Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Human - fish7

The view outside is barely visible. Rain pelters against the side of concrete and steel wall. The buildings here are murky, aphonic, and tiled in such a way as to give off a rather dissatisfied appearance. The man walks between steel girders, through an open underpass – a half empty parking area, positioned beneath stilted blocked apartments of ancient design. We follow him, watch him buttoning up the grey raincoat he has wrapped around him. He dodges from building to building, underneath them all. When briefly unsheltered, the rain fires down, but then he is back again in the parking area’s protection.

No one else is around and we wonder why. What is this place? But we follow patiently.

Spotting a set of steps ahead leading downward, we watch him descend, and then he is lost.


We fly through the underpass and up into the sky. Behind us the dark, stilted apartment blocks reveal themselves to be abandoned. We circle the area, then shoot along a street to a nearby night market. Here, the buildings are shorter with sloping roofs. The walls are a variety of colours, but under the moon’s light they appear in duller shades of what must be a much brighter daytime appearance. The street itself is littered with blowing rubbish. There are people browsing, chatting, silent and engaged in raucous conversation. They dive between stalls, most under protective umbrellas. There’s smoke and steam that willows upwards from the eateries.

The man, we see him now, emerging from a street elevator by a subway stop’s entrance. Pulling up the collar of his coat, he strides purposely through the crowd, distinctive in his fashion – a dull smudge trickling amongst the tapestry of rather lambent designs.

You get the feeling he doesn’t fit in here. That this isn’t his sort of place. Why and how have I ended up here? he must be thinking.

Quickly, he turns right into an alley, then left under a shallow arch that buzzes in blue and red neon. He’s looking at his pad, checking where he is. That he is, in fact in the right place after all. We follow his back, his shoulders are broad and tough. People move aside as he strides through this indoor area with yet more stalls and life. Dark faces, white faces, they all peer at him quickly, then immediately forget the shiver that they felt. They go about their business, untouched by his presence. Upgrade your pad to the latest network. Holo-spas for your apartment. Command boxes for droids. Grow your own pet.

A small sign ahead reads ‘Android Pleasure Parlour.’ The acronym rings a bell and we realise that this is where he’s headed.

We rush through a curtained doorway and inside are sat two youths of opposite gender, engaged in a game of spit. Holograms project from their pads, deep in battle.

The man, behind us, coughs and one of them looks up for just long enough to have his character, a dark green saurus, bitten and ripped apart by his friend’s sabre-toothed rodent.

Game over!” shouts the girl gleefully, while the other snarls back at her in response.

The both of them turn to the man.

So, you’re after a good time?” says the boy.

Is this …?”

Best droids in the area,” smiles the girl. “No need to be shy.”

I’m not …”

Next shuttle’s in five,” says the boy impassively. “Slip us a bait and we’ll get you head of the queue.”

They are each dressed in dark green, tight fitting uniforms, with large robotic boots. The boy has short red spiky hair while the girl’s is long and dark.


Yeah, man, bait,” says the boy. “What’re you got?”

The man takes out a wad of notes, hands them each a bill.

Tucking hers into the lining of her trousers, the girl asks, “Any ills?”

Nothing illegal, no,” replies the man, but throws her a pack of unopened nicotine sticks.

She smiles, shaking the pack. “His fat,” she replies, pointing to the boy. “But he’ll have to swipe me for one.”

No fair,” whines her companion mockingly.

Motivs,” she says in reply, ripping the pack and breaking one open. “Share and shares.”

The man stares down at them. “Five minutes, you say?”

There abouts. Four, three.”

And you can get me …”

Speed service, yeah.”

No, that’s not what I meant.” The man’s face appears tensed. Failing to make eye-contact with either, he continues: “The model. According to my device, this APP has –”

“– The top, yeah,” says the boy, looking back at the girl. “Nother game, eh?”

Laters. When he’s gone.”

Nother’ll be here anways. Or ya thin’ I’ll slide.”

Hasn’t swiped me all night,” smiles the girl, looking back at the man. “You after the eighty-seventh, then? It’ll cost ya.”

You mean …?”

No here,” she laughs. “Though ya lucky we tell ya straight. Many’d av more from an obvious first-timer.”

