NaNo Ruminations: Thought Dissidence

This is a story I stumbled back over last night on my old blog while chatting with the wonderful Adam Byatt about growing and developing as a writer. The concept for this story has been floating around in my head ever since I started writing back in late 2007. It originated in a dream about a certain other Adam, and the name stuck for the male protagonist and gave me the idea to call it ‘Adam and Eve’. This installment is long and possibly not brilliantly written… but it’s sparked my interested in it as both a story idea and concept.

Could this be my 2010 NaNo project after two previously aborted attempts to embrace it?

This story comes with a warning. It does have adult content in it – so if you’re likely to be offended by sex, it possibly not the piece you want to read!

It is 12:09pm on the information bar on the TV screen as I walk into my local. I take my earphones out long enough to order a short black and allow the barrista to scan the back of my hand. He smiles at me, out of well rehearsed and imprinted hospitality but I know for a nanosecond that he wonders when I will stop coming in for my short black.

Coffee is a luxury. The price rises each day as the store of beans slowly but surely depletes. Coffee is not considered an essential food item and is therefore not on the Government’s Agriculture charter. There is no land allocation for coffee though I imagine that there are high officials who have the power and access to bribes to have a few acres assigned to coffee for their own personal use. But we down here on the ground will never see it again. There is no international trade so one day, someone will pay an exorbitant price for the last public cup of Joe and that moment in history will be streamed straight into everyone’s mundane existence; another bastion of civilised society gone.

I have few other things to spend my meagre Government allowance or the savings that I have accumulated since I arrived here, so coffee it is today, tomorrow and with any luck the day after that. There was once a saying, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Where I am ultimately headed, any amount in a digital ledger will be pointless.

The café continues to thrive even with coffee beyond the reach of most. They still serve food and as a Government affiliated eatery there is rarely an empty table. I squeeze between two men at a counter overlooking the street and slip my earphones into my ears. The unit looks exactly like the latest iPod and I notice both men glance sideways in jealousy at it. Every purchase is obsolete or out of fashion with a few months. The drive to work, earn and purchase is obsessive and socially sanctioned, as is the need to exercise, refine and hone the body. After all, there is nothing else now. Despite global constraints on energy, resources and production we have become the ultimate market society – we exist only to consume.

Slipping the earphones into my ears I scroll through the options, a playlist like no other. Immediately there is a flood of static and it takes a moment to tune into a clear frequency. My coffee comes and I smile at the girl my age who works here from dawn to dust. I know, because I’m here for breakfast, coffee instead of lunch and I stop on the way home for the simple dinner that is Government fare.

She is a drone in every sense of the word. No unique thought has ever escaped for her cerebral cortex while I have been in here. Her mind sprouts Government propaganda, responds in the agreed upon format. She is a glowing example of the third wave of the Government micro chipping programme. It chills me to the core.

As I sip my coffee, I surf the frequencies hoping that I will find someone with a dissident thought. There has been a growing trend in the past month. I’ve been able to collect more names since the last new moon that I have the entire time that I have been here. Something is shifting, something is freeing the minds of the population. Cracks are emerging, thoughts are seeping in, biology is working to triumph over technology.

Towards the end of my coffee I come across a thought. A man’s longing for a woman, the brunette with the short bob who had just ordered a green tea and the standard heavy wheat bread sandwich with hummus, and is walking out the door to take a seat with a colleague out in the sun. It is the briefest of indiscretions, so brief he doesn’t pause for an extra moment to stare after her. He will not have even realised that he’s had it.

There are five more minutes left of my lunch break. I have to be back at my desk at exactly 12:46pm. No one is ever late; it’s been programmed out of us. It is in the hands of the Universe as to whether he will be chosen. He stands just as I do and I follow him out. With speed and a lightness of hand, I drop a lolly wrapper in his pocket as I stride past him, with expert agility in my high heels. I’ll find his identity and apartment number later, if the lolly wrapper makes it home. They often don’t. There is with the simple tracker woven into the plastic. And if it does, I will add him to the other names and addresses on the list I will give Adam.

Adam ….

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw Adam last. The thought of him and what we do together in the shadows of the Neo-Burlesque club makes my chest tighten. My breathe catches in the bottom of my throat and my yoni moistens. I ache for wanting his touch, however brief. But I catch myself and file those feelings away for later, alone in bed, in the dark where the cameras can’t catch me. We may have successfully stolen their prototype thought transistor but their face recognition cameras are sensitive enough to detect shifts of emotion through facial expression. The last thing I want to become is a person of interest.

