Friday, April 17, 2009

[Fiction] Friday: Lea

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for April 17th, 2009:

Include this line somewhere in your story: “I’m never doing that again.”

The drums pounded in Lea’s head. An impatient finger jabbed at the elevator button as the rhythm began to build, from a quiet throb easily ignored to an insistent pounding. An hour earlier she’d washed down a handful of aspirin with the warm dregs of a bottle of mineral water in an attempt to quash the pain in the early stages.

How could I have missed the warning?

Lea understood now, staring defeated across the empty office space she had left it too late. The only light left on her floor was the single energy efficient bulb at elevator landing. Lightning flashed and Lea imagined the boom following closely behind – the plate glass windows absorbing the sound.

So focused on completing the evenings wires, tidying up all the lose ends Lea had failed to see the storm building out to the west until the final transaction was going through. A month without rain had made her blasé.

A month had passed since the impromptu visit with the healer at the psychic show. She’d wandered in passing the time between talks at an International Monetary Conference – treating herself to a walk through the freak show only to be compelled to actually speak with the woman in the simple white pants suit.

She’d pushed it all into the back of her mind. Committed the unsettling conversation to a mental strong box and piled it with the rest of them, where they could not touch her.

Lea jabbed unrelenting at the elevator button again, as the drumming in her head built.

Where the hell is the elevator?

According to the numbers above the doors the elevator hadn’t moved from the ground floor, despite her best efforts to rouse it from its slumber.

She lent her fevered forehead against the chill of the metal elevator door. Now was not the time to panic, even though she recognised the cold, winding its way through her bowel and up to her stomach. Screwing her eyes shut she hammered on the elevator door. She could risk a guard – after all it was Friday, she was leaving work late, as she always did and no one would consider asking difficult questions. All anyone ever asked her on a Friday was whether she’d join them for drinks at the Jade Buddha.

The answer was always no.

She had not come this far to choke, but as each second past and the drumming grew more insistent, pounding on the backs of her eye balls, the possibility grew. The cold had reached her stomach and was groping around the edges. The squeeze would not be far away.

It was her own damn fault for not pausing for a moment to stare out the tenth floor window and see the storm building. For fucks sake she’d paused long enough to force the Panadol down her throat.

Why the hell did I not look up - look out?

Looking down at the overnight bag at her feet, Lea seized it in a shaking hand, her lap top still strung across her shoulder. She couldn’t wait. Giving a final stab at the button she moved unsteadily towards the fire exit.

This was the first time she’d lost her balance. All the other episodes had been mild in comparison.

“Miss Lea.”

The voice seemed to come from impossibly far away. She turned and found a security guard striding across to her. It looked as though he moved through a fun house of crazy mirrors. Lea rubbed at her eyes. She needed to be able to see straight.

“I’m not feeling so well,” and the guard caught her as she swayed on her feet. “I’m having trouble with the door.”

“Your security tag Miss Lea.”

The security tag!

The guard swiped his tag and the numbers began to light up above the elevator door.

“Are you joining the rest of them down at the Jade Buddha?”

“No.” Lea didn’t even recognise her voice.

“Probably best to go home. My wife and kids have had what you’re coming down with. Make sure you take yourself off to bed love, warm chicken soup and lots of water.”

Lea was certain that the guard’s wife and kids did not have what she had.

The doors slid open and inside the elevator, away from the prying eyes of the guard, Lea slumped against the wall, dropping the over night bag. Her episodes had never been this bad. In the past there had been a disconcerting disconnection from reality – as if viewing the world through a telescope, or on a TV screen – other times the resistance that comes with moving through water. A sickening feeling of deja vu. And there was always the drumming, pummelling her brain into submission. Then the rain would start to fall.

This time the drums were louder, and the rhythm had shape and cadence. It was as though the drums were singing to her, beckoning her forth.

It was irrational. She knew it and the healer – she would have to have known too. She could not really believe the drivel she imparted to the unsuspecting. Lea didn’t believe in clairvoyants and their sisters.

I'm never doing that again - putting faith were none deserved to be.

Lea had been caught off guard and sought answers where there could be none. Suspending logic. Mistrusting her rational calculation and understanding of the world.

