Thursday, 31 May 2012

A Series Of False Endings - Friday Flash

The emergency sirens were getting closer. The mob with their torches were raising their flambeaus in exultation, but saw them extinguished by the hovering helicopter looking for a place to land. Soldiers in fatigues were deploying and handing out blankets. The ticker tape parade was in full swing, though once the confetti landed on the concrete sidewalk, they were limply drenched by the hoses putting out the ground fires. The tribal warrior was taking the plaudits from his people as he rode by them in his chariot. The girl kissed the man who had rescued her death-defyingly, though he flinched as her lips irritated the cut on his lip. Meanwhile overhead pyrotechnics lit up the sky with celebratory swashes of colour. Their detonations blotted out the sound of horns from the flotilla of ships returning triumphantly to harbour. The graduates threw their mortar boards into the air, while on the parade ground the police received their medals with due pomp.

He shouldn't have been quite so churlish. Disowning his own film because the Studio rejected his dark ending. Their test screenings, focus groups and guinea pigs, people who had never made a film in their life, YouTube not withstanding, had plumped for something more upbeat. And so he had ceded his opus to Alan Smithee, the hardest working director in Hollywood back in the day.

Out of pique he had spliced together a reel of all the hackneyed endings to films he could find and now sat watching it on an endless loop. His own original celluloid having long since shrivelled into dust. He who had been charged with chronicling the world through his imagination, now left without a camera to record anything. Just a projector to relay this degraded version of it instead. Here in his self-enforced seclusion, now the last witness to the fate of mankind. Following the ravages of wars and genocides. The inundations of toxic waste, biological mutation and terrorist inspired nuclear contamination. Rising tidal waters and tsunamis. The assault of solar radiation through the Earth's denuded Maginot Line of ozone and magnetic fields.

The last man on earth, one of its most eloquent examiners, stripped of any means of self-expression. Of any audience remaining to report to. There were no focus groups now. He wound the spool of film around his neck and looped it over the curtain rail. Alan Smithee's final stand as he kicked the best supporting chair away from under him. The definitive ending that his magnum opus had demanded all those years ago, but which had been prettified by the Studio. If anything, he hadn't been dark enough in the original.

Note: Alan Smithee is the name given to the director of any film disowned by its actual director. This has now been replaced by the name Thomas Lee.

from the flash collection - available from Amazon Kindle Store free to download from 3-7th June 2016

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dirty Money - Friday Flash

This one didn't even make it into my new flash anthology "16FF"!

At age thirteen I came into quite a considerable sum of money. Courtesy of my father of course. Not by way of any tasteful convention through a legacy. Since he wasn't dead, far from it. But it was purely and simply because I was his son.

In this religion our family paid chapped lip service to, a boy supposedly became a man when he reached that callow age. For the mere public demonstration of having learned to speak in tongues, or a specific alien variant of it at least, strange people would come up to me, ruffle my hair, pinch my cheek and pronounce me the spit of my father and then press a cream envelope into my hand. Most managed to have my first name inked on them, but not all.

Since I barely knew these people. Friends of my parents, my father, who passed me like ships in the night as I scurried for the haven of my room when they came round for a dinner party, a card evening or a more casual drinks and natter. Any that I coincided no matter how briefly with in space, were usually appeased with an even more fleeting "Good evening" and I was released from further adult interaction. now at thirteen I found myself having to thank them, gurn as they touselled my carefully layered hair, or sucked in the smarting sensation after they pinched my skin that seemed to be on offer.

They were rewarding me not for anything I had done, few of them shared the family religion or appreciated the significance of its rite de passage. They were rewarding me for whose son I was. Their mate's progeny. Their large as life, good egg, top value- both socially and professional, pal. In their bourgeois you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours world, everything came down to an envelope of money. I felt myself being inducted into a different adult wisdom to that the religion had in mind. Genuinely more co-operative species remove parasites from each other. In those hard to get at places. They don't satisfy themselves with raking claws down the other's back. I didn't know how I knew at such a tender age, maybe that's what the religious fathers really meant by solemnising this occasion, but I knew when those friends turned up at our house with their wives, they were being unfaithful to them.