Obvious …”

Forget it. Natural, like. No probs. All done it.” The girl winks at the boy. “Just say, for the eighty-seventh you’ll hava pay ex. Tell ’em straight and speed; show cash an’ you’ll be streeeeeeeeeee!,” she finishes, making a strange noise which we sense is another youthful expression, for it sends the boy and girl into laughter; cackles which are broken by the sound of a high pitched whine, rising in pitch quickly before the wall ahead of them shunts upwards to reveal a small turbo-lift.

Quo’ password ‘fish7’,” says the boy while the two of them settle back down together. The man steps towards the shuttle-lift’s opening while behind him holographic figures re-emerge from each of the youth’s pads.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Human - APP

Along the walls of scaffolding hang droids of various type. We are deep in the underworld, beneath it all. The entrance to the pleasure parlour; high ceilings and a dusty concrete floor, hard and cold. The man is led through this maze by an ageing woman, dressed in the same green uniform and boots as the two youths before.

What are they?”

Older models. Still functional but requested less frequently, if at all.” The woman’s voice possesses the abrasive tone of experience. How long has she been down here, leading clients to the inside? “We use them to decorate.” Her left arm waves up at the sleeping drones. Not all of them female, not all of them human.

So lifelike,” the man comments.

Maybe once,” the woman retorts. “Compared with today’s model’s, however … so you’ve never been down here before?”


And to any other APPs?”

My first time.”

The woman fails to comment on this revelation, but from her heavy sigh we guess she is finding such an admittance to be a rather strange fact to disclose.

Ahead of them a metal door shunts upwards in preparation for their approach.

And the eighty-seventh?” the man asks.

The … ahhh,” the woman replies heavily. “You wish for the GY87 model? Unavailable I’m afraid.”

Through the doorway they enter a darkly lit corridor. This time the droids lining the walls are alive and moving. Behind glass divisions, they stand, smiling and waving at the man. Again, not all of them are female and not all of them human. The man stares ahead, his brow furrowed in thought.

I’ve come here for that model. Nothing else will do.”

I’ve told you, Mr …”

Brown,” he replies. And for the first time we suspect that this may not in fact be his real name.

I’ve told you, Mr Brown, the GY87s are most sought after –”

“– I have money.”

How much?”

From our viewpoint above, we see the woman stop and turn at him. To each side the models beckon and watch silently as we move down to their level, seeing the man take out his wad of soft cash.

There is a waiting time …”

Quote fish7,” replies the man.

You make friends easily I see.”

When I have to. When it’s needed. Make friends. Dispose of them.” The man grips the woman’s arm carefully. “I’m used to getting what I want,” he breathes. “I’m sure you understand.”


Inside one of the booths now, we see the man pacing. He’s mumbling to himself but his words are so low that we fail to catch more than a murmur.

The booth is carpeted; bathed in a deeply pink light. There is a bed and nothing more. White sheets and dark red pillows. The man stops pacing and sits down on the edge of this bedding; checks something on his pad, then looks up at the digitally displayed time on the wall.

We feel his anticipation. The room bears a soothing humming of waves to add a certain music to the air and as he sits there on the corner of the sheets we know he is thinking not only of what is to come but of the many things that have happened before. So lifelike, he mumbles. So real …

Behind us we hear the swishing of a door. The clicking of footsteps. We turn to see a woman so beautiful it’s almost as if she’s not there at all. Pure golden skin, a bob of thick purple hair enveloping a perfectly formed face. Tall and sleek, she moves elegantly to the place where he sits, crouches down before him and looks up at his face. Their eyes meet and he is dumbstruck.

Mr Brown,” she smiles. “I am here for our pleasure.”

Our?” he stutters.

To share is absolute.”

She is wearing a triangular shaped vest and thin, see-through underwear. Her hands move to the back of her garment.

Wait,” says the man. “Stop.”

You don’t wish …?”

Yes, yes, I do. Just … not like this.”

We zoom in on the woman’s face. Her golden skin and dark red eyebrows. Lashes so long and lipstick of a pure fluorescent blue. She is waiting and giving no clue as to an emotion of any sort. She stares at us knowingly.

Tell me your greatest wish,” we hear as the blue lips open. The woman breathes, almost moans the words slowly. It’s a program she is reciting, a routine response to his behaviour so far.

Who are you?” he asks.

I am GY87.”

Your name?”

My name,” she smiles, “is whatever you wish it to be.”