Lea didn’t believe in past lives much less energetic patterns reincarnating looking for resolution. She was not caught in some psychic scratch – like a record needle getting caught on vinyl.

“A door once open can not be closed. It is up to you if you wish to cross the threshold.”

It was as though the woman with her braided hair, heavily highlight with grey and her intense green eyes was in the elevator - so clear was the voice.

She was tired, over worked. Stressed. Living every day on the brink of losing everything. She could feel the kiss of the gun muzzle on her space between her manicured eye brows.

“A door once open can not be closed. It is up to you if you wish to cross the threshold.”

No wonder she was hearing things, seeing things. She rubbed at the space between her eye brows, wishing the drumming would stop.

Lea ran her hands through her short hair and turned to look at her pale reflection in the mirrors. The image swum and for a moment her auburn hair was braided – like the healer’s, with white flowers threaded through it. Lea blinked, rubbing at her tried, dry eyes. She looked into her red rimmed eyes, dark circles encasing the lower part of her eye sockets. Her olive skin seemed to have a deathly pall shimmering just below the surface.

Dead woman walking.

But hadn’t she always been?

You grow up the way I did and you know life is cheap and death is even cheaper.

She stared closer at her forehead, at the red spot between her eye brows where she tapped unconsciously as waited for wires to finalise. Manoeuvring money in the ether – making illegal money, legal, but dirty money could never be clean.

The healer had said her third eye was closed – the space she nervously tapped with her pointer finger. She had lost her ability to tune into her intuition – her higher knowing. But Lea was more in tune to her intuition and her higher knowing than she had ever been. The nervous tendency was testament to that. You never forgot a gun pressed to your forehead.

But the door was closing, regardless of what the healer said – doors do close and new ones open. The end of this chapter of her life was so close. It didn’t need to rain. It was hard enough without struggling through another episode to get to the airport.

This time tomorrow I’ll be in the Caymens.

“Ground floor.” An impeccable English voice broke through her thoughts as the elevator doors slid open.

Author's Notes
This is the second part of a story written a few weeks ago The Stamford ... and there will be at least two more installments to come.

Please feel free to leave constructive criticism. I will be going back to tweak the oncoming weather and removing all the word repetitions :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Belgium Beer Cafe

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for April 10th, 2009:

A dentist is stabbed while he waits in line at the movies.

Roly’s face paled and his jaw dropped a degree, giving him the hang dog look he was so famous for at university. To Lawrence it just made Roly look brain dead and he’d often imagined a silver line of drool escaping the corner of his fleshy mouth.

“Seriously dude, that’s bad.”

Lawrence wondered if Roly spoke to his clients like that–looking up from an income tax summation which revealed a client owed thousands to the tax department. No matter how hard he probed his imagination Lawrence could never see his chartered accountant speaking or behaving like Roly. Lawrence didn’t joke about impacted wisdom teeth and he expected the same professional courtesy of his accountant.

And that was just it. Roly never took anything seriously – except for bad mouthing Gloria. Lawrence felt like he’d finally caught Roly on the back foot and pressed it to his advantage.

“I can’t listen to any more of your paranoia. Your paranoia is giving me nightmares and I have to sleep at night. I can’t turn up to surgery half wacked from sleep deprivation. I have to have steady hands."Lawrence twisted the platinum wedding band on his finger. "If you think that Gloria is a gold digger, if you think that she’s not trustworthy, if you think that she’d never go for a guy like me, much less marry me, if you think I should hire a PI, if you think I should go through her phone records, her diary, her lingerie drawer… I want you to keep it to yourself. No more …. I’m serious Roly.”

The nightmare had sealed Lawrence’s decision to take Roly to task over the diatribe which accompanied their Friday luncheon’s ever since Roly had first introduced Gloria to Lawrence and they'd fallen head long into what Roly called a shot gun wedding.

How it had taken Lawrence so long have the Roly epiphany he didn’t know - was just be glad at 4:26am this morning, recovering from his nightmare, he realised with friends like Roly he didn’t need to covet enemies. Most people after all were terrified for dentists.

While mild mannered for most part and in no way into metaphysical weird shit, like his twin sister Lorraine, Lawrence could not ignore the obvious meaning of his dream.

