Day 284:Write a message in a bottle. Write about the person who finds it.

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Stanley Livingstone leaves his house at thirteen minutes past seven every morning. He is dressed in his high-visibility jacket, his running trousers and his bright red trainers, a Christmas present from a well-meaning but fashion unconscious relative. He checks his fitness tracker and starts his music playing as he sets off.

The sounds of repetitive bass fills his mind, pushing out all his thoughts of the day ahead. There is nothing but him and the music as he heads towards the beach. Stanley loves it at this time, when he doesn’t have to dart around tourists and dog walkers. He can even, should he so wish, get right down to the water and run through the spray.

On this day, he does so. His trainers sink slightly as he powers across the sand, pushing himself to the limit. He feels like he has to work the stress out this morning, as he’s got a very full day ahead.

Suddenly, his foot strikes an object hidden in the sand and he goes flying. He sees the ground rushing up toward him, barely with time to swear to himself before he’s sprawled in the sand. He flips onto his back to look at the thing that tripped him, to find a green bottle sitting in the sand. He starts to get up, only to pause.

There’s a piece of paper in the bottle.

He pulls the bottle from the sand’s grip and peers inside. The paper is tightly rolled, held in its coil by a lady’s hair tie. He considers, then decides to head home. His routine has already been disrupted and at forty-four minutes past seven the crossroads always gets blocked.

When he gets back to his flat, he places the bottle on his breakfast bar as he makes his food. The paper is sitting in his mind, niggling until he can’t take it any more. He picks the bottle from the table and slowly eases the cork from the neck. He’s never been one for mysteries but this has caught his attention.

The paper slides from the bottle easily and lands in his accepting palm. He quickly unfurls it and begins to read…

To whomever finds this note,
I had to write this down. I had to get my story out in the hope that somebody trustworthy will find it. My partner and I have followed this as far as we can, but the 
Molly May is sinking. We are far from the shipping lanes between the Cape of Good Hope and the Western tip of Australia. We thought that we’d found it.
We were wrong.
Now, if you find this note and I pray that you do, go to Hannigan’s in Perth. Take this note and apologise to Hoskin that we lost his boat.
We must have made a mistake with the Verses. Hoskin has a copy. Get them and go to Isobel McCluskey at ANU. Maybe she’ll find something in the physical copy that we missed.
Whoever you are, I hope this works out for you. I’m sorry.
Anna Harris and Peter Williams

Stanley looked at the note. He was still looking at the note when his mobile phone began to ring.

“Stan? It’s Jerry. Look, there’s been a change of plan. We need you to go to the Perth office.” Stanley said nothing, just looked at the phone then back to the note. This couldn’t be a coincidence. This was all a hoax, a big joke that they were playing on him. Perhaps everyone would be waiting at this Hannigan’s bar to laugh at him. “Stan? Stan? You gonna say something or you just gonna leave me hanging?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll do it.”

“Great, we’ll send you the email ticket. You’ve got the company card still, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Excellent. You’re meeting some of our top clients out there, so take the good suit.” With that, Jerry hung up. No goodbye, no sign off, just the end of the conversation and a dead phone line.

“Ask for Hoskin. The Verses.” He muttered to himself as he went to pack. “Hmph.”

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 283: Why your boss should give you a raise.

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“Marisa, please send in Mr Carmichael.” The voice that came through the small speaker was tinny and distant, but still drove fear into Geoffrey’s heart like a spike. He rose slowly from the small plastic chair that seemed to belong in a child’s classroom than the waiting room of his boss, then headed through the door with a gulp.

Inside, there was a second small plastic chair in front of a large mahogany desk. Behind the desk sat his boss, Mr Zebub. Geoffrey couldn’t see his face as he was shrouded in darkness, but upon the desk lay mounds and mounds of food. It ranged from fantastical creations of spun sugar and delicate chocolate all the way through to a sad, lonely McDonald’s cheeseburger, deflated in its wrapper. “Mr Carmichael,” he said, slurping his way around the words, “I understand you’re here to discuss your pay?”

“That’s right, Sir.” Geoffrey moved forward to the small chair, briefcase held in his white-knuckled hand. “I’d like to petition for a raise.”