Again her hands move to the back of her top, but the man turns away and our focus shifts again to his profile. He rises and begins to pace the room while she watches from her crouched position.

No, no, this is … maybe I’ve made a mistake.”

I can behave in any way you desire,” we hear.

Behave, yes. And change. You can change. The other, it was … shorter. The hair …”

The woman stands and we watch her hair grow longer and darker. For a moment she wears nothing, then a loose fitting dress appears; light and soft that barely covers the middle part of her body. “Would Mr Brown be requesting a change in my appearance?” she smiles as her hair now changes to a light green and her dress begins to lose the tint of any colour at all.

The man stops. “Yes,” he mutters. His hand moves to the pocket of his trousers. He is searching for something, but whatever it is, he gives up immediately.

Your name,” he says, meeting her stare, our stare, because it’s his eyes we are focused on; small, dark and frightened. The sound of his words become a mere background to the impression that this image gives out.

It is not important. But …”

My current design is one of the many forms I can take.”

The many … and how exact …?”

You have a picture of her?” we hear. Turning about, we see the woman rising to her feet. “Show me,” she states soothingly, all but naked, she approaches the man again. “Show me and I can match her to a precision of ninety-nine point eight percent.” She takes his hand in hers, massaging his leathery skin.

No,” we hear. “Not like that.”

Mr Brown does not wish to show us?”

Her words rise and fall through the sound of waves. Silence commences and once again the man fumbles at his pocket.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Human - GY87

The hair, it is shorter.” His voice, but we are focussed on the woman’s entire profile. “A dark brown,” he says, and accordingly her hair changes to that colour. “Longer, a little. And darker, ever so slightly darker.”

Like this?” she says.

Yes, yes.” He is feeling excited now, we can tell from the tone and speed of his stutterings. “And her face, it was rounder … no, not too much,” he says as we watch the shape of her face slide from one type to another. “Yes, there, stop there,” he says feverishly.

It’s the same woman we are looking at, though her hair and face have changed. The lips remain blue, the blusher orange but the eyebrows and hair are a dark brown and the face slightly fatter and less elongated. She smiles at us, holds out her arms, to the sides and up. Spread in welcoming submission, she urges him to continue:

Her clothes,” his voice sounds. “I can’t even remember …”

I am programmed with over five hundred thousand outfits,” the woman tells us. “Though most,” she giggles, “prefer nothing at all. My body is what they –”

“– Yes, your body,” says the man frustratedly. “She was shorter, fatter. No, not like that, please stop, let me think …”

The woman grows and shrinks in height. He weight increases, then falls away to the original slender profile. Still wearing the colourless dress, she begins to laugh out loud:

A most interesting client you are, Mr Brown.”

Your …”

My what, Mr Brown. Were hers bigger? Smaller? You only have to tell me.”

Stop it,” we here.

Who was she, Mr Brown? Someone you saw? Someone you desired?”

Do not mock me. I’m warning you.”

She begins to laugh again. “Show me her picture,” she says. “I know you have it somewhere.”

Sweaters,” he says desperately. “She liked sweaters, that’s it. And her skirts were always long and tight. Black, often. She liked –”

Past tense, Mr Brown? Was she someone you lost?”

Be quiet,” he stammers. “Just do what I say.”

Petulantly, she sighs while the dress morphs into a dark yellow sweater with a black and grey pinstriped skirt that ends just above her ankles. Her skin begins to lighten, sandals form on her feet; a fashionable watch and bangles appear on her wrists and the makeup on her face resides into a much subtler shade.

I know the type,” Mr Brown. “Girl next door. The wife of a colleague?”

Be quiet,” he says again.

Or …?”

I said, be quiet.”

He moves towards her and our viewpoint changes to being above them looking down. He grabs her by the wrist, pulling her face towards his. He kisses her roughly, then pushes her away.

Mr Brown,” she purrs.

You can leave.”

But I thought?”

No, you didn’t,” he says. “Because you’re a robot and nothing more. A robot with too many questions and too much attitude.”

He goes to the bed and sits back where he was before. His head is in his hands and the woman stands watching him.

I can change again,” she says bluntly, confused by his behaviour.

I’d like another model.”

Another …?”

Yes,” he sneers, looking up at her. “Another one of you. A different GY87.”

Have I done something wrong?”

