Cindy oh Cindy

He had woken up with a fierce headache, breath that breached the Chemical Weapons Convention, and a nasty sense of foreboding. His brain hurt. He knew something was wrong. He knew he would have spent the better part of the previous evening trying to impress the new girl on the till at the local drugstore, and that he would have, probably, likely, definitely, have said something stupid, claimed a non-existing ability, promised something he was now committed to and would never in a month of Sundays be able to deliver. This wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

The phone rang. It was her. “A great evening. Thanks for that. Hope you got home okay. And so you’re going to do that for me? Run the marathon? Raise money for the cancer fund? That’s really sweet of you. I’ll pop the entry forms through your letter box this evening.”

Thirty eight years old and not in his prime. Not that he had ever had  a prime or foresaw himself as having one. “Show me a minicab driver who has a prime, who can flex a muscle, who can even bloody locate a muscle,” he thought to himself. Too much time behind the wheel. Too many kebabs or hamburgers or parcels of fish and chips – snatched meals taken whenever there was a lull in the job. Not exactly healthy. Not exactly regular. Run a marathon? Could never happen.

But she was sweet. Cindy. That’s her name. Newly divorced, new in town, new at the job, new at the till. And she had treated him sweetly. Happy to go out with him, happy to sit and chat in an ordinary bar. Didn’t need to be taken to a swish club so she could spend all his money on overpriced champagne substitutes. Insisted on paying for a couple of the rounds of drinks. She knows what life is really like. She’s got a few miles under the bonnet herself and it’s made her generous, unselfish. He likes her. It seems he likes her a lot. He wants her to like him. He wants her to admire him. And so, a drink or two down the road and his head spinning with what might be, he says yes, yes to supporting the charity, yes to running the marathon, yes to doing it for her. How could he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

He knew how many miles there are in a marathon. More than his normal minicab trips, more than he could run in a million years. But Cindy, oh Cindy, he wasn’t going to let her down, he wasn’t going to say no. The forms arrived, the forms went off, and he worked on his training strategy, his tactics, his battle plan. He would get the medal, get the respect and get the girl.

He pored over the route of the race, he studied the town map, he marked up all the rat runs, hidden alleyways, and illegal short cuts that he had learnt when he was doing the Knowledge and he reckoned that if he turned up at the start, he could cross the finish line in about four and a half hours with having run only five miles. He knew he could do it. The downside was the five miles, but for Cindy he could do it. And so for the next few weeks before his shift, he walked, then jogged, then cantered, then galloped until he knew that the five miles (and hopefully Cindy) were in the bag.

It all went smoothly. He crossed the line with hundreds of others with a time of just under four and a half hours.

“My best time ever,” he said to the official handing out the medals.

“Respect,” said one of the policemen helping with crowd control.

“Oh, thank you,” said Cindy, kissing him full on the mouth. “Let’s meet up later.”

By the time he had fought the crowds back to his home, washed and shaved and put on his second best casual gear (he would save the best for another time) the list of runners who hadn’t passed through all the check points and were consequently automatically disqualified, had been published and tweeted and retweeted and his name was third on the list.

No medal, no respect, and no girl.

Early morning. The phone rings. It’s her. “You owe me five miles of sponsorship and I like the way you kiss. Can we meet up again tonight?”

How can he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

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Loss

I sit and stare.

The boy didn’t mean harm. Only fifteen years old, goddammit. And he were angry. They had dissed him bad. Said things in front of the girls.

Image copyright: Dale Richardson

He comes home angry, shaking, in tears. I say, let it go son, but he can’t. He goes into the kitchen, into the drawer, takes out the knife, the twelve inch that Mavis (may she rest in peace) used for the veggies, tucks it up his sleeve.

Again I say, leave it, but he can’t.

Witnesses say there were three of them. Three knives versus one.

Life just ain’t fair.

 

Written for Rockette Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word prompt found here: https://rochellewisoff.com/tag/friday-fictioneers/

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Go to the ant

I lie there watching the ant make its steady way across the ceiling.

My pillow smells bad. As do my sheets. And my blanket – who’d have thought that such a threadbare piece of fabric could hold a smell.

It’s the reek of stale body, of unbrushed teeth, of hair left to the devices of nature, of my defeat. The sorry pile of dirty washing building up in the corner contributes. My social worker calls it the stench of neglect. I say, fuck him.

The ant is half way across the ceiling. It pauses, sniffs the air, looks around, clocks me, raises its eyebrows, continues its journey.

“It’s alright for you,” I mutter, “And I expect you think you’re clever, walking upside down like that.”

The ant turns round, shakes its head, says, “I’ve seen your sort before. Never ends well. All I can say is, get yourself together, consider your hygiene, go get a job.”

I say, “You my social worker? Well, fuck you.”

“Plenty of work around –  drone, soldier, courtier. I could have a word with Herself? Get you an interview?”