Standing in line, with tickets for the three of them, waiting for Roly and Gloria to see “This is Your Life” and the shattering blow from behind – the knife blade penetrating between his shoulder blades as he sank to his knees sobbing, groping behind to pull the knife free of his flesh.

Well he was pulling the knife free now. The back stabbing would stop.

“Sure, sure. I get it. No more stuff about Gloria.” He took a long draught from his black frothy pint. “Hey remember when you ripped your biceps working out to look like the dude on the Oral B add.”

“Yeah only to discover that he wasn’t really a dentist and that’s why they didn’t show his face on TV. I couldn’t write and no doctor would give me a medical certificate to cover my stupidity and I flunked scientific principles of surgery and lost my perfect grade point average. Yeah I remember it. And I remember that it was your idea that I work out. You said it would do me good to no longer be perfect. I had to go back to uni for an extra semester to do the subject again while you were doing the horizontal tango with girls in London.”

“Hey dude. I’m sorry. And for all the other shit that I badgered you with at uni about being a feeb. Look at you – you turned up to be the one who snared the girl huh?” He took a long drink of his Toohey’s Old. “No hard feelings.”

Lawrence had the unsettling feeling that Roly was being genuine – though he couldn’t be sure. There had never been single moment in their friendship when Roly had given any indication he had a sincere bone in his body.

“You’re not off to have open heart surgery of something Roly?” Lawrence looked down at the overnight bag at Roly’s feet, snuggled compactly under the table, wondering at the subdued tone in his best friend.
“Just a boring CPA conference in Canberra. Heart surgery sounds like a blast in comparison – at least they knock you out. You know what I’m saying.”Lawrence nodded and drained the last of the mineral water from his highball. “What you got planned for the weekend?”
“I’m going to take Gloria up to Mooloolabah. One of the other surgeons I know has an apartment up there he’s lending us. It’s a surprise.”
“Sounds like an action packed weekend.” Lawrence didn't need to see the wink to know that the sentence was punctuated with one.

Lawrence looked at his watch and remembered the cheques in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

“I gotta run. I did mates rates for a friend and have to bank the cheques. The girls refuse to go to the bank since everything is done by electronic transfer now.”
“I'd love to see that Olivia tottering up the Mall on those three inch heels.” The lewd look on Roly’s face made Lawrence cringe – especially considering Olivia was yet to reach her 20th birthday, making Roly almost chronologically challenged enough to be her old man.

Roly rose and extended his hand. Lawrence grasped the bear paw in his long elegant surgeon’s hand, grateful Roly wasn’t taking the opportunity to emphasise his power and strength in a single bone crushing squeeze.

“Take care bud.”

As Lawrence walked off he stopped to look back at Roly, beer in one hand and a client brief in the other, the manila folder destined to soak up either errant grease or beer from the table top. Lawrence kept on, through the swirling menagerie of the raucous Friday lunch time crowd; he felt seven foot tall – viewing all the banality from afar, having finally risen above it. Stepping out onto the pavement at the Mary and Edward Streets Lawrence was relieved for having spoken his mind to Roly, for putting his foot down. For being a man!

For too long he’d allowed Roly to run rough shod over him, belittle him and his relationship with Gloria. Too late, as usual he remembered the joke he’d intended to use at some stage over lunch to attempt to put Roly back in his place, “What do accountants use as a contraceptive …. Their personalities!”

Lawrence smiled to himself and whistled a nameless tune, as he made his way to the ANZ branch in Queens Street, along Eagle Street for a change, flowing with the tide of pedestrians rather than fighting his way through them. There was a moment when the sun peaked out from behind the heavy steel grey clouds that had been crowding the skies for days – doing nothing but threatening rain.

Standing at the Eagle-Elizabeth-Creek Streets intersection Lawrence thrust his hands in his pockets and discovered they were empty except for a few silver coins – he’d left his keys on the table in the reverie of having won against Roly. The cheques would wait until Monday. He rang Roly, but his call diverted to voice mail after three rings. Lawrence stepped up the pace, back tracking to the Beer Café and in through the side door directly into the beer garden.