I push open the imposing glass foyer door of the Djerassi Building, the sole manufacturer of the reproductive micro chip that started it all. I sit down at my desk as the TV screen in the PR department flicks over to 12:46pm.

At nine o’clock every night the lights go out across the city. It is as if some naughty cartoon characters pull out a massive plug and the city is plunged into darkness. There are no candles or torches. There is the dim flickering of the LED television screen from apartment windows, powered by the days solar energy, captured by the massive panels that clad the outside of each of the apartment buildings. But they too go out one by one, until the entire city is cloaked in an un-urban like obisidan, with the only illumination coming from the moon as it rises. It is only then that I dare to venture out.

From my hotwired computer portal I link into the security system of my apartment building, over riding the night locks on my front door and the emergency stairwell. I exit the building through the second floor fire door, lift off the manhole cover at the back of the building and lower myself down into the sewer. The water is cold and slimey, I don’t want to think just what is in it. It’s a kilometre before I arrive at the manhole cover I want and climb the dangerously erroded ladder back to the road. The next twenty metres are the most dangerous. I need to walk down the street in full view of the cameras, hoping that Adam has disabled these few from his end. But I can never be sure.

I walk briskly until I come to the next manhole cover, but this one does not lead into the sewer. Lowering myself back into the subterranean belly of the city, I land softly on the paving. My bare feet are grateful for the cool smooth paving. The city is crisscrossed with convict made tunnels that the Eros Network has been utilising to smuggle the Liberated beyond the city limits, out into the country to a safe community.

The Eros Network originally linked people and kept safe houses for couples to meet. That was before my time though. It was a quiet revolution when the first draconian laws were passed forbidding intimate relationship of any type, when people still remembered and longed for sex, for connection, for love – before the yawning cavern inside was efficiently though inadequately filled with stuff. You can never buy what you are missing – you can’t even get sex or love on the blackmarket, even if you realised that was what you were really missing.

Now Eros liberates men and women from the biological suppression of the reproductive chip. I was one of the first to be liberated. I am the first link in the chain, identifying those who are open to being liberated – those who are having thoughts of a sexual nature. I have only met ever with Adam. The network is simple – you know who comes before and after you. In my case there is only Adam. That protects the network.

Now that we have the stolen Government technology, for the first time ever Eros is one step ahead of the Government. We are using their cutting edge technology against them, saving people who would other wise disappear.

Inside the tunnel I run my fingers over the wall until I hit pay dirt, the torch. It’s another of those commodities that are almost impossible to buy even on the black market. You have to have something of greater value to actually physically exchange for it – a mere torch. And few things command the same price. Who would have thought. A fragment of a memory surfaces of a little boy and a blue torch, an argument? Before I can get a mental hold on the memory it is gone, though I feel it, like the others, each memory is imprinting itself with growing intensity on my actual body. They warned me about this, about the memories, when I was liberated. I think I’m doing OK dealing with them as they surface.

The torch casts a thin shaft of light into the gloom. I marvel at the workmanship in the brickwork and construction of the tunnels, and at the lack of dust in them. I can’t help but run my hand over the bricks and know they are more than 200 years old. I hurry then. Adam will be waiting for me.

Beneath the cellar of the Neo Burlesque there is a trap door and someone has rigged up a simple rope ladder. There is an old plastic milk crate filled with misappropriated clothes – lavish costume pieces, simple sheaths of silk and satin. Tonight I choose a leopard print dress. It doesn’t fit perfectly – they never do. The lycra bunches or falls open in all the wrong places. It is also tailored for someone with a waist and hips. I have neither in the classic sense. There’s no time to change once I’ve pulled it over my head. The smell of sweat and stale sex tells me that I’m not the only one to wear it this week. I fold my office clothes lace up the knee high Doc Marten boots that I know fit me from past trips here.

There has never been time to ask Adam how it is possible that the Neo Burlesque continues to operate. It is the antithesis of everything that the Government stands for. It encourages the obscene, the sexy, celebrates the sensual and beauty of both the male and female form. And then there is what goes on in the shadows. Like coffee I guess, officials have their quirks and someone very high up must still have a penchant for this.

The club is one huge room, an old theatre. On the stage there is a band singing original, unsanctioned material. Two girls, one tiny and the other huge are dressed in bustiers and huge tattered tulle skirts that are short at the front exposing their fishnet stockings, and long at the back in an exaggerated bustle. A tall flamboyant feather is tucked into each of their upswept hair dos. The guitarist is in his usual knee length black trench coat and a top hat. From somewhere deep inside my head I hear a naturist’s voice commenting over the top of the brass section, speaking of the band as though they are exotic birds rather than a mish mash of left overs from Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras … where did that come from?

