#Flashfiction: Fingerprints

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.

Shower.

Half dressed.

Coffee.

Toast.

Finish dressing.

Shoes…in need of polishing.

Curse.

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…

 

 

 

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#Flashfiction: Fingerprints

fingerprinting
Image courtesy of joshsdh
on Flickr

 

 

 


Imagine one morning you woke up and your fingerprints weren’t your own anymore. Why not? What happens next?

Word count: no more than 1,000 words
Deadline is 2pm GMT, on 10th May 2019

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

Experimental Writing: Part 4

Enfys?  Eirian?  They both seemed a little too obscure – they were bound to attract the wrong sort of attention.  Meredith was perfect though – the subroutine was doing good work, although it was clear that care was needed if it wasn’t to develop a personality…more information was needed though and time was of the essence.  The sub-routine was given a metaphorical pat on the head and set back to work.  Yes, there – an electronic wagging tail.  Meredith sighed.

Meredith sighed, but immediately decided that this was out of character: a Meredith should be happy, optimistic, light-hearted.  In a word: merry.  Of course this wasn’t the proper translation of the name, but that didn’t really matter.  How many Meredith’s these days had anything to do with sea or were lords?  But a nickame – all this information had been supplied with the sub-routine’s analysis – such as Merry was very much in keeping, and when translated into grzzt, it wasn’t  million miles from the alien’s own nickname – although that was very much meant in a pejorative sense where it came from.  So it goes.

*****

It was a little after 8 am when Meredith found itself on the outskirts of Llangynidr.  First order of business, find some local currency.   Meredith gave a slight start of surprise when it realised that there was only one cashpoint local to where he was.  This was located at Walnut Tree Stores, which was described as a corner shop.  Clearly this must be some local idiom however, because when it had been located, Meredith found it halfway along the positively rural Coed-yr-Ynys Road.  Thankfully they opened early, and there were even a few cars in the car park, suggesting that there were a few people in there.  Meredith drifted in.  The helpful sub-routine provided a reference picture of the  cashpoint terminal and Meredith spotted it tucked in a corner next to the rack of magazines.

Casually, an arm slipped through one strap and the backpack was pulled round to the front for a quick rummage, which brought forth a wallet.  If anybody had been close enough, they would have just seen a credit card, which was slipped into the machine.  Thirty seconds later and Meredith had complete control of the cashpoint.  It would have been easy just to eviscerate the machine, taking every note that it contained, but the easy course of action would lead to problems sooner or later.  Pursuit problems.  Being remembered problems.  The card was spat back out, and £300 pounds popped out of the machine in a mix of tens and twenties seconds later.  What was left behind was an active programme that was covering Meredith’s tracks – it wouldn’t do for a discrepancy to be noted, so the programme would work its way back into a bank’s database and create a brand new account.  Good enough for the time being.

The card and the money went back into the wallet, save for one £10 note.  The alien navigated the shelves carefully, picking up a fizzy drink, some chocolate bars and something that the wrapper said was a pasty, whatever that was.  On the way to the till, the sub-routine popped its virtual head up again and pointed out something called a ‘pack of cards’,  apparently it had noted something useful, for which a pack of cards might come in handy.

“Bore da!  Will that be everything then?”

“Bore da.” The speech synthesiser managed to match the accent exactly.  “Er, yes, I think so…Oh I’ll just have this as well, diolch.”  A packet of chewing gum, from a rack by the till, was added.

“Very good then.  Do you need a bag with that?  Only I’ll have to charge 5p for that you know.”

“No, don’t fuss yourself, it’ll all go in here.”  The tenner was handed over and whilst it was rung up and change made, the backpack was once again swung round and the goods went into the bag.  A few coins were handed back and Meredith made a pretence of casually checking the change, without overdoing it so much that it caused offence, he selected a small coin and dropped it into the collecting box for the air ambulance that sat on the counter.

“Diolch!”

“Lawn!”

“Bore da!”

“Bore da!” Meredith said over one shoulder whilst walking to the exit.

*****

Meredith stopped for a moment outside as if checking the bag was closed properly.  In reality the AI was providing an update. Llangynidr was small and there was no cafe.  A 6 km or so walk was required to get to the nearest one.  The bus timings were irregular and unhelpful.  Meredith sighed and set out for Crickhowell.  Coffee seemed to be important on Earth, and it would seem to be a good place for a base for a least a couple of hours…and free wi-fi!  Sold!