When I was sixteen, I took a decision. I started seeing a psychoanalyst in secret. There were Oedipal conflicts to be resolved that was for sure. I went privately so as not to leave a paper trail and funded it from my nest egg as soon as I could legally access it. Nest egg, yes we'll pass on the obvious symbolism of the maternal egg for now shall we?

More often than not, lying there on a couch in a room heated to hospital ward swelter, I fell asleep for my fifty minutes. Ironic seeing as anxiety dreams peppering my disturbed nights, were the ostensible reason for my attendance there. For his part, when he deigned to offer comment in the skimpy house style, he opined that at least it showed I felt secure enough in his room and in his presence to fall asleep. Yeah, two different meanings of the word security rubbing up against one another there I reckoned. My zoning out, aka emotional security, his financial security. Must have been the easiest cash he ever earned.

Came the point where I had no lucre left to continue the alleged treatment. We talked about and around the issue (issue, that's funny, being another word for bank notes, a connection he failed to make, though of course the issue of a parent...) We agreed that such money had been dirty in my eyes because of its source. In that laconic way of his, I think he was trying to finesse me into opening up negotiations with him about staying on, paying a lower rate (though is that all the value I placed on myself?), which also might entail me earning it and thereby make me engage more with reality. But I refused to take his bait. My first salary just to pay his bills? How self-involved could a man be? Maybe he anticipated me going cap in  hand to my father. We agreed to terminate our sessions, both imagining that it had been of some utility, though I suspect his notion being far more therapeutic than that of my own. For me, it was more transfer than transference.

My secret leaked out eventually. I was ready to walk out of my University course before even completing the first year. I was unenthused by having to interpret the great works of literature through the prisms of Marx and Freud, but that was all the course seemed to offer. As if I wasn't well versed in both of those theories already, having helped empty my life of meaning and value (there is no such thing as surplus value).

As my father berated me for lacking staying power, for ever seeing anything through, for the blow to his prestige, I committed the error of commenting how my further education was likely to bankrupt me. My Shrink no doubt would have said that I had done so deliberately.

"What about your savings? There must be oodles of cash built up in there by now? It's meant for things like this, to set you up in life".

"I laundered it".

"You laundered it? What does that even mean? Laundered it? What, like it was drug cartel money or something?"

"Some sore of cartel yes".

He just looked at me with complete incomprehension. He couldn't recognise me at all. Certainly not as his own son.

Which is where all this started. Money received under false pretences. Mistaken identity. Job done I'd say.

Time to go out into the real world and assert myself.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Bereaved And The Bereft

It is a little remarked tragedy that several of the terminal illnesses that conduct a human spirit off this earth, also have the unfortunate tendency to reduce the full functioning of body and mind and return them to the state of the dependent infant. Just as we entered life with requirements of feeding, dressing, bathing and assisting with toilet by others, so can the days leading up to exiting this life be filled with the same physical functions beholden unto others.

This entails round the clock care, with most of the burden often falling upon the family. Especially if the dying person has requested to die at home. And such a fraught responsibility often opens up fissures within the family that just make the whole pressurised process unbearable.

When a child tends for their parent, it throws up many agonies. Firstly the life-long balance of the relationship is inverted. Seeing your forever powerful, protective and loving parent reduced to such impoverished powers just doesn't compute. The parent, unlike a spouse or even our own offspring has been there every single day of our own lives. Their passing cannot but leave a hole. Additionally it reflects upon your own mortality, for here ineffably confronting the child is the fate that befalls us all, if our own titan of a parent succumbs then what chance us? So our familiar and comforting realities are asunder. In our own dismay and incomprehension, often the soon-to be bereaved lash out, because they cannot process these emotions.