Too many questions. Too much …”

Many of my clients like to talk. I am programmed with –

“– No, not you. Not again. I’d like …”

You’d like me to be her. I understand,” says the woman, moving slowly to the bed. “You don’t want to think about her. You want me to be her.”

You can never be her.”

Who was she, Mr Brown?”

Nobody. It doesn’t matter.”

You can tell me,” she says calmly while positioning her body beside his. “Tell me more and I can become …”

No. You are not …”

But I can be,” she whispers, stroking a hand along his leg. “You think you’re the first client I’ve met who –”

“– No,” he says again, pushing her away and standing up. “Get me another model!”

The waiting time is –”

“– I don’t care!” he shouts.

She will be just the same as me.” Looking down, the woman’s expression shows sadness and sorrow, then suddenly changes to nothing as her eyes stare ahead.

My client is dissatisfied,” she spits into the air. “He is requesting a replacement.”

We watch her listening to a response we cannot here. Her superiors giving orders on what the next move must be. Turning to the man, she states: “Someone will be here shortly.”


To discuss the situation. Although I must tell you, Mr Brown, the likelihood of them giving you access to two GY87s in a single night …”

Yes,” he mutters. “I can start again, and this time there will be no talking.”

Because you can match her appearance but never her personality,” say the woman, her hair now turning back to the perfect bob of purple. “She was someone you knew and … you were close to her, am I right?”

You talk a lot, for a robot,” the man croaks, staring at the floor.

I see it all, Mr Brown,” her voice continues. “Things you wouldn’t believe. The human race … so emotional, so complex … but oh, so secretive.”

And impossible to imitate,” the man mutters before suddenly rising again. “I’m wasting my time here.”

You have three more hours. We, can have three more hours.”

No,” the man insists. “I’ve made a mistake.”

I can be someone else. Any form you like …”

Don’t you understand?” he whines, but her response is brusque and to the contrary.

Sliding away from him, she stands, then struts towards the open door we now see.

You humans,” she smirks. “So affected by memories. So weak, so emotional. And you think you’re so very special.”

It’s what makes us what we are,” the man mutters, still gazing at the floor. “Nothing can ever change that. Nothing ever will …”

But his reply is lost because she’s already gone.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Human - 0000

Still in the booth, we circle above the man. We wish to know more but the GY87 has left and there’s nothing but the sound of waves. To enter him fully would be disastrous. He’d be his own worst enemy. But we are curious now, and cannot resist the urge to witness the memories he is experiencing.

Swooping down towards him, we become fully attached to his mind.

We see a woman hovering; leaning over him, over us. We are lying in a bed, and the woman herself is the person we share this bed with. Long dark hair, with an attractively round face not so dissimilar to the GY87’s final appearance.

Her hair tickles our bare chest. In a loose fitting nightgown, she is wide-eyed and screaming. An image so powerful, we are unable to go further.

Someone else has entered the booth.

We exit the man’s mind.


Unable to concentrate fully, we watch the man argue with a shorter man in pink. They are arguing about money. The three hours that was barely used. The man is asking for the return of some of the cash he paid, while the smaller man in pink is politely explaining the reasons why the policy of the establishment doesn’t allow for such.

We pick up on the man’s anger, though it’s not enough to compare with effects of the memory before.

Thoughts of the woman. We cannot shake the image. We need to know more, but must wait for him to be alone.

Impatiently we follow the man back through the underground maze; in the turbo-lift to the indoor market, outside, to the subway’s elevator; back to the parking area, into his automotive and up into the air. Speeding off into the night, we are with him inside the vehicle. He snaps open another nicotine sick, pops another pill. He drives and we understand that he’s no idea where he’s going. Soaring along a speed road, we are careful not to reattach to his mind as yet. Already in his current state of distress, we are dangerously close to crashing into the extensively lit side barriers.

Watching him, we think again of the screaming woman from his past; and now, processing the information we have, we realise undoubtedly that she was in fact his wife. Their bond had been close, their lives shared. Her screams were for help and accessing our data banks we confirm her as one of the many humans to be probed.

Was this what attracted us to this man in the first place? A life so wrapped up in the effects of our presence?

The man has turned his automotive away from the speed road and we are soaring through countryside. Up ahead we see ocean and know that this is where he will stop.