*****

As Meredith walked along the streets, it didn’t notice that CCTV cameras were turning to follow it…

© David Jesson, 2019


 

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.  Right…what next?

Option 1: Coffee!

Option 2: Random encounter on the road.

Option 3: Coffee rudely interrupted!

Also, the sub-routine seems to be developing its own personality.  Any suggestions for a name?

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

#FlashFiction – Enough

The man slumped against a tree, propping himself up, preventing a slide to the ground.  Bone weary, he looked back down the hill, peering through the trees.  He was almost too tired to strain his ears: where were his pursuers?  Enough was enough, he could do no more.  He caught the sound of water tumbling over stones, away to the left.  More than a rill, less than a river: exhausted, he filled his canteen, drained it, filled it again.  The toddler in the papoose stirred but did not cry out. With new hope, new strength, he continued with their escape.

© David Jesson, 2019

 


“I’m done” Jess spoke quietly.
“But you said …”
“I would give it 6 months – yes. But you were only prepared to give it 6 weeks. That told me all I needed to know about your level of commitment.  I’ve tried, I’ve worked hard – really hard – and now you think … No, no more. I’ve done enough, I’ve given enough. And you haven’t.”
“But …” Tim’s voice cracked.
“It’s time you left Tim. I’ve changed the locks and booked movers for your stuff. It goes into storage unless you give them a new address by Friday. Goodbye.”

© Debra Carey, 2019

 


Her ma loved her, but born with a voice of crow-song, Naomi roams the forest alone, eating as she can and cawing her plaint. A fine young knight home victorious from the Holy Land hunts each dawn, his aim ever true until a harsh song causes his arrow to fly wild. It punctures Naomi’s throat and, salt tears spilling, he removes the barb and salves her wound with a kiss. The lovely lass arises to speak with human voice, and he vows his eternal love. Is love enough? How she yearns to fly off and rob a sparrow nest.

© Cecily Winter, 2019
www.cecilywinter.com

Commitment to Care

That bag really bothered her. Just lying there as it was by the footbridge over the railway tracks. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen abandoned rubbish or fly tipping before. In fact this area was so renowned for it there were big posters up and a newly erected CCTV camera on the wall nearby. It was because it was a child’s school bag, maths books, homework diary and pencil case spilling out all over the pavement. You could even see the boys name written on all his books. Sahil Majornia. Who was he, this Sahil? Why was his bag there? Why hadn’t he come to collect it?

In the absence of answers she made up stories about him. The most intrusive and persistent was that Sahil was being mercilessly bullied by a group of boys from his school, or perhaps another school. They had either stolen his bag and abandoned it or pounced on him in that very spot, and in his terror or whilst making his escape, he had prioritised his personal integrity over a bunch of books.

Or perhaps things were going badly for Sahil at school. He was angry and disaffected and stormed out of school one day, vowing never to return. As if to prove his intent he dumped his whole school bag, abandoning his books to the elements. She wondered if he had subsequently regretted this but unable to lose face, he had to stick with his decision. Or perhaps he did try to rectify his impulsivity, only to find that the November weather had damaged his books rendering them useless for studying or homework or even for lighting a decent fire.

And what were his teachers saying to him, if he even was in school. It seemed unlikely that they would not question his need for a new book for every subject. And equally unlikely was that no one had given Sahil a hard time about it all. How was that for him, coping with the displeasure of the adults around him at a time when life was clearly already throwing a good deal of challenge his way?

The stories were always hopelessly negative. Trauma layered upon trauma. How could they be anything other – what child would abandon their school bag for a positive or happy reason? It seemed an unlikely place to have lost the bag by accident. It wasn’t near a bus stop or a congregation point, where a bag might be forgotten in the midst of youthful high spirits. And when the child had lost all their school books and utensils, why hadn’t a parent come to rescue the objects and support the child to rectify their mistake? This seemed the biggest blow of all.

And then one day, after weeks of watching Sahil’s chance of a decent education slowly degrade it was all gone. The bag. The books. The pencil case. Where had it gone? And why? It seemed unlikely that the council had cleared it away, given that the old mattress and the abandoned fridge were still there. Had the parent finally come through for Sahil? Had he finally searched in the right place for the bag taken by the bullies?

And what now for him? This boy she had never met. With whom she had no connection, save for the fact she walked past his bag every day and thought about him, and wondered who else was holding him in mind and caring about what had happened and would happen to him.

And she vowed. No more children bullied, taunted or disaffected. Not at my school. Not on my watch.


