Fliss compressed her short, squat, frame further into the burned out hollow of the hull, shoving Hennessey’s evacuated carcass aside and flicking indeterminate debris casually off her weapons harness. She holed up to consider strategy.
Fliss was a soldier; a grunt on the peri-solar defence ring where killing aliens, not caring platitudes, got you through a shift. She looked down at her uniform, or what passed for one after this morning’s skirmish, and scraped off the residue it had collected from the blast that took out her unit’s communications array. Most of her squad had gone with it and some of the residue was biological but Fliss didn’t much care whose just so long as it wasn’t hers. She kicked the mess away with her boot, checked out her shoulder mountings for ammunition and headed off into the silence that used to be the galley. One survivor, not human. She shot it without ceremony and moved on, disregarding the plea for help it had registered on its translation device.
Fliss was not given to social communication; few of them here were, thrust out onto the edges of civilisation. How long had it been? Ten years? And had any relief units been sent up? No! A flicker of anger caught momentarily then disappeared under Fliss’s cold dismissal. She had avoided execution by taking this option and the company of like-minded ‘volunteers’ had proved physically and sexually entertaining. No hardship, she concluded, hefting aside the stinking morass that had been another invader and squirming through the gap in the bulkhead towards the bridge. She opened a com channel and hissed a command. They’d better be there or she’d make them wish the bastard crawlers had got them. A slight smile curled up one side of her mouth, that might be an entertaining distraction if push came to shove.
The ship hummed and throbbed as its automated repair systems got started on reconstruction. Fliss wiped something viscous off her face and onto her pants and the fabric felt slick with – what? Blood? Vomit? No, lubrication oil, some of the life support gaskets must have blown – shit! She pressed on, the urgency was cranking up; if this tub was holed too seriously…
The bridge was empty. A huge gap in the far skin was sealed now by the emergency force field unit but not before what was left of the crew had been spaced. One body remained, the commander, an honest woman here out of duty. Fliss probed Mackenzie’s top pocket for her ID, lingering momentarily over a breast hardened with rigor – nice tits, shame – then ran the bio-chip through her scan-and-rip software and elevated herself to officer class. Might as well be her family got the compensation payout as anyone else’s she thought. She stuck the tag into the sub light transfer unit and squatted down next to Mackenzie’s body to wait for the air to run out.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012.
First published on PowFastFiction, October 2010. Sadly, PowFast is now closed so I had to find a new home for this nasty little psychopath before she ran out of aliens and crew-mates.
Five Shades for Greg
I pulled him closer, my hands almost greedily devouring his body. I had to get this right. I had to make these darned things fit around the bulging muscles of his arms and, oh my, the bulging muscles in his thighs. I would think about his bulging manhood later, right now I had to concentrate like I’d never concentrated before. I pressed my lips together into a hard line and rolled my eyes. It was going to be hard, very hard – and that was a promise! I smothered a smirk.
‘Stand up, Greg,’ I ordered. It felt very nice to be in control, but I was struggling to keep my breathing steady as I worked my arms over his head and wriggled the loops luxuriously down over his shoulders. Those manly shoulders – so delicious! I smoothed down the flimsy fabric of his lycra top with my hands, and couldn’t contain a tiny gasp as I anticipated running them later over the bare body that pulsed beneath.
‘Bend your knees,’ I murmured into his ear, ‘and breathe in.’ I skimmed the next layer down over his chest, hovering provocatively over his rock-hard nipples, and anchored it in place by its fine cord straps. I was standing over him and he peeked up at me under those hooded lids with the long, black, eyelashes that tickled like butterflies when I made him kiss my … I had to bite my lips quite hard to stop my mind from wandering, and now I was distracted by some very warm feelings ‘down below’. Jeez, this was such a turn-on! I gyrated my hips a little, just to remind him, to tease him. Then I shook myself and got back on the job – as it were.
‘Turn around.’ I said, my voice husky with desire. I didn’t know if I could bear this; that tight sheer material pulled across those exquisite buttocks. I took a deep breath, which pulled my white top with its distinctive grey markings tight across my breasts. ‘Now bend over,’ I instructed. He leaned forward over the coal black ring, thrusting his rear out towards me so that I gasped and almost had a you-know-what right there and then. I noticed how compliant he was, how malleable, how easy it would be to just … I wanted to resist, really I did, to enjoy this tantalising episode and make it into a fantasy for later on, but my hand somehow raised itself and flew forwards, smacking his right buttock with a loud CRACK! His face was already flushing crimson because the restraints of the top half of the contraption were digging into his abs, and now he wore a wicked grin that made me want to smack the left cheek to make it as red as the first one must be and match the cheeks on his face. I held back though, just.
‘Pull up the base by its straps and clip them to the leather band round your waist,’ I purred – and he obeyed, it was so very exciting! I took the straps at the rear and pulled them slowly, sinuously up over his legs and fixed them to the bottom of the contraption. He was so helpless in this rig! I thought about taking advantage, about putting him on a lead there and then and taking him home to give him more – well – detailed attention. But no, we had something else to do first. I pulled on the cord dangling from the back of the device, just where the arch of his spine met his beautifully curved coccyx. Presto! The layers dropped open front and back with all five in the right order: blue, gold, black, green, and red, all hooped and linked like lampshades on an exotic human vaulting pole. I picked up my replica torch and checked outside for the transport– we had a ceremony to get to.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
First published by Ether Books, August 4th, 2012 and placed third in the Ether Olympic flash downloads competition.
The threads bend back on themselves, sweeping through time, dipping into tiny pockets of experience and breathing out again into the emptiness. The artist whose threads they are and whose speck of life has held them together asks the scientist ‘What is this?’ and ‘Where is it going?’ But the scientist keeps her counsel. Tugging on theoretical principle and marshalling empirical evidence, she is silent. It will come right, there will be an algorithm.
The threads gather pace, gather new threads; hundreds, thousands, billions, and weave themselves together around the hundreds, thousands, billions of dreamers and thinkers and existers and things barely alive at all and out of whose experiences they are extruded. The scientist ponders. Extrusion? How so? But the artist has lost interest, she is absorbing the tracks, following the threads, losing definition.
Her soul frees itself first from its identity as lover. The bonds fade, he fades, his image dissolving as she looks on, the smell of him in the morning – content as warm coffee – creeping away and leaving no trace. His touch, gentle and thoughtful, and their loving – sometimes courteously perfunctory, most times an exhilarating union of impassioned equals – nothing more than echoes as the essence of them drifts away. All those losses turn the threads cold as life gives up its ability to find comfort in another.
Soon after, she feels the unravelling of mother love. What was his name? She can no longer remember or fully comprehend what he was, what child was, but the ache of hollowed out nothingness where he had been, coils and uncoils, rails against its dissolution, then gives in and drifts, insensate, into the collective void.
The scientist contemplates what is left of meaning while coherence and logic, resolution and cognition detach themselves and become insubstantial. Her last notion – not quite thought but not quite nothing, is curiosity, an attempt to gain an understanding of this process. But it folds itself elegantly into the anonymous, sinuous, regressing threads and leaves her alone.
The artist watches it go. Could love exist without cognition? Identity? She imagines a thread the shape of love, holds it, nurtures it for a quantum moment, for millennia. She binds to it all the loves she has ever known and tries then to bind it to herself to protect it and keep it safe. Finally, with loneliness turning to communality, loss to inevitability, and both feathering away into the temporal tide, she sets it free.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Last Man Standing
They didn’t kill me, just made me wish they had, bastards. We were all there that day, lined up ringside waiting for the off. It was top billing and we were crackling with anticipation, the scent of victory already creeping up our noses and fuelling our self-belief. Our man was big. The biggest. I mean really big. So big their man couldn’t even reach him never mind hit him. So what, that it was barely a competition? All we cared about was winning. We had bets, we’d make a pile. We’d get the hell out of the gulags and away somewhere warm with women; lots of women, easy women.
Suddenly the noise dropped, we all held our breath over that tipping moment between the waiting and the battle, then the baying and roaring began as the fighters made their way through the pumping crowd. Sergei was unmissable, 7’2” of muscle and dumb intent, while their guy, Fyodor Vasiliev, was barely visible despite being a pretty impressive size himself. Roaring chants broke out, most of them anticipating Sergei’s bloody defeat of the pretender, but some of them silky-sly because of what they knew was coming.
They climbed into the ring, Vasiliev ducking under the ropes while Sergei stepped over them like he was in a child’s playground. The crowd went ape. Then everybody froze; nostrils flared and mouths open ready to howl allegiance. We froze too, a few more minutes and it would be over and we’d be rich. My chest was squeezed tight as a rusty wing-nut with the waiting.
Then the plan kicked in. Sergei began to puff and blow, his eyes went all wild-looking with huge pupils and even huger whites, and Vasiliev saw his chance. Leaping forward like a panther on springs, he hung a hard right on Sergei’s temple, getting in another with his left as he dropped back and skipped away. Sergei staggered; he wasn’t smart, our man, and he wasn’t used to being hit. We waited for the crash and Vasiliev being declared the winner. We practised looking shocked and mentally counted our haul.
