I have posted a couple of NYC competition entries in the last couple of days and I’m staggered to find that some people actually read them. Or claimed to have, anyway. Thank you. You really didn’t have to. The NYC people pay judges to do that (though I suspect that they don’t pay them much). But again I say thank you.
But enough of that. Last night I wrote a poem for my friend Meg who lives with her dad and has pet fish. It was a cheap gift to her based mainly on my discovery that daughter rhymes with water.
I’m wondering if publishing it here diminishes the value of the gift. I’m sure that she’ll let me know ….
Anyway, this is a very long winded way of providing something much much shorter to read …
The love of my life From my wife Came my daughter I nestled her Wrestled her Carefully taught her She’s my every wish Such a dish Who’d have thought her So real Makes me feel Like a fish out of water.
As I mentioned …. I found myself in something of a state of shock to land in this round of the competition, a destination I have never before visited.
The challenge this time was 1500 words/ sci-fi/ a repairman/ a promotion.
Read it only if you are bored. I doubt that there will be a 4th round to report on.
The Ziusundra Project
My prison cell faces South, and the sunlight travels at a constant speed across the back wall from right to left. Likewise, this pattern travels up and down the wall following the changing seasons. The battery on my timepiece failed 47 years ago but it is now possible, by means of a series of carefully drawn lines upon the wall, and by fastidiously cross checking the data day to day and year to year, to keep note of the time to an accuracy of plus or minus 26 minutes. It took me almost 15 years to get the system right. Time well spent. And time is a valuable commodity. One should cherish every moment. Solitarily confinement, despite the hype, is not a fate worse than death.
Not that I always thought this way. 70 years ago, I was the angry young repairman at the Carlton Hotel. My days were spent replacing lightbulbs and clearing blocked drains. At night I turned my ire towards the computer, scanning the web for someone to blame. The Compulsory Euthanasia Bill, as you would recall, was first introduced in 2036 and I calculated the odds of selection (after excluding ‘Essential Public Servants’ and ‘Economically Essential Individuals’) to be 1 in 327,432. But I held strong suspicions regarding the ‘independently scrupulous’ nature of the selection process. Sure enough, my name was drawn in the ballot of January 2037. Why was I to pay the price for exponential population growth? I’d only had sex 3 times.
Instead of accepting the standard offer of free accommodation at the National Pre-Departure Luxury Resort and Spa for that last year, I chose instead to remain in my dingy room under the Carlton staircase where I doubled down on my diatribe of anti-establishment hatred via any chatroom from which I had not yet been banned, and continued my investigations into the dark figures that held the reins of power. In the space of about 8 months I became an expert on Marxist philosophy, alien spacecraft and do-it-yourself explosives. I found out who killed JFK.
But I was not, as they insisted at my trial, a conspiracy theorist. 97.4% of all conspiracy theories are false. I was only looking for the other 2.6%. And that’s how I stumbled upon the Ziusudra Project.
It was well hidden. But not well enough. References to the Project and to its founder, Dr Gordon Todd, date back to 1997 when a small research facility was established on the outskirts of Adelaide to investigate the possibilities of cell regeneration technology. Originally Todd Laboratories, the name was changed following the appearance of a paper entitled ‘The Ziusudra Imperative’ which outlined the potential of ‘extended existence’. Shortly after that the government assumed full control, citing as justification, ‘vital medical research funding’. There is little else to be found in any public domain. A report in one obscure online science journal in 2027 reported ‘reclusive Professor Gordon Todd’ as being in ‘surprisingly rude health’ and another, in 2032, noting a patent application from ‘Todd Industries’ for a ‘Tithonus’ machine. I tracked down an Adelaide University photograph of the 1992 football squad where a young man in the front row with flowing golden hair is identified as G. Todd (capt).
I knew that I was being watched, of course. I just didn’t think that they cared anymore. I was surprised, then, when a man in dark sunglasses burst through my door one morning and pointed a gun at me. “Somebody wants to meet you,” he said.
