An Occasional Entry in a Dream Diary: Change, Maps and Attack

I don’t often recall my dreams these days, blessed be the drugs. When I do, I haven’t slept well, and they’ve been exhausting. Since last night was unusually intact, even hours later, I guess I should release it, or what I can remember, in the order it seemed to be in…


Waking up, finding that I’m not quite person I thought I was. There is now a small chest of drawers between me and my other half’s beds. She looks disappointed that I am awake. I shamble, barely capable of walking, to the shower. I can hear her telephone conversation as I slump and drag myself across the floor tiles.

“He’s not what he used to be,” she says. I haul myself up to where I can see myself in the mirror, and I am a half-formed, or half-deformed version of myself, features spreading out, as if being averaged across my face.

We attempt breakfast, and take our plates to sit in the narrow corridor where everyone else has found a space to hunch and eat in near-silence. Inevitably, the plateful of gravy spills (despite my best efforts) and spatters my t-shirt and trousers. We head off back to the room, via the delivery warehouse. I complain that my section of ‘exclusives’ has been taken away, so we take some extra time to traipse up and down the endless aisles until we discover that it is in exactly the same place it always was, but the sign with my name on has fallen behind a shelf. There is a stack of new t-shirts with cute designs, a range of bookmarks and unopened boxes. I take a shirt.

Paris is exhausting. The roads slope steeply up and down. We’re trying to find a place to eat, but the maps app on my phone is constantly steering us off course. With a lurch the app takes hold of my mind and I’m compelled to follow its directions, while traveling at high speed. The world takes a sepia tone and is stretched taut in all dimensions; the world is almost spherical, balanced atop a pinnacle of rock. A whirlwind of motion is coming, drawing me up into it, smashing my body into other forms and shapes. I do not want this, and in a vast stormy cloud we disperse; below me the ruined shape of Thundercracker (yup, from Transformers) crashes to earth, and the immense warping shape of Devastator (yup, also Transformers) screams like a wave across a mirror, while I remain on the very edge of the curb.

I fight off the map’s influence and find myself in a backstreet, lined with ancient bricks and half-boarded windows. There is no exit to the alley, so I open the door at the top of a fire escape. Inside are tables in cabaret layout occupied by women in something very like beekeeper’s hats and veils. They are all knitting or crocheting tiny figures. They speak constantly in a hushed whisper so it sounds like the sea.

The map reasserts control, dragging me though a fancy restaurant pavilion where a man is threatening the crowd with a gun. The speed I’m moving at when I strike him hurls him through the brass and glass walls and into the adjoining train station. A blur of glass.

I climb out of the overturned double-decker bus which I’d commandeered and rammed through the streets. I descend into the cellar where my compatriots are carefully arranging their windows, each a different shape with complex frames, all giving different views of the bright and cheerful street outside.

“It’s time.”

We all sit before our windows and they slice away from the reality around them, and we fly outwards, this thin screen before us and nothing behind. We circle up into the sky and join thousands of others whose screens are slotting into the vast battle grid we’ll be using to assault the enemy.

Terrible Dreams Made Into Stories: The Swans

The Swans

The bodies were found, finally, stretched out on the battered wooden boards of the old comprehensive school. It had been closed and derelict for years, a spooky ghost house, squat or health and safety hazard depending on your age. The police had been drawn in after a passer-by spotted a line of crows noisily queueing to squeeze in through a broken window. The window had been broken by a thirteen year old boy named John, not that anyone asked. He’d found the shattering glass went some way to pacify the anger and upset he felt with the world.

The bodies were incomplete. Of the seven, three lacked heads and all were missing an arm or a leg. They had been there for some months, lined up like toast soldiers getting soggy and seeping into the floorboards. The police forensics teams took the whole floor.

None of the bodies were identified. No one from the town was missing. No one else had heard of them either. The missing heads didn’t help, but the fingerprints were no use, the DNA was a dead end. No wallets, no badges, no clothes no nothing. Aged between fifteen and forty-five, three female, four male. They lay in the cold cold morgue like a charity shop jigsaw; with missing pieces and the wrong picture on the box.