But the plan was screwed. Sergei was used to a regular arseful of meds in the psych unit where we’d found him, but that didn’t include horse tranqs. This crap sent him nuts and he laid about him with arms like wrestlers’ legs. His face got redder, his eyes wilder, and when Vasiliev tried to make a run for it, Sergei grabbed his neck. Must have reminded him of the guards or something because he swung that man round like a piece of dead meat, which is what he was after a minute or so of being battered against the posts and thrown onto the floor. Now we were screwed. Painted into a corner with no Plan B. Sergei collapsed: twenty-five stone of him hitting the deck like a brick shit-house and dead seconds later. Vasiliev got his hits in first, alright, but he couldn’t win because Sergei outlived him. Last man standing rule.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Re-written in first person present tense and performed at SWAGs ‘Oscar’s Oscars’, Worthing, May 18th 2012.
My resolve falters as I reach the kitchen door. It will be huge and offensive. It will require a delicate touch. It will be mine to deal with – yuk!
As I approach, an advance scouting party of flies lifts off and disperses itself across less appetising surfaces to wait, I imagine, for the all-clear. Well, not for a while and not here I tell them. I regard the agglutinated mass forensically, put on gloves and aim a squirt of surfactant at the festering heap. Then, dissecting out two small bones and a piece of cartilage, I wonder for the nth time how come last night’s washing up is always my job.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Find it here
An older tide, touched
So they walk; ancient crystals of silicon counting the millennia between their toes. For the moment, they are silent. All that could be said has spun away to echo across time in infrasonic broadcast, pulsing its message from the inferno of inception to the deep, dark, thundering conclusion. But then:
Where did we come from?
Where are we going?
Those are our questions too, or would be if we had any place in this way-station.
What lies between?
I don’t know.
What is ‘I’?
Older than the seeds of life carried on meteoric messengers, newer than the glistening surface of the sand after the wave retreats; Alpha and Omega, the dust of a pulverised star and the soft pliable skin of the container of new worlds, exchange dark energy.
Are we alone?
Who else is here?
No one, for now.
The tide rips threads of knowing from each of them; washes them back, tangled, untangled, woven, unpicked, revised and native, to etch form into the unformed and to fracture time.
He touches her hand with lips of alternatives. She caresses his face with fingers of light; fills vacuums with quantum energy; spinning, sparkling with flickering duality. When they kiss, nebulae shatter into gaseous ova streaking out from their birth mother to crash, collide with penetrative violence and become new stars.
And so they walk. Worlds shift, adjust their alignment in the gravity wells of trans dimensional dynamics, and punctuate their endings with the threads of futures.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Yesterday was the best day ever
It was the day mum and me had just been to the big shop in town to get my senior school uniform and even the smell of it was thrilling. I couldn’t wait to wear the dark green winter skirt, scratchy or not; and the satchel – well that was glorious! All shiny leather with new, stiff straps and brass buckles. We hurried off down the high street towards the bus stop, mum putting her purse away and me thinking about the bubblegum in one pocket and the thirteenth birthday lipstick Gillian had given me in the other. What was I now, girl or woman? I imagined myself as Brigitte Bardot, all slinky and sexy, and practiced a pout as I passed a shop window.
‘Hurry up will you, we’re going to miss the twenty five past if you dawdle!’
‘I’m coming, these shoes hurt!’ I was teetering along on the tiny new heels given me by my grandmother who worked in a shoe shop, and wearing my first pair of stockings with all their clips, hooks and bits of elasticated lace so it wasn’t that easy to get a move on.
Suddenly we ran into a crowd clogging the pavement and looking at something in the road. The traffic had stopped and it was backed up right the way to the chemist’s shop on the corner but I couldn’t see why. Ducking down to peer through the gaps between elbows and bags, I spotted a large gaudy vehicle with gold painted wheels – the circus was here! I wriggled to the front and hovered on the edge of the pavement, gawping at the glitzy glamour and the slapstick tumbling like a silly six year old.
‘Janice! Come on will you, I’ve dinner to get going!’
‘But mum, the traffic’s all jammed and it’s the circus and we just have to stay and watch!’ I used my best big eyed not-quite-whiney voice. ‘I’ll do the washing up after tea…’ She stopped, I stopped. Victory!
Jugglers and clowns were leaping about in the street, a large white stallion with its dazzling, glittery rider was rearing and prancing, and a dark faced boy was coming round selling tickets for the show. As he came closer, I saw that he also had dark sparkly eyes, gold earrings and a smile straight off a toothpaste advert. His shiny, crinkly, black hair tumbled down to his jaw and I thought I could see the beginnings of muscles in his bare brown arms. He was just gorgeous!
‘Ticket for the most beautiful girl in town?’ He held one out to me.
‘I haven’t got any money!’ I told him. How embarrassing, I was almost wailing!
‘You’re my guest then.’ He pushed the ticket into my hand and winked as he moved off into the crowd.
I stood there for ages, feeling dizzy, getting my breath back. Then I put the ticket in my pocket with the lipstick. Definitely with the lipstick. Yesterday was the best day ever.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Her resolve faltered as she reached the kitchen door. It would be huge and offensive. It would require a delicate touch. It would be hers to deal with – yuk!
As she approached, an advance scouting party of flies lifted off and dispersed itself across less appetising surfaces to wait, she imagined, for the all-clear. Well, not for a while and not here she told them. She regarded the agglutinated mass forensically, put on gloves and aimed a squirt of surfactant at the festering heap. Then, dissecting out two small bones and a piece of cartilage, she wondered for the nth time how come last night’s washing up was always her job.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Ollie is the ten year old son of a friend. He’s a massive Dr Who fan, and this story was a very risky Christmas present. He’s letting me post it here so presumably it didn’t embarrass the socks off him, even though I’m pretty sure his mother really IS River Song. You never see the two of them in the same room together anyway, and that’s proof, right?
Ollie was still sitting there with his hand pressed up against his face, when his mother appeared. Not, pushed open the door and came into the room, appeared. Appeared, appeared. Then POOF – gone again. A moment later, she was back; a tea towel in her hand and her mouth open, like she was about to say ‘Oliver; lunch. Go and wash your hands please,’ or some other parent thing likely to interfere with important kid things. Then she blinked out again; leaving a little hint of room freshener behind. Ollie squinted at the spot from between his fingers, and was just about to get up to investigate when, with an almighty WHOOSH, his mother reappeared; this time waving a shoulder mounted weapon at him and yelling, ‘He’s here!’ into a comm unit clipped to the top pocket of her combats.
‘Over here, now!’ she yelled at him. ‘Quick, before the portal shuts!’
Ollie stood up and started forwards. His mother held out her hand and it fizzled and crackled in the air.
‘Hang on,’ he said, ‘I need my stuff.’
‘No time, Ollie. We have to go now!’ She had that look he recognised from school mornings when he suddenly remembered he had to take gym kit. He always had to go back for that, no matter what.
‘Not without my screwdriver,’ he said, turning and plunging his arm down behind the sofa cushions to fish around for it. There it was, sleek and stubby, with its ring of LEDs at the business end. Ollie extracted it, clicked it on and off to check the batteries, and stuffed it into his jeans pocket. He extracted the shiny gold iPod he found down there too, and crammed it in alongside. Then he did a theatrical Superman dive over to where his mother was popping and spitting by the window.
That’s when the world really turned inside out.
‘Ah, River, back again!’ The man with a yellow yo-yo pressed up against his eye spun round on his heels and cast the other eye over Ollie and his mum. ‘Early 21st century kit, I see. Temporal stabiliser’s definitely on the blink.’ He dropped the yo-yo into a conveniently yo-yo-shaped slot and tapped it down with his elbow before diving onto an array of vibrating brass plungers.
‘So, young man, brought your fez? No, thought not. No point telling you to hold onto your hat then!’ The Doctor began racing around the console of the Tardis, pulling on levers; his gangly legs kicking out all over the place as he went. Ollie’s brain tried to say ‘Er, ‘scuse me, what’s going on?’ but his mouth had lost its way and just opened and shut itself, like a goldfish. His mother was a storm trooper and he was on the Tardis. Ollie began to think taking notice of the use-by date on jars of fish paste might be an idea. Especially if they came from his dotty aunt’s Yellow Stone Super Volcano Emergency stash.
‘Where’s Amy?’ Ollie’s mother asked, hoisting her weapon and wiping something oily on her pants. Ollie thought that if he did that, he would be in big trouble. But something told him that the rule book had just gone out of the window, and he wasn’t even sure what window that might be.
‘Singing with the Ood.’ The Doctor flung himself across the console, yanked on a long chain, and skidded to a halt in front of a TV screen that dropped out of the ceiling. ‘There,’ he announced, waving one hand at the grainy image. Amy seemed to be shouting something, but there was no sound. The Doctor leaned in a bit closer, screwed up his eyes, and mouthed something back.
