Day 152: You are stuck on the highway in the world’s worst traffic jam for at least two days. What happens?

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Of course it’s summer. These stupid jams always happen when the temperature tops thirty Celcius. It’s already been six hours and we haven’t moved an inch. They’re saying on the radio that there’s a six car pile-up at junction seven and a jackknifed lorry at six.

‘We interrupt our regular broadcast to bring you an update on the traffic. Problems continue to build on the M830 following the two incidents at half two, with the recent revelation that the lorry at junction six was carrying an as yet undisclosed chemical that is delaying clean-up. For those trapped between six and seven, I am being told that emergency services will be moving along the hard shoulder to provide water and some kind of food. In other news…’

‘Great… Just what I wanted.’ I switched the stereo over to my phone, letting the sound of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff lull me to sleep.

***

A sharp rapping brought me from my doze. Night had apparently fallen from a great height and splattered itself around me. I’d slept through sunset completely.

‘Sir! We’ve got water and food for you. Is there anybody else in the vehicle?’ I was still bleary eyed from my sleep so just mumbled a no.’Very good, Sir. Wind down your window and I’ll pass this through.’ The bloke on the other side of the glass held up a brown paper bag and I was still groggy. I just couldn’t shift the cotton wool that seemed to be clogging my brain. I reached for the handle (I know, manual windows. Some of us are poor, so don’t judge) and the glass scratched its way down.

‘Cheers pal.’ I gratefully accepted the paper bag. Crackling in my hands, I pulled out a cheese sandwich. I didn’t think I was hungry, but my stomach violently disagreed when I saw the roll. I’m fairly sure they could have heard the gurgle in Mexico.

‘Sir, how are you feeling?’ The policeman asked, staring in. Was it just me, or did his face look, wrong?

‘I’m a lot better now I’ve got some food, thanks. What’s happening?’

‘They’re still working on the spill. But nothing can get through because of the issues in the other direction. ‘ Was his voice muffled? I couldn’t see him properly in the dark and he didn’t have a torch. God, that sandwich was so good. ‘Are you feeling any different to normal? Unwell?’

I wasn’t. Though my stomach was still churning. Perhaps he had more sandwiches? If he had any more bags. But he didn’t. ‘I’m fine, just dozy.’

‘Very well Sir. I’ll leave you to it.’ He started walking away, on to the next car. No, wait. He started walking towards the hard shoulder. Was he not bothering with anyone else?

I hate the feeling when a headache starts edging in. A dull ache on the edge of my brain, filtering through the cotton wool. I should probably sleep.

***

I’m itchy. Itchy, itchy, itchy. Scratch, scratch, scratchy mcscratch. Sounds like a bad DJ. Where did it come from? Where did it go?

Where did it come from Cotton Eye Joe! I’m so funny.

This car’s stupid. Ooo, there’s water on the glass. I can watch it go. Race, little raindrop, race! I want Paul to win.

I can hear something. The other people. Are they screaming? I don’t want screaming. I want, I want, I want sleep.

No, I shouldn’t…

***

Purple tastes strange. What time is it? Chico time! Ha. No, it’s tooth hurty. My teeth hurt. Why do they ache?

I’m chewing on something. It’s hard. I don’t like it. I’ll spit it out.

Heh, it’s white. And red. And funny. I could laugh at this for days. My tongue feels like it’s too big. Nom nom nom.

Am I crying? My face is wet. I must be crying. My hands are red. I got red hands. Out, damned spot!

Stringy stringy fingers, pulling away. Rips and tears. Rips and tears. They’re pulling away, I can’t hold anything. It’s raining blood.

Hallelujah!

I need to go now. Tinkerbell called and said it’s time to go to Neverland. Toodles. Tatty bye. Tata.

***

Government Report
M830

Following the tragic events of 12th June, an official inquest has been rendered into the disaster.

Preliminary reports show that the problems were caused by an inability to render assistance. The chemical, Oscar-Mike-Six-Five-Five, was revealed to be a bioweapon. Current investigations show that the event may have been an attack.

If so, this is the largest loss of life in a single attack. No groups are currently taking responsibility, but the current belief is the Old World Fanatics.

We have to believe that this is a gateway attack. Security measures have been increased throughout the country, but there is no further intelligence.

We, the undersigned, approve of the creation of the Special Measures Bureau under the direction of Lord Cromon.