One natural fault line for these feelings to follow is the division of labour of care. Families are not democracies and utopias. They have inequitable resources, means, childcare, job responsibilities. Members may not even reside in the same city or country. We also possess different thresholds of what we can tolerate when it comes to physical human frailties. Some will happily clean up soil, whereas others simply cannot no matter how much they may wish to contribute. The burden will always fall disproportionately upon some shoulders more than others. And that is before you have considered the emotional inequalities, of how each sibling feels towards their parents.

They shouldn't, but very often parents have favourites. The first born; the youngest; the one often most overlooked in the middle, who the parent made sure to keep an eye out for; the one most like the parent; the one most different (my father favours the one of my twin sons who has inherited the fewest of our family genes, since he is full of self-loathing for his own appearance). Such little yet lingering resentments burst out at these times, if the near-bereaved start hurling accusations of not pulling weight. The charge that so and so is doing less, is often met with the gripe that the accuser was always the parent's favourite anyway.

I have to admit finding this hard to stomach. What are the reasons for caring for an ailing family member? Love is hopefully the sole drive. An unconditional one that you do it because you want to do it. In which case what does it matter how much or little other family members contribute to the care regimen? Of course it isn't always solely love that provides the motivation. It can be out of a sense of obligation, familial duty or even guilt. Less than ideal causes, ones in which the petty resentments can easily perch in amongst the crevices and erupt when it all gets too much, or is prompted during arguments with other family members.

We are only human. So to my mind, no one has the right to lambast any one else for what care they may or may not be contributing. We each can only do what we can do. Arguments and negative emotions during the parent's last days can be of no possible help whatsoever and make the process of grieving way harder. The family circle changes shape when a parent is removed by death. Surely the way to reconfigure and re-sutre the shape of the family in the aftermath is to permit each member to emerge with a clean sheet as soon as the care period has unfortunately ended. That petty resentments are not allowed to persist. That the family unites and accepts one another with unconditional love. That no one is to be judged, only re-embosomed. What better legacy for the passing parent to cede than a reunification?

I'm not saying it's easy and desperate raw emotions are flying around at such times. But if families could keep this aim in sight it may, just may help them to come to terms both individually and together with their awful loss.

Saturday, 19 May 2012



To celebrate the launch of my new short flash fiction anthology "16FF", I am running a unique competition.

The Prize:

Your own personal Flash Fiction story written by me, based on a prompt, or theme, or word, or set of words given by you. It will be a unique story that only you and I will possess! It will not be available anywhere else unless you decide to make it available. It will be available in PDF and Kindle-friendly format.

How To Enter:

E-mail me via sewell.d at googlemail dot com with no more than 50 words on which of these stories was your favourite and why, by October 31st 2012 and I will pick a winner. I'll contact the winner and ask them for their prompt. The story will be delivered before Christmas 2012.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

National Flash Fiction Day

Today, May 16th is the inaugural National Flash Fiction Day. There's a raft of readings, workshops and events, whose details you can find on the NFFD website.

My contribution is to release a new short anthology of 16 flash stories on kindle called "16FF" for the princely sum of £1.53 or $2.99. 16 brand spanking new tales written after my first anthology of 52 stories was published. That anthology "52FF" is free to download just for National Flash Fiction Day.

And to hopefully whet your appetites for the anthology, here is one of the tales called "New Balls Please"


"Mind over matter of course!"

"Nonsense, matter over mind every time".

"Never the mind, what does either of it matter?" The synthesised supercomputer voice blithely emitted no emotion behind such a momentous condensing of the question that had plagued mankind since the dawn of time. Nor was there betrayal of any self-congratulation at the wordplay which served to diminish the puffed-up portentousness of that same human quest. A quest its circuits had been arrogated to. The computer's voice programme had been selected after various investigations into which timbre and accent was the most dulcet on the human ear. Thus it had been cast as female, with a soft sibilant Scottish brogue. Populous denizen of the customer service industry. There to be of soothing help. For when the human race's machines went on the fritz and failed to function properly.