“This should be interesting. Go on.” A hand appeared from the darkness, folds of fat bulging around a ruby ring on every finger. It snatched up the cheeseburger then disappeared back into the dark. The sound of a cheeseburger being swallowed whole echoed around the large office.

“Well, Sir, I’m the best employee here. I’m a good worker.”

“Pah, none of you are good enough.”

“I’ve been effectively running my department following the budget cuts. I seamlessly integrated O’Leary’s role with my own following his termination.” Carmichael hesitated on the word termination, feeling his Adam’s apple move in his throat like a target for a hungry wolf.”

“Well, that’s in the job description.”

“Was the Uprising in the description, Sir? Seeing as I led the seventh floor in the charge that “won the day”, including the retaking of the prints and supplies cupboard, along with the break room.”

“True, I’m not sure how we’d have coped without the coffee. Jenkins barely survives without the stuff.” Zebub slurped and snorted, the hand once again emerging to snatch a precariously balanced muffin. “Then there’s Donna and her staples. She’s a madwoman with that bloody stapler.”

Carmichael gave a small cough, raising his slender fingers to his mouth. “Indeed. I also redirected the attentions of Miss Kimberley Watts, age seven and a quarter, away from the more secretive aspects of the building. Even after she was most insistent.”

“I did tell the higher-ups that “Bring Your Child To Work Day” was a bad plan. Even so, it’s definitely all there in the description. Take a look.” A piece of paper unfurled from the desk, rolling down to stop at Geoffrey’s feet. At the bottom were four lines of writing, detailing everything he’d just said. He pressed his finger against it and found that the ink was still wet. “See, right there in the description. Now, if that’s all, I’ve heard rumours about the Ninth having a party after work and I want to see if there’s a buffet.”

Carmichael stood up and turned to leave. He looked around the dark office, the portraits hanging on the walls, then wheeled back round. “Actually, Sir, that’s not all. You see, I also have a number of photos to show you.”

Zebub’s chair creaked as he leaned forward. “Photos? I’ve never really been one for art.”

“I think you’ll like these.” The briefcase popped open and the first photo was removed. It showed a shadowy bedroom, with Zebub’s secretary lying naked on a bed and a fat hand with a distinctive ruby ring on each finger working its way up her thigh. “How would your wife feel about this photo, Mr Zebub?”

Zebub’s laugh shook the windows. “She knows! You think you can come in here and blackmail me with some pictures of me screwing the secretary? My wife sometimes joins in! Come one, Geoff, either try harder or get the fuck out of my office.”

Carmichael smiled to himself. His next photo was a surefire raise winner. He passed it to Zebub, who snatched it from his trembling hand.

Fifteen minutes later, Carmichael walked out of the office holding a signed agreement for an increase in his salary. He looked down at the photo of an extremely fat man holding an oversized cheque for £1,000,000. The recipient, in this case, had been the British Heart Foundation. The photo below showed another cheque going to UNICEF. Then one for Make A Wish. Fifteen photos in all. He looked back at the glass-fronted door and the words etched in gold on its frosted surface.

B. L. Zebub
Prince Of Hell (Gluttony)

It wasn’t always a fun job, but Geoff got by. There were certainly worse places to work than Hell.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 282: Write a story in which you are the villain.

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“Now remember, children, when the Earthshaker comes…” Mrs Huntsman looked out across her assembled pupils, waiting for their standard chorused response.

“Remember to run!”

“Very good. Now, run along home. I must get back to work.” She saw the class file out, one after the other, all scuttling home to their parents. All except for Jonathan. “Can I help?”

“I don’t believe in the Earthshaker.” He said, flatly. “I think he’s been made up so that we don’t go into the Great White Expanse.”

“My boy, I assure you that he exists. Can you not feel the earth tremble, the winds howl as he moves?” She shuddered. “Please, Jonathan, just go home.”

But Jonathan did not go home. He left her class and wove his way instead to the Great White Expanse. As he looked across the strange, bow-like landscape, he thought he saw something at the bottom of the slope. “I must see what it is.” He said to himself, taking a tentative step forward. Unfortunately, the sides of the Expanse were slippery and he quickly lost his footing, sliding all the way to the bottom. “What is this?” He said, wheeling around to look. He charged at the steep slopes beside him, only to find himself sinking back down.