At first he told himself it wasn’t her laughter, there were plenty of women patrons, wine glasses in hand, designer handbags slung over designer shoulder pads. Gloria was spending the day at the Japanese Bath House in Newstead. As he neared the table he’d recently vacated, leaving Roly to his chips and his half drunk pint of Old, he knew it was her. Her neck, her gym sculptured shoulders and arms in the sleeveless sundress he’d bought her last week. Her platinum blonde hair recently retouched at the roots. His Gloria sitting in his seat with the gorgeous red Manzoni carry on at her ankle.

His legs felt dead, like they had in his dream as the unseen assailant drove the knife between his shoulder blades.

And he understood now, as he saw Roly’s hairy paw clasp her French manicured hand and kiss it, why he’d been left waiting in line in the dream. Gloria and Roly were never coming. The knife wedged between his shoulders twisted and he felt his legs threaten to collapse.

This is your life Lawrence Pehngilly, said a voice none too like Morgan Freeman’s, that swirled in from the ether. If only you had actually listened to what your best mate had been telling you all along.

Author's Note: please feel free to give constructive criticism!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Light Years

This week's challenge: "A married couple sets out on a six-month adventure, living on their boat while sailing from port city to port city. By the fifth city, they are thoroughly sick of each other and their relationship takes a serious turn for the worse."

Liv gasped, “faster” and pushed her new body to keep pace. Wind cooled her sweat drenched body as it swept past, leaving faint traces of crushed grass and dew laden earth. She looked up and saw the clouds parting above her and the path in front of her lightening in the weak dappled light. Every nerve in her body screamed, she’d long ago hit the wall and had the rush of endorphins that followed. She needed to stop but she ploughed on. Running was the only thing that kept her mind clear, that gave her a sense of freedom. It allowed her to use the boundless energy that youth infused her body with.

This time it was so different and she was struggling to cope. She didn’t want to think about why she wasn’t coping. Jarred told her that she thought too much - she needed to relax. After all the intention of this trip, was to have fun. The last hurrah.

But it was all false.


The word was barely audible but the running simulator recognised it and the treadmill came to an immediate halt. Liv ran two faltering steps and then hunched over, each gulp of air searing her throat and her lungs.

The lights flickered on and she was standing in a small bare room. Like everything else on the ship, running was just a replica of the real thing; an expensive fake.

Liv crumpled into a sobbing heap, her tears merging with the perspiration to flow in thick rivulets over her flushed cheeks and down her neck. Tears she had tried to run from. Tears she had to hide.

Running was no longer a salve for the imprisonment she felt. You couldn’t simulate freedom – no matter how hard Jarred had tried to make it like the real thing for her. The dream had died and she didn’t have the heart to tell Jarred. He was busy ensconced by day in his book lined den and by night in the home theatre.

She wanted to go home.

But she was never sure. After almost 400 years she could not be certain of her own mind any more and it was disturbing. She had read voraciously about the Methuselah Method before they had agreed to take it for the first time and she had made it her responsibility to keep abreast of the latest developments – not just the scientific research by also the anthropological studies. She knew in the final stages that there was often significant degeneration of the mental faculties before physical deterioration began. That was why she kept her anxiety, her disenchantment and her yearning for home from Jarred. It was uncharacteristic and it would make Jarred suspicious first; then he’d worry.

Jarred deserved better from her.

This was their last time together. Finally they were perusing the dream they had had so many centuries ago conjured, wrapped in each others arms spent from making love and working 18 hours days between uni and part time jobs. Fantastised of when they were living on two minute noodles in run down share houses. They had dreamed of having the money to travel in style around the world. But almost four centuries the world had expanded out into the solar system and beyond.

The body could only take six treatments. Despite the technological advances in her extended life time, age regression therapy still only opened six windows of opportunity before the body rejected the manipulation. The body held stasis for a shorter period each time and the aging process hastened.

She and Jarred had six months maximum enjoying the youth and vigour of being 21 before they would slip into an accelerated aging process. They would both be dead in two years. Liv had always liked the idea that she would not live forever that biology would always put science back in its place. Now she wished for more time. She’d never imagined she’d be wasting the last of her youth like this.More and more she was preoccupied with how long it would last; days wasted stuck on the luxury interstellar cruiser Catalina.

Jarred laughed and dismissed the end with a churlish grin. He took it in his stride, like he did everything. Every case was different. There was no set forumulae to determine individual deterioration. Even the two year cap was a pie in the sky mark, with many patients dying well before the two years and many more after.