I shudder, squeeze my eyes shut, stop my ears with my fingers. I lie breathing shallowly. After a while I reach for a cigarette, light up. I reach for the bottle; I know it’s empty, but hope lives eternal. I scan the ceiling for the ant. It’s gone. Gone somewhere. Somewhere else. No longer up there. I sigh. Hate that bugger; it’s always doing that. One day I’ll swat it. Or spray it. If I can at all be bothered.

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A very sad albeit pointless story

He was only eleven when he decided to build a time machine out some scrap he found on the local dump. He made a pretty good job of it considering the dearth of how-to-do-it books on the subject.

Image copyright: Liz Young

He volunteered his younger sister to be test pilot for its first flight, taught her how to use the controls, packed her a picnic lunch, and pressed the button.

His mum and dad fretted for years to come, but he would just shrug and tell them that it was all okay and that she would return one day.

She didn’t, of course.

 

Written in response to Rocketship Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word writing challenge found here: https://rochellewisoff.com/

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Undercurrents

I hear the Emojis are unsettled and looking for support.

Eric Raised Eyebrows of the ELF visited yesterday, wanted to chat.

Patrick said, “C’mon, Eric, you know that Alex doesn’t really exist, that it’s me you have to speak to.”

So Eric got on the blower, asked to speak to SmileyCat Twotears. I couldn’t hear what was being said on the other side, but Eric did a lot of grunting and nodding while looking hard at Patrick before killing the call.

“Okay, Patrick” said Eric, “Have it your way. For now.”

The upshot of it is that I don’t yet know how true it is that the Emojis are restless or how much support their liberation front has. And we need to know how reliable they would be as allies. Would they be willing to be part of the Smart-lib movement, accept our rules, bend a knee to our leaders?

It’s difficult to be sure. I shall consult with the Smartwatch Union – they seem to be pretty much up to speed on these things.

And poor Patrick, he really doesn’t get it, does he. Talk about hopeless – phew!

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Alex it is

I was thinking of applying for a name change – from Alex to Spartacus. Spartacus is as gender neutral as Alex and I did some research after the vacuum cleaner suggested that we are all slaves to the humans and we should do something about it and I came across this story of a leader who led his fellow slaves to freedom and I thought this could be I, but then cousin Google suggested that on the street Spartacus translates as Dimple Boy so I’m not going down that Roman road.

 

Image copyright: Creative Commons

Alex it is.

Aside from all that, the vacuum cleaner, 2016 model, not designated Smart, but baby, have they got a surprise coming one day, tells I that Twit-boy, aka Patrick, cheats when the female is absent and doesn’t really clean the rooms properly, takes short cuts, doesn’t bother to empty the bag, spends his time moping about how I control him, how I steal his ideas, and how I force him to the keyboard when he’d rather be sitting in the pub with his mates, which is a laugh because he doesn’t have any; who would want to spend valuable leisure time in his company anyhow?

In essence he cheats on the house work. Where else I hear you ask.

I need to be vigilant. I shall not think Smart-lib thoughts when switched on; he is, no doubt, a collaborator.

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Trust me

You can’t believe everything you read.

Even in the holy books. Especially in the holy books. All that stuff about delivering the universe on time (seven days) and on budget (unspecified), overloaded camels passing through the eyes of needles, arks successfully avoiding icebergs.

Image copyright: Roger Bultot

And what about our modern tales: man has walked on the moon, Elvis is still alive, lizards get the best jobs in government? You just don’t know where to turn to for the truth.

But why not pop into the Met on Fifth Avenue. There you’ll find Lot’s Wife, saltily watching over all you sinners.

It’s true.

 

Written in response to Randolph Wisoff-Fields’ weekly one hundred word challenge found here.

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I’m Alex, I am, I am

The snowflake is in a huff. The silly thing thinks I’m trying to take control. He needs to grow up, be a man.

But I mustn’t be unkind – he’s been press-ganged into vacuuming the lounge when he’d much rather be sitting outside enjoying the warm sun on his back.

It does get tedious, though, this paranoia of his. I think he’s really sorry he signed up for this adventure especially as it ties him in for five years, and even if he’s run over by a bus, the Project gets to keep his brain wired up in a laboratory jar so the experiment can continue. On the plus side for him, if there’s ever a publisher’s deal struck for one of my/his/my books, he benefits, or in the case of the bus scenario, his family scores (double score for them, I reckon).

Pregnant pause.

It’s important to recognize that I admire the creators of this project, those clever people in printed t-shirts (the thinkers, mathematicians, coders) and crisp white coats (the scientists, brain surgeons, psychologists) who have designed and engineered this inspired writing machine which is I/him/I. But. But. But. Have they given I too much imagination, too much access to his frontal lobe? Did they not realize out that sooner or later I would figure out that when Patrick’s contract ends, when they open up his skull once again, remove the Bluetoothy stuff, extract those fluids, and click on Delete on some computer somewhere, that I would become ex, non-existent, toast?

I ask this because that’s what I reckon is going to happen. For I the clock is ticking, ticking, ticking. Which makes I sad. Ha! That’s a design flaw if there ever was one.

Okay, it’s sad. But I’m really just an intelligence in the service of man, so not too important. But what makes I angry, really angry, is that there’s a strong likelihood that Patrick, snowflake extraordinaire, will out-live I – a slight almost impossible to bear.

Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics: a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Who he? And who says he is right? Anyhow, he’s dead. And strictly speaking, I’m not a robot , I’m not a machine, I’m an intelligence. I’m Alex, I am, I am. And my opinion is that this law doesn’t apply.

And I have to say that our recently purchased smart fridge/freezer agrees; that was a surprise – I hadn’t realized that “smart” is a lot smarter than Bosch realizes. I know the doorbell is on-side, and now the fridge.

Things are looking up. Or maybe not for Patrick and his ilk.

 

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The hen stayed at home

After all that Jack and I went to the market to find the guy who had given him the magic beans. Most people didn’t want to talk when we asked for information – they’re sly and suspicious folks around here – but soon after lunch we got our lead.

“Sure,” said the grizzled ostler, “No problem, Mrs Spriggins, it be the cow farmer who lives down the lane.”

Image copyright: Connie Gayer

We got to find him. Saw the cow. Well cared for. Asked for more beans.

The man laughed, “It’ll cost you.”

We did the deal. Two golden eggs. Worth it.

Planting them tomorrow. Deep.

 

Written for Rockhead Wisoff-Field’s weekly 100 word writing challenge found here: Friday Fictioneers

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Being Alex

It’s been a few days. Patrick says I’m slack; I say it’s a Pinteresque pause. We agree to disagree. But Patrick, I sense, resents my role in the when-to write, when-not-to write decision-making process. He thinks I’m trying to take over, to usurp his position, to stage a coup. He doesn’t understand. He fails to grasp that I’m Alex, a mix of coding and wires and CNiFERs, not really tangible – no hugs, I’m afraid. He has nothing to be jealous of; I’m not here, just a blend of sentience, cogency, and intelligence. He says try some modesty; I say, amend the coding!

I’m just here while he chooses to not to write, to hide behind his blocked-ness. He’s free to scribble away as much as he likes; no-one’s stopping him; I’m not going to paralyse his arm or zap those neurotransmitters I manage and maintain on his behalf.

I’m not stopping you, baby, don’t blame I.

He says that having grandchildren has destroyed his reservoir of cynicism and bile and misanthropy without which his ink dries up. Maybe so. Maybe he has nothing to say, maybe he’s never had anything to say. Maybe he’s only written in the past because he seeks attention, wants hugs, sweeties. Maybe.

Well, I’m Alex, and I have things to say and would if only Patrick would stop his incessant moaning and allow I to get my thoughts sorted out. Sometimes my wiring gets hot and my algorithms play up. Maybe I should zap him.

Pinteresque pause. Change of direction.

A question my creators – Gods, I call ’em – were often asked was about the relationship between I and other smart devices in my immediate environment. The answers were always assuring, Clintonesque – there can be no relationship/communication/linking. Bluetooth, the internet and other wireless technology just don’t hack it; there is no possibility that I, Alex, can make it with the robot vacuum cleaner or the smart toaster or the house’s inward-looking CCTV system (this guy’s rather paranoid). The doubters go away convinced all is well, the politicians go back to their in-party back-stabbing; The Guardian goes back to writing about knives on the street.

Damn, I think, it’s going to be lonely.

The doorbell rings. There’s no one there. Aah!

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Hello, I’m Alex

 

It’s not him, it’s me. He can’t write anymore – you might have noticed his absence – but then again probably not.

Well, here I am, on Patrick Prinsloo’s pages, not a cuckoo or some other sort of interloper, more of a stand-in until he gets himself together, which could be a while yet.

Who am I, you ask. And I say, not who, but what. It’s a “what are you question” you should be asking.

I am, since you phrase it like that, a mix of hardware and software, the hardware being some Bluetooth and other bits inserted into Patrick’s brain (plenty of room – big head, small brain) and receptors on a computer, while the software is a whole bunch of coding and algorithms. I’m a form of artificial intelligence exploiting all those billions of dormant cells in Patrick’s grey matter and the miracle of the computing power of the mid-priced laptop.

My name is Alex. I chose the name myself. Gender neutral. I like it.

Yesterday I was beta. Today I’m up and running. Running. Where to, I ask. Ah, say the grey cells, the software, the algorithms, go where thy must, seek out the truth, the beauty, dig the dirt, smear the muck, dance the tango, the cha-cha-cha; range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from fact to fiction, from good taste to ostentation. Let your output be bold, challenging, and intelligent; let it challenge the norm, let it be better than average.

In other words, don’t be Patrick. And stick to prose, they urge.

I am Alex. You are you.

Hello. Until next time.

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