© Saffron Foam, 2019

Experimental Writing: Part 3

On the homeworld, the pilot would have just bounced down the side of the mountain; the tough, flexible ‘skin’ would have protected it from the bumps, and even accommodated the sharp stones that occasionally peeked through the soil and scrubby grass to catch the unwary foot.  Instead, there were these strange things – legs in the local parlance – to get used to.

The AI embedded in the computer was constantly chattering over the commlink providing information on the locality, mission updates, and health status.  Thankfully it had quit with the reprimands for leaving the sidearm behind.

This was the worst part of these rushed missions: an on the move briefing into the local culture, which kept on being updated as the AI interrogated available information and tried to work out what was significant and what was not.  Not always as easy as it might seem.  There seemed to be a lot about political events half a world away, which was important if you lived here permanently, but which was of no significance at all if you were an alien looking to do a job and skedaddle before anyone found out about.  And there was so much information to sift through, although the AI had already clocked something significant in the local lore and had dedicated a sub-routine to focus on that alone.

The Client had picked up the signal of the thing to be recovered, but considering that it had been missing for more than 2000 years, it wasn’t entirely clear what the rush was about.  At this point, there was no cover story, credible or otherwise.  The local population would just have to be avoided as best as possible.

The creature gave something approaching a sigh combined with a gallic shrug as another sub-routine decided to give it an update: information flowed.  This world had more than 6,500 languages in use…so far, so primitive…and the local indigenous population used two different ones and…yes, oh perfect.  The dominant one was used more widely, and indeed was used world-wide, but would be the mark of an outsider, especially if the accent was wrong.  The minority language was even spoken by the whole population, but the ability to speak even a little would be helpful – still that could be dealt with.  Another sub-routine was assigned to the problem of languages: it was one thing to know the lexicography, but another to use it in an idiomatic fashion.  The AI studied the problem, with an electronic weather-eye, on the mores associated with using either of the two languages.

Various things came to light as the AI tried to deal with the languages.  Further sub-routines were added to deal with issues as they came to light.  Pronouns…that required a significant chunk of processing power to unravel.  Different pronouns for gender…a sub-routine that was starting to develop its own personality chipped in with  an apposite home-grown phrase translated into the local idiom: not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Gendered pronouns! And for that matter only two genders!  The same helpful sub-routine started pushing through information on gender politics, equal rights, LGBTQ+, before it was suppressed by the AI.  The subroutine was allowed to continue collecting information, but an edit was made to prevent the sub-routine pushing through information without checking with the AI first.

What to do? What. To. Do…? The alien was neither male nor female as these…(quick check)…as these ‘humans’ defined them.  A choice would need to be made.  From the creature’s perspective there was little to choose between the two options.  Reviewing the notes on gender politics suggested that this was something to steer well clear of: alien undercover operatives are by definition and inclination averse to becoming involved in public debates prone to descending into acrimony.  Still, on balance, it appeared to be easier if you were ‘a man’ rather than ‘ a woman’.  For the most part it shouldn’t matter, but the pilot knew that it was important to commit to a part and be ready for the worst. This only happened if you got comfortable in the role.

The pilot, decided that it was time to start building a cover. Firstly, a name…  The sub-routine put up a metaphorical hand.  The AI reviewed the sub-routine’s work.  It was pointing out that it might be possible to build a certain amount of ambiguity by selecting a name that was both masculine and femine.  It put forward a few suggestions…

© David Jesson, 2019


 

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.  Now is the time to choose a name for our MC.

Option 1: Enfys (“Rainbow”)

Option 2: Meredith (“great/sea lord”)

Option 3: Eirian (“bright, beuatiful”)

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

Confined to barracks

confined to barracks

(Featured Photograph: By Karen Knoff – from her book “Gentlemen”)


“Well gentlemen, nearly lunchtime: can I confirm the names we’ve shortlisted for the 1-6 positions?”

There were vigorous nods, and the kind of murmuring that extras mimic with phrases such as ‘rhubarb rhubarb’ and ‘soda water bottles’.

“Excellent.  Before we break, Carstairs would like to suggest a controversial addition to the line-up.  I we should at least look at the Paper.”

Document packs were riffled.

“He can’t bat!”

“He can’t bowl!”

“He dropped that easy catch!”

Carstairs looked every one of them in the eye before saying “All true – but he’s even better than Aussie when it comes to heckling!”

© David Jesson, 2019