“Help!” He called out to anyone who would listen, but nobody came here. They were all too afraid of the Earthshaker. “Fine. Since I’m stuck here for a while, I’ll investigate.”

The object he had seen from the top of the slope was a hair, curled around on itself but still almost the size of him. It lay next to a small pool of water. “But this is enclosed!” He cried, running around the hair. “Where has the water come from?”

A deafening noise rolled across the plain. Jonathan’s eyes swiveled up to find a monstrous creature, one hundred times his size if not more, and the earth began to shake. The Earthshaker had arrived. Jonathan called out, but the Earthshaker picked something from the wall with a long and gangling limb, all the while with the great noise crashing through the air. The waters came from the Earthshaker’s weapon, and quickly engulfed Jonathan. He curled his legs up to his body and whispered, “I believe in the Earthshaker.” Then, like that, he was gone.

***

Andrew placed the showerhead back on the wall, and muttered to himself, “Bloody spiders.”

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 280: Put two characters, each of whom wants something from the other, in a room together.Neither of them is allowed to ask for it straight out. Give them five minutes with only dialogue to get what they want.

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“My Lady, the Baruvian delegation has arrived.”

Ilyanna Seabreeze looked around the room. Her courtiers all looked at her with the last hopes in her eyes. “Very well. Send in Lord Baristojk. I will treat with him alone.”

“But, my Lady,” The Magus, Bortian, looked up in horror. “He is Baruvian! Evil itself spawned there, and…”

“Are we to judge the sins of a nation by the actions of one wayward son?” Ilyanna shook her head, sadly. “I will not be the one to plunge my nation into the grip of mass hysteria. Send in the Lord. Then, once formal introductions have been managed, you will all leave us.”

The courtiers and attendants looked at each other. This was a breach of the standard protocol, but what were they to do? The Light of Pernicia had spoken. While they all grumbled, they did as they were bidden. The crowds petered out to leave them alone. Lord Baristojk of Baruvia, haughty and standoffish, and the Lady Seabreeze, radiant and hopeful.

“Ilyanna.”

“Lord Baristjok, within this hall you will refer to me as “My Lady” or “Lady Seabreeze”. You surrendered your right to abandon formalities long ago.”

“Very well, my Lady. You know why I have come.”

“I do indeed. However, it has to be said that I am loathe to hear your requests.” Ilyanna sniffed and tried to look down her nose at him. She knew she should have asked for the throne to be placed on a raised platform. As it were, he simply stood tall and stared directly at her with his deep blue eyes.

“Lady Seabreeze, the Gemstone Rebels have taken Pravia. Within forty eight hours, they could be marching upon Baruvia.”

“Yet you have none to blame but yourself. Had you kept a tighter leash on the Lion Cub, we wouldn’t be having this issue.”

Anger blazed in Lord Baristojk’s eyes and his next sentence came through gritted teeth. “Ilyanna, I came to treat with you fairly. If you consider this an excuse to belittle me and to discuss my faults-”

“Olja, your faults are numerous and indescribable. My statements are exactly that – statements of facts. Now, unless you are prepared to state your business directly, I have no further time for you. So,” she said, eking out every last drop of venom she could find, “Why are you here?”

The Lord Baristojk stared at her, then turned on his heel. His long strides took him to the entranceway quickly, but then he lingered. A hand, calloused and scarred from countless hours of training with sword and axe, rested on the handle. “You know why I came, Ilyanna. Leave me my pride, at least.” He pulled open the door and began to walk through. His last words dawdled in their passage to Ilyanna, long enough for the door to have closed behind him. “I’m sorry for the past, Ilyanna.”

The courtiers streamed back into the room following his departure. “My Lady, are you okay?” The Magus asked, looking at her rigid form. “Has he hexed you?”

Ilyanna broke from her reverie. “No, I am fine. I got what I wanted from the meeting. Now it is time to see to it that he gets what he wants.”

“And what is that, Lady Seabreeze?”

“We will send the Twelfth Legion to Pravia. They mobilise tonight.”

In this piece, I wanted there to be a mystery. What’s going on, who wants what? In the end, deciding on my character having very different desires for the meeting was easy. Baristojk wants support to defend his nation and is acting on a political level, while Ilyanna wants an apology. I haven’t decided what Baristojk did just yet, but I’m fairly sure it was bad that Ilyanna holds a grudge. 