I feel like I need a better acronym for the Special Measures Bureau, but that’s a task for another day. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

 

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Day 151: Your worst experience in gym class

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My palms are sweaty. Which is only going to help so much… I hate this part.

The rope.

I’m staring at it and from here it looks like it stretches to Heaven itself.

Even if it did, I wouldn’t be getting up it. Sign me up for Hell. At least it’s got a highway and I can drive there.

‘Okay, second team. Ready at the ropes.’ I’m in third team. Apprehensive. Always was better with my words than with my muscles. Chalk’s on my palms now. Magnesium carbonate. Designed to get a better grip. Helps with climbing.

Sweats just making it run off though, like it’s trying to escape. It doesn’t want to see what’s going to happen.

‘Third team, time to go. Get a good grip. Michaels, you are to get off the floor this time!’ That’s me. Never even got off the floor.

I’ve got the rope between my hands. Rough, scratchy against my skin. Fingers are better for typing, not this useless physical. I don’t want to be here. I can feel my skin shredding already.

There it was. The whistle. Straight through my head. Stabbing my brain. Raise my hands up, gripping tight. Screw my eyes shut, start pulling. I can feel the strain in my muscles, biceps are burning. Pull, Richard, pull. Then you can go shower, get yourself sorted. Pull. You’re doing it, you’re doing it, that’s it!

Wait, what’s that sound? So focused on the rope.

Is that… laughter?

Open my eyes and there they are. Everybody, pointing and laughing. Even Fat Michael, out of breath is descending and laughing with those stupid belly laughs. Pointing.

At me. Just like everyone else.

I’m sat on the floor with my hands clasped to the rope above me. ‘Son, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who finished lower on the rope than he started. Hit the showers!’

I can feel the tears starting in my eyes, the burning. I can’t take it. I run, run run run. Got to get away.

Raise your hands if you weren’t good at sports? Yeah, that’s me. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

 

 

Day 150: You are a serial killer. What TV shows are on your DVR list? Why?

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‘Sweetie, I brought dinner!’ Joseph said as he walked through the door. Two bags hanging from his hands, struggling as the scent of freshly fried chips wafted through the house. He could hear the kids playing in the sitting room, cries about lava and who died this time floating through the hallway. He kicked the door shut with a tan brogue, the bag of chips just catching against the charcoal trouser of his suit and leaving a streak of grease. ‘Aww man, I love this suit.’

He danced down the hallway, stepping gingerly through the maze of children’s toys and various pieces of parenting debris. ‘Joseph, honey? I’m in the kitchen.’ Monica yelled from the kitchen, straining her voice to be heard over the cacophony from the children. Clearly the lake of lava had spread through to the tiled floor where she was standing. ‘Can you come and distract the kids? I’m trying to bake the fairy cakes for the PTA meeting.’

He blustered in, dumping the chips on the table as he scooped up his children in a bear hug. ‘Rargh! The lava monster rises!’

‘No! Not the lava monster!’ Joanna and Edgar ran from their father. ‘The monster, the monster!’ He chased them from the room, sweeping them from beneath their mother’s feet. She paused from her baking to kiss her husband on the lips, before kicking him back through the door.

‘Do you want to dish up? I’m just going to go and change, managed to get grease on the suit again.’

‘Fine, but don’t forget to put your suit in for dry cleaning tomorrow!’ He smiled at her, shouted through to his children that he’d be through in a minute and made his way upstairs. He took off his suit as he did everything else, carefully and methodically, staring into his reflection.

Slightly greying hair, framed his wrinkled face from which two green eyes stared back. He raised a hand to his greying eyebrows, smoothing them down from their wild attempts at escape. A wholly average man living a wholly average life.

He turned to the plasma TV hanging on the wall, raising the remote like a pistol. Flicked through to his recordings, scrolling down the list past all of his wife’s crap, Desperate Housewives, Say Yes to the Dress and all of those period dramas. Reached the history portion, the battlefield tales, flicked through to the million episodes of NCIS and CSI. He started pulling on tracksuit bottoms as The Who’s Baba O’Reilly started flowing from the speakers.

‘I’m here in the field…’ He sang, pulling an old t-shirt over his head. Doing a little dance around the room when Monica yelled up the stairs.

‘Joseph! All dished up!’

He put all thoughts out of his mind and headed back down to his family. Chewed through some time before retiring to his office.