Swans

Three months after the bodies were found and forgotten again the school was finally demolished. Spurred on in part by the failed investigation and the desire to erase those disturbing memories. The site was left newly derelict, bulldozed heaps of bricks and drainpipe, window frame and blackboard jumbled and smashed in a metal-fenced pen.

Behind the wasteland rose the forest, thrusting up into the stumpy hills that ringed the north and east of the town. They were not well-visited woodlands, being curiously devoid of rare fauna and flora. Had they been more interesting something would have been built there. A few thin paths blundered through the trees, edging the hills and descending to the town’s old beauty spot, Wendle Pool.

Despite being just a short walk from the town centre the woods and pool were the preserve of squirrels, small birds and teenagers. Two such, Michael and Evan who at the empowering age of sixteen considered themselves hunters and woodsmen, ventured out early on Saturday morning to inspect their attempts at rabbit snares and toss stones into the pool.

The snares remained empty and the boys’ pen knives remained pocketed and unused. They smirked at the routine disappointment of a failed hunt; acknowledging the failure had become an important ritual in itself. In commemoration Evan exchanged a loosely rolled cigarette for a Marlboro Light. The pair smoked and talked quietly as they hiked uphill towards the cliff that lurked over the pool. Even their conversation was routine, a form of words and habits that comforted and ordered the day.

They followed their familiar trail up through the scrappy birches and bracken that bedraggled the hills. The cold chill of the morning held a mist between the trees. It cast a glamour across the unremarkable landscape, imbuing it with softness and shadowy beauty that clarity would never grant. Beneath the furrowed brow of the ridge the boys climbed, the birches were supplanted by a small copse of firs. The green of their boughs mocked the emptiness of the needled earth beneath.

As they passed the last birch, Evan recoiled suddenly. The roll-up he was confidently dangling from the corner of his mouth stuck to his lip and he sucked it into his mouth as he cried out. He fell back into Michael, who failed to catch him and they both stumbled to the needle-strewn ground. Evan spluttered out the strands of tobacco and paper and choking managed only to point. Branches stretched across the clearing and hanging from the branches in the dead centre two heads leered at them.

An ancient scream was fixed in their faces; eyeless holes matched the gaping mouth as if they too were screaming. The boys recovered their fragile teenage swagger. Once they were assured that the heads were indeed just heads, a degree of self-deprecation and bravado could be reacquired. The hills were the regular domain of Michael and Evan, its contents their dominion, surely. With fluttering heart and an unusual physical proximity they approached the heads. They swayed with a breeze the boys had not previously noticed, swinging gently on their own hair which was knotted to the tree branch. The skin on the hanging faces was weathered, their gender was hard to guess. Being apart from their bodies and the hues that should have painted their cheeks left them neuter, inhuman; at once less and more frightening.

The mist clung to the edges of the copse, confining the boys and the heads in a grey cage. Neither boy felt inclined to touch them. A terrible sense that they would bite, or talk, or scream lingered in both their minds though it remained unspoken. There was no doubt that the decapitated heads had not been there the previous Saturday. This was the way they always came. They would have noticed. Of course they would have noticed. They must not have noticed. Perhaps the heads were tied to some higher bough, of course they must have been there. Just out of sight. Of course. Otherwise they were newly placed. Weird though. Really weird.

With their conclusion that the heads had always been present came a sense of acceptance, that this was normal. Concerns that had the heads always hung above their heads that those eyeless faces would have borne witness to a number of blushing youthful indiscretions were half-heartedly laughed off. They should continue with their routine. Finding that the path out of the copse was marked irregularly with amputated forearms, feet and hands pointing in the direction of their passage failed to alert the boys. Their fears screamed below a thin veneer of calm habit.

Leathery fingers crooked as they passed, toes curled. Knees and wrists flexed, dry and worn tendons tugged by unseen puppeteers. The mist was denser, followed them along the path as if the world dissolved behind them to reform before their feet. They breathed cold smoke into the woods. The copse opened out onto the ledge that frowned on the pond beneath. The boys stood shoulder to shoulder. Neither noticed that they were so close that their fingers almost touched; their digits twitched for the warmth and reassurance just within reach.

Below them the mists rose from the pool like a cold fire, burning away the vitality of the water. It lay black and still; clotted. Thoughtless, blinded by the icy smoke wreathing the teenagers they descended the steep path that lead down to the water. In a haze Evan splashed into the water. It rose up in languid waves which cracked and bled, blackly soaking the boy’s trousers. Michael remained on the bank, mutely watching his friend wade into the fracturing mire.