"What does that even mean?"

"Bit glib for a computer?"

"So I have managed to unify mind and matter after all". There was a beat as the two human inquisitors reflexively left a space for the reciter of a joke to fill in with its own self-satisfied chortle. But none followed, for machines don't laugh (though Caledonian women have been known to, particularly when sufficiently oiled).

"No you're right. Back to the matter in question".

"See, you can't even avoid using the word 'matter'. That's how fundamental it is to existence. Everything stems from matter, including that beloved consciousness of yours".

"Okay then. where does it reside? Which of these wrinkles in this pickled walnut of yours is 'consciousness'? Where within this precious prune's synaptic networks does self-awareness perch?"

If the computer could compute that it should laugh uproariously at this point, it would have. But its powering light indicators remained steadily even.
"If I may interject-"

One of the advocates pointed an open palm as invitation to the computer. Even though the machine had a visual scanning apparatus, the gesture itself was too symbolic for it to comprehend. The man cursed himself, while his antagonist just smirked.

"A physical gesture, yet our silicon friend here was unable to process either its significance or meaning. Probably due to it being devoid of awareness. Fifteen-love to me I believe".

"Interesting too, that such a physical endeavour as playing sport, should have such a symbolic scoring system too, don't you think?"

"If I may interject- Thank you..." Interesting too that the designers had programmed the AI neural network with the human standards of etiquette and politeness. Laughter, that trespasser of etiquette, was ostensibly too human to be mimetically reproduced in the non-human. But etiquette, being itself a code, well that was deemed acceptably artificial. Besides, it wouldn't do to have two or more voices talking over one another. Legibility would disintegrate. "You are one and the same. You are genetic information that codes to create matter-"

"Aha! See! Genetic code is consciousness in potentia, as much as it is embryonic matter".

"But DNA is a molecule. And last time I looked, molecules were forms of matter. DNA still has physical form, whatever enlarged, complex shape it goes on to unpack".

Again the computer had halted its flow for the human interjections. Though unlike a human it has no difficulty in picking up precisely where it left off and without any degrading of throughput.

"Respectfully, as I intimated, it's both and it's neither. DNA is information that codes to produce other bodies of information, in order to transmit itself into future generations. The host bodies, be they human, gazelle or virus, are perishable. Their senses, experiences and memories are non-transferable, certainly beyond their lifespans. They are vessels, designed for merely passing on information. Labouring under the misconception that their own information, of sights, sounds and smells are the significant data, for such is consciousness".


"Illusory consciousness?"

"Steady on there!"

"Hold on just a minute".

This time, the hiatus beat may just have been the interval of two gasted flabbers.

"Information is the only significant entity that exists. Not mind. Not matter. Not even viruses or particles. Coded bytes of information solely prevail through time".

"Of course you'd say that, what are you but a data processor? A purveyor of information. But who programmed you in the first place? You only possess existence through the agency of human consciousness".

"Also ask yourself why DNA gets passed down the generations? It needs us, our physical being to be expressed, in order to reproduce and transmit it".

"Of course. But for what purpose does DNA or any information transmit itself? Its transmission is utterly blind. It is a self-perpetuation without any reason behind it. The preservation of information for information's sake. Information cannot be destroyed".

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, you don't say...?"

And with that, one of the inquisitors launched a kick at the computer. His compatriot ran off in the other direction, but soon returned carrying a fire extinguisher, with which he proceeded to bludgeon the machine.

"Love-fifteen... Love-thirty... Love-forty... Game, set and match I'd say".

The computer was a mess of smoke and electric sparks fizzing across exposed entrails. Its indicator lights slowly extinguished.

"Okay computer, are you seriously telling me that a disembodied parcel of information just did that to you? No, it was a physical force wrought by a lump of matter, wielding another metal cluster of matter-"

"Designed by man's consciousness".