Turned on his DVR and flicked through. ‘Harold Winters, 12th December 1989. Baseball bat.’ H paused for a moment, relaxing back into the black leather chair, letting it swallow him into the darkness. ‘Yes, that was a good one…’

Serial killers. Just like us, but more killer-ey. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

 

Day 149: The oldest item in your possession

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Grandfather’s watch. It sits on his old desk, a brass ship in a sea of mahogany, but it’s mine. I know it is, because he sat me down in the cracked leather of the armchair and said ‘Timothy, one day this’ll be yours. But you gotta be careful, eh lad. It’ll get the better of you, unless you catch it quick.’

I didn’t know what he meant back then. Now I do.

Now I know the power of that goddamn watch.

Just a short one today. A snapshot of a much larger story. Things are a little hectic and my brain is full of empty space where I need ideas for a political satire story. Any ideas you’ve got for that, I’m all ears.

The Idiot in Tin Foil 

Day 148: Describe a room in your house

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I’ve never trusted the cellar.

Hunkered down in the dark, it’s like it’s waiting for something. It exudes hostility, letting a little more of its anger out every time anyone dares to cross its borders. It is the place of forgotten things, odd things, shoes without a partner and the like. The leftovers and the unwanted, all of them doomed to rot in the cellar.

It’s simultaneously too hot and too cold, the walls slick with the humidity as a soul-chilling breeze flows through. The lights are effectively useless, doomed to flicker like candles and throw vile shadows that spread throughout the moisture on those painted bricks.

Dad kept the guns down there. ‘Safest place for them.’

I wasn’t so sure. The evil in that room was sure to spread, especially to tools such as those. I refused to even cross the threshold into that place. Somebody else always had to go instead.

It is an evil room. Something is waiting for me inside it, a beast that snores with a low hum. Disguised by the washing machine, but I know it’s there, hiding in the shadows on the wall, the moisture in the air, the chill on the wind.

The monster is hiding in the basement. Waiting…

So, let’s go off book. I recently stayed at a lovely little house in France, but there was the stereotypical creepy staircase with a wooden door at the bottom. The door had a key on a bit of string attached to the handle, but on the inside. Naturally, this conjured up all sorts of images (despite the obvious reason) and that is partly where today’s story comes from. Enjoy!

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 147: Write a story in which each sentence will begin with a different letter of the alphabet, beginning with the letter A, and moving sequentially i.e., B, C, D, and so forth.

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‘Ahoy, friend. Be you well?’ Caliban called across the water to the boat heading towards him. Darkness had fallen swiftly over the still waters of Xuangong, a veil of silence drowning the city in stillness. Echoes of his voice rolled through the night, but there was no response forthcoming from the other vessel.

Fingers curling around the pole in his rugged hands, his little boat cut through the glassy surface. Going forward, he promised himself, there would be no more night voyages. He was getting too old for the chill and the danger, let alone the exercise. ‘I’ll save myself for the tourists and the sun.’

Just at that moment, a horn sounded. Kilometres away or mere yards away, in the still night it was impossible to tell. Leaning heavily on the pole, he drew his little boat to a stop.

‘Maybe it was out in the harbour?’ No sign of the earlier vessel, not that the horn could have come from that. ‘Oh no, what if I’ve strayed too far out? Perhaps I should turn back.’ Quizzical, confused, scared, all of these emotions pass across his face as he begins the turn, only to find that the fog has crept its way around him. Really, there was only one option left to him.

Surrender to the elements. The sea would be more forgiving than a ship colliding with him, especially if he’d drifted as far as he thought possible. Undercurrents would pull him towards the sewers, eventually. ‘Very classy way to travel.’

Where he’d end up though, that was in the hands of the currents. Xuangong was known for claiming the victims that entered its waters, merciless and unrelenting, but still safer than waiting for collision. Yesterday, everything had seemed so perfect, but what was left of that feeling?

Zilch. Zip all. Zero.

‘1, 2, 3, jump!’

This was a tricky one. Having to be so conscious of each and every sentence, ready for the next letter. But still, managed it!

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 146: Put yourself or your character in a place where you feel vulnerable and uneasy.

 

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He stood alone. All around him, people moved and swayed in time to the melodies floating through the air but there he was, sturdy and still as a rock being battered by the waves of humanity. The ebbs and swells, all surrounding him and forcing him to move but he remained grounded. Resolutely anchored to his point at the bar.