Unable to stand it any longer, we go back into his mind. We are with him when he breaks, when he exits the vehicle and stumbling wearily to the shore, we see the shifting images of his vision. The shingle beneath us, the waves up ahead. The black starry sky, then shingle again, shaking around with our movement.

Delving further within, we see the woman again. A different image but she is still screaming for help.

I saw it,” she is saying, this time below us, head in her hands. Long brown hair covers her face, we have moved together to the edge of the bed and are over her looking down. “My God, Frank,” she cries. “My God, I am one of them.”

Repelled by these words, we are unable to cope at all.

The image shifts to the two of us in the bathroom – for we are now him, and through his eyes we see her. We are shaking this woman aggressively “Look again,” we are saying, holding her at the mirror. “Tell me what you see!” we shout.

Stop it,” she is screaming. “Don’t you understand? They are here.”

Blind as to what other options we have, we run back into the bedroom, open a drawer by the bed.

I am your wife!” she moans. “You can’t …”

Finding the hidden gun, we take it up, then return to the woman at the mirror.

I must,” we say calmly, holding out the weapon. “For the good of us both, I must.”

Beneath the loose fitting nightgown, her body trembles in cold anticipation of what we are about to do. Looking down at our hand, the aspect narrows and zooms to our thick finger touching at the trigger; but overwhelmed by the intensity, it is impossible to go further.

Instead, fleeing from this memory we arrive again to the reality of the scene before. Shingle and crashing waves, but we are no longer in his body. There are no shifts in vision; it is but a calming panorama of flat beach, cool water and distant lights.

Floating about, we circle him, the man we have followed for the hours of this night; the man we wished to know more of; the person whose mind we felt compelled to bond with.

And as he silently stares out at the waves, we watch as a leathery hand moves upwards to his face. Fingernails begin to scratch at the skin, and we know he has seen us too.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Jimmy's Room - part 3

Dawned on me tonight how I’ve never seen Jimmy outside his room. Remember wondering for a while – and still now – if he’s got some sort of problem. Like agoraphobia or whatever. After seeing him again just now, I’m more certain than ever.

Was a good night at the start, listening to tunes and playing Tomb Raider. This time it was mostly Jimmy, I and Led Zeppelin, an old band Dad used to like when he was younger. There was this funny moment when we imagined if aliens were observing the planet to study human behaviour and they’d homed in on us. The two of us sat there, listening to seventies metal and generally chilling out. How the aliens’d be deciding that of all the people on campus, we were the ones who knew what the score was. Who were using their time in the best way possible. (Doesn’t sound as funny as I write it now but at that moment we were finding this scenario hilarious.)

Then, just as the night was ending, the worst thing happened in that Jimmy said he was leaving university. The situation is, he hasn’t been to a single lecture since getting here (he’s supposed to be studying political science).

When I asked “Why not?” he simply replied that he hadn’t felt like it; like his heart hadn’t been in it. His course I mean. At least I think so. But anyway he got a letter last week kicking him out.

Jimmy didn’t seem particularly bothered when telling me. Said it was fate and probably a sign he was meant to be doing something else. Said he’d miss halls and the friends he’s made, but that he’ll still visit from time to time.

Bit strange to say I’d miss him, but finally said I was sorry to see him go, which sounded better I guess. Dawned on me again how I’ve never seen him anywhere but his room – a few times we’ve been out as a group, Graz, Jung, Adam and even Sean, but though Jimmy always says he’s gonna join us on such occasions, he never does.

Playing Tomb Raider with a random selection of people dropping in and out to say hello. Next term there’s gonna be none of that. A few weeks from now and it’ll be a blurred, “See ya later,” sort of farewell that won’t properly sink in until the option of going up there is no longer around.

Ahh, Jimmy’s room … I’ll miss it for sure. But at least now I’ll be forced to kill the addiction.

Reckon I’ll make cornflakes with hot milk before going to bed. For some reason I’ve got a real craving for cornflakes.

Saturday, 2 September 2017



I was at the stadium watching the laser ball when the message came through on my pad.

Powhlai district. Kyweir Street, Lane 32. 4pm. White male, mid thirties. 5 ft 8 and will be running.

A cheer from the crowd went up – twelve points to three but there was no time to collect.

Rising to my feet, I cursed under my breath. Less than an hour, which meant no going home, no laser pistol and I didn’t even know where Kyweir street was.