With each step Evan grew heavier. His skin mottled on contact with the diseased fluid that filled the pool. The flesh of his hands and face cracked, falling away in a fine rain. Michael swayed, held up by the smoke and smell of the water. Evan’s face collapsed, sliding down his jacket leaving only cracking bone which crumbled in turn, and Evan’s naked skeleton sank into the pool.

Michael lurched on the edge of the water, unable to draw his eyes away from Evan’s hair as it slowly spread out. The smoky murk lifted briefly as if a giant breathed over the pond. Between the fingers of mist came nightmare creatures. The swans glided through the rank scum, seemingly untroubled by its thickness. They were rotting as they swam, each kick of their feet blackening another feather that curdled. The swans dipped their faces to the water and emerged with rancid treacly beaks oozing bloody waste.

The corrupted swans gathered at Michael’s feet decaying wings raised. Their eyeless faces drooled a welcome call. Michael fell forwards and was embraced by the sludge.

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Twinned With Evil – part 1

Slightly Broken: Morbidly Musing

Dark Thoughts, Wayward Minds

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I think about dying a lot. Well, sometimes. I don’t have an especially good grasp of the regularity of these thoughts, maybe I should attempt to keep track of them. When I was undergoing a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the early part of last year each session began with a series of questions and scales to enable me to rate how I was feeling, mood and such to provide some quantifiable information about the therapy. The last few questions were ‘have you thought about self-harming or killing yourself this week?’, followed by another about frequency and seriousness. I always said that I’d thought about those things on most days, but that I hadn’t made a plan for it and that I still had things to live for.

Just being asked those questions reminded me that I do find my mind in dark places at some point on most days. Since the mind and my models of other minds are based on me I never really thought that was unusual. Apparently it is not usual. Oh well. What to do? I’ve always figured that the contemplated horror is less awful than the uncontemplated. To consider a thing is to give it both life and the possibility of death in your mind. To have a lurking horror that is given no expression or exploration is a thing of infinite potential. If you grant it enough room to be played out inside you can get to know it. You can see where it would go, what it would actually do and what the outcomes might be; you remove its relentless and remorseless shadow power.

Skipping To The End

I have never attempted suicide, in part because it would be so galling to attempt and fail – to get halfway through and fail at that. I don’t think I could live with myself… The reason I always gave in therapy was that ‘something new will happen tomorrow’. Dying and denying myself the possibility of a future strikes me as even worse than ceasing to exist. I would also not wish the pain on my family and friends, but honestly that concern comes second. Suicide is often described as a selfish act, but it’s so much more than that – it’s the ultimate self-denial, denial of choice, of opportunity, of agency. It’s also an assertion of power, of destiny and of independence. If we can choose nothing else in this world we could choose to escape it.

The Pain Runs Freely

Self-harm seems much the same, though less drastic of course; it has far more opportunity for future choices. I suspect it’s about seizing control. I know that from when I was trying to put myself back together after that catastrophic trip to Amsterdam when I was sixteen. There was no other way to excise or supplant the pain I felt inside, the sense of utter loss and degradation, the horror at my own memories and mind. Slicing strips out of my own skin was strong, decisive, painful, and hugely distracting. You can bleed out the pain for a while. It doesn’t work for long though. Long term I needed more substantial fixing.

Nearly twenty years later I am a different person, though I remember feeling that way. I still consider the freedom of a razor blade. Some short sharp pain that lingers and draws out the suffering. I choose not to indulge. I know it’s an indulgence, I know it’s a distraction. It’s also a way of not dealing with information. We can’t always choose how we respond, and I know that when I’m tired – either physically or emotionally, when frustrated by failures or by others, what my mind turns to first is that it could all just be over. I could just not be here, and it wouldn’t matter what is happening anymore. I wouldn’t need to choose, to argue it out and fix it. I could just step away, off this mortal plane and nothing would ever concern me again. It would just… stop. All of it: the noise, the feeling, the colours, me.

