The prompt: Imagine one morning you woke up and your fingerprints weren’t your own anymore. Why not? What happens next?
Steve woke up slowly, one bit at a time. Outside his window, a blackbird was singing its little heart out. Normally Steve loved this achingly beautiful start to the day, but after the night just gone, it was his head that was aching, and not in a beautiful way. Whilst his ears were most certainly awake, his eyes were categorically on strike and his brain was trying to pull a pillow over itself and was pretenfing not to be in. He didn’t have the energy to actually pull the pillow over his head though. A foot, the one sticking out from under the covers and decidedly chilly, twitched.
He was clearly not going to be able to get back to sleep, and given the bright sunlight streaming through the gap in the curtains, it was clearly later than he would normally get up.
With an exhalation that was part sigh and part grunt, he pulled his face away from the pillow: this was easier said than done because his sleep-drool was in the process of setting like superglue. In the same motion he reached out, grabbed his phone and flicked it open. Back in the day, he’d used to carry a zippo lighter, not beacuse he smoked, but beacause it had been useful to have one on him, and he’d learned the trick of opening the lighter and sparking it, so that it seemed to be alight as it opened: a neat little optical illusion that had impressed more than one girl. Back in the day. These days, he didn’t bother too much with the lighter, but he’d translated the skill to his phone, sort of. The cover flicked open and his thumb sought the fingerprint scanner. Nothing. It was a good trick, but the scanner could be flakey. He tried again. Still nothing. Another deep sigh and he unlocked the phone with the passcode instead. There might be some follow up from the operation of the night before, thhe one that had required three fingers of bourbon before he crawled into bed at 3.37 am. Nothing. He could afford to take it slow. There’d be a de-briefing in the afternoon, no doubt.
He looked down at his fingertips and recalled the time when some joker had tried to remove them. They didn’t look unsual. They weren’t even clogged with adhesive as sometimes happened.
Shoes…in need of polishing.
Polish shoes. Not a proper polish of course, but a quick wipe with a damp cloth and then the liquid stuff with a sponge on the end of the bottle that he kept for emergencies.
Check the phone again. Curious, it’s still not opening to the thumb applied to the reader.
An hour later and Steve was parking in the underground garage. Two minutes after that he is at the Security Checkpoint, and the first real misgivings start – the hand applied to the never-fails, impossible-for-it-to-go-wrong scannerhas tripped a red-warning light. The man on the desk invites him to have another go, and the same thing happens again. Not good.
“If you’ll step into the office, sir, we’ll try the retina scan. A bit old fashioned, bit it does the job, sir.” In speech, the man has the mannerisms of that funny old man from the old TV show about the Home Guard and Steve is almost surprised that he has not said “Don’t Panic”. In looks, he somewhere between an old teacher of Steve’s, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The mixture of too many large white teeth in an overly tanned face, balding with a fringe of startlingly jet-black hair has always seemed comic to Steve. Until today.
A thin sheen of sweat formed on his brow. He ran the fingers and palm of one hand together, and this too appeared to be slick with fear. He bent forward and placed his eye to the proffered reader. This too flashed a red warning.
“I’m sorry, sir” the Security man seems to be genuinely apologetic as he handcuffs Steve and presses the button for the guard to come and take him away. “I’m sure it’s just a mistake sir, easily sorted. Don’t panic!”
©David Jesson, 2019
Rowena had been having one of those mornings. Despite waking up before her alarm went off, somehow everything seemed to have gone wrong.
She was clutching her third mug of coffee, having spilt the first two. The first had gone all over her bed, forcing her to rip off the sheets to save spoiling her mattress. The second had gone all over the kitchen floor, but she’d only had time for a cursory mop up, so she didn’t slip and fall. To top it all, she’d have to drop into the cleaners on her way to work and shell out for their expensive same day service on her duvet – it was her only one and it was way too cold to go without.
An important part of Rowena’s morning routine was a leisurely hot shower and hair wash. But this morning, she’d dropped her soap and her shampoo innumerable times, forcing her to slow down even more, as she was afraid the bath surface had become extra slippery and she’d fall. The last time that happened, it had been spectacular. She’d managed to do a complete flip over and end up spreadeagled on the bathroom floor, missing – more by luck than judgement – both the toilet and the basin. Still, there’d been some very colourful bruising and more than one or two aching muscles for a week after.
Despite needing to get dressed while having breakfast so she’d make up some time, Rowena hadn’t dared do so in case she spilt that third mug. So she’d forced herself to sit down at the kitchen counter while eating her granola and yoghurt. Her coffee being still too hot to drink, she’d grabbed her phone out of her handbag, and promptly spilt the contents all over the floor.
Having managed to hold back tears, Rowena had shovelled the spilled items back into her bag. Unfortunately, her ID card slipped under the cupboard unoticed. Before she’d a chance to go through the contents carefully as she’d planned to do, she was distracted by the fact that her phone wasn’t opening in its usual manner. No matter how many times she’d pressed her thumb against the button, it wasn’t budging, and now it was demanding her passcode. That had caused the tears to flow. It was a new phone and she’d taken the risk to go without insurance. Had one of those mugs of coffee splashed it?
Tears done, Rowena’d stopped to take a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. Remembering her passcode, her relief when it worked almost caused the tears to return. Deciding against that third mug of coffee, Rowena’d focussed on dressing for work. Suited and booted, make-up carefully applied to hide the blotchy complextion from the morning’s tears, she’d stopped for a moment in the kitchen. Lucky she had – for that’s when she’d caught sight of her ID card.
Sadly for Rowena, there’d be more mornings like this one; so many it’d caused her to doubt her sanity. She’d see a doctor who, after running a battery of tests to no avail, suggested she see “someone”. Nothing had helped, nothing that is, until the night she’d sat drinking in a bar. Drinking till she was so drunk, she’d fallen over and been arrested.
Then it had started to make sense. Well, to Rowena anyway, although everyone looked at her as if she were a specimen in a jar … for someone else’s fingerprints had been grafted over her own. They still didn’t know why, but now Rowena understood how come her fingers had felt like strangers.
And they’d promised to remove the strangers, so she could have her own back. Not yet, but someday soon.
© Debra Carey, 2019
You can find a characteristically macabre take on the prompt by Stuart Nager over at Tale Spinning…