Weaving my way about the crowd and searching for a likely weapon, my eyes landed on a child’s plaything. A metal stick with the face of a clown; discarded momentarily. It would do, I decided, scooping it up. I tested its durability on the palm of my hand. By no means perfect, but it would have to suffice.

Down the steps to the subway, I caught the first train going south.


I know you” said the woman. “We’ve met before.”

I took in the short skirt and colourful leggings. Strands of pink hair about her face and shoulders. Moving away, I insisted that she must have got the wrong person.

No, it’s definitely you,” she insisted. Her hand went towards my arm and I pulled away. People were looking and I was beginning to get a headache.

Not me,” I mumbled.

Yes, yes, I remember now. We had a good time. If you ever …?”

No,” I repeated forcefully. “I’ve never met you,” I said, backing away.

Her eyes … they didn’t match. There was scorn. Fear. A bright pink smile was there to mislead me.

We could have fun again,” she mouthed silently, turning her wrist in the direction of my own.

I shuffled to the next carriage, avoiding the staring glances of the other passengers.

But later when the train arrived at Powhlai, she was there again as I was exiting the station.

You’re so familiar,” she soothed, backwardly pacing in front of my path. There was another attempt to grab my wrist; her eyes, they were full of hate.

I never forget a face,” she almost screamed.

But you’ve got the wrong guy,” I insisted. Quickly I made past her through the crowd, to the line of taxis. How much time did I have now?

Let me come with you,” she cried from behind me. “You’re going to Kyweir street, right?”

How the hell did you know that?”

Oh, I know things,” she said, grabbing my hand and pointing at her wrist. Once again she attempted to match her pad with mine. “You’d be surprised.”

Just get away from me.”

You don’t know what you’re missing.”

I made it to a taxi. The door shunted upwards.

You’re not getting in,” I growled.

I won’t let you leave me.”

You’ll make a scene.”

I don’t care.”

I’ve never even met you.”

And wouldn’t you like to?” she smiled. But there it was again. The fear, the scorn. “I live near here. I could give you a discount.”

She pushed her body up against me. In the heat of the evening I could smell her sweat.

I have somewhere to go.”

Can’t it wait?”

The taxi moved along. A group of three androgynous teenagers had piled inside with a cackle of laughter.

The weapon hidden along my right thigh was starting to feel uncomfortable.

I have something to do. I’m sorry.”

Just a half hour,” she pleaded.

You want money?”

I want you.”


Another taxi had passed; this one occupied by a blind man and his robot.

You remind me of someone.”

But I’m not him.”

Oh, yes you are,” she laughed. “You’re definitely him.”

Two hands stroking my arm. Looking to a clock at the side of a scraper I saw that I only had sixteen minutes left.

I took in those hateful eyes. Something was wrong.

Who sent you?” I asked.

Who …?”

Why don’t you want me to get in this taxi?”

I need you,” she sang. She too was now looking over at the clock.

How do you know where I’m going?”

She began to scream. Fists pounded my chest as the crowd parted around us.

I won’t let you,” she wailed. “I won’t let you kill him.”


By the time I got to Kyweir Street my head was killing me. It was just past four and a crowd of officers surrounded the entrance to Lane 32. I kept my distance; with no wish for any further interrogation, I decided that whatever had happened had happened. A failed mission and no pay but at least, it seemed, the job had been finished. A backup I wasn’t told about – the risk had probably been too great.

Dropping the weapon into a nearby trash can, I took a left into Lane 29 and wondered if I’d in fact been lucky. The authorities would confirm my position as being far from the scene of the crime. I was safe for another day’s work. I hoped that whoever had done the task had been professional enough to distance themselves too. Six minutes past four, I confirmed, eyeing the pad in my wrist. The police had certainly got there quickly.

The sign of an eatery attracted my attention. Sky blue with faded orange writing: Lanka's Cafe. The name felt familiar and I swung inside.


It was a narrow place, about the width of the door going in. No tables, just a long bar with stools, most of which were taken. The sound was of sizzling food and shouts from the chefs; a tacky melody played in the background and the place smelt of grease and smoke.

I saw him immediately. Positioned there quietly with the coffee and pancakes I’d already decided to order. Just imagine for an instance what it would be like to enter such a place and see yourself sitting right in front of you – the person was me and I was him.