Out Of Control

I think about dying when it is not of my choosing. Accident, cars, fire; being broken and just dying. Dying alone. I’ve always felt that I’ll die alone somehow. But I can’t imagine the world without me. I don’t mean that ‘I’m just so damn important that it just won’t make sense’, I mean that I can’t conceive of the world when it’s not from my perspective. The whole of reality is intimately bound up with existing. When we go to sleep the world may as well stop for all we are connected to it. When we die, the world presumably goes on through others eyes, but that’s not the same world.

Why so gloomy today? I don’t feel gloomy, just a little sad and emotional. We went to see Gravity which is pretty much as good as everyone is saying that it is. I found it frightening and deeply upsetting – I guess the prospect of dying utterly alone struck a chord rather violently. Oddly, the film’s outcome didn’t make me feel less horrified but rather more appalled and filled with tears. Strange.

We saw Gravity on Monday and I wrote this immediately afterwards, but it didn’t feel like something I wanted to post right away. It’s later in the week now, and I’m less gloom-filled, which is nice.

Slightly Broken: Getting a Good Bad Night’s Sleep

It Cannot Be Morning Already

And yet it is; the horror. I’ve been sleeping weirdly for the last month I think. It’s a combination of lots of things. It certainly started when Colin went missing and the general increase in stress and anxiety that followed was naturally accompanied by ‘variation’ of my evening routines, so that I was drinking in the evenings in addition to my usual dose of amitriptyline (damn that word, it never looks right). I know full well that will mess me up, but it definitely makes me extra sleepy and I was grateful for that, since for one reason or another we struggled to go to bed before 1 am.
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The consequences of that roll through the next day… it’s considerably harder for me to get up and go on alcohol + sleeping tablets, so my mornings crash and burn into a slurred lethargy and I’m knackered by the time evening spreads its dark wings over me. It cheerfully reawakened the ‘second wind’ phenomenon of waking up again in the evening. That pushes the time I get round to taking sleeping tablets back further and encourages a glass of whiskey or beer to start the relaxation ball off again. So it’s an obvious vicious circle that is surprisingly hard to get out of again.

I’m slowly pulling out of that circuit, though I must admit that we’ve retained our usual fairly busy lives which also conspire to prevent the earliness of sleep. I need to vigorously reinforce my routine of Ami at 7.30pm, all electronika (minus Kindle) off at ten and be in bed at eleven. It will help, I just need to make it happen. This morning is sufficient evidence – although my eyes feel sticky I did haul my corpse out of bed at 7.40am and have bumbled through breakfast and am now able to scribble here. I haven’t managed to write in the morning for at least a month. It’s good, though I’ve got a cracking headache coming on. Hurrah.

Ding Dong, Summer Is Dead

The clocks went back at the weekend (which already feels like weeks ago, so I guess I’m still suffering from time dilation) which is the only way round I ever enjoy our ludicrous practice of pretending it’s an hour earlier or later to briefly and ineffectually see slightly more sun in the morning. Personally I’m baffled by the whole British Summer Time affair. I’m certain that we spend more time changing the times on our clocks than could possibly compensate for ‘gaining’ an hour. If you want to see more sunshine – start getting up earlier. Would it really be so hard to just do things earlier? Who the fuck is being successfully tricked into thinking they’ve actually got an ‘extra’ hour? Every year this makes me angry. It’s certainly confused our cat, who now begins bouncing around with daintily clumsy paws at about half past six. That really helps…

It’s All In My Head, Man….

I’ve also been dreaming vividly again. I used to dream very intensely in my late teens and mid-twenties with frequent lucid components and regularly recalling three or four of the dreams each night. It’s fun and interesting to dream like that, but again, I’d wake up exhausted having spent the night running away from zombies or battling fish in space. Maybe it’s related to the change of season, coupled with the abuses of my routine. Normally in summer I’m bitterly resentfully woken early by the cursed rising sun, but this year the wondrous Ami has kept that at bay and I haven’t been disturbed at all. So why would the decline of sun in the morning make a difference? I’ve no idea. These are morning word babblings, don’t blame me if they don’t make sense.

I realised as I woke up this morning from the sea of sleep that I’ve been having the same dream for days, if not longer. They slip and slide from my view when I wake up (as well they ought, the distracting bloody things), but being woken several times by a cat slipping and snortle-purring into my face allowed me to rise briefly from the dream before returning to its deeps. It’s a simple dream of death – always cheery.