‘Just because you can’t hear her, Sweetie, doesn’t mean she can’t hear you.’ Ollie’s mother tweaked the large knob to the right of the screen; smacked the monitor a couple of times, then said, ‘We didn’t hear you, Amy. Say again.’ Amy’s mouth made a lot more movements, and the rest of Amy made a lot more movements too – many of them up and down, with whirling arms. Ollie watched. Amy pointed at the Ood, stuck her fingers in her ears, and then mimed something that looked like putting a key in a lock. Then she was shaking her head, throwing her arms up in the air, and doing a jig. Ollie’s mother and the Doctor looked at each other, then back at the screen, then at each other again.
‘No, not getting it,’ the Doctor said, pushing his fingers through his hair and rubbing his chin. ‘Never mind, we know where The Device is, and River’s got the sonic banana!’ He skipped over to the Antimatter Pulse Primer. ‘See you soon, Pond!’
Ollie’s mother began racing round the console too, pulling levers, and pushing buttons. But Ollie went on watching Amy, who was going through the whole hopping about, mouthing at the screen routine all over again. This time, she had some new hand movements. Ollie blinked; they looked familiar. He screwed his face up to look more closely, because screwing your face up obviously made it easier to see – ‘yes, banana,’ and ‘no alive – dead!’ What? Bananas? Dead bananas? Amy was waving again. Well, frantic flapping, more like. This time he thought she made the words ‘Remember dead banana’. Ollie made the same words back, and Amy nearly took off with excitement. Boy, that girl could jump, Ollie thought. He made the words again, just to see the effect, and he wasn’t disappointed. Amy was leaping up and down and throwing her arms around, so that the Ood sitting nearby had to shift out of the way. ‘Doctor,’ she signed; gripping her wrist as though she were taking her own pulse, and popping her eyes so wide, Ollie thought they might explode.
‘“Tell the Doctor”, ok, I get it,’ he said to the screen. ‘Go-chill-take-a-pill, I’m on it.’ Ollie started to rehearse the message ‘dead banana’ and turned away from the screen just in time to see his mother and the Doctor consulting a battered old book. It looked like the one he’d seen on her dresser once, and she’d locked it away after that.
‘3524,’ the Doctor said. ‘Have we done that yet?’
‘One of the best,’ Ollie’s mother answered. ‘What about …?’
‘If you two have got a minute …’ Ollie interrupted, ‘Amy told me something.’
‘Told you? How?’
‘You know when you said we had to be more understanding about people with problems, like disabilities and such?’
‘And you said we had to learn to communicate with them and not expect them to try to communicate with us all the time because that’s not fair and we have all the advantages and we should be nicer to people who don’t so …’
‘Ollie – get on with it please!’
‘… So we all did sign language so we could speak to Sadie,’
‘Amy told me in sign language. She said “Remember the dead banana”’
‘Ollie! That’s ridiculous!’ Ollie thought his mother looked hacked off. Wearing black camouflage gear and bristling with all those spacey looking weapons, he thought she looked hacked off and dangerous. Ollie decided to shut up; and mimed zipping his mouth closed.
Suddenly, a whole lot of things happened at once. The door of the Tardis blew inwards, a large rotating box appeared on the deck, and the iPod in Ollie’s pocket started to vibrate. Music. He could hear music. It sounded like …
‘That’s the Pandorica!’ the Doctor hooted, leaping around the box like a giant leprechaun. ‘And The Device is hidden inside! What luck! River, lock and load, we’re going in.’
‘Are you mad? You just got out of there!’
But the Doctor was already twiddling invisible knobs and muttering instructions to himself, ‘Left three, right two, tap the interspatial whatjammacallit with the trans dimensional thingamajig and … Bingo!’ The door creaked open, threads of green and purple gas snaking out into the Tardis and around everyone’s ankles. A sign, Ollie thought, that getting any closer would be a Bad Thing. But the Doctor was firing on all cylinders now, picking up random instruments, checking them over, and throwing them down again. ‘Mallet? No. TV remote?’ He shut one eye, peered at it with the other, and put it in his pocket.
‘Sonic banana?’ Ollie’s mother was standing, one elbow akimbo, wearing an expression of deep tolerance. Like she’d just been landed with supervising Year Five boys’ Christmas party on her own. She was hefting a banana meaningfully, as you do when you find yourself between temporal realities.
‘Ha, yes – now that would be handy,’ said the Doctor, spinning on one heel, lurching forwards, and waggling a finger at the fruit, ‘except that one’s not sonic, it’s real. See?’ he flicked at the skin, ‘Fruit flies. They like a banana …’ The Doctor leaped backwards again and skidded over to one of the panels in the console. ‘Time, of course, is a different matter …’
In Ollie’s head, someone was singing some old track he didn’t recognise. Last century at least, if not the one before. It was certainly a bit crackly. Every few seconds, there was a tiny pop or a click, like a little counter going over. The track in Ollie’s head warbled to a halt and another one began. He pulled the iPod out of his pocket – who did this thing belong to, anyway? He couldn’t remember getting it as a present, and he certainly hadn’t bought it. Obviously, someone had left it at his house. Someone pretty ancient – at least twenty five – because this track was just as naff as the first. He checked out the title, ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’. What kind of dinosaur bought music like that? Shouldn’t be allowed loose with an iPod, that’s for sure. Ollie glanced back at the TV screen to see how Amy’s gymnastics were getting on. She looked a little faint. Not passing out faint, more not-quite-there faint, and the Ood was waving its tentacles at the space where Amy almost wasn’t any more. Like Ollie’s arm wasn’t when all this weirdness started up. Then suddenly, she was gone; what was left of her image swirling into a spiral like she was circling a drain, and disappearing. There was just the Ood now, waving at the screen with all available appendages.
The track moved on to ‘Cry Me A River’. Ollie raised an eyebrow. Smart piece of kit or no smart piece of kit, this thing was going back to its owner as soon as he could figure out what palaeolithic stupidosaurus it belonged to. He glanced up in time to see his mother elbow the Doctor out of the way, hoist a wicked looking weapon onto her shoulder, and disappear into the Pandorica. At least, that’s what he thought he saw. From the Doctor’s reaction, that might not have been quite what happened. Whatever it was, it seemed to have creased the Doctor up in the middle and made him grab his head and handsfull of his hair, before exploding himself upright again and yelling ‘No no no no no!’ Then he was looking at his hands, slapping his own face, looking at his hands again. ‘Ollie, it’s a …’
Trap? That’s how that sentence usually finished in the films. The Doctor was a dancing ghost, fading and convulsing, yelling and slapping. Then he was gone.
‘Hello. Where is everyone?’ It was Rory. Ollie leaped nearly out of his skin. If adults were going to insist on unquestioning obedience from kids, they were going to have to be a bit more considerate about their comings and goings.
‘Gone.’ Ollie was stunned into monosyllables.
‘Well, gone where?’
‘Dunno. Just faded off and went.’
‘Faded?’ Rory seemed to be having one of those came-in-the-wrong-door moments. ‘You mean like, everything just tuned out?’
‘No, just the people tuned out. The Doctor.’
‘Who? Well, Amy’s gone as well.’
‘Yep. And now you’re going.’ Ollie looked Rory up and down, ‘I can see the console through your ribs.’ The iPod vibrated again and Ollie squinted at the screen – ‘Twentieth Century Boy’. More prehistoric tat. The click wheel was interesting though, he’d never seen one whirl and swirl like that. He held it up to show Rory, who was looking even less substantial than before.
‘Joke,’ Ollie said, with the vague feeling that it probably wasn’t funny. ‘You’re the Centurion, aren’t you?’ He was right, not funny at all. Rory’s face turning white, then red, then white again was a bit of a hint.
‘Ollie, look what’s happening – the iPod is sucking me in!’ Sure enough, the whirling, swirling click wheel was slowly pulling what was left of Rory into its vortex as the track came to an end. Ollie stared. He stared at the iPod, then at the space where Rory had been, then at the iPod again. It didn’t help, and another track was coming up – ‘Oliver’s Army’. Ollie froze; supposing the iPod was turning everyone into tracks on some evil cosmic playlist. Supposing he was next! Well, no digital creepoid fruitoid alien iThing was going to turn him into a rubbish download for lizard geeks who probably tucked their ties into their pants. He needed a weapon. Ollie investigated his pockets for tools, paperclips, bits of blue tack, anything. Aha – his sonic screwdriver! He clicked it on, the LEDs lit up, and it whirred and swivelled around at the end. He was ready. But just as he was about to stick it into the vortex, where he reckoned it would mess with that freaky, swirly, hoovery thing going on, Ollie remembered Amy’s message about the dead banana. He didn’t know why, but he thought this might be a good time to take an adult seriously, even when the instructions sounded barking bonkers mad. She had insisted on a banana; and a dead one at that. But where, in this four-year-old’s-bedroom-on-a-bad-day steampunk flight deck would the ‘Dead Banana – Emergency Deployment For The Use Of’ box be located? Ollie could feel something sucking at his legs, unravelling his insides, pulling on his arms, and probing at his brain with space-cold tendrils. His hands began to fade and look ghostly, and he started to feel sick as the whirling, swirling vortex drew his innards towards the purple and green glowing click wheel. Bent almost double, Ollie suddenly spotted it – the banana! The ‘not-a-sonic’ banana! The DEAD-banana-with-the-fruit-flies his mother had dropped when she vanished into the Pandorica! He pounced on it – skin on or off, he wondered? Did it matter? No time to worry – he plugged it, blunt end first, into the vortex.