Still, everyone got what they wanted in the end?

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 279: Finding a bag of cash

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When you find a large sack full of money in your back garden, it’s going to be either a very good day or a very bad day. In my case, it was the latter.

It started like every other day. I got out of bed, complained that my joints ached, walked to the bathroom, then complained that it was too bright. I got into the shower, complaining at different times that it was both too hot and too cold. I finished up in the bathroom, then headed downstairs for some breakfast. Shame there were only cornflakes. Own-brand and everything, none of this Kellogg’s nonsense around here.

I even complained that there was nobody to complain to. But nobody listened.

Then, as I was taking the bins out and complaining about the smell, I fell over. Some bloody idiot leaving bags of rubbish all over my path. I’d turned round to check it (and hopefully find out who’s it was so I could gut the little bastard like a kipper) when I saw it. A five pound note, one of the new ones that look like bloody Monopoly money, stuck to the stones.

And another. Then more, all lying on the ground like sunbathers on a beach.

I finally opened the bag I’d fallen over. Instead of seeing what I expected, namely a few kilos of food waste and some rotting cardboard, I found a bin liner full of new five pound notes.

And my bloody leg hurt where I’d fallen over! That was only the start, though. I’m stuck with a bag of fivers, a dodgy leg and a bowl of wilting cornflakes in the kitchen. You’d think the only way was up.

It wasn’t. The men arrived at three. In their dark suits and their flash car that ran over my petunias. Bastards.

They never apologised. Of course, if you’re not going to apologise for ruining something as precious as my garden, I’m certainly not going to tell you where the money is.

I may complain, but I’ve got my pride.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 274: A man jumps from the fortieth story of a building. As he’s passing the twenty-eighth floor, he hears the phone ring and regrets that he jumped. Why?

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Deep breaths.

Take deep breaths and let the energy you know is there flow through you. How hard has it been? You thought it would be wonderful, that the power would make you happy. You’d go sailing through the skies, saving people. Put on the spandex and the mask and nobody knows who you are, right?

You thought you had it all sewn up. You’d be a hero.

But you’re not. You’re nothing. You’re nobody.

You could have been so much more. You could have done something with your life, but instead we find you here on the rooftop thinking about jumping. Why the roof? So that you’ve got time to fly away if you change your mind?

Most people only have to focus for a moment. They just have to find the courage to step off the ledge. But you? You have to concentrate the whole way down. You have to do nothing, you have to fight to do nothing. You’ll have to ignore that buzzer, connected to the police scanner. You’ll have to ignore the screams of anguish from those people below. You’ll have to do nothing at all, and focus on hitting the floor.

Can you do that? Can you focus? Does it count as victory if you go through with it?

What about the people you’ve hurt by doing it? Are you a hero or not? This is your last ditch attempt to get away. You’d turn yourself into a villain to do it. Most villains can only hurt someone physically, perhaps mentally. It takes a special kind of evil to rip emotions to shreds. You’ll hurt everyone you love far more than any of your villains could.

But that’s fine. You’re selfish. You claimed the powers, you deal with the consequence. It’s all you. So, do it.

Wait, what are you doing? You’re not actually going through with it, are you? Step away. Now. Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t be serious about this.

Well, now you’ve gone and done it. I hope you can focus, all the way down to the ground. It’ll be tricky. You’ll have to keep in mind everything. The thought of those people on the pavement as you hit. All of it.

That’s floor thirty. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Oh dear, there goes the Batphone. Somebody needs saving. Go on, pull up. Change your mind. Go and save them.

 

 

 

 

I knew you’d do it. Just so full of regret. Go and save everybody else and hate yourself.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 272: The secret that, if revealed, would upset everything.

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Deep in the Caverns of Alanor, far below the city, lie the Gauntlets of Prospero. The legends say that those who wield the Gauntlets shall also wield the power of Prospero himself, a great and terrible king from aeons past. Many have sought out this power, but none have returned. The legends talk of worth, of purity and of power regarding the true heir to Prospero’s legacy, yet even great heroes such as Blunir Caracatoom, Phileon the Merciless, Prontalimus, all perished in the course of their quest.