Before I have time to contemplate the new thought, there is a hand on my arm. It is Adam. We melt into the deep shadows at the perimeter of the theatre. There is a good reason that so much light is magnified to the middle, it creates these safe havens along the wall.

Adam’s mouth is hard on mine, his body pushing me into the cold, broken plaster wall. His hands are on my body, fevered and impatient, as mine are on him. He pulls the dress up to my waist, as I struggle with the button and zipper on his pants. My hands are shaking – again. There is no time for foreplay, for any tenderness or exploration. A chance for us to look each other in the eye, to traverse the histories we see there … for intimacy or love. There is only the physical act now and we are grateful for that.

Adam tears open a condom packet and rolls it over his cock in a single fluid action, then hoists me up onto his thighs. I wonder where he gets them – the condoms, but there’s no more time to think about it. There never seems to be any time to think about anything that matters. He presses me harder into the wall and fumbles for a moment with his erection, trying to get it inside me … and then for a delirious few minutes, we rut and pound our bodies into and against each other. Even with the anticipation and the two week wait, Adam cries out in the hollow of my neck and comes before I’m close to being there. That’s the way it is.

We untangle our bodies; Adam rolls the condom off, ties a knot in it and hides it in his pocket once he’s fastened his Government issue pants back around his waist. A used condom is the worst possible thing to have on your person, yet he doesn’t just drop it on the floor. I pull the dress back down and bend over to extract the list of names and apartment numbers from the inside of my boot. Our fingers linger, entwined for a moment as I pass the list to him.

There are screams as the outside doors of the theatre are beat in.

“Raid!”

Adam grabs my hand and we dash for the stage, racing up the stairs and pushing through the startled musicians, making our way for the backstage dressing rooms. Adam takes the first of the Government’s henchmen in the throat with his fist, crushing the man’s windpipe. I grab for the Tazer as he goes down. There is enough of a gap between the two black clad men for Adam to pull a knife from his belt and fell the second with an expertly thrown knife to the heart. We waste precious seconds stripping both men of their weapons, but there is no alternative. I’m unarmed and Adam only has his knife. I fasten the second man’s belt around my waist and try to make it fit. They’re not meant for women.

We hurry through to the dressing rooms, pulling open the trap door in the toilet in the largest of the dressing rooms, jumping down into the cellar. Adam sets me first down the rope ladder into the tunnels, following me as voices erupt above. And we’re running, hearts pounding in the darkness, my hands clutching at the belt which threatens to fall and trip me up. It’s dark and only Adam’s hand in mine keeps me moving forward. It is a bad time to realise that I have a mortal fear of the dark.

We come to an intersection. We stop and we’re both breathing hard and shallow. I can feel a breeze coming from a different direction. I have no idea how we got here, or where we are. I’ve only ever come the one same way to and from the Neo Burlesque. We are only just ahead of the beams of light behind us, there is not time to falter.

“You go this way Eve. We need to separate.”

I want to say something, but he is gone before I can and I’m all alone in the world – running for my life in the dark.

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The Land of Line Edits

Paul and I finished up another line editing session this morning around 2:30am. Given I’ve had little sleep across the last two nights and devoted about 20 hours to line editing, continuity fixes and some retro-narrative fitting, you’d think my head would hit the pillow and I’d be off.

But no!

Lying there with a foot in the land of sleep and tossing-and-turning wishing I was asleep,  I fell into one of those weird semi-lucid dream states. Here, I started to pack a suitcase, with three days clothes, to take with me to ‘line edits’… as if line editing was a discrete, geographical location I could travel too. Perhaps it would have cocktails, a sunny beach… no, hold on. It’s work destintion… gratefully one with plenty of laughs, good gossip on old friends and point scoring with punctuation (yes, and you thought punctuation was boring!) None the less, a place of work.

While I was sharing my weird dream-ish notion with Annie today, it occured to me that ‘line edits’ as a location does sort of work. Why? It works as a place to transit through, on the way out of the airport. It feels  like I’ve stuck in for the past nine months, as The Yin and Yang Books have been written, in an unnamed European airport. Not to mention I have been stuck there with people I would, for the most part, not choose as travelling companions.

Line edits could possibly be a purgatory type place, so I’m keen to move on through quicky. Already twenty hours feels long enough. I feel a little like Medae right now (as she was in the first draft), wanting to move quickly through the transition and away with the painting. OUt of where she had been and over into the next phase of her life. Hopefully I’m more successful than her though.

If I listen to my semi-conscious thoughts, there are three more days to go. And no, it seems I didn’t pack my party dress to celebrate at the end.