I was driven, blindfolded, for what I would retrospectively estimate to be 4 hours and 27 minutes before stopping. Marched across a concrete parking lot and down 2 sets of stairs I found myself, when the blindfold was removed, facing an antique mahogany desk behind which sat a youngish man in casual clothes, and a baseball hat concealing a mop of curly blonde hair. He grinned broadly at me, stood and extended his hand. Instinctively I shook it. “Hello Mr Williams,’ he said, “I’m Dr Gordon Todd”
It was a lot to absorb, all in one go, but my host was giving me little time for that. He directed my armed captor to leave and beckoned me to sit. “Sorry about all the theatrics. Lionel loves the cloak and dagger stuff, but I find it a bit passé, don’t you?” I nodded. What else was I to do? “Anyway,” he continued, “It’s not a kidnap. I’d like to offer you a job.” “I already have a job,” I informed him, “I’m the Carlton Hotel repairman,” “Yes,” he nodded, “the repairman. But it seems that you are also something of an explosives enthusiast and that you have a remarkable eye for detail. You harbour a strong distrust of the government as well as a fanatical sense of social justice that borders on outright paranoia. And you have passion. That’s why you’re here.” “I’m a just a repairman.” “Yes,” he repeated, “and I need something repaired. So, as of today you are the Ziusudra Project Manager of Pyrotechnic Repairs. Congratulations. Quite the promotion, eh?”
There was no longer a gun pointing at me, but I assumed that declining the offer was not an option.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked after a pause. “I want you to detonate a bomb and destroy this building, myself and all my research. Absolutely. Unequivocally. Without a trace.” “Oh.” I said. “Why?”
“You know what we do here, Vincent. May I call you Vincent? You know what we have achieved.”
The truth is that I knew little. My own research had been far from comprehensive. I looked back at him blankly and he sighed.
“Vincent,” he murmured, “I expected more. Well, at the very least you’d know that our research is primarily in the area of epigenetics within which it is common knowledge that by regulating telomere length one may extend the life of cells beyond their natural use-by-date and, theoretically, indefinitely.” “Immortality?” “Scientifically speaking, the best we can do is a sort of bio-indefinite mortality. Certain worms and jellyfish have been doing it for …. well … forever. It’s taken us a while longer.” “Can you prove it?” I asked. He removed his cap and grinned youthfully at me again. The proof was sitting right in front of me, of course. “It’s actually ridiculously easy,” he told me, “the whole process takes less than 40 minutes.”
“Now,” the doctor continued, “here at Ziusudra I work for the government. Hence my dilemma. Let me ask you a question. Why would our government be enthusiastically embracing Compulsory Euthanasia whilst simultaneously sponsoring research into immortality? Why would they be pushing a cheap and nasty solution to the population problem whilst spending trillions on a project to potentially make that problem a whole lot worse?” “Because they’re dickheads?” “Vincent. You need to concentrate. We don’t have much time. I’ve told you already that its only indefinite mortality. It’ll save you from disease and it will grow you some new organs. But it won’t save you from nuclear war and it won’t save you from starvation. If we give everyone this treatment, then we are back to square one. Everything falls apart eventually. The world is about to eat itself, Vincent. The best that we can hope for is that a few of us might remain at the end to rebuild.” “And you don’t think the government should be the ones doing the rebuilding?” “Do you?” he asked. I didn’t. And what did I have to lose?
Exactly 46 minutes later we stood at the entrance and he handed me the remote control.
I really wasn’t much of a repair man. In the end I didn’t even make a bomb. Dr Todd had done it all for me. “Dicyanoacetylene,” he explained, pointing to bottles of clear liquid strategically positioned around the building, “burns at almost 5000 degrees Celsius. There’ll be nothing left. Nothing.” He gave out one last sigh before he turned away. “Make sure you are well clear before you set it off.”
I was 31.6 kilometres away when I pushed the button and saw the horizon light up. The police had me an hour later. Based almost entirely upon my browsing history I was branded as a treasonous psychopath, a communist terrorist and a national traitor. It was a fair cop. And it was all part of the plan.
The timer on my cell is set for release in 17 years. They gave up on my lethal injections around the turn of the century. It was 23 years and 4 months ago that they last asked me if I knew anything of the whereabouts of Dr Todd. I’ve seen nobody since. It is a sweetly humane irony that they left me locked up with enough rehydratable food in here to last for my full 85-year sentence. Dr Todd would be 133 years old now. So, I’ll still be a relatively young man when I get out.