There’s no record of any such occurrence ever taking place. Superstitions tell us it can’t. That it would mean the end of the universe. A rip in the space time continuum. That it would be too much for reality itself to handle. But it must have happened somewhere, some time. Since travelling back became possible, there must have been instances … but as I stood there watching me and our eyes suddenly met, it was like a thunderous bolt had hit me for six.

Right in the stomach I felt it. There in the gut.

Turning back out and onto the side walk, I threw up whatever it was I’d eaten that morning.

About me the traffic of pedestrians swerved.

I retched up some more, my insides were convulsing. But eventually I manage to gather myself together. Standing straight, I wiped my mouth on a sleeve; thought about the figure I’d just seen. The same pasty face and parted black hair as my own. A different suit; the blue one I hadn’t worn in a while. The gold watch I’d forgotten to put on that morning. The same age, the same person. I wondered how long it would be before I was him. Thought about it some more. I’d have to report this; who knew what kind of damage our meeting had just caused.

A buzzing sound on my pad. I was striding along purposefully. Looking up at the zeppelins gliding between the scrapers, at the hover bikes buzzing past and at the people around me as we descended into the underpass, I wondered what I’d changed.

Credits deposited.

Credits for what? I thought. But of course. It had been me. “I won’t let you kill him!” she’d screamed. And I’d been questioned by the approaching officers.

Just a misunderstanding,” I’d assured them when she escaped into the crowd.

But somehow I’d managed it anyway. The job had been completed and he was dead, just like he was supposed to be. The job had been done and it was I who had finished it.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Stranger

I remember the first time I saw him he was passing me in the street and he shouted to me, “Hello, handsome man.”

I liked the way that sounded. It was a complement and I replied with a smile.

The next time our paths crossed he shouted the same thing.

Hello, handsome man.”

Hi,” I replied, walking on.

It took me a while to realise he was a neighbour. Two houses down from mine. One night I saw him go in there, a residence that unlike my own town house, was shared by lodgers. Through ground floor windows I saw abstract art and a faraway television showing the news. Near to the house was a bench I’d begun to settle down on from time to time when the evening was warm. The street was quiet on those summer nights. I’d enjoy a beer or two there; watch the passing cars and think about nothing.

One day, coming home from work I noticed him there on the same bench.

Hello, handsome man,” he’d said.

Yeah, that’s me. The handsome man.”

Where are you from?”

You know, around …”

A beautiful evening.”

That it is.”

I carried on walking, got to my door, shoved the key in and turned the lock.


Now and then I’d see him coming out of our local convenience store. Dirty shorts and T-shirt, a satchel round his shoulders and plastic bag swinging by his side. There was something about him. A sadness. Pity. I’d begun to avoid our little exchanges when I could.

Sometimes, however, I was lonely myself. On one such night I spotted him while out for a walk. I’d wander the streets to get out of the house, get away from the computer, the TV, get out into the real world for a half hour or so.

He was there, coming straight for me.

Handsome man,” he bellowed.

How’s it going,” I replied.

We talked about the weather, the hot summer we were having. Then somehow or other we got onto the subject of UFOs.

Up there,” he warned me. “They are watching.”

Oh yeah?”

They’ve taken me.”

Taken you?”

Before,” he answered, his friendly expression sliding into that of morbid sorrowfulness.

I backed away.

You, be careful,” he warned.

Sure,” I answered. Then: “So, you’ve seen them?”

I did,” he replied, looking down at his satchel. “But I have ways. Ways to make them stop.”

I asked if he took medicine. A cousin of mine had heard voices. He’d been put on medication. I considered the possibility of helping this man. Reporting him … but to who?

He began to wave a finger at me. “They are watching!,” he shouted. “Watching you. Watching us!”

Yeah, sure.”

You just be careful, handsome man.”

I looked at my watch; reassured him that I’d be okay.


An argument broke out on my street. Unable to resist the temptation to sneak a look at what was going on, I carefully slid open a window.

It was him, shouting at the drivers of two cars that were having trouble passing each other in the narrow road. Parked cars either side, it was a phenomenon not uncommon in the street in which I lived.

Ordering each driver to back up, to move forward, to drive more carefully … his shouts were met with embarrassed politeness. This was not his business, but who were they to argue? Best not get involved.

Inside the convenience store one evening I ran into my boss. We got to talking, an awkward conversation about work.

Hello, handsome man.”

My neighbour,” I stated, by way of introduction.

Ahh, hello, there,” said my boss. “Neighbours, then. And what is it you do?”

He sees UFOs,” I muttered by way of explanation to this dishevelled figure. To excuse whatever words he might come out with.

I live two doors down,” he exclaimed happily, while my boss shrank away in horror.


Again I’d pass him. Some days I’d stop to talk, other days I’d just smile. I began to wonder how hard it would be to make friends with this man. I was lonely myself, so why not strike up a partnership of sorts. I’d have to set down rules though. No hassling me every day. It would have to be on my terms. We could wander the streets after dark, take in a beer or two. Or we could become best friends, why not? I’d be doing him a favour. I could change his life.

Hello handsome man,” he shouted, his satchel clanging by his side.

Hello,” I’d reply, walking on.

Soon, however, I started to notice a change. There were a set of drunks who’d gather at the park, who’d sit outside the convenience store with their cheap wine and angry banter. I noticed he was sitting with them more often than not. He’d found friends, I was off the hook.

He’d pass me in the street with a plastic bag full of beer cans. Instant noodles. There was a lady who worked at our store who I noticed had begun to chat to him whenever he was in there. Before he’d been served with coldness, a glacial apathy … but he’d become more respectable, acceptable. A local, friendly drunk.

He’d pass me looking worse than ever and I was often the first of us to acknowledge the other.

Hello,” I’d say.

Handsome man,” he’d reply with a glazed expression.

And we’d both walk on.

But one time I saw him in the supermarket at a table drinking a coffee and I joined him for a moment, saying I had somewhere to go, someone else to meet. I couldn’t stop, just wanted to say hi. There was a queue and I had a minute to spare.

My son,” he said. “He lives in America.”

Oh, so you have a son,” I replied. “That’s nice.”

He’s a good boy. Very handsome.”

And your wife? I almost asked but didn’t.

Studying there.”

Oh, yes?”

He’s very smart.”

Of course,” I stumbled. “I mean, he must be.”

The last time I saw him he was with two older men playing chess in the park. He wasn’t playing, just watching. It was nice, I thought, that he was allowed to sit with them. I wondered about what his life had been like before. If he really did have a son. What he’d been like as a boy. Sitting with other kids in the classroom, the same as everyone else. From what I knew of my cousin, common forms of schizophrenia and such types of madness could hit in at puberty, other kinds more often than not hit you in later life. But as a child, he’d had a mother and father and friends at school. He’d had hopes and dreams. One day, when he was older …

It must have been over two months when it finally dawned on me that I hadn’t seen him in a while. Where had he gone? Whatever happened to that crazy fellow who always used to call me handsome man? I had a suspicion that he might have died. Either that or moved away. I wondered if he’d been committed. Cured.

That guy,” I said to my neighbour. A retiree who often stood outside smoking by his front door. “The one who was …” how to put it? “A bit crazy. Haven’t seen him in a while.”

My neighbour peered at me through a cloud of smoke. “Two doors down that way?” he coughed.

That’s the one.”

Dead, so I heard.”

He died?”

Bad heart. He was young and all.”

Older than me but younger than my neighbour. Must have been in either his forties or fifties, though I decided to not bother with asking for any confirmation over his age.

His heart?” I said instead.

Drank, you see.”

Sure, I guess he did.”

Not mad. Just drunk.”

But he was a bit, you know, I think he had mental illness. Maybe that’s what –”

“– No, not mental illness. He was a drunk.” My neighbour spat on the floor. Stubbed out his cigarette.

At the end he was, sure,” I insisted.

No, no, always. His satchel. Full of it. Drink like that, it’s bound to get you in the end.”

About a week later I walked up to the woman in the store, the one who’d been nice enough to chat with him from time to time in the last few months of his life. I wanted to tell her, just in case she didn’t know. He’s dead, I wanted to say. The news, I felt a strange need to share it with somebody. I wanted to find out more, about who he’d been. Had there been a funeral? Who, if anyone, had gone?

Would you like a bag with that?” she asked.

I hesitated, open-mouthed. This woman, I didn’t want to shock her with talk of dead neighbours.

Sure,” I said instead, handing her the money. Giving her the best smile I could manage, I picked up my stuff and walked home alone.