.

The second event is on 20th March, at the same venue, and the theme of this one is potential futures for personality. My story – The Test – follows a protagonist desperate to gain a badge of authenticity in order to promote her crowd-funded brand. Like Toxic Duck Inc, this is a brand new story written especially for Virtual Futures.

In a similar vein to the successful UK series Black Mirror, the idea of these stories is to highlight possible ‘traffic jams not automobiles’, so I can’t wait to hear what mind-bending ideas the other authors have come up with!

Virtual Futures are an organisation committed to exploring the convergence of art, culture, philosophy, science and technology. They regularly run conferences with high profile guests and field experts, which are later made available for free on their YouTube channel.

*****

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!