In another surprising turn of events I managed to squeeze past the judges in the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story competition with a 4th place.
Below is that story. Have I published it before? I’m sorry to bore you if that is the case.
The Last Voyage of the Nadine
Zamboanga was glowing in the distance through a thin sea fog as the sun began to awaken the city. Looking down from the helm I recognised the returning fishing fleet and I steered further south to avoid unnecessary attention. I shut down the engines about three miles off the coast and, with the laundry bags, alighted to the rubber dingy. The Nadine would complete her final voyage alone.
My own voyage had taken another turn….
I was born to a domineering, sociopathic father and to an egotistical and emotionally absent mother. I count myself as little more than a passionless error of judgement.
My home, for the first ten years anyway, was a three-story, five-bedroom house looking out over the Pacific Ocean and containing seven television sets, an indoor swimming pool, a sauna and a grand piano, but not even the faintest sniff of abiding love. I attended an exclusive private Sydney boarding school where my report card (a document my parents did not read), noted initially that I had ‘great potential’ but ‘could do a lot better’ and later that that I was ‘disruptive’, ‘cynical’ and ‘obnoxious’. It came as something of a relief to both the school and to myself when I was caught cheating and expelled. In a further attempt to palm me off my father pulled some strings and I was magically accepted into the Australian Naval College. There, my progress was described, on the good days, as ‘barely satisfactory’ and my naval career came to an unceremonious conclusion one morning when the Admiral’s wife woke up in my bed. My parents took the only logical course of action and disowned me.
By then I had developed a passion for boats and for the loneliness of the ocean, so, immediately following my cold-hearted disinheritance, I moved north, in search of open water and warmer climate. Arriving in Cairns, I falsified my qualifications and scraped together a modest existence skippering game-boats that chased marlin and tuna out beyond the reef. I dabbled a little too, in the offshore transportation of marijuana from fertile plantations further north, to the peaceful hippie communities living in isolated liberation out on the Atherton tablelands. But when the police began to ask me uncomfortable questions and issue threats regarding my own liberty, I sensed that it was time to move farther north again. I passed myself off as a deckhand on a Chinese freighter bound for Manilla and jumped ship in Zamboanga during a refuelling stop.
And that is how I came to be sitting, about eighteen months later, in my own quiet corner of The Mariners’ Club. A weary relic of forgotten days, The Mariners’ Club existed in permanent semidarkness and smelled, in equal proportions, of stale cigarettes, body odour and rotting seaweed. Its regular inhabitants included a mixture of lonely local fishermen and third-rate Thai prostitutes blended in with my own tribe – the refugees from another life, hiding from failed businesses or failed marriages or hiding just from failure itself. I found the environment very welcoming.
The sight of a blonde woman dressed in business attire entering the premises was something, therefore, of an oddity, and when she idled up to the bar and asked the barman a few questions all eyes were upon her. All eyes were upon her still as he pointed in my direction and as she walked to my table with a cocktail and a beer to sit down beside me. Placing the beer in front of me, she picked up the cap that I had left lying on the table. “A naval man?” she asked, in reference to the insignia ‘HMAS Albatross’ embroidered across the brim. The old souvenir was faded and tattered. “Retired,” I said, as usual, because it sounded so much better than ‘dishonourably discharged’. “A Captain?” she asked “Lieutenant Commander,” I replied, modestly elevating myself only twelve rungs up the promotional ladder. “Oh,” she smiled, “right.”
I could tell that she had been, at one time, quite beautiful, but also that time had taken its toll. In her eyes I could detect the traces of unreconciled childhood dreams. She reminded me of my mother.
She wore an ostentatious diamond ring on her finger and caught my eyes examining it – secretly estimating its value. “From Mr Evans,” she informed me, “my husband. Recently deceased.” “I’m so sorry,” I lied. “Well,” she continued casually, “I’ll get over it. But it seems that he’s left me a bit shorthanded and with a few loose ends to tie up. I have some delicate trade negotiations to conduct out in international waters,” she waved her ringed finger vaguely towards the west, “and now I am without an experienced skipper to take me there. Are you, per chance, looking for work?”