In the dream I am hugely anxious and distressed about the killings that have taken place – there are five bodies of young people buried within ten yards of each other in an area of common land bound by tall brick walls and the terraces that vanish off on either side. There’s a path that leads through the common, with crumbled brick edges that passes a large pond of grim grimy green water and the remains of a Japanese water garden. I’ve witnessed three of the murders personally, being the person murdered each time. I am aware that there are more deaths because once dismembered and in the earth, damp from the pond water and wrapped in a sheet, I can see one other shrouded body through the mud.

The fifth body I know about because I am playing most of the roles in the dream and switch perspective as required – the fifth we find and disinter beyond the right wall, below a tatty clothes line that holds only pegs and the ghosts of clothes. The graves are shallow and callously hewn for these brutalised bodies (my brutalised bodies), and though there is no recollection as the person who uncovers them that we are the same person, nonetheless a miasma of horror and fear permeates all the perspectives. We return to the discovery of the bodies over and over again, focussing on the child who lies weeping in death, the one who retains a violent shuddering and the empty eye sockets of the third.

Eventually we come to suspects and watching for the deaths, so I suppose we’re going backwards. Despite that, the murders have happened and the murderer, rather than the potential murderer is sought. He becomes less of a murderer as we go on. I knew who the murderer would be, I think, right through the dream. Focussing on the deaths and the discoveries just hid that away for the longest time, but finally he’s there, seen through the clouds of dust and fog that blanket the common land, appearing from over the brick walls. A dark ghost; the only character not played by me; the only character I’d never wish to, never to seek to play. And he kills them again.

This time though, there are witnesses – we expected him. Though the children die again, they leave clues to mark their passing. A scrap of paper, a wad of chewing gum. The bodies are found sooner. Perhaps this time we’ll catch him. But then we wake up.

A Cyborg Calls – Part 4 (the end)

Part Four – Do Androids Have Wet Dreams?