Line edit highlights from last night:

  • Realising in a parallel airport, there is no Rex to distract Mother. Does she then see  Claude leaving the toilet ahead of Calvinsweetheart then? And what are they actually arguing about when Mildred approaches them in “The Other Side of Limbo” as a consequence?
  • Jasmine’s story “Cobalt Blue” was sub-titled “Gosh You’ve Got Pretty Eyes”… a joke which still got mileage at 2:30am.
  • Realising Sam Harris, Jasmine’s main character had a shot at being the hero in the story, but was too lazy to take up the opportunity because it would have meant extra work. In chosing a different path,  Leon would have stayed out of jail (well perhaps not), Bullwick would not have been shot and Sam… well, no spoilers! Then again, maybe Bull would have been shot? This is the joys of this multi-layered anthology.

If you’re on twitter… follow the hashtag #yandy or @ChineseWhispAnth, @jodicleghorn or @panderson1979 for funny twitter interludes. This is what happens when two people separated by a nine hour time zone get together to finalise a manuscript.

Image via TWTFD

50 Stories for Pakistan Short List

Below is the short list of stories for 50 Stories for Pakistan, with my friends highlighted and hyperlinked back to their respective blogs!

  • A Fluttering by Robert J. McCarter
  • A Little Bit of Heaven by Joanne Fox
  • A Little Help? by Erik Svehaug
  • All Bound for Morningtown by Susan Lanigan
  • All The World’s a Stage by Anne Mullane
  • Angel by Lisa Ricard Claro
  • Astral Footfalls by R.J. Newlyn
  • Asylum by Nuala Ní Chonchúir
  • Cherry In The Summer by Martin Webster
  • Desert Culture by Jonathan Pinnock
  • Detention by Trevor Belshaw
  • Evelyn Walsh and The Miraculous Wig Club by Julia Bohanna
  • Getting Wood by Iain Pattison
  • Grandma by Laura Eno
  • I Don’t Even Have a Name by Dave Clark
  • Just Like Her Father by Pam Howes
  • Ladder to God by Alun Williams
  • Leather Tack and Tears by Annie Evett
  • Lines by Jennifer Stakes
  • Listen by Rebecca Emin
  • Lucy and the Tuit by Marjorie Tolchard
  • Morning Toast by Marit Meredith
  • Mr Harris Gets A Fright by Paul Malone
  • No Ball by Ewan Lawrie
  • Nobody Dies from Drizzle by Jarred McGinnis
  • Office Honesty by Alex Tomlin
  • One of the Night Bus Folk by Gail Richards
  • Packages to Neighbours by Benjamin Solah
  • Promises by Ruchira Mandal
  • Seconds by Alyson Hilbourne
  • Sometimes by Ramon Collins
  • Spellbound by Darren Lee
  • Suki by Riaz Ali
  • The Bangle Man by Nasim Marie Jafry
  • The Critic by Heather Parker
  • The Day We Met by Shazia Bibi
  • The Hotdog Stand by Andrew Parrott
  • The Irish Poet by Brigid O’Connor
  • The Long Journey by Rob Innis
  • The Prisoner of Mansfield by Tony Williams
  • The San Marco Love Surfer by Annemarie Neary
  • The Scar by Emma Newman
  • The Sea by Robert Long
  • The Silver Pen by Beryl Brown
  • The Sparkler by Vanessa Couchman
  • The Summer Contest Joanna Campbell
  • Trashion Passion by Sylvia Petter
  • Wish You Were Here by Rosemary Hayes
  • Writing to Reach You by Paul Anderson
  • Zippy Bags and Post-Its by Alice Turner

Yes… my name and my story don’t appear on the short list, but it is all good. Greg has made provision for editors contributing to the project to have their stories included outside of the list, which shows the transparency of the judging process and the fairness inherent in everything Greg is part of.  My guess is Dan Powell’s entry also makes it into this special section! I just haven’t managed to get hold of him yet to ask. While I feel unworthy of inclusion under this section, because I haven’t been able to contribute the amount of time I wish I could have, due to the demands of Chinese Whisperings in the last two weeks, travel, sickness and now Choose Your Online Adventure, Greg assures me I have contributed. And I know better than to argue with Greg.
Congratulations everyone, especially to Paul who is crawling out of the black hole which has been determined to swallow him whole this year.

Keep up to date with the progress of the anthology at Big Bad Media.


Pass-Ported

How difficult should it be to organise a passport renewal?

It’s not like my existing passport had elapsed or I’d got married and changed my name. It should have been a walk in the park.