I had long ago ceased looking for work, but though I had learned to live on a meagre income my eyes were always open to an occasional easy payday. Now and then someone wanted an extra hand to unload a catch of sardines at the cannery or wanted a compliant skipper to ferry passengers without passports north to Manila. I asked no questions and I had a short memory. So, I was unperturbed when she supplied me with only scanty details. “My launch will be fuelled and ready off the end of the wharf tomorrow night at six-thirty,” she explained, “and you can meet the rest of the crew there. You take us out, you bring us back. That’s all you need to know.” As she finished her cocktail and rose to leave it seemed reasonably obvious that I was about to re-enter the drug trade. It was, income-wise, my very favourite industry, but we had not yet discussed renumeration. She reached into her purse and extracted two crisp $US100 bills. “It’s a high return operation,” she explained, as if to confirm my assumptions, and handed me the two notes, “so there’ll be plenty more where this comes from. Go buy yourself a new hat, Admiral. And if you’re still interested, I’ll see you tomorrow night”
Of course, I was interested.
The following evening, I forwent my usual sundowner at The Mariners’ Club in order to arrive early at the dock and take a brief look over the ‘launch’. As I walked along the creaking wooden planks, I could see three young Filipinos moving what looked to be laundry bags from the back deck into the cabin. My employer was there, pointing and barking sharp orders to them with military precision. When she sensed my approach, she turned and softened her stance to greet me, with a smile. “Captain McCloud,” she called out to me, “so nice of you to come.” I had no idea, until that moment, that she knew my name. “The Widow Evans,” I greeted her formally in reply.
The ‘launch’, as I had feared, was a floating wreck. A former pleasure craft, she had fallen victim, not unlike myself, to neglect. Her once proud hull was stained with rust and seagull droppings. The stern was almost entirely black with the accumulation of thousands of hours of diesel exhaust but beneath the grime I could vaguely make out the name, ‘Nadine’. “Your name?” I asked the widow politely as I stepped aboard. She smiled back at me. “The boat’s name, silly,” she responded, keeping me at a disadvantage. The crew meeting was brief. “Boys,” she said, addressing the three Filipinos, “this is the Commodore. Commodore, this is the crew. Larry, Curley and Moe.” They barely looked up to acknowledge me. “OK, then,” she continued, “let’s go.”
As I climbed up onto the flybridge I was surprised to notice a serviceable rubber dingy complete with outboard motor secured to the front deck, and equally surprised to hear both engines bark obediently to life when I turned the keys. I signalled to Moe to release the last of the ropes and within five minutes we were easing her out between the channel markers and into open ocean.
We had been motoring peacefully for about an hour, I suppose, when I heard engine noises behind us. The widow was sitting beside me scanning an ancient copy of Vogue and the Filipinos were on the back deck playing cards. Within seconds I could see the lights of two smaller vessels approaching fast from astern. “Expecting someone?” I asked. “Fucking pirates,” she announced, identifying them with admirable calm. “Fucking pirates!” she yelled, this time to the Filipinos, “blow ‘em away, boys!”
Everything happened fast. Even before I had fully comprehended the situation the Filipinos had mounted machine guns in the old rod holders on the transom and were exchanging fire with our foe. The widow was brandishing a revolver and waving it around wildly in the general direction of the enemy and letting off shots at random. We were outrun, outnumbered and possibly outgunned, but the Nadine’s heavy metal hull was holding up well. The pursuers were only about twenty yards to the stern when Curly stood up heroically on the back deck and started lobbing hand grenades. He may have been a professional baseball player in another life, or would be in the next one, for two grenades landed, each on their separate targets, exploding simultaneously as he himself fell in the final hail of bullets.
The battle was over as quickly as it had begun. I pulled the throttles back and put the engines into neutral. An eerie quiet descended upon us as the scattered fires astern sank silently into the ocean. The widow climbed down the flybridge ladder and I climbed down after her. Moe was leaning tearfully over the bodies of Curly and Larry as they lay dead in their own pools of blood. “What happened, Moe?” the widow asked, “were we set up?” “I dunno, Miss.” It was the first time I’d heard him utter a word. And it would be the last. She raised her revolver and shot him in the forehead. “He drinks too much,” she informed me, “and then he talks. Loose lips sink ships.” “Likewise, the late Mr Evans?” “Lead poisoning,” she said, “there’s a lot of it going around.” She grinned at her own little jokes.