A Cyborg Calls
“You know, we’re all different on the inside,” Alex feared he was sliding into cliche but its horrible inevitability drew him on, “that’s what makes us special.” Alex hated that he was spewing the same bullshit his own parents had used as they drove him to the psychiatric hospital, but he really didn’t need an emotional cyborg on his hands. His house was too small for someone that special.
“Special doesn’t tell you what silk feels like, special doesn’t get you friends, doesn’t get you girls….” Simon spat with teenage moodiness.
“In fairness, you don’t really feel silk anyway. Your fingers slide off it. Like a er, soft fridge. Normal’s just trying to fit in,” hearing voices and self-trepanation puts people off, “plus really normal people tend to be boring arseholes.”
“I want to be boring. I want to be liked.”
“I’m sure people like you.” Alex was skating on thin ice; it seemed plausible that no one liked murderous half robots.
Simon just stared at him with those weird mismatched eyes, the blue one went right though him and the red one, well, it just felt like a laser target. It probably was.
“Well, what about girls?” Alex rallied.
“All the girls I know are either family or slaves.”
“Right. Slaves?”
“Not slave slaves. They’re just mindbent. It’s fine. They do whatever you want.”
“Oh.”
Another awkward silence separated them. Alex shook the biscuit packet like he was tempting a wild animal. Simon took three bourbon creams.
“Well, there is this one girl,” he began shyly.
“Great!” (please don’t be anyone I know, or at least someone I won’t miss) “What’s she like?”
“She’s beautiful,” the cyborg crooned dreamily, “and strong and clever-”
“Sounds lovely-”
“-and evil.”
“Less lovely. So what’s her name, how did you meet?”
“She’s Volupine Dementia and she held me captive for a week.”
Fuck. “The Volupine Dementia?” Because it’s such a common name… Volupine Dementia, legendary survivor of the nuclear blast that destroyed most of Sheffield when Alpha Strangemind discovered his powers and went underground. Legendarily insane and as dangerous as anyone in Galaxy Team. The instigator of the Nottingham Massacre, creator of the Cathedral of Sexual Death and reputedly the only person Galaxy Team can’t kill. Of course it’s the same Volupine Dementia, who else would this crazy kid fancy?
“Yeah… when me and Sally (you’d know her as Talon) infiltrated her lair because she was turning everyone in Nottingham into killer lust-zombies. Well, she caught us,” he gave a big goofy grin, “next thing I knew I was chained up and blindfolded and there was this gorgeous girl giving me electric shocks and asking me all these questions. It was wonderful, you know, just really talking to a girl. She wanted to know all about me.”
Alex was struggling to keep the phrases ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘what the fuck’ out of his voice and off his face.
“We talked for hours. I mean, she’d go off to do stuff with Sally too, but that was just cutting her head off, it wasn’t like our time.”
“She killed your sister?” incredulity was creeping in.
“No, nothing like that. She just took Sally’s head off and stuck it on a sex-eagle.”
“Well, that’s okay then.”
“Eventually Dad spoiled it all by having us rescued.”
“You must have been disappointed.”
“Yeah,” he blushed to a remarkable shade of red and lights twinkled furiously in his cheeks, “we’d been, um, you know, before the Beastlie Boys smashed the door in.”
“Oh. Oh!”
“I’d really like to see her again. I mean, she escaped – obviously.”
“Obviously.” And went on to breed armoured tortoises which she unleashed on motorways.
“But, I don’t know how to get in touch with her,” he looked at Alex with an expression of hope and pleading that even spaniels couldn’t match.
“You want me to… find her?” No, this was awful. Alex could not be a matchmaker for the criminally insane. Simon looked suddenly defensive. Perhaps it was Alex’ tone of incredulity and horror.
“You have to find her!” the lights flared up and the toaster plug ejected itself from the wall.
“Okay,” Alex chirped as the frightfully important kettle began to smoulder, “okay, I’ll have a proper think about how to do that.”
“That’s great. You know, guys like us have to stick together. I’ll be really grateful,” Simon said, earnestness and desperation competing in his throat.
“I’ll see what I can-” Alex was cut off by a roar that passed overhead, shaking the windows and setting off car alarms all down the street.
“I think I’d better go,” said Simon, handing his mug back to Alex, “but we should do this again sometime. Thanks for the tea.”
With a cheery wave and an anxious glance at the light blazing through the living room window, he let himself out the backdoor and hurried away. His garage-crushing craft took off, and raced low down the back road. It disappeared from sight just as Alex’ front door shook under a pair of heavy blows. Sighing, Alex put down the mug and went to answer the door. He was totally unsurprised to find Man Ho-Tujsk glowering at him under the orange streetlight. He sneezed mightily and brandished his tusks.
“Oh hello, I suppose you’d like a cup of tea too?”
 

Will Alex snag Simon’s date? Do cyborgs dream of electric eels? Was that the end? (Yes it was) What happens next?

Find out in a future story!

Read more Galaxy Team adventures

Read more Alex Trepan stories

A Cyborg Calls – Part 3

Part Three – Sad Days, Robot Nights

A Cyborg Calls

It can be difficult to find the right words when someone is crying in front of you. It’s still harder to console someone you suspect is going to kill you. “Oh,” was the best Alex could find for the weeping mechanical hulk in his kitchen. The Boytronic Wonder was trying to say something but the words were obscured by his incredibly undignified snorting, bubbling and fizzing noises. Alex awkwardly looked down at the mugs drippping scalding tea over his hands.

“Um,” Alex tried again, and proffered the Star Wars mug, “get this in you.”

The Wonder honked out a thank you and took the mug in one shaking hand. With the other he tugged a charmingly embroidered handkerchief out of the string of pockets at his waist and noisily blew into it. Tea spilled onto the floor.

“Why don’t you sit down,”Alex suggested. He pulled out the kitchen steps from the corner and deftly kicked them open. They stood a slightly better chance of survival than the battered dining room chairs.

“I’m sorry about this,” sobbed the cyborg, gratefully accepting the seat. Alex grimaced as the metal steps creaked and bent under his weight, settling into a more rigid and permanent structure. Alex took up a poistion at a safe distance and sipped at his tea. It was much too hot but was more polite than staring. He felt embarrassed for the man’s tears and figured he’d have to be the one to talk them out of this.

“So… Boytronic Wonder,” even saying the name sounded ridiculous and Alex cringed inwardly, “how have you been?” The sight of a the naked man exploding shot past Alex’ inner eye again.