Jennifer Wellsbury, seventeen years old and currently studying for her A-levels in biology, chemistry and politics, has none of the usual qualifications of those searching for the Gauntlets. She is a regional fencing champion, it’s true, but never performed well at nationals. Her past deeds include the rout of the mouse that was living under the kitchen cupboard and the return of her mother’s lost glasses. She is not native to this land, nor does she own any maps.

Yet here she is. She has avoided the rolling boulder traps, the spike gates, the poison darts, the trapdoors, the sand pits, the spike pits, the attack birds, the attack lion, the explosion traps and even the Guardian Beast. So now we join her, unlikely as it was, outside the Nexus. The home of the Gauntlets.

###

“Maybe this one is a way out,” she says to the empty air, rolling her eyes as she realises that she’s talking to empty air, “or it could be another trap.”She picked the note from her pocket, staring at the five words printed in bold typeface.

Get the Gauntlets. Get Home.

She pushed open the door to reveal a hall carved out of glistening stone, torches burning brightly in holders. Pillars stretch up as far as the eye can see to a domed roof. A single ray of sunlight burns through like a laser beam, illuminating a pedestal at the centre of the room.

She cast her head from left to right, checking for any and all of the traps she’s seen on this insane misadventure. Ever since she woke up on a bed of leaves in a dark forest with a note taped to her arm, something has been trying to kill her. And she thought it was bad when she’d woken up on Alfie’s sofa last week.

She crept forward, looking out for strangely coloured flagstones that could be triggers, anything out fo the ordinary. She knew that binge-watching the Indiana Jones trilogy every weekend (Crystal Skull doesn’t count) would come in handy, she’d always said it. She made her way up the three steps, three careful steps. She took a deep breath and peered at the item on the top.

“What? This is a pair of long, silk gloves? What the hell is this?” She picked them up, looking at the intricate patterns winding their way up the sleeves.

“Put them down! Put them back!” A voice, deep and rumbling, came from behind her. She whirled around to see an elderly man, short and pot bellied, waddling across the floor. “Nobody must touch the Gauntlets of Prospero!”

“Umm, okay crazy dude. I’ll pop these back down here…” She placed them delicately on the pedestal, only to be shoved rudely out of the way.

“That is not how the Gauntlets were laid out! Were you never told? You must always put things back how you found them!” The deep voice appeared to have been a trick of the cavern, as next to her now the man’s voice was squeaky and insistent, burrowing through her ears painfully.

“So, those are the Gauntlets?”

“Of course. The Gauntlets of Prospero!”

“Do you have to shout everything you say?”

“No! I am simply amazed that you are here! Nobody has ever made it this far. They didn’t survive the rolling boulder traps, the spike gates, the poison darts, the trapdoors, the sand pits, the spike pits, the attack birds, the attack lion, the explosion traps and even the Guardian Beast. Is Kevin alright, by the way?” The man spoke as if he were firing a machine gun, loud and staccato. It was as if he had a time limit on his speech and would be shot if he went over.

“Kevin?”

“The Guardian Beast.”

“Yeah. I tickled him under the chin and he fell asleep.” She smiled as she thought about the Beast.

“Gragh! Nobody must know! You must leave. Quickly, quickly! The secrets of Prospero must remain forever hidden.”

“What, that Prospero was a lady?”

“Yes!” The old man paused, wondering if that was the right thing to say. “Well, yes. But also no. This is a complex world. A woman’s place is in the home, not on the throne. Yet Prospero founded our great nation and she was a woman! Scared the bajeesus out of me when we embalmed her.”

Jennifer sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. This was going to be a long day.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 271: You’re having lunch with a friend. Your friend gets a call in the middle of the meal. Write just your friend’s part of the conversation.

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Mexican Monday’s are the best. Joan and I head out, get burritos and a couple of pints and just chill out for a few hours, setting the world to rights. Can’t beat it.

“So, Phillip, Phillondo, Phill… Anderer. Who’s the newest conquest?” She asks me this around a mouthful of burrito, barbecue sauce running down her left cheek. “Everybody knows you’ve been getting some. So, who’s the lucky chick?”

“Nobody you know. It’ll stay that way until I’m sure this one’s going to be a thing. That she can handle you.”

“I’m not that bad!”