It took some time before I could think of a question that might help delay my own death a while longer. I pointed towards the cabin, “so …. do we still deliver the dust?” I asked. She looked at me quizzically. “Dust?” she said, “Cocaine? You thought we were selling drugs? No, no. You have it backwards. We have no drugs. We were buying. Not selling.” The laundry bags were full of cash.
“I like you,” she said unexpectedly. The gun was still in her hand, but it was as if she had forgotten it. Her demeanour had changed like the tide and the expression she directed towards me may have been, indeed, one of affection. We stood there in silence, listening to the burbling of the engines and to the waves lapping up against the hull. The moon was setting on a dark horizon. She moved closer to me and let her skin brush against mine. The deck was awash with human blood. Three dead bodies lay at my feet. I was thirty nautical miles off the Philippine coast, standing under the stars with an undeniably attractive, certifiably insane, murderous drug dealer. It felt strangely romantic.
She whispered into my ear. “You were chosen, you know, as a confirmed loser with a fake boat licence, who wouldn’t be missed by anyone if you washed up dead on the beach. But I like your face and it turns out that you have some real talent for this sort of work. Perhaps we could make it a regular gig.”
When I put my arms around her waist, I thought that I felt her heart beating. I gently lifted her up and towards me until our lips touched.
And before she could raise her gun, I threw her overboard.
I read a bit of poetry here and there from people who seem to know what they are doing. I can’t claim to understand all of it and it’s hard, sometimes, for me to tell the difference between the poetry which goes way over my head and the poetry that just doesn’t make sense. I was never good at poetry during school. But that goes for a lot of things ….
Most of all, though, I admire poets for their bravery. The very best poems come from poets who are willing to hang their emotions out for everyone to see.
Now, I don’t really know how to write poetry, but even if I did I just don’t think that I’m capable of such bravery. I prefer to hide my emotions behind a sort of slap-stick carnality.
I read a poem from Ivor, here. I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with Ivor’s body of work and the deep well of emotion that he draws from. I was inspired by this one sufficiently to create an alternative version – not as any sort of competition but rather to indicate that I keep my own well of emotion tightly sealed, and that’s why, perhaps, I will never be called a poet ….
Here’s some more silly stuff representing 10 minutes of my morning that is gone forever.
The important thing is, however, to point out the fact that this is my third post in three days. That’s correct. You read it right. 3 out of 3. Possibly a new personal record.
The idea (though I may be a bit off track about where it was supposed to go) comes from Yves and you can see the photo prompt with her or with Cheryl.
I don’t really know what it’s all supposed to mean but who of us has not posed in front of the mirror (or just in our minds, perhaps) and revealed other incarnations of ourselves that we would reveal to no other?
Actually … to use the word poetry must be a bit insulting to actual poets. I apologise unreservedly.
Let’s just call it a post. But take note. I posted yesterday as well. So that’s two days in a row! I’m on a roll!
This comes in response to Eugi and via Rugby843. (with all football in hibernation I just like saying the word ‘rugby’ … it gives me hope of returning to a normality in which nothing really matters all that much).
It is supposed (according to the prompt) to be about harmony and that seems, to me, to be a rare commodity these days and probably always has been.
If God created all we know
She must have done so long ago
And then lost interest half way through
Found something else she’d rather do
Lots of bits left unconnected
Major errors uncorrected
Oh God! Why did you leave us here?
Your last instructions so unclear
Those Ten Commandments. What a curse!
We daily make things so much worse
And so we know we’ll never see
A universe in harmony
Just to be clear … I’m a staunch atheist, but I like having God around to share some of the blame.
My pal Kate wrote a post about overhead drones scanning her local secluded beach. Was she suggesting that our government are watching our every move looking for signs of socialist uprisings? Are there emotionless invisible men with secret code names hiding in underground fortresses somewhere out in the desert monitoring our every move and registering any hint of anti-government sentiment? Maybe. I wouldn’t put it past them. But I think, more likely, such drones belong to giggling fourteen year old boys searching for nudists.
It made me feel a bit insignificant and unimportant. I can’t think of a single thing I do that anyone would want to know about … much less watch.