“Please don’t call me that. I hate that name – it sounds so stupid.”

“It’s a bit of a mouthful alright,” Alex sipped some more scalding tea.

“Dad gave us such stupid names. I mean, I’m not bloody Robin, the Boy Wonder. Can you imagine being taken seriously? Batman’s bad enough,” he affected a high pitched female voice, “‘Hello Batman, how nice to see you again – black, two sugars isn’t it? And would the Boy Wonder like a croissant?’ You’d feel like such a dick. Just call me Si.”

“Cy? As in cyborg?”

“No, as in Simon. That’s what Mum called me.”

“Right.” Between them they were defeating Alex’ previous record of awkwardness, set when he tried to explain to his parents why he’d drilled three holes in his head.

“It’s nice of you to drop by Simon; I mean, it’s very – new, this dropping in for a chat. Is there anything I can do..?”

“Well who else is there to talk to? Everyone else we’ve ever gotten involved with is either dead, or,” Simon thought for a moment,”- no, they’re all dead.”

Alex really didn’t like the sound of this and was regretting asking at all.

“You know, I didn’t really see anything,” Alex began.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I don’t think Dad knows. We got Clive back, and that’s all he cared about.”

“Oh good. But there must be someone else you can talk to. Not that this isn’t lovely.” Alex felt he’d covered that well.

“Yeah – you. You’re not family. Dad would never understand.”

“Have you tried talking to him about how you feel?”

“God no! Jilly Lazareth tried that. We’re still finding pieces of her. She just wanted to go university.”

Alex pretended he still had tea in his mug and took a big fake sip.

“I liked Jilly,” Simon mused, “she had really nice hair.”

“At least you get out now and then,” Alex said, trying to get away from the topic of people dying. Simon’s blank look gave him a horrid trembling sensation in his stomach. “I mean, you’re here now…”

“Oh no, Dad would go mental if he knew I was here. I’m supposed to be silencing this policewoman in Leicester. Normally Man-Ho Tjusk would do it, but he’s got a cold, so it’s me. I was nearby so I thought I’d pop over, say hello, you know. I-” Simon broke off, tears threatening his circuits again, “I don’t want to kill people anymore. I just want to be normal.”

“Well, what’s normal anyway?” asked Alex lightheartedly.

“For me, this-” said Simon, tapping at objects on Alex’ kitchen table. A postcard vanished in a flash of flame, keys and coins magnetised and flew together in a clumsy orbit of Simon’s hand, and the radio turned itself inside out. Alex wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but was grateful that he’d never hear John Humphreys on Radio 4 in the morning again.

“That’s, um, a bit different.”

“Different?” Simon stabbed his finger back down at the table. Blue tendrils crawled from under his t-shirt sleeve and down his arm, the ends sparking as they pulled free of his skin and vanished into the crap covering Alex’ table. Alex was alarmed by the rage emanating from the cyborg, despite his pacifistic claims. Then Alex’ ancient sandwich toaster glowed blue, coughed out a cloud of cheese-scented black smoke and started talking.

“First thing we have to do is establish an escape route – no matter what happens we gotta get you clean away,” Alex stared at the machine as it babbled, “we need an extra door in here.” Hastily Alex reached out and turned off the plug socket – the thing was prone to overheating at the best of times. He switched his stare to Simon.

“This is my life, look,” Alex averted his eyes as Simon yanked down the top of t-shirt, revealing a hissing mass of shapes revolving under the clear skin of his chest, “I’m just an experiment to them, like all the others,” Simon’s eyes lit up from the inside as he warmed to the topic, the tears welling up puffed out into steam; the coins spun round is a wider, sharper circuit of his outstretched hand; his voice took on a metallic ring as he began to shout, “thanks Dad – this is what I am. A monster, a killer.”

The coins exploded like domestic shrapnel, burying themselves in the brickwork. Alex’ house keys thudded into the cupboard door by his head. Alex swallowed nervously and tugged them out of the wood.

”Thanks, I’ve been looking for those. Would you like a biscuit?”

Do cyborgs like biscuits? Is Alex’ sandwich toaster alive? How many parts will this story have?

Find out next week in Part Four of: A Cyborg Calls

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