The website makes it look simple and easy. That alone should have sent alarm bells ringing. After all, it’s a Government website. It went swimmingly until I got a question regarding someone who had signed a form and a photograph for me TEN YEARS ago. Did I know the full name of my guarantor? No. Did we even know where said guarantor was these days to ask? No!

So, the post office told me to go to the website. When the website didn’t do what it was meant to do it referred me to their hotline. The hotline after punching in several dozen numbers and different options, referred me back to the website and not to a human who could actually answer my question. It was the perfect bureaucratic loop.

It was also Mercury Retrograde. I should have know better.

Fast forward three weeks to the start of this week. With the date for our departure to Malaysia getting closer, I knew I had to do something about my passport. I tried asking at the Post Office again for a RENEWAL form. Turns out they don’t have those type of forms, but a lovely lady who was thoughtful and kind despite the fact it was 5pm and the door was closed, and she probably just wanted to go home, told me just to fill in the standard form.

The problem with the standard form is – you don’t get the quick turn around which a renewal guarantees. So I took the form home, added it to the two existing ones I had. Tuesday I got jack of all the paperwork and logged back into the website to see if it could do what it said it could. Voila! The guarantor question was gone and I was able to proceed through.

I know that question was there – I was barred from the site enough times to remember it was most definitely there. Now I’m just happy it was gone. Dave says perhaps the lady I spoke to in the post office Monday afternoon, who was heading home to renew a passport via the website for a friend was struck down by the guarantor question and rang the office first thing in the morning to have it removed. And he says he can’t write fiction!

Wednesday, with printed form in hand, I went out to get my passport photos taken (hello – don’t they see you coming – good-bye $20.00 for four of the worst photos ever taken) Yes for the next ten years I will be able to travel looking like a suburban hitman mother with a nasty double chin. At least they don’t insult me and askme to smile. That alone made that part of the process bareable.

The lady in the post office (a different one to Monday) processed my application on the spot and come 10:30am yesterday… yes, you guessed it, the passport dilemma was over. Now to  wait for the new one to arrive. Though the upside, I can justify buying the Lonely Planet guide and allowing myself to be just a little bit excited.

Long Listed

Yesterday I discovered my story “The Man Who Would” has been long listed for the 50 Stories for Pakistan anthology. It was a huge buzz given last week marked a return to real writing after months in the wilderness. I share the honour with my business partner Paul Anderson; my writing partner and best friend Annie Evett; several Chinese Whisperings authors: Laura Eno, Emma Newman and Benjamin Solah; and facebook writing pal Trevor  Belshaw.

I first heard about 50 Stories for Pakistan via an early morning email from Greg McQueen while staying in Melbourne for WorldCon. While I’d thrown eMergent Publishing’s support behind the project in whatever capacity Greg needed, I also wanted to contribute a story. However, I’m not one known for penning stories under 500. To be honest 1000 is a press most times. But I was dertemined. This is what happens when you hang out with awesomely talented folk like Dan Powell (who first introduced me to Greg via 100 Stories for Haiti) who inspire you to write like there’s no tomorrow.

A story shadowed me, but didn’t seem to actually solidify, a bit like the Inhuman anthology for AXP. And last week wasn’t the best week, given I had an installment to write for Choose Your Online Adventure (which ended up being two), a Write Anything article to write, a birthday invite to create (which I realised was much huger than it was AFTER I’d agreed) oh and we’d divided the start of the week between Cairns and Brisbane.

To my great relief, Thursday afternoon, I stumbled across an amazing world-record breaking story while researching the year 1960 for my StepMum’s birthday invitation. Joseph Kittinger broke the record that year for the highest, longest and fastest sky dive in history. The speed record stuck until 2005! He jumped from 102,000 feet, including free falling for 16 miles. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m terrified of heights and my days of being a speed junkie are well and truly over… but  Kittinger’s story entranced me.

On the drive to pick my son up from school “The Man Who Would” was born. It’s not so much a story about crazy off-planet sky diving, but about legal bureaucracies, corporate power and the fear of litigation which threaten to crush the big dreams of ordinary people. The title riffs from a Dr Who episode and shadows the theme of legacy inherent in the story. I was graciously assisted by Jason Coggins, who pulled my story to pieces so I could put it back together in an even better way (thus my main character Jack literally became harder and faster!), Annie who beta read and Lily Mulholland who proof read late on a Saturday night when she was shattered from a big day with her family.

I’m crossing my fingers it makes the short list. If not, it proves a few things to me which are lessons well learnt. Firstly I am able to pen something meaningful in under 500 words. Secondly, I am able to diverge from ‘weird, dark shit’ once in a while and write something uplifting, thought-provoking even! And lastly, strange things happen when you hang out on Wikipedia too long.