Stars jiggled, black holes blinked, something rusty-sounding spat quantum bits into the Antimatter Pulse Primer. Then –
The music stopped.
The Tardis stopped.
Luckily, Ollie didn’t stop. Instead, in a fit of inspiration that only an uncalled-for close encounter with infinity can trigger, he found Rory’s track and pressed Play. There was a screeching, graunching, thudding, whining moan, with a thundering thump running underneath. Finally, some decent sounds, he thought. Then suddenly, Rory appeared, shaking his head and poking at his ears with his fingers.
‘Ooh. Crikey. Ow – that was uncomfortable. Who knew being compressed to an MP3 file was that – compressy?’ He ran over to Ollie, ‘We have to find everyone’s track, and get them back.’ He grabbed the iPod and began scrolling through: ‘“Cry Me A River”, that’s your mother. Where’s Amy … Ha! She’s going to hate this!’ He clicked the ‘Grandma’ track. ‘Don’t ask, it’s complicated. Now, which one is the Doctor’s …?’
Ollie couldn’t remember what was playing when the doctor vanished. A cold sense of awfulness started to creep over him. Like when the cat was sick in your shoe and you put your bare foot in it the next morning. He would be responsible for losing the Doctor! The Doctor! And to a misbehaving iPod that didn’t even have any decent special effects! What if he turned up on ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 80’? Nightmare! Maybe if he could see the tracks … He grabbed the iPod back and scrolled up and down: ‘Time’, that sounded promising, so he selected it and a mystified bloke wearing a lightning strike across his face whoofed into existence. Oops. The Star Trek theme? Surely not. Ah, what about this one – ‘Who Are You?’ by The Who! It had to be …
There was a loud hum, some rumbling, then a whole lot of crashing as the Doctor and Ollie’s mother fell out of the fake Pandorica, looking stunned and slightly re-born, only without the mess. Over on the TV screen, Amy was introducing the Ood to Strictly Come Alien Dancing with a version of the Highland Fling that seemed to owe a lot to the experience of being bitten by gnats.
‘What a shocker! Well done young man, we’ll make a Time Lord of you yet! Better get GCSE maths first though, eh?’ The Doctor winked at Ollie’s mother, who was staring at the iPod with the slightly iridescent banana sticking out of it.
‘It’s the dead banana, not the sonic banana which would have reversed the polarity of the event horizon and – bleuurrrgh.’ The Doctor pulled a face with a protruding Haka tongue.
Ollie’s mother and Rory looked at each other, drew a blank, and looked back at the Doctor, who had begun gesticulating and crowing as though he had just won X Factor.
‘Yes, clever lad, young Ollie. Chip off the old block, I’d say.’
‘Start your saying where you left off with the event horizon … ’
‘Ah, yes, how demonically devious was that? Docking an event horizon behind every iPod and creating tracks for the entire population. Genius! Genius Mix, in fact!’ The Doctor hooted at his own joke, which rather fell flat with Ollie’s mother, who had an old Nokia, and never used iTunes.
‘And if we’d used the sonic banana – bleuurrgh? Bleuurrgh being …?’
‘Blow instead of suck,’ the Doctor windmilled his arms backwards, then windmilled them forwards, ‘so all those black holes would have spilled through this way, and crushed the entire universe, instead of us being hoovered out that way, to leave a nice, clean, conveniently vacant solar system.’ The Doctor stopped, beamed, leaned on his imaginary Dyson, and fell over in a sprawl onto the console.
‘You mean iPods were sucking people up, making tracks of them and …’
‘And deleting each album as it became full – yes!’
‘That really does suck,’ said Amy. ‘Not to mention, if I find whoever chose my track, they had better be wearing full body armour.’
‘So who did it? Who’s behind all this?’ Ollie’s mum was wearing one of those expressions he’d seen on teachers when they were hell bent on finding a culprit, so he looked away because not making eye contact obviously meant you were innocent. His eyes drifted to the iPod and its still glowing screen.
‘Look at the album title,’ Ollie said. They all looked. It was ‘The Sound of Silence’.
Behind the Doctor, the handbrake on the console slipped, with only the faintest of hisses, to the off position …
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012
Time like the present
Arthur inspected himself: shirt, pullover, trousers (with belt), and sock. Just the one sock. The other was stranded on the end of his foot like a piece of flotsam at high tide, a pixie hat of ruched wool with a holly pattern woven into it. Bugger! Arthur took a deep breath, coughed rousingly, and geared up for another assault. Rocking himself forwards in his seat, he rode the impetus towards his target, now illuminated by a sliver of sunlight angling in between the still closed bedroom curtains. Aha – a bomber’s moon! In my sights now, slight course correction at Knee Joint, Danny giving it everything in the rear gunner’s bay, RAT TAT TAT! Old girl had better hold out or we’re done for. And it’s a direct hit! Back to Blighty in time for tea! He pinched the recalcitrant sock between finger and thumb and hauled it downwards and then upwards to dock with the cuff of his long johns. Three Six Three squadron counted home, all present and correct, Sir! He dropped back into the chair, huffing a little from the exertion, and closed his eyes for a moment, half a salute hovering in the air.
‘You decent, Arthur?’ It was Allie; cheery, bustly, and somewhat rotund due to her having a face like a starved puppy around people’s chocolate supplies. ‘Sarah’s all dressed up and ready for her date,’ she said, pulling back the curtains and eyeing up the biscuit tin Arthur kept on his dresser. He noticed but said nothing. Often, she would bring her tea in with his and they would share a dunk on a Saturday morning, but not today. Today was special. Arthur’s thoughts flickered like an old film, re-winding, cutting and splicing, bringing up the colour. A soundtrack crept in alongside on syncopated soft shoe shuffling patent pumps. Jazz and boogie; all the girls in ration-shortened dresses and glowing with excitement at the prospect of meeting a handsome sailor or a soldier, or even an airman.
‘Need a hand out of that chair?’ Allie was standing, hands on ample hips and head cocked over to one side in professional evaluation.
‘Got rope and tackle?’ Arthur winked back. ‘Thought not. Right then …’ and he began rocking back and forth to gather momentum. ‘Let’s see. How soon. I can reach. Escape velocity!’ And he was upright. Allie slid a hand under the blue blazer that had been laid out on the bed, military insignia neatly pinned to the lapel, and held it out behind for Arthur to slip his arms into.
‘I bet you were a right looker, in your day,’ she beamed, turning him round and fussing like a proud nanny over a child in his new school uniform. She smoothed down the pockets and pulled the shining buttons towards their targets. ‘I bet Sarah had to fight off the competition, alright.’ Arthur raised an eyebrow and mustered a twinkle. ‘Ready for your Christmas lunch then? Table for two, Sir, right by the window!’ She offered her arm.
‘Thank you, Allie, but not today,’ Arthur replied, not looking at her, looking instead at the man in the mirror. ‘Today I will get there under my own steam.’ Face: shaved, no nicks. Check. Collar: crisp. Check. Tie: neatly knotted and centred. Check. He felt in his pocket for the little box with its smooth edges and precious cargo. ‘You get, on, I’ll be there in a minute.’ The man in the mirror looked back; blond hair slicked and brylcreemed into place under his precariously balanced cap, eyes ready to burst into life with the telling of a rambling story that might or might not be true, the faintest of smiles threatening to crack the carefully assembled military carapace supposed to add gravitas to his bare eighteen years. Time to go.
The young airman straightened his back, tugged down his uniform jacket. Then, cap tucked under his arm, he made his way down the corridor into the hall with its flags and bunting, and across the crowded dance floor towards the best girl in the room.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2011
I Don’t Like Mondays
I’d gone to work as usual but changed my route slightly with a view to using the outdoor parking area. So, tootling gently along and preparing to turn right at the appointed moment, I was mildly irritated to find that there was an obstruction accompanied by a degree of ill-disciplined vehicular negotiation (bad tempered spat) which conspired to prevent my egress onto the other lane. Never mind, it’s Monday morning, that’s likely it for today’s grot. I tootle on.
Missing that turn meant heading for the underground car park, a dismal affair at the best of times but, with the influx of new parties having permission to use it, it’s currently wearing an air of contained chaos alongside the obligatory grunge. My car and I plunge down into the murky depths. At the bottom, there’s a narrow-ish track with, to the right, some shops and to the left, a railway line. In fact the track is a lot like a station platform actually with all the random movements you’d associate with that environment. Vans juggling around bikes and bikes juggling around people. Everybody rushing. The buses come down here too to discharge passengers bound for the day care services above so wheelchairs and the occasional lurching individual unsteady on their pins but going like the clappers anyway appear, like those targets used by the military to see who’s inept enough to be the fall guy in a friendly fire fiasco. I pick my way along, keeping an eye on the drop to the left onto the rail line.