“Remember Carly?” I certainly did. We’d seen each other a couple of times, hit it off, then Jerry Budeski had a party. I figured it would be safe to invite Carly to come with me, she could meet my friends and then we could get away. Well, that’s not how it happened at all.

We got through the front door and Joan had come bounding over. She’d sunk a few by this point, but even so. She shook Carly’s hand like a mad thing, then grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to play beer pong. I didn’t see Carly for the rest of the night, then by the time I found her again she’d decided we were done.

“Which is why I should meet her! She clearly won’t be any good for you if she can’t handle me. Oh, crap.” She plucked her phone off the table, where it had just started buzzing insistently. “I’ve got to take this.”

“Fine, but you know the rules. Rest of the drinks are on you.”

“Fineeee.” She stuck her tongue out at me, then went to stand outside the window. It was open, letting her words flow back in on the cool breeze. “Hello?”

I paused, wondering if I should make myself scarce. I mean, she’d gone outside so that I wouldn’t listen in. I figured I could just nip to the toilet, wait there for a couple of minutes then come back out. That was the plan, at least, until I heard my name amongst the murmurs. “Claude doesn’t know anything.”

I almost fell of my chair to be perfectly honest. “What the…”

“No, he should stay out of it. I don’t even know why you want me to bring him in. He’s just a normal guy.”

Rude. I’m something special, I’d like to point that out.

“I’m serious. I’m not going to do this. If you want him that bad, send somebody else. But no amateurs like Carly this time.” She hung up the phone then marched back inside. I could tell she was worked up, but she was wearing her brave face.

If Joan’s got her brave face on, sit the fuck down and strap in. Once you’ve done that, pray that you’re not the reason.

“Right, I’ve got to head. Work emergency. Is it my turn to pay or…?” She fluttered her eyelashes at me, so I just nodded. I figured I’d process whatever had just happened when I got to the flat.

A shame really, that I didn’t make it back to my flat for a long time.

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 269: Write a story from the point of view of a homeless man or woman who falls asleep on the bus and accidentally ends up “on the other side of the tracks”, in a quiet neighborhood late at night.

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Daniel Harker is coming to the end of his shift. It’s late at night and his back’s playing up again. He hates the late shift and only took it so that Jerry could go to his daughter’s play. He shifts in his seat, clicking and cracking his bones.

He pulls into the depot, out in Deerport. He’s supposed to do proper checks at the end of every evening, checking for litter and drunks passed out on the seats. But after the mess with all of the traffic lights in town getting stuck on red, he just wants to get back. He checks his mirror and all of the seats seem empty. He checks his watch, the hands waving at him as he sees the wrong side of two in the morning. “Fuck this.” He says, then gets off the bus, leaving the doors open as is company policy. It allows the buses to air, or some nonsense. That’s where his part in this story ends.

An hour later, Frankie wakes with a start. “I’ll goddamn kill you!” He shouts into the empty air, wild eyes raging as he swings a fist. Frankie, whose last name has been lost for years in a sea of booze, eventually stops his swearing and fighting with nobody. He stops for a second, eyes squinting and his head lolling from side to side. “Where in fuck am I? It’s so bloody dark.”

He makes his way down the aisle of the bus, feeling his way through the cracked leather and discarded cans. He finds his way to the open door and promptly falls through. He doesn’t even make a pretense of walking, he simply makes the move from vertical to horizontal solely with gravity’s assistance. He manages to spit out the first part of an expletive before he starts eating tarmac.

He starts crawling, making his way towards a light source across the way that he can see. It’s got the familiar sodium glow of a street light, but Frankie’s head is buzzing. There’s something missing but he just can’t place it at the moment.

He stumbles through an opening, wide enough for a couple of buses to enter the depot at the same time. He holds up a hand against the light and looks up and down the quaint, idyllic street. Picket fences, check. The occasional doghouse, check. The pieces come together in a horrifying rush.

“Oh shit,” he says, “I’m in Suburbia.”

The Idiot in Tin Foil

Day 268: You can keep only one memory from your entire life. What will it be?

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I knelt before the Splendour and awaited my judgement.

“You know that those who come before me must pay a price, do you not?” It asked me, a voice like church bells ringing next to my ear.

