A few years ago I wrote a little story called MERCURIAL. It started off as a [fiction] Friday short, based on a prompt where the main character in the story had become obsessed with something. In my story the MC was self-obsessed.

That story ended up being the very first story penned for CHINESE WHISPERINGS: The Red Book. Writing it out to its natural conclusion set the word limit for the stories – 3500 words. It is a little odd reading MERCURIAL now. My writing has moved on quite a bit since then. But I still have a soft spot for it because of the place it has in CW history.

Today, we begin the roll out of stories and reflections at the official Chinese Whisperings site,  in the lead up to the books’ release on Tuesday 11th October. Here’s a little of MERCURIAL. You can read more about how it came to be here.


The alarm went off, sending an agonising wave of pulses through Miranda’s head. She gritted her teeth, fumbling for the snooze button. Seven minutes to decide how the day would progress.When did I finally fall asleep? Had the light been seeping in through the Venetian blinds? Or was that yesterday? The day before?

Easing back from the clock radio, she unclenched her jaw and rolled onto her side, remoulding to the body pillow. Miranda forced beyond the headache, to take stock of the rest of her body. Her arms and legs ached, no better or worse than yesterday, and her bowels felt weak. Nothing new there. She moved her hands with slow, meticulous strokes over her swollen abdomen which had once been washboard flat and hard from daily abuse at the gym, then examined her puffy fingers now devoid of the rings she loved so much. The effort exhausted her.

Pushing through the fog wooing her back into the release of sleep, she reached once more and wrapped her fingers around the small diary on the bedside table. Lying in a haphazard manner on her side and placing the diary on the elongated pillow, Miranda scribbled down the symptoms. There would be more as the day progressed.

Erratic mood swings.

Unusual sweating.

Cold feet.

There had been new additions in the last week—fevers and sore glands. Or had she just failed to notice them before?

This little book was her testament to the truth, not the rambling hallucinations of a hypochondriac. The notes in her shaky script were concrete facts. Even if she was the only one who believed it.

The alarm burst to life again. Miranda moaned, crawling back across the yawning divide, grabbing her mobile and turning the alarm off. Every fibre of her body screamed with the effort to drag her legs over the side of the bed and sit up. The room spun for a moment. She tried to focus on the list of ‘W’ numbers, until she came to work. It only took two rings to connect to the outside world.

“Good morning Eloise.” Her voice weak, rasped, devoid of the ray of sunshine she’d always believed rippled through it.

“Ringing in sick again, Miranda?”

“I’m not feeling so good.”

“Of course you’re not.” Eloise had once been her friend and the sarcasm cut Miranda deeper than the obvious lack of empathy.

She is sitting in my chair. Schmoozing with my boss. Imagining that my job is… her job!

“You will need to ring HR about applying for holidays. You’re all out of sick leave.”

Eloise’s been in my personnel file checking my sick leave?

“But my medical cert…” Her voice fell in on itself and the words were barely audible.

“Take it up with HR. Some of us around here have work to do,” and the line went dead.

It took a while for Miranda to register the strange sound as her own weeping. Every day she detached further from her somatic experience to cope. It didn’t surprise her she failed to recognise her own crying. Last night she’d been completely disorientated when her new neighbour appeared in the dead of night to ask if she was okay. She hadn’t even realised she was upset, much less loud enough to bring him to her front door.

Someone else’s pain. Someone else’s problem. Someone else’s world falling apart.

The doctors ruled out everything after a plethora of tests. She did not have the Epstein-Barr virus, ruling out Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the most obvious diagnosis given her symptoms. She wasn’t suffering from an autoimmune disease or an obscure tropical virus, compliments of the trip to Thailand earlier in the year. According to the tests she was a healthy young woman—who just happened to be wasting away while the world moved on.

Bad patient! Bad Miranda! Bad girl! Bad. Bad. Bad.

The collective agreement on her physical symptoms—psychosomatic in origin. Abandonment and mother issues from childhood causing her to will herself into illness. Self-hatred manifesting as self-punishment creating an imagined illness.

Psychobabble. Bullshit. Talking out of their asses. Not even I hate myself that much.

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