But they had wasted no time after the final treatment. Jarred suggested a six month voyage, taking in eight different space ports and without giving it a second thought she’d agreed.

Liv picked herself up off the floor of the simulators, grabbing a towel from a hook by the door and wiping her face and arms as she walked back to the sumptuous bedroom suite. It was all a masquerade though, the canopied four posted bed, the dresser and its accompanying ornate mirror, another chaise lounge and the immense wardrobe that took up one whole wall.

Punching a code into the wall a concealed door opened to the side of the mirror. The safe housed the holographic passports and travel documents of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, the marriage certificate of Lombard and Gable and the identification chips of Liv and Jarred Greene.

On the black market outpost of Sinope, a tiny moon of Jupiter, they’d had their identification chips removed and refitted, and passports and travel documents procured. Liv remembered the thrill of doing something illegal at her age – it was the same rush as smoking pot for the first time at uni with Jarred. They stayed on Sinope long enough to indulge in some cosmetic changes before jetting to Elara to be remarried as their Hollywood idols on a dramatic outcrop over looking the largest crater of the tiny moon..

It seemed insane now, to do have allowed herself to be swept up in the romance and spontaneity, without giving any thought to what six months in space would be really like. And it was crazy to do what she now intended to do, if Jarred found out there would be day’s long argument. But she had to know.

Right at the back was the tiny Methuselah chip.

In a drawer, beneath piles of bright, expensive lingerie, Liv found her hand held computer and eased the minute titanium chip into the dock at the rear, waiting as the computer accessed the chip. She touched the screen and brought up her treatments, transferring the data into a mathematical modelling programme. It was only then that she saw the discrepancy.

There were only five treatments logged.

Liv reverted to the original screen and stared in disbelief. Beside each treatment was the date, the name of the processor and the clinic and an estimated return date. Beside the latest entry was a return date seven years into the future.

Leaning into the mirror above the dresser Liv searched her face. Tracing her finger around the smooth skin around her eyes, where a month earlier there had been deeply etched crows feet. Her tawny eyes were bright and clear – gone the shadow of age. Her lips were full and plump and the flesh around devoid of laughter crevices; the skin on the back of her hands and throat tight and clear of liver spots. She had thought this was the last time she would be 25. Jarred had told her this was their last time.

Accessing Jarred’s information Liv wasn’t surprised to find the same discrepancy. How was it possible that Jarred, as meticulous as he was, had made such a grave error?

Returning the Methuselah chip to its protective covering and replacing it in the safe Liv tried to keep her mind focused on logic; the irrational threatened to run the gauntlet of her mental processes and destroy any hope she had of thinking, rather than reacting. While she had the wisdom of someone nearly 400 years old, she had the impulses of a 21 year old. It took all her self control not to fly into the library and slap her husband, demand an explanation.

She needed time to process her discovery before she confronted him.

After a hot shower Liv dressed and made her way down the long central corridor to her study. She paused at the portal of Jarred’s study to find him sprawled on his back across a chaise lounge with an ancient paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov clutched in one hand and his other arm folded under his head. He was the yang of her yin. Without saying a word she continued on.

At her desk she pulled out the fountain pen, heavy grade paper and bottle of green ink Jarred had given her on Europa as they’d both laughed that writing had come back into fashion after falling out of favour 350 years earlier. The retro revival of every 21st century made it a good time to be young again.

Liv wondered now if Jarred had not sabotaged the Com Deck and purposely but them out of contact. She scribbled a quick note to her best friend Marla and sealed it in the off white enveloped, then locking it in the top drawer.

They were headed for Reitsema, the exotic capital outpost of Larissa. Liv’s head was clustered with conspiracy theories about the trip, and counter conspiracy theories. She saw Jarred’s aloofness in a whole new light. Cold dread ran down her back. Three hundred and eight one years of marriage, one of the longest recorded nuptial arrangements and she felt like she didn’t know her husband at all.

How foolishly she had slued off her identity, readily disappearing into the shady genetics lounge on Sinope to have her thick lustrous black locks converted to the honey curls of her idol Lombard. And Jarred with his slicked black hair and dashing moustache. She’d been caught up in the romance that she’d missed the details.

She wondered about their hasty departure from Europa, then the sudden destination change from Phoebe to Hyperion. Then there was the moment on Pandora where she was certain the woman sitting at the bar had been taking more than a casual interest in them. Finally there was the decision to abandon the rest of the scheduled trip to strike out for the next solar Perseus arm of the Milky Way.

Warm lips caressing the throbbing carotid pulse on her neck snapped Liv back to the present. She contained the impulse to shudder realising she hadn’t heard Jarred enter the room.

“You seem stressed darling.”
“Cabin fever. How long until we reach Reitsema?”
“If the conditions hold up we should be docking in time for martinis at the Pelagus Bar.”

He pulled her to her feet and wound his arms around her.
“I’ve been elsewhere since we left Phobos. It’s a bit of a shock to the system to be retired from Greene Environments so suddenly and I’ve treated you abominably in the process. Let me make it up to you. We’ll drink martinis and dance until the sun comes up. I’ll buy you a new dress and a string of diamonds. And we will go to Ceres. I’ll take you horse back riding, we’ll camp out.”

He flipped her back into one arm and looked deep into Liv’s eyes and in his best Gable impersonation. "You're a woman after my own heart. Tougher than wagon leather, smarter than spit, and colder than January." Liv tried not to recoil when she remembered that line was from The King and Four Queens.

As Jarred slept off the martinis, Liv pulled a red trench coat on, stuffing a packet into an inside pocket. She hurried through marina, scanning the back of her hand at the gate and stepping out into the busy street.

The internal argument continued to rage as to what she should do, even though the letter in her pocket to Marla outlined exactly what she was going to do. The post office was easy enough to find and Liv lined up with other early morning customers, tapping the envelope against the side of her hand. The line moved slowly and she cast an eye over the paraphernalia that was straight of out a 2009 post office, back when she and Jarred were first dating.

When it was her turn she smiled and placed the envelope on the counter. I’d like to send this to the Moon please?
“That’s cute. Which moon love?”
“The Earth’s moon.”
“Ahh yea, the Moon. Sorry love, just had to double check. We get lots of smart arses in here.”

The elderly woman processed the transaction, scanning the back of Liv’s hand before she threw the letter into a bag behind her.
“How long will it take to get back to the Moon?”

The old woman laughed.
“Love this ‘aint a real post office like in them old days. We take your letters out the back, open, scan and send a digital impression to the recipient.”

The NewFeed screens above the counter had caught her attention as she was leaving.


A man beside her muttered under his breathe as Liv pushed past him in the narrow isle between the kids books and the game CDs. Her eyes were glued to the screen as she stumbled along in disbelief. Numerous photos of Jarred through the last three centuries as the building and development magnate were flashed up on the screen.


Shocked, Liv saw a current shot of her, appear next to one of Jarred was her photo. She was old in it. There was a moment of animated suspension where she could not will her legs to move and she braced for someone in the post office to knock her to the ground and perform a citizen’s arrest. Then the man beside her said, “Terrible business that.” “How so?” She turned, immediately defensive and then getting a hold of herself. He looked at her bemused, then smiled into her gorgeous face.
“You been livin’ under a rock? The entire residential dome development at Hellas Planitia imploded killing more than two million people at the start of the month. They say it was substandard building…”

But Liv didn’t hear anymore as she turned away from him and propelled herself out of the claustrophobic shop and back into the flotsam of the street, sucking in huge lung fulls of the sweet atmosformed air. She wished Jarred had a secret lover, even a lover in every port. She even wished that the trip had been a plot to kill her.

The vomit caught in the bottom of her throat when she thought of all the dead refugees and the work that she’d done to bring them to the safe haven of Hellas Planitia from war zones across the galaxy. Jarred - he had personally backed the project - bankrolled and built it from the ground up. She stopped walking for a moment. Jarred had lent his support despite his protectionst beliefs and his long abiding distrust of the galaxy’s jetsam.

So much for believing in a love that could ride out several life times.

Liv wasn’t going home to Phobos, like she had planned, too late to retrieve her letter to Marla. She wasn’t going back aboard the Catalina either.

Carole Lombard knew she’d be OK eventually - she was tougher than wagon leather, smarter than spit and colder than January.

Author's Note: Please feel free to offer up some constructive criticism as this is a piece I will be reworking for magazine submission.