‘Would you care to dance, sir?’ She asked, rosy cheeks and warm smile. He shook his head, clutching to the thin brass railing around the bar as a lifeline. The cheek of the girl, to approach him in such a common fashion, as if her blonde tresses would lure him onto that perilous dance floor. She shrugged and danced away, accosting some other young fellow to do the tango. An offence to good nature, all of it.

A drink slid his way and he picked it up. He could feel the throb of the engines below him, pulsing through the floor as they fought against nature to keep the ship in the sky. That was where he belonged, amongst his machines and their mechanical perfection. That was a dance he could follow, one of gears and steam. Technology was his bandmaster and in those moments, he could dance.

‘Sir.’ The blonde girl had returned, breaking him from his reverie. ‘I really must insist on a dance. None of the other gentlemen will dance with me, but I feel that you will at least do the charitable thing and allow me one dance.’

The young man sighs, draining his drink in a single gulp and held his arm out to the young lady, brass buttons gleaming against the uniform blue fabric. ‘I do hope you realise that all of my instincts are telling me not to?’

‘Then what better man to dance with than one who is in such control of instincts and himself?’ She grinned as she pulled him onto the dance floor, the band striking up a waltz.

‘One, two, three, one, two three…’ He counted to himself, forcing his feet to stay in time as opposed to going with the engines. A four cylinder waltz, eight steps at a time. He could hear the beat in his heart, prowling up through the decks to distract him from the Captain’s damnable party. ‘One, two, three…’

‘Truly, Sir, you don’t have to count. It flows better if you just feel the music.’ She said, following his lead as they twirled around the floor. Other couples were taking a break, moving to the booths of the mahogany panelled ballroom, leaving nothing but him and the blonde girl. ‘Sir, dance to the rhythm you can feel. I’ll follow your lead.’

It was as if she could hear his thoughts, freeing him from the confines of the party and releasing him to his own enjoyment. His buckled shoes picked up the pace and she began to laugh, a soft tinkle that flowed into his ears. This was a real laugh, not like the polite titters he had heard when the stokers were making jokes to the ladies. ‘One, one, two, two, three, three, four, four. Two cylinders, slightly off beat. Always keeping power.’ They twirled and her blonde hair flew out behind her, blue eyes sparkling in the candlelight. Twirling and twirling until he forgot everything. His engines, the party, all of it. Nothing existed but the girl.

They slowed to the sound of applause. The entire party, clapping them down from wherever they had gone as their pace slowed to match the dwindling engines. A soft crackle broke through the noise, followed by a low, commanding voice.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Deputy Captain speaking. I’d like you all to know that we are now arriving at Purlington. As you should know, Purlington will be an overnight stopover as we take on further pneumarion supplies. You may stay on board, or seek other appropriate lodgings in town. I have been advised that Hotel Caliban is an exceptional stay.’ A slight cough, muffled by the fact that he clearly drew away from the audiophone, then his voice returned. ‘If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask the crew. The India Star will be leaving at 1600 hours tomorrow. Please be aboard and in you cabins by this time. Thank you for your patience.’

While the captain had been speaking, the blonde girl had disappeared. The young man searched for her, briefly, before returning to the bar and his drink. The memory of the Steam Dance would stay with him for the rest of his days.

I started writing the story of a barbarian at a dinner party, when I got thoroughly disillusioned with it and began again. This story is what followed. Let me know your thoughts.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Aside: Thoughts on parallel worlds

If a new parallel world is created every time a choice is made, what happens if two separate parallel worlds conceive a feasible concept for time travel, travel back to the point at which their worlds diverged and attempted to change it? 

I’m sure there’s some paradox kicking around here, but I can’t work it at the moment. Any ideas?

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 145: Getting hit by lightning

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Shrink dashed for the woods, chasing a squirrel or some other small animal. ‘Shrink! Come on! Get back here!’ The first drops of rain landed on my burning skin, soothing it for the shortest of moments before that burning heat came back. I’d been feeling under the weather for weeks, but today was bad. ‘Shrink! You stupid dog!’ I charged after him, booted feet squelching in the boggy ground as if it was trying to pull me in.

I wish it had done. It would have saved me and everyone else from everything that came after.