Suddenly, a van pulls in from the right and starts to move into my space. But I’m already in it – Oi! Any further and I’m taking the 8.45 to Victoria, assuming my unorthodox boarding strategy doesn’t impede its progress. I holler. Mr Idjit ignores me so I stop. This is one situation in which discretion is likely to be the better part of anything else going, unless you can get out and give the offending party an earful before he gets away. There’s a convenient jam ahead so I hurl myself up the road after the Twerp With No Ears. He has no ears when I berate him either but lets off a stream of invective a propos of whatever it is he thinks I want (or don’t want). As he hasn’t stopped to hear what it is perhaps this is some kind of routine for him. If it is, he’s going to win isn’t he? He’s more practised at downright ignorance with added volume than I am at righteous indignation on speakers from the pound shop.
I retreat and return to my car. Well, that was the plan anyway but there’s a flaw – no car. I trawl the locality, up and down, in and out of road-side establishments. Eventually I come across a man at a fruit and veg stall who knows what happened. It’s not good. It’s far from good. He’s been talking to a Detective Chief Inspector and now I get to talk to him too. I explain what happened and he tells me my car has been impounded so I’ll have to apply to get it back but it might be ‘a while’ because they’re investigating a murder that has major implications and my car is one of its casualties. ‘But I’m going on leave!’ I wail, with all the naïve optimism of a person whose winning lottery ticket just emerged from the heavy-wash-spin cycle as a bedraggled lump of papier machee. At this point, I notice also that the fire sprinklers have been turned on and that the new T shirt I just bought has become transparent in the time-honoured fashion of 1950s swimsuits. My car has been impounded in a murder case and won’t be released for decades, I am late for work and I am essentially naked in a public place. To say this is not turning out well looks like an understatement of cosmic proportions so what to do?
Well, wake up of course. They say some dreams take only seconds of real time; that one flippin’ took a life time’s worth of anxiety metaphors and, when I’ve got them all pinned down and translated I am SO going to have words with the local chapter of Psychotherapists Anonymous! They’d better have insurance is all I can say.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2008. First published on MySpace 12/08/08 writing as Bee Boomer
The Aliens on your Sofa
Vet’s day today and, to echo a friend, it’s not all about Vietnam; these vets are the brave souls willing to take up the challenge of delivering vaccines to the nation’s ungrateful pets and this week it’s the turn of Ms Massive and Mr FancyPants. If you’ve seen that three page treatise on how to give a cat a pill, you may be wondering why there isn’t one about getting cats into carriers for the purposes of managing their health. Well that’s because the process is so deeply traumatic that it can’t reasonably be reported without disturbing the psychological scars buried beneath a veneer of ‘best interests’. And we’re not talking about the cats here you understand.
Anyway, today was the day and, aiming for nonchalance, I set out the two carriers in a separate room. These are minutely explored, inspected and then inhabited by every cat except the two listed so that guerrilla tactics have finally to be employed. Nabbing Ms Massive, I go for the cooperative approach, pointing her at the entrance to the carrier and shoving gently from behind. She does what cats uniquely do under those circumstances and morphs into a star shape, grabbing the sides of the carrier and hanging there like a gigantic Garfield but without the grin. I regroup. Pulling backwards, I haul cat and carrier across the room, narrowly avoiding a backward somersault into the litter trays. Ms Massive lets go and huffs off into a corner which allows me to establish an arm lock and propel her somewhat unceremoniously bum first into the box. Door shut, cat contained, job done. Now for Mr FancyPants. These two are best friends so he’s been watching, this won’t be as easy.
Trying again for dignity first, I make the suggestion that he takes his seat in the carrier. Not a hope. Propulsion then. He assumes the position and, I swear, exposes an enviable array of 7 inch claws at all points, including his tail, simultaneously elongating his jaw and offering me a glance that suggests biomechanical devices lurking beneath fur that now hints at scales and advanced body armour. This is no longer a cat; this is the nightmare product of an Alien-Borg union and I am neither Ripley nor Picard.
I take hold of the front end; the back end whips round, executes an extraordinarily balletic movement and Mr FancyPants is over my shoulder and abseiling down the back of the computer. Right then, take the carrier to the cat and sneak up from behind, manoeuvring the now winged and primeval monster into it backwards. Cat concertinas and exits via my scalp and I am reminded of an occasion long ago when, cleaning out the habitats of our pet rats, one ran up my arm and stood on top of my head yelling as the power went off and cut the lights. There is something quite bizarre about standing in the dark with a shrieking rodent on your head and I subsequently employed it as a chat-up line but without much success, it has to be said.
Back on planet earth, my target is sitting innocently grooming his personal force field and I pounce – the carrier goes over his head and I worm the door underneath in the tried and tested method universally applied to the eviction of spiders. Victory, we can leave! Good thing I allowed an hour’s preparation time although attention to personal wounds and a bit of a lie down wouldn’t go amiss.
Strapped in and underway, these two set about building a rising cacophony of protest. It’s like taking an elderly couple out for the day: you know they’d be grateful in the end if they’d only shut up about missing The Archers on the radio. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ takes on a whole new texture when it’s delivered in fluent feline because a final act of resistance is likely to be the poo in the blanket, the aroma of which gathers strength along the way and may lead an inexperienced vet to start suggesting all manner of complicated and expensive investigations. ‘No, he doesn’t need a scan – he’s just narked!’. ‘But it’s a bit loose’. ‘So would yours be if you’d been hanging upside down from the roof of your transport and trying to saw your way out with your teeth!’. We escape, suffer the persistent whiff for another 20 minutes and I discharge two thoroughly offended felines onto the driveway. Cat treats restore dispositions and my two aliens decamp to the sofa. I locate the savlon and consider tranquiliser darts for next year.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2011
originally published on MySpace under the name ‘Baby Boomer’ June 2007 (http://www.myspace.com/baybeeboomer/blog/282411020)
Letter to a child
To Whom it May Concern
You are not my son. I am not your father.
You trod a path that is alien to me. We are not family.
You took household commodities and fashioned out of them violent and indiscriminate death. No son of mine would do that. No son of your mother would do that. No son of any Lord that I know of or that I can imagine would do that.
You are not my son, your mother’s son, our Lord God’s son, nor any son of this beautiful, wonderful humanity of which we are part.
You are death and murder but pitifully not forgotten in your monstrous act. You are a glyph, a symbol, an icon of hatred for the short eternity of our lives and the greater one of history.
No longer yours
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
‘Tick tock, tick tock’
‘Gimme the keys, fucking moron!’
‘…and as the Prime Minister’s car pulls away…’
‘Gaffer tape, Jimmy’
‘Telephone number 0767453. Tick’
‘Pete’s place, Greenwich’
‘Bertie likes his cheese! Clever Bertie!’
‘ARMED POLICE! COME OUT, PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM! COME OUT NOW!’
‘Any sign of the hostages, Mike?’
‘No, nothing. Just some bloody bird squawking about gaffer tape and Greenwich’
Critique Circle posts little challenges to members every couple of weeks. The product of one of these was ‘Prunella’ in which the whole tale had to be told with only one use of the first person pronoun. The challenge above required a story about the adventure of a pet left alone all day. I suspect I may have taken the notion of ‘adventure’ a little too far and been rather loose in my interpretation of ‘left alone’ but the rest is ok. Apart from the PoV which probably isn’t quite the bird’s. Nul points again then. I’ll be interested to see what you make of it.
Update: CC-ers rated this 10th equal, i.e. ten of us didn’t win! Quite possibly they had no idea what was going on and, unlike you folks, didn’t have the slipped clue about the bird. Just to put an end to the international angst and worry that I’m sure this is causing, the pet is a Mynah bird who is repeating snatches of conversation from the kidnapping of its owners, including clues as to their whereabouts. The police officer has the role of dim-witted muppet.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Out on the terrace of their friend’s rather magnificent home following their 10 year class reunion, Damian stole a glance at Sonja, her dark hair pulled back and plaited so that her neck and shoulders were exposed. She was statuesque, Athenian, he thought, drawing uncertainly on a largely forgotten classics module at university. Tonight would be the night. Definitely. He had seen how she looked at him, confirming his view that, even at school, there had been a special ‘something’ between them.
Once, giddy with a raft of successful exam results in their hands, they had taken over her parents’ house while they were away and had a four day party. Twenty teenagers drinking for the first time and cooking – well, cooking? Putting food items somewhere hot and waiting for them to change texture more like. They hadn’t quite wrecked the place but had her parents been mad when they got home? Was a spiny anteater spiny?!