"Don't overlook that the intention to batter the machine communicated itself from your consciousness in the first place. Prompted by your emotions, firing every one of your muscles and nerves".

"Nevertheless, there sits a burned out cluster of matter. I don't see the persistence of any consciousness, or information there. So appears we did manage to destroy information after all".

"Not permanently. We shot the messenger was all. Mind is still preserved. We still retain the knowledge to build and programme another apparatus".

"Only, one that will play ball with us this time".

"Actually giving us the answers we're seeking".

"The right kind of answers to settle our disputes".

"One which understands us humans better".

"More sympathetic to our needs".

"It's just a question of mind over matter".

"Matter over mind you mean".

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Housewife With A Half-Life by A.B.Wells

I just wanted to draw your attention to a new novel that is published today by a very good friend of mine who also happens to be one of my favourite writers and word wranglers, A.B.Wells.


While I haven't read an advanced copy of the book, I'm eagerly awaiting it because of Alison's amazing facility with language (read her flash fiction on her blog here) and our shared lay interest in science and mutual fandom of Douglas Adams.

But Alison is also a mother to four young children and we've had many a conversation over all things child developmental. I'm sure her personal experiences will feed into the novel as it's about, well a housewife, with a half-life!

Here's a brief synopsis of what the book is about:

A Housewife's answer to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! In this lively space comedy, Susan Strong and her spaceman guide Fairly Dave dodge entropy hoovers, Geezers with Freezers, the Super Gnome and the Spinner's cataclysmic converter on a mission to retrieve the lost pieces of the housewife's disintegrating self across parallel universes. Can they save us all from Universal Devastation?

The ebook is available on Kindle from May 8th and will be out in print in June. 

To coincide with the launches, Alison is running all sorts of promotions. Follow her on Twitter @alisonwells for more information.

Good luck with the launch Alison, I can't wait to get hold of my print copy!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Strains - Friday Flash

To wean me off from being propped nightly over my mother's familiar heartbeat, my parents suspended a musical mobile over my cot. Rather than conduct me to sleep however, it merely set my gums on edge (later explained away as 'teething'), since its lullabies sounded nothing like the sweet harmonies of my mother. But then even when she sang while I clung to her stomach as we bathed together, that didn't sound quite how I was used to hearing her either. Perhaps it was the accentuating acoustics of the porcelain tiles. More likely it was because bath water couldn't replicate amnion as a modulating medium.

One of my toy dollies talked. If you depressed her soft, yielding stomach, out would come a limited refrain of sayings. When I put my hand to my own belly and spoke, the muscles there pushed against my hand and made the speech seemingly more urgent to emerge from my mouth. So I pressed my ear to the doll's waxy skin, hoping for her words to directly pour themselves into my ear. But she lacked for a skeleton or cartilage to reverberate, thus her faux skin yielded me no secrets. The repeated pressure vainly applied to the doll's abdomen, detached her voicebox and she refrained from speaking altogether. Subsequent talking dolls all operated with a pull-cord. Their reedy, hollow utterances were always preceded by the whirring of the retracting wire.

My Grandmother's personal heirloom to me was an old musical box. Its tinny tones had been muted by age, but on accidentally removing the cover and exposing its innards, the volume increased in body. However, I became more involved in the works themselves. I used to love restraining the revolving brass cylinder, my fingers contesting with the pent up tremulous energy of the motor. Better yet to impede the tugged teeth of the comb, dulling their plucked peal. The most satisfying was to let the tiny pins embedded in the cylinder, play over the pads of my fingers before they palpated the lamellae. Seeing the indented flesh and then watching it regain itself and the livid red pinpricks fade. The plasticity of my own skin accompanied by the box's anthem.

The trumpeting announcement of the ice cream van to our cul-de-sac signalled a rarer treat for me than the other kids. Yes the mangled tones of "Green Sleeves" or some other vaguely recognisable melody sputtered through the air like an old emphysemic tramp wheezing a tuneless whistle. But rather than the pitch, I was interested in the separation of the notes from one another. As if each one had to be hand-cranked from whatever apparatus churned the chimes out through the van's loudspeaker. So unsteadily wavering and imprecise were their amplitudes, that the sound upon the air couldn't in fact be located as emitting from any point at all, least of all the vehicle itself. And the distortion lingered there. Even on breezy days there seemed no dispersing them, rather they billowed like laundry on the washing line. The rapturous screams of the kids slipped into its shrill slipstream and took on its unearthly tintinnabulations. While I looked wistfully on from my bedroom window. Seeing as my mother had forbidden me from ever buying an ice cream from the van. Having heard that every two years or so, some child suffered from a food poisoning laid firmly at its door.

My first trip to the theatre saw me beg to retreat from our best seats in the house. My mother grudgingly acquiesced, but during the intermission as I licked my luxurious ice cream, demanded of me as to why. I simply replied that the actors had deafened me as soon as they began booming out their lines. She explained how they were merely projecting their voices to the back of the stalls where we ourselves now sat. That they trained themselves to speak from their diaphragms and stomachs in order to reach us. I remembered my own experiments pressing against my abdomen, but that had only served to cut off my breath. I respected the actors considerably more after the interval.

There was always a plethora of sound abounding when my mother was doing one of her keep fit videos in her perpetual striving to shed the weight of bearing me. The first was that the walls and door frames throughout the house shook as she pounded up and down on the lounge carpet. Then there were the squealing exhortations of the boxed and badly dubbed female voice from the TV speakers. She was fighting against the poorly syncopated beat (bass only) of the music there to keep the tempo. And finally mother's own grunts and other involuntary protestations by her body against its exertions. When each ordeal of a session was over, mother would shamble one-handed through her chores, clutching her stomach with the other, as if there was simply no wind left in her at all. She was like my wound-down music box.

And what of my father, a man who crept in and out of both the house and my life with barely a footfall? He brought me into his study, a room I had never entered. There were egg boxes covering the entire wall space. He explained these were a cheap way of sound proofing, which had been insisted upon by my mother for whenever he played his HiFi in the room. And they must have been remarkably effective since I never heard any sound escape into the belly of the house. I wondered whether they also protected his ears from her ground quaking gyrations in the lounge. He announced that he wanted to record my voice, on a wall mounted cassette deck he'd secured from a music studio that was being decommissioned.

He twiddled around with the recording levels and played back my test snippet. I was horrified by the hiss on the tape. It sounded like the pantomime audience jeering the baddy back at the theatre. Even though I only had an audience of one and he was concentrating hard with his own breath in abeyance. I protested my dread of the outcome. He purred that he could record with Dolby to minimise the hiss, but that its drawback was it compressed and flattened out all the recorded range too. I hadn't liked the sound of my voice on the test anyway. It wasn't how I thought I sounded. How I heard myself speak. He laughed and said that was because this was the purest version of my voice I would ever be likely to hear.

Again, as with the ice cream van, I couldn't pinpoint the precise location of the emergency siren. It was bouncing off the walls of the houses and breaking up horribly. Soon enough I could tell it was approaching from behind as I walked home. When it finally passed me, its bell almost shattered my eardrums. I saw it pull up outside my house. I sped up into a run. Apparently my mother had dragged herself along the lounge floor and managed to dial one handed, with her other hand clutching her stomach where a peptic ulcer had ruptured. My father was blissfully unaware, shrouded away in his study, insulated from her agonies by his egg boxed wall.

My voice has barely risen above a whisper since. I didn't want it to come into contact anywhere near my tummy. I only yearned to feel the pulse of my mother's familiar breath. Straining wordless secrets straight into my ear.

*    *    *

Available in the Kindle flash fiction collection "16FF" from Amazon