“Aye, that I do.” I replied, my eyes firmly focused on the floor. I could feel the heat radiating from this being, this raw power that if I looked would strip me away and leave nothing behind but an husk, an empty shell that once was me. “I’ll pay it, but you must keep them safe.”

“Upon whom would you confer the honour of my protection? Nina, perhaps?” Nina’s face, red hair framing a multitude of freckles on her alabaster skin, appeared before my screwed shut eyes. She stared into me, through me, past me with that piercing stare of hers, a feeble pretense at the Splendour’s power, her lips moving to repeat the moment I had seen in my dreams so many times over, her admission and her promised departure. “Or perhaps your father?”

This time, it was my father’s hands that swam through the darkness. Strong hands, with wide knuckles. Hands made for working, as he had every day until his mind had escaped him and left him confused. They reached out towards me, old scars peppering the surface of the veined skin, before turning the palms upwards to reveal the deep crevasses, so ingrained with dirt, begging for my help, before vanishing into the darkness.

“Yes. But there’s more.”

“Really? You would do such a thing? For your mother?”

Long red painted nails flashed through the darkness and caught a memory on the cheek, leaving three blood red lines raised on the skin. “Your sister?”

A hand lets go of mine and a shadowy figure walks into a distant sunset. “Is there anybody I’ve missed?”

I say nothing, feeling my emotions surge within me like a tidal wave, my fear, my anger, my hatred all fighting for control of my weary body. My lips were trying to move, trying to force out words saying that I’d changed my mind, that I wouldn’t go through with it. Then a calm rang out, like a bell echoing through a still night. I found my control again.

“So tell me. Who would you have me save?” I heard a whisper as the Splendour knelt beside me. “I who am known by many names. What would you ask of me who has been at the forefront of civilisation since mankind realised that fire burns and water is wet, that the sun brings light and predators are bad? Me, who has received all of their prayers and wishes? Ra, Zeus, Odin, God… It doesn’t matter what name I had. Sometimes I was a multitude, sometimes I was alone.” His breath brushed past my ear, an intimacy I had been unprepared for. “They always ask and they always refuse when they find out the cost. So, what is it, Henry Miles? Son of a blacksmith, general waste of space? What would you have me do?”

“Leave.” I replied. “Leave and never return. Spare them all.” I was struggling with the words again, thick like treacle as they oozed from my brain. “Let us make our own mistakes.”

The Splendour sighed and stood up, its robes rustling. I eased an eye open, taking care to keep my stare on the cold, hard ground. “The cost is high. I will take everything that is you. All of your memories, every experience. Your highest points, your lowest points, I will leave nothing behind. You will never have existed. There will be no songs, no stories about Henry Miles, the Saviour. There will be naught of you that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist. You will…” It paused, as if struggling for words. “Poof. There will be nothing.”

“I know,” I said beneath my breath, “But it’s a price worth paying.”

“For everyone? What about the evil people? The truly evil, those that would hurt another, squander wealth and opportunity while others died in a slum?”

“Everyone deserves their chance.” I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what was about to happen. “I will do it. I will sacrifice to save.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder, then beneath my chin. My eyes followed the flow of the robes to the burning pits of gold that were set into the Splendour’s face. “Child, you are the bravest who has ever found me. You will be remembered by none but me, but I will leave you with one thing. One memory to accompany you through oblivion. Choose quickly, for you don’t have much time.”

I didn’t need any time. I talked for a few moments and the Splendour stroked its chin thoughtfully, before it agreed. My eyes remained locked on the burning gold and I felt my soul, my spirit diminishing in the light. I was being reduced to nothing.

 

I was awoken by a knocking at my door. My eyes took their time to adjust to the harsh sunlight streaming through the windows. My father has just walked in and pulled me from my bed, placing me over his shoulder as I yell in delight, before he carries me downstairs to where my mother and my sister are waiting. “Happy birthday, Henry!” They say, smiling wide as they gesture towards the table. Before me is a spread fit for a king that must have taken months to save for. I pull my family into a hug, but before we can begin to eat a bell sounds. I throw the front door open wide to find Nina looking at me, shy but piercing eyes peering out of a freckled face. I take her hand and pull her inside.

 

I was awoken by a knocking at my door…

The Idiot in Tin Foil