He had stood by Sonja and taken the rap by maintaining her innocence in the whole affair and claiming to have invited everyone else himself. He knew, he just knew, that she had wanted to show her gratitude for that act of selfless sacrifice but that circumstances, namely him being banned from ever coming near the place again, had militated against this. Now, with them both billeted in the barn conversion by the pool, he planned to give Sonja her opportunity.
Sonja stretched her long limbs and body to catch the last of the sun. The reunion had been extremely pleasant, as had the copious refreshments which seemed to include quantities of wine owing much to their host’s success as an importer. Perhaps it was the alcohol but it seemed to her that most of them had aged rather well although she privately entertained the opinion that her own accumulation of years had led to an enhancing of her appearance, not just a desperate grip on the status quo.
She allowed herself to float mentally in the delicious haze brought on by the gentle summer heat and pleasant repasts and considered her options. James. They had been an item briefly when they were about fifteen. Both artists, they had worked together on some joint projects, talked endlessly and a little pompously, about art and theatre, and gone to the cinema together on cheap afternoon tickets to watch foreign films they hadn’t quite understood. He had even taken her home to meet his parents once where she had found herself totally incapable of handling an unfamiliar coffee pot, thrusting it back at his mother in undignified teenage embarrassment.
They’d split up a little after that due, she thought, to their being in different subject streams. But now here he was again and something big in films which was quite a stroke of luck, given her obvious attributes and talents. That he was as beautiful as ever was a definite bonus. Sonja thought she heard the echoes from him of their past relationship; imagined she caught his admiring glance at her now elegant and, frankly, stunning body; believed she perceived in him unspoken hopes of a re-kindling of that fledgling affair. Tonight, she thought, mentally mapping a route to his room; Chablis and Chanel, how could he resist!
James leaned back in his lounger, gazing at the sky now deepening with rose, orange and indigo shades. He thought of Damian.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Not being First Fish..
A wasp drops onto the pond, flails about a bit in an unequal struggle with the surface tension and, GLOMP! A fish snaps it up and disappears. Then – Splash! Thrash! PWARGH! Wasp floats to the surface, not so lively but still kicking. Another fish eyes it up. GLOMP! Then PWARGH! And back comes the wasp, this time with distinctly critical vital signs. Fish 3 approaches, gets a bead on its profile and GLOMP! Fish disappears. I wait. No regurgitation; this wasp’s next appearance will be unreconstructed. It is being recycled.
To recycle a wasp, it’s smart to be Third Fish.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
First published on MySpace in 2007, writing as BabyBoomer
No Place Like Home
Maude ran a finger along the shelf ‘Nurse Simmons!’ she called out. ‘More attention to the dust and less to the new registrar if you don’t mind!’
Her senior staff nurse glanced briefly at Dr Tate, raised an eyebrow and hurried back to give the shelving another wipe over with a damp cloth.
‘All done Sister Jenks’ she announced a few minutes later, inviting inspection with a drift of her eyes towards the unit. Maude raised her chin and looked down under her glasses, a formidable matron-in-waiting whose middle name must surely be ‘Dettol’. She swept down the centre of the ward, scrutinising curtain rails and drip stands as nurses held their breath and patients lay to attention until she had passed.
‘I hope you turned those mattresses today and swabbed the backs of the wheel arches, Nurse’. Her tone trumpeted reproach and Nurse Simmons hoped to god she didn’t look. She made a stab at empathic consideration. ‘Time you went home Sister, it’s well past 10 o clock.’
Maude allowed herself to be chivvied off the ward and out into the night but not before pausing one last time to inspect the door handles for signs of finger prints. The handles gleamed and Nurse Simmons said a silent prayer for the diligence of the orderly who had nipped in quickly with the brass polish.
At Number 47 Stepps Road, Maude turned her key and pushed open the heavy wooden front door, leaning on it a little to counter the resistance from the large black plastic bag full of charity shop items. Whether these were coming or going, Maude could not recall but her son had been unable to persuade her to get rid of them so there they stayed. She climbed past them and squeezed through the gap between several more bags and a pile of cardboard boxes on the way to her chair in the living room, the tiny carpet and tile pathway creeping through the house like a river in a grand canyon of neglected debris and squalor.
Maude pulled her coat round herself and sat, her left arm resting on a teetering pile of newspapers at one side, her right in her lap to avoid the conical tower of cigarette ends, layered and barely able to stink they had become so consolidated, that rose from a long-obscured ashtray somewhere on the floor. She glanced around, hopelessness flattening her affect and disabling her capacity to engage so she slept, still in her coat and uniform, until it was time to return to the ward and oversee the shift-long, above-all-else, scrubbing, dusting and polishing rituals of another germ-free day.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Not David Attenborough
The ice rat scuffed at the frozen tundra, came up with something apparently satisfactory, and scampered off to its burrow. Four more days of filming and we could head north to the Serengeti, that would be warmer for my old bones. I hitched up and rearranged my knees as discreetly as possible, sending two of the juveniles tumbling back into the burrow and ruining the shots we’d been waiting for all day, shit! Mutterings from the crew; the words ‘past it’ and ‘decrepit bloody baggage’ were allowed to float my way. So much for respect.
Thirty years of wildlife filming, international awards, that 1983 sequence with the polar bear when I got so close you could see right up its nose. We used proper film then, not this digital crap. You lined up your shot, framed it, and just waited, waited, because it might be your last one on your last roll. They said I had an instinct for the best frame, the best light, timing. When I was a kid I took a photo of a spider with dew on its web. We sent it to a competition in a kids’ magazine but it got rejected because they said it hadn’t been taken by a child. I was prouder of that than I would have been of winning!
But now here I was with a bunch of upstart ignoramuses freezing my arse off in a field for a few seconds of rat footage. What’s it all about eh?
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
I want to preface this story with some thoughts. The title was a given, a course exercise, and not a choice as such, but I did have a choice about where I went with it. As a professional working for a large mental health and learning disability Trust and in the context of current campaigns to eliminate stigma, I’m bound to say something about how I arrived at this grim image. The exercise was one of perspective and the result is fiction, not fact. That said, I have worked as a nurse in conditions not dissimilar from these and observed at first hand, individuals whose behaviours shaped these characters. This was many years ago and I would hope that the picture here is no one’s present day reality. Let’s remember though, that when we dismiss others as so different and so removed from ourselves, the resultant social disengagement can lead to environments that are neglectful and abusive for all who have to exist within them.
The Detached Observer
In the bleakest corner of hell and damnation, Clarisse had finally found sanctuary. Knees pulled up around her ears, gown pulled down as far as possible towards her bare feet, she plucked and twitched with her fingers over the abdomen containing His Child. She had tried to hack it out but they had stopped her, brought her here, strapped her down while she had screamed and howled her impotent protest.
A few feet away, a nurse peered through the finger-pawed, gobbed-over security glass, and flicked at a syringe with casual negligence. He had come to the end of his shift, the schizo in the corner marinading in her own urine had better not kick off now. ‘Lock and load!’ he thought to himself as he unbolted the office door, creaked it open and slid out into the corridor, holding the depot injection ahead of him like Excalibur.
But Clarisse had known; her Devil’s Child had been watching, it had told her. ‘Kill the bastard!’ it had shrieked into her mind’s ear while it churned and spat in her womb. ‘We are the Second Coming and you are the Whore Mother!’
Clarisse gathered her thoughts; thoughts that were scattered, fragmented and blurred by psychosis and tranquilisers. She focused them, death was the answer, exhumation of the child of death from her own rotting corpse. She gripped the scalpel she had sequestered while in A&E and waited for the nurse to come close. He was an enemy, his blood would cleanse.
I know this place with its cold stone walls, dark stone floors, and its hummings and buzzings everywhere. The blather in my head is new though, the bastard crap in my head from the crap bastard in my belly. SHUT UP! I have to stay quiet, silent in the sanctuary, invisible, but my knees hurt and I’m cold. I need to pull my thin robes more tightly round me. My ritual robes. I know what they’re planning, they’re going to drug me and pull this bastard out of me arse first. Second Coming only from the distaff side, Mr Hyde, take a ride. But not if I cut it out now, the slimy, roiling hell git. Slit open my stomach, grab it by its evil little ankles and chuck it out of the window. That thought feels good, it’s a good thought, it warms me up a little so my fingers start working again. If I can just…SHUT UP you goddamn freak! Ha – GODdamn, that’s funny! Little shit. Cut you out, I will, little shit. Spawn of the devil on the level bevel weevil evil…
Who’s this? Keep still, don’t move. What’s he holding? What are his robes? His face is death, has he got the weapon? Oh revelation! A saviour! An angel of redemption! We are partners in Hell, my dagger of cleansing and his sword of truth, his pure blood to rot my corpse and snatch eternity from the Beast within. We will be remembered beautifully!
Joseph twitches the corner of one eye, best to keep tabs on the honest-to-god nutcases. What’s the Virgin Mary up to now, he wonders. Been crossing herself and muttering all day, scrunched over in the corner and soaked in her own wee. Now she’s looking furtive, glancing about and hissing ‘Shut up!’ every few minutes. Joseph isn’t too concerned for himself; being catatonic you’re pretty much invisible which is great when there’s a kick-off, not so great though when it comes to meals. But then, whatever’s on the menu, it looks and smells like cabbage boiled in piss for three days so who gives a shit?
Uh-oh, she’s fiddling. Joseph spots one of those hinky little signs only inmates recognise, and he thinks he can see blood on the peek-a-boo hospital gown. Was she cutting? He’s seen psychos before, the sort that ramble and mumble, hiss and squawk, they all went the same way. Mega dose of mega meds in the backside then into the huggy jacket for a few days. He watches, the dullest of eyes blinking at the slowest of speeds. A nurse is approaching with a needle. Well hell, they’re gonna dose her up before the shift change, what a surprise! He blanks his eyes some more, going for the dead fish look. Shit, she’s got a knife in there! Joseph watches in creeping, brain-numbed slow motion as Eamon takes steps of clinical expediency towards his target and the Virgin Mary mutters a salutation.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Dennis is a case alright. Big, thick-set, yellow hair thinning on top now he’s hitting forty. I’ve known him for years; first when his exasperated mum hauled him into the Centre hoping to get him fixed and him trailing behind with a wicked grin tweaking his mouth in which was stuffed the Mars Bar he’d half-inched from our shop. Dennis was a LAD. Any smarter and he’d have been real trouble but, his style cramped by what his dad had referred to as ‘defective head-gear’ before clearing off to leave his mum with it all, he was limited to shouting, kicking, and swearing when life didn’t give up its treasures on demand. The shouting would come in handy later, it turned out. Anyway once, when we’d been talking about him moving on to a college course, he suddenly remarked that we could have tea together, him and me, and beamed brightly like a puppy that suddenly found a way to get the treat out of the keep-your-dog-entertained-all-day dog toy. I kept a blank face while I processed this. I know him, he could do disingenuous and, never mind I’m old enough to be his gran, we also have a professional relationship. So I thanked him politely and said no because we worked together. Dennis nodded, seemed to consider it in a mature and reflective manner, then offered his next best shot – could he have sex with me then? Naturally, I got him out of my office and up the stairs to the activities room faster than a rat up a drain with a flue brush behind it but I’ve dined out on his cheek ever since. Now he’s in a band. It’s a punk band so what’s it matter that no-one can play a note or sing? They make the loudest noise you ever heard, screech incoherent lyrics at their microphones and somehow get return gigs at places where people should know better. Someone even did a documentary about them and the clips feature pained pieces to camera about the band’s ‘enthusiasm’ (read ‘ear-splitting racket’) and relaxed approach (nobody knows if they’ll all turn up) so now they have a fan club. I saw Dennis back at the Centre the other week and he didn’t remember me. He was with his mum and Jennifer, the current object of his desire whose own mum was facing their recent engagement with more resilience than I think I could have mustered. Dennis gave me one of his face-cracking grins as I passed, displaying a gap where two of his front teeth were supposed to be. He’d fallen over the drums and fetched up under the amp rig to loud cheers from the audience who either thought it was part of the act or had been consuming the same cheap hooch Dennis had thrown down his neck before going on. He said something incomprehensible while his mum inspected the far wall and Jennifer crept further up under his arm in solicitous ownership.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
She opened the lid of the sink-side depository into which peelings, vegetable off-cuts and abandoned fruit were placed in the interests of her personal composting crusade. It had been recently emptied and a squadron of disenfranchised fruit flies scrambled and took to the air, wheeling around in search of suitable pay-dirt. A banana skin! They descended. ‘Death by drosophila!’ she thought, a smile creeping sideways onto her mouth and occupying a good two thirds before slipping off as the thought of cooking dinner for six re-surfaced. What was it about husbands that enabled them to forget their wives’ culinary ineptitudes and confidently invite crucial contacts over for haute cuisine?
Well, senior scientist or no, she would have a crack at it. After all, she argued, it seemed evident that even the most erudite and professionally independent seeming FLOTUS got landed with choosing the White House curtains while POTUS was off making presidential mileage on the world stage so no shame eh? She had checked the recipe which was quite clear and involved little more than Chinese spices that she had hand-ground (kudos), honey, caramelised onion (easy peasy) and a dead duck. She opened the book to the method, a familiar structure to the scientist, and began working through it. Chop, fry, mix, rub, stuff with – yep, got that, on a roll here – she turned the page, ‘Hang in a windy place for three days’.
Spag bol then.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Prune-Ella, Queen of the Dessert
AKA: Practical cynicism
Cynicism. A withering of the heart through repeated, constant, undeserved criticism of genuine and meritorious effort? Well not desolation or abuse that’s for sure; those give rise to defeat, hatred, uncomplicated self-destruction by the slow degrees of personal deconstruction. No, cynicism has a sense of survival to it, vengeance even. It is veiled power, happy to bide its time, content to stalk its target until the moment and the words are most apposite. Cynicism is miserable nastiness out in a posh frock and allowed to mix with its targets.
Ah but bitching, that’s a much more entertaining option. Perhaps bitching is a sub-genre of cynicism as it’s sometimes a little difficult to distinguish between the two, although bitching tends to be the province of women and gay men whose articulacy and timing are generally exquisite. It has an added joyous malice and, it must be said, it’s also much less intellectually demanding and rather more immediate. Right now, for instance, the preening, mincing, Woolworths’ decorated MC of this provincial step-down club for failed trannies is heading for a major bitch assault from Prune-Ella, Queen of the Dessert. Well, you don’t tell a six foot draggette who’s pushing forty that her tantrum of menopausal proportions would benefit from a course of HRT without risking some sort of come back, do you? Quite. Over in the corner, Prunella de Ville is a slow cooker of seething rage in which an Oxfordian vocabulary garnished with burlesque ribaldry is heating up a suitable comeback. No-one in their right mind, or out of it for that matter, wants to miss this and crowds are gathering; flitting quietly in from the wings, materialising at tables in pre-show shadow, undulating with sinuous secrecy around the velveteen seats.
Of course Prune-Ella is all about performance and so a considerable amount of flouncing and huffing seems likely to outweigh the acidity of tongue essential to perfect bitching. Prune-Ella also fails in the detached vengeance department too. The most successful cynicism assault can leave the target feeling as though they have received a compliment, only realising later what has happened through painful post mortem or the careful explanation delivered by a friend in possession of a comfort blanket. Bitching though, relies on instantaneous reactivity; mouths must gape, the combatants’ righteous indignation must be hammed up, wound up and then iced over with pure liquid triumph, there must be audience participation with shifts of allegiance at each volley of excoriating ripostes.
Prune-Ella’s eyebrows have done their best to arch but, impeded by botox, they have settled into a mascara embellished corrugation above eyes blackened with arachnoid lashes and fury. She rises. The uninvited audience holds its breath. Our dick weed MC pauses on the edge of his brandy in hazy realisation.
Mighty heels that girl is wearing.
Prune-Ella delivers a cracking swipe across her target’s rug-rest, dislodging it and sending it spinning off under the fake brocade banquette. There are cries of ‘Call the RSPCA!’ and raucous hootings as people scrabble about on the floor in mock horror while dick weed gathers himself, wrings his drink out of his lapels, and brings his knee sharply upwards to connect with Prune-Ella’s not yet absent manhood. Glorious mayhem ensues.
Time then for a quick call to the local constabulary and the Argus. Nothing like a frock-fest fist-fight to bring out the leering lasciviati. Prune-Ella’s already setting up for round two and figuring out camera angles, and MC Dick Weed is applying emergency price rises to the drinks. Now that’s a good use of cynicism if ever I saw it!
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
The bridge: fiction only through cowardice!
As she approached the bridge leading to the pasture where a batch of cattle was cavorting and bucking its appreciation of newfound freedom, Sarah noticed on the far side, a family; a 2+2 of seemingly stranded townies regarding the stile with incredulity. Each of them being encumbered with rather more adipose than was strictly necessary, they clearly saw the narrow step up and over as a ridiculous indulgence put there by the locals for no other reason than to inconvenience visitors.
They began hauling at the metal gate, a makeshift affair bent to fit the entrance to the old wooden bridge and there to improve access for the odd cyclist or baby buggy. Shifting it enough to get through, which was a substantial distance, the group was meandering onto the bridge, leaving the gate open.
‘Would you close that please? Sarah asked politely.
‘What?’ one of them responded, wearing the beginnings of a hostile expression.
‘The gate, would you close the gate please. You just opened it’
‘What for?’ There was belligerence rumbling under glowering brows and the four of them drew together in a tableau of affronted ignorance.
‘It’s there to stop large, mindless beasts from getting onto the bridge’ Sarah beamed, waving at the rumbustious cattle and indicating the fragility of the old structure in an attempt at communication. She paused, regarded her hostile audience, their blank uncomprehending stares, and added ‘Too late though, I see’.
Stepping up her pace, she accelerated past, skipping over the stile and shoving the gate back in place before high tailing it down the pathway. It might be a while before they twigged….
‘Oi! Who the f…?.’
The wind carried off the rest of the riposte as she executed a spritely power-walk down towards the lane, chuckling as she went. ‘Yokels 1, Townies 0’ she grinned.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Marmite: an inadvertant excercise in perspective writing
‘I hate it, it’s horrible!’
’There’s nothing wrong with it. Get it down or there’s no afters’
‘Sammy, I’m warning you!’
‘Jason says it’s witches’ poo!’
‘Samantha!’ (‘Samantha‘– that meant trouble) ’Finish it now or you go to your room with no TV, understand?’
Sammy’s mouth turned down at the edges. Her bottom lip started to protrude and quiver. Her shoulders started to chug up and down and her fists tightened on the Sunday tablecloth. She sucked in a huge breath though distress-flared nostrils and she howled. It was an eyes-screwed-up, face the colour of the abandoned tomato on her plate, turn your lungs inside out kind of howl. Then, from somewhere beneath a tract of pink corrugations, tears of outrage and impotence budded onto whisper blond lashes and hung there as the decibels mounted.
Further down her blotched red face and occupying centre stage in the purple cavern that was her mouth, a piece of marmite sandwich could be seen hanging, unmasticated, upon a tongue that could not shrink away. Marmite was disgusting, it made her teeth curl up, sucked her cheeks dry and smelled like, like…. She couldn’t think what it smelled like because nothing in her world stank like marmite and here it was in her mouth again. Well, a long howl requires an equally long inhalation and this brought some welcome relief. A tiny crumb, drawn in with the compulsive breath, caused Sammy to cough, splattering the claggy brown muck across the table and into her dad’s tea. Lunch seemed suddenly to be over.
‘I hate it, it’s horrible!’
’There’s nothing wrong with it. Get it down or there’s no afters’
‘Sammy, I’m warning you!’. That’s dad’s Serious Voice but I’m really going for it now.
‘Jason says it’s witches’ poo!’ I pull my best yeuk face and stick my tongue out.
‘Samantha!’ (Uh-oh) ’Finish it now or you go to your room with no TV, understand?
Right. Now he’s for it. Mum wouldn’t go for this but – I pull my mouth down at the edges, I stick out my bottom lip and make it tremble. Is he looking? Good! Now for the shoulders; up and down, up and down, wobble the lip a bit more and pull at the Sunday tablecloth. I sneak a peek at dad out of the corner of my eye but now he’s doing ignoring; I can tell because he’s staring hard at the football page and he hates football.
‘Sammy, pack it in with the drama queen performance, I’m not impressed!’
Time to bring on the yelling then so I screw up my eyes, open my mouth and howl my hardest and longest. My face should be bright pink by now, I practised this in front of the mirror when me and Jen played at being babies last week. If squeeze my eyes until it hurts, well, nearly hurts anyway, and think of the time I got grounded for taking a skipping rope to the old quarry on a fishing trip I can make tears. Yes! Now for the sobs; I’m going for broke so I open my mouth and let it out; it’s the loudest wail I can do. Stick my tongue out again with the glob of marmite sandwich stuck on it. Marmite is just gross; it makes my teeth curl up, it sucks my cheeks all dry, and it smells like, like…. Well, I really don’t know what it smells like because nothing else ever could smell like that. Have to breathe in again now and he’s still not looking! It’s a big breath, I bet I was purple, Jen would so not be able to go purple because she’s got asthma so she has to use her puffer all the time. Come to think of it….
‘Caaaaagh!’ Before I can stop it, there’s a bit of something in my throat and I’ve let out a cough to end all coughs and out goes the claggy, marmitey muck across the table and into dad’s tea. Serves him right. He won’t stare at the football page next time.
‘I hate it, it’s horrible!’
‘There’s nothing wrong with it. Get it down or there’s no afters’
‘Sammy, I’m warning you!’ She’s doing this on purpose so I aim for the Authoritative Father tone; controlled, moderate but firm.
‘Jason says it’s witches’ poo!’
‘Samantha! Finish it now or you go to your room with no TV, understand?’ Jason must be that precocious little brat with the melodramatic airhead of a mother who thinks she’s an artist. All carefully placed paint splodges and fake distraction, well…
Jeez, now what’s she up to? Any time her mother leaves me in charge, the little blighter ups the ante. Time for the tears… and here they come.
‘Sammy, pack it in with the drama queen performance, I’m not impressed!’ Ignore her, that’s the strategy. I focus hard on the paper, peering with as much interest as I can muster at the football page. It’s the local derby with photos of milkmen, posties and solicitors hunking about in the mud and striking poses like whatsisname, el Ninho. Or is that a weather feature? Ah, this is more like it – cheerleaders! Some of them are spindly legged adolescents and a few are definitely a little too chubby for the costumes but there at the back, eyes bright as tiny stars in endless heavens and a body made in the same place, is Elena. Elena the exchange student from Venice teaching dance to overweight kids in year eleven. Elena the fabulously opportunistic encounter over shared cigarettes in the dark at the last parents’ evening. Elena my wonderful…
Shit! A glob of something disgusting (marmite sandwich?) has described a short but effective arc across the table from Sammy’s oxygen-deprived mouth and into my tea! Shit shit shit! Witches shit. Evil muck. Maybe Jason was right, the pretentious little prat. I watch as the tea seeps into the newspaper and runs Elena’s exquisite features into a blackened pool of inky obliteration. Something similar happens to my gathering erection. So much for the golden goal.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
Eloise hoisted open the flimsy door and paused on the threshold, screwing up her nose and holding onto the urge to vomit. Somebody already had, it seemed, and she surveyed the cramped and stinking landscape with a tactical eye. How to accomplish the necessary without acquiring more sewage than she was hoping to leave behind? Not for the first time, Eloise wished Glastonbury had a Business Class section.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2009
Andy wriggled in his seat, stretching his legs, or trying to, in the cramped space that was Dress Circle. In his head he tried out phrases such as ‘Well, who’d have thought a Carstairs play would turn out to be this tedious!’ and ‘I’m happy to cut and run if you are!’ but one glance at Alison, leaning forward as far as possible and with eyes like saucers, told him that this was already a non-starter.
He grappled for a substitute. ‘I think my bleep just went off’ he hissed to Alison’s shoulder.
‘Ssssh!’ she hissed back. Then ‘How come? You’re not on call you said!’
‘Change of plan, Dave dropped out…’
‘I didn’t hear your bleep’
‘It’s on silent..’
‘I wish you were!’ someone spat from the row behind.
‘I have to go’ Andy had no idea how to conclude this fabrication as he wasn’t on call, his bleep was at home and now he was surely in it up to HERE.
‘Go if you must; I’m staying’ Alison shot back, apparently aiming for sotto voce but delivering a grating growl instead and attracting even more irritated glares from their plush seated neighbours.
‘But you’ve got the car!’ That was close to a wail. Suddenly the consequences of his deception were revealing themselves to Andy in all their stark defeat. Walking home in the rain. No late meal at the Indian. And probably no sex either. Make that definitely no sex either. All because he couldn’t sit through a poxy Carstairs play!
Well, he’d burned his boats now. At least if Alison was staying, he wouldn’t have to try to fool her into thinking his phone was the hospital bleeper. He tried for a martyred self sacrificing expression as he began his climb of shame along the row towards the exit but Alison wasn’t looking, she was back in full-on, Carstairs pretentious up-his-own-backside land with just a hint of hacked-off bristle along her shoulders.
Andy escaped into the night. Look on the bright side, he thought, it was a good thing he’d found out about this just three dates in and not after a whole lot of expensive personal and material investment. No sex was that good! He probed for his wallet and headed for the pub.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2009
Santa’s IQ Test
‘If Santa really exists’ Gary announced in the professorial monotone of his Asperger’s, ‘he will be able to read it’.
Trevor looked into the serious blue eyes of his nine year old son and took delivery of the bundle of papers. They were going shopping tomorrow, this had better be easy to figure out.
Later, Gary in bed and ritually counting the fluorescent stars on his ceiling, Trevor unfolded the letter.
‘Dear Father Christmas…’ it began, then nothing – just rows of black lines, some thick, some thin, spaced out and close together! Gary had spent hours doing this and he was meticulous so it definitely had meaning but what? Maybe there was a clue on-screen; Trevor called up Gary’s account, pushing aside some wrappers and labels stacked neatly next to the monitor. There it was, four pages, all lines. He zoomed in; Gary was a demon for detail, he could have hidden something in the lines. Trevor squinted at it. Nothing. Zoom out then; whoops, way too far! Hang on though, it seemed familiar. Trevor looked at the page, the stack of labels, back at the page and dawn broke – bar codes! Gary had produced, with photographic accuracy, a bar coded present list as a digital challenge to Santa’s authenticity! Trevor checked the labels; a USB stick, a DVD of British birds, a Dr Who annual. Repeats for now but maybe not next year and he dreaded to think what fiendish tests his son might devise in the future.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010