Shrink paid me no mind, dashing onwards into the woods with a bark and a howl. His natural predator only every came into play when it was starting to rain. In the sun, or the crisp autumn air, he’d walk dutifully by my side. But no, the second the rain starts, the wolf takes over and Shrink becomes Hunter McHunterface. ‘Shrink! Where are you?’ I shouted at the birch trees surrounding me.

The only response was a distant howl and a rumble of thunder.

I followed the howl, fallen branches and leaves from red to gold crunching underfoot. The darkness started creeping in as the clouds moved overhead, bringing with them the first flashes of lightning. Everything around me was water, soaking me through to my burning skin.

It was refreshing. For the first time in months, I felt cool. ‘Shrink!’ I called as I burst through into a clearing.

It had to be a man-made clearing, perfectly circular. The remains of what could have been a stone circle sat in the middle and there, grinning around the corpse of the squirrel in his mouth, sat Shrink. His tail wagged rapidly, water droplets spraying onto the stones around him. ‘Shrink, you little bastard. Come here.’

I took a step towards him, holding his lead in my left hand and whistling. That’s when it happened.

It started with the trees around the clearing, one by one a thunderous rapture descending in a cascade of light. Every one beginning to burn instantly, even in the deluge. It only got worse from there.

It seemed to happen in slow motion, each of the hairs on the back of my hand standing on end like spikes in a pit. The crackling came shortly afterwards, running up my arm. I felt my heartbeat increasing, pounding out a rhythm that nobody could dance to. The air turned to white, harsh white stabbing into every square inch of my burning skin.’Shrink!’ I cried, but he’d disappeared in the haze of monochrome, as did everything else. I felt the shock blast me off my feet and hurl me towards the centre of the circle.

The rhythm fell silent. I felt my own heartbeat stop. I felt myself die.

Three minutes is a long time when you’ve died. But you know how they say that lightning never strikes twice?

It did here. Three minutes and forty two seconds later, a second bolt of lightning fell from the skies like Thor’s Hammer and struck me in the heart. I gasped, the rain trying its best to drown me as I lay in the ever increasing puddle. I reached up towards the sky, which is when it happened.

Lightning. From my fingers, flashing to every tree surrounding me, contributing to the hellfire that swirled and grew in ferocity with each passing second. Flames that crept towards me, vicious and barely held back. I passed out for a second time, but at least my heart kept beating this time.

***

I found out later that fourteen people were struck by the same storm as me. Fourteen separate lives changed, not all of them for the better. I kept my gift quiet… But it caught up with me. When the Good Doctor knocked at my door.

Everybody loves an origin story, especially me. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 144: Summarise your dog’s life in fewer than four paragraphs

 

sidneyIt was a memorable first encounter, to say the least. He was excitable, a big, blonde ball of stupid, four years old (or at least, that’s what we were told) and “too boisterous for a family with young children.” So they said, do you want to take him for a walk, see what he’s like? My parents new then that we weren’t leaving without that dog. But we took him out, each of us walking him for a small stretch. I took my turn, began to run with him down this small length of road when he, being an excitable ball of stupid, decided he was going to leap across a ditch. Me, being a bit of a runt at the time, got dragged along behind him.

But this just endeared him to us more. We took him home that very day, sitting in the back of Dad’s four wheel drive, full of life, wagging tail almost strong enough to leave bruises. We got him home and he began running in circles, all around the house. Exploring, sniffing, nose into every corner, asserting his dominance by running away from the neighbours’ cat. He came back inside, walked slowly around in a circle, then flumped himself in front of the wood burning stove. It didn’t even matter to him that it wasn’t lit at the time.

We bonded, him and I, over our mutual love of video games. I would sit for hours, losing myself in the majesty of the created world. He just loved lazing around doing nothing for hours at a time. We’d go out for a walk, then come back and get some quality time playing Final Fantasy, him snoring his head off as I lay on the floor with my head resting against him. He was a wonderful dog. Then I went to uni and seeing him became less common. But every time, it was as if I’d never left. He’d bound up to me, goofy and grinning, waiting for a fuss and for me to turn on that Playstation 2.

I was at University when I got the phone call. My mum, in tears, calling to let me know that he had to be put down. It was a travesty. He should have had years left. He’d already pulled through before, but… Not this time. It was kinder to him, but still I feel like he was taken from me. Too soon. Forever later would be too soon.

Well, this one’s from the personal side of things. Sidney was a wonderful piece of idiot and a wonderful friend. As I said, forever later would be too soon. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil