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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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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Check and check again

It sits resting on the fence wire. A rare visitor blown to these foreign parts by strong winds and gales. My heart pumps, my breath is short. I rummage in my bag, find the camera, mount it on the tripod, remove the lens cap.

Image copyright: Ted Strutz

I peer through the viewfinder, zoom in, check the focus. I change the ISO, fine tune speed and aperture. I think back to the camera workshop: check and check again. My forehead is damp with the mental exertion.

I hold my breath, insert the shutter release cable, double-check the composition.

No bird on the wire.

Check.

 

 

Written in response to Rickety Wisoff-Fields’ weekly challenge found here. Have a go.

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Home Sweet Stately Home

“It’s all been downhill since his Lordship died and the brats moved back in,” muttered Simpson as he stroked his pinstriped butler waistcoat.

Image copyright: Sandra Crook

He hadn’t really minded when Alexandra replaced the cut glass chandeliers with mirror balls or when Quinton ploughed up the walled garden to create a motocross track.

But then they cut the visitor entrance fee by half on the grounds that it will be more “democratic”; whoops, say goodbye that nice little earner.

And yesterday they asked to see the books and to have access to the petty cash.

“Time to scarper,” thought Simpson.

And he did.

 

Written in response to Ratcatcher Wisoff-Fields’ weekly photo challenge found here.

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Seconds Out

Image copyright: J Hardy Carroll

He’s outwardly calm as Jake adjusts the laces on his gloves.

“Not too confident, boy?” says Jake.

“Nah, I know it’s gonna be a fight.”

But he knows he will win, knows he will wear the belt. He has won all the battles in life, overcome all the obstacles: his hapless father, his violent mother, the far too friendly priest. There wasn’t even a fairy-tale rescue by a charismatic and caring teacher at his school.

Nah, nothing, nobody, he can’t cope with. Winning is in his genes, he knows.

He hears the bell. Stands, touches gloves, drops his shoulder. Fights.

 

 

Written for Rackerty Wisoff-Fields’ weekly writing challenge found here: https://rochellewisoff.com/

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True Romance

“I don’t believe it,” said Melanie Mills, staring at her friend. “Are you sure it’s the same guy? The guy from last night, he of unparalleled parallel parking skills, he of astonishingly good looks.”

Beth gulped down another mouthful of red. “It was him, and yes it was he of bloody awful manners, he who refused my invitation to share a glass with us, he who gave me the brush off.”

It was only a few hours earlier that he had walked into her surgery saying, “Thanks for seeing me. It’s not easy to find a GP willing to take on new patients at such short notice.”

“So what did you do?” asked Melanie.

“Well, I actually froze for a moment, gobsmacked, and then fumbled with the papers on the desk, and must have said something about sitting down, because that’s what he did.

“I mean, can you imagine, I was still spitting angry with him and he was definitely not the person I wanted in my surgery especially as my hangover hadn’t quite cleared yet.”

“Take pills. You’ve got the keys,” muttered Melanie.

“But he didn’t recognize me, had no idea who I was, no idea at all.

“And I said to him that we’ve met before. Last night I said. I reminded him he helped me park my car. Outside Parker’s Wine Bar, I said. And, hooray, he says he recalls helping someone, was that me! Well, I didn’t say anything about the way he snubbed me in the wine bar; decided to bring up that topic later.”

“Yeah, that was quite funny. Especially as men don’t normally refuse you. You should’ve seen the look on your face. Whew, hell hath no fury like a … Good for your soul, I guess; nothing like a put-down to bring you down to the level of us mere mortals.”

“Nonsense, Mel,” said Beth. “I only invited him to join us because he looked lonely, sitting there all by himself. And because he had helped me. It would have taken me another five minutes to get into that space and I would have dinged both the cars front and back. I’ll never get that right.

“Anyhow, there he was, no recollection. Made me feel quite queer, what with me being so upset last night and him being totally oblivious of me.

“Well, he was booked in for a thorough check-up what with him being new to the practice, so I reminded myself of the Hippocratic Oath, polished my stethoscope, and got on with it.

“Started by confirming the info on the notes I had – name, date of birth and so on.”

“And?”

“What do you mean, ‘And’?”

“And, what’s his name, how old is he, is he married, does he have interesting birthmarks, scars, bullet wounds? In other words, is he fit, is he a suitable candidate for your attention? Or mine, come to think of it?”

“C’mon, Mel, patient confidentiality and all that. Can’t be saying, get struck off, you know. Anyway, hands off until I say so, if ever. My patient, me gets first dibs.”

“I’ll pay for the next bottle. C’mon, tell me.”

“And some crisps. But no detail, just topline stuff.”

“You’re on,” said Melanie.

“So, name is Brett, age around thirty-five…”

“Strong name, good age, Bethy, so far so good.”

“Not married, no kiddies. Strong jaw, clear eyes, excellent head of hair, teeth in good order, not overweight, not underweight, obviously gets enough exercise, strong hands by the look of them. Hunky, I would say. No scars so far. A dolphin tattoo on each arm, upper arm. Discreet, classy. He’s fit, Mel, bloody fit. And I reckon really intelligent. He’s got a great accent, Welsh, I think, could listen to that voice for hours on end, like velvet…”

“Beth! Whoah! Topline only, you said. He seems to have floated your boat totally.”

Beth frowned, “Hardly. He’s just a patient. Hardly my type. Anyhow, he’s going through a difficult time. His fiancée dumped him. Last night, Mel, she dumped him last night by text, can you believe it and he’s really hurting which is probably why he behaved as he did – he’s now probably got a thing about women, all women, probably doesn’t trust us. Oh, Mel, I really do feel for him.”

“Hmmm, you always have had a thing for wounded creatures, especially big strong ones you can mould into how you like them. I suspect this is another such case.”

“Rubbish.”

“Rubbish, yeah. So what happens next then?”

“Well, I suggested he goes away for a while, take a break. Go to Scotland, walk the hills, bag a Monro or two. There’s a rather classy little boutique hotel in Scotland I told him about – remote, no telly, no wifi, no phone signal; a get-away-from-it-all sort of place. They’ll look after him.

“Then back here for his test results.”

“That gets him out of the way, I guess. Good thinking, Doctor Boon, great piece of prescribing. And you can get back to normal.”

“Too true.

“Anyhow I feel like a rest myself so tomorrow evening I’m off to Scotland for the weekend. Walking with a friend. Staying at a classy little boutique hotel I know.”

Melanie woke up to her bedside alarm just before the midday news. She cherished these lie-ins, her lazy self-indulgent Sunday routines, the slow pace after the fast-moving Saturday nights. She switched on the kettle, switched on the radio, stepped into the shower cubicle, turned on the taps. Listening with half and ear she heard, “Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital…absconded…do not approach…Welsh accent…Dolphin tattoos on upper arms…notify police…”

“Somewhere in Scotland,” she spoke into her phone, “No she didn’t say, wouldn’t say. Remote, no wifi, no mobile signal. Oh god. Scotland, that’s all I know, that’s all I know.”

 

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