A Dusty Word- By T.W. Norrich

The bronze light poured in through the blinds; lines contrasting with dank isolation.  The air control had expired; it wasn’t the only thing to face its demise.  A figure moved in the corner, slowly at first.  It emerged, looked around, the head angled awkwardly on sloping shoulders.  Its neck cracked loudly, and the body straightened with a low exhale and an inhuman stagger towards the table.  The hands pawed over the various documents, a literal paper trail seemingly out of time.  The languid fingers clumsily sifted, the gold watch on the left wrist clicked against the chair.  The seat scrapped as it was moved gently, deliberately.  The figure sat down with an eternity of fatigue and sighed.

After its pause, it seemed somewhat rested and continued the search.  Finally, with relief, or perhaps disbelief, it stopped.  A sound escaped.  It sounded like a name. 

‘Clarice,’ the word floated through the air as if it were a plume of disturbed dust.  The figure sniffed slightly and seemed to stare off into the middle distance.  It had a pained expression, unseen in the dark.  Memories.  A curse.  They flooded back on occasion.  Sometimes they provided pain, sometimes inspiration to keep looking, to find peace, release, satisfaction. 

Presently, it was in transition.  The pain gave way to purpose.  Suddenly it moved.  It stood and pushed away from the table.  It moved to the window and looked out into the city’s sprawl from the high rise apartment.  The light revealed the torso, a battered body covered in dishevelled clothes; it could no longer move freely throughout the city.  Except of course in the lower levels; it fit in perfectly there. 

It swayed for a moment as if waiting for something.
‘It won’t help you,’ a voice broke the silence.  The figure moved, looked into the far corner of the apartment.  Another figure, a man, sat on the floor, behind the couch in a damned repose.  He coughed, and a splatter of blood punctured the crisp white of his otherwise clean sweater.  ‘It’s too late,’ he said, the pain of which caused him to contort slightly.

The figure staggered towards the man.  It bent down.  In the darkness, the wracked features were barely visible.  The man seemed beyond caring.

‘She’s long gone,’ he continued, ‘you think you’ve found the answer, but you don’t even know what you’re looking for.’  The man tried to laugh; more blood seeped out.

The figure tilted its head and considered those words for so long the man thought it had gone to sleep, or deactivated.  With a snort it came alive, its body moved in ways the man didn’t realise were possible.  It didn’t matter.

The door to the apartment slid open gently. The figure ambled with a limp.  It reached the lifts.  A trail of blood followed in its wake; it didn’t care.  It moved ever on. It had to know, it had to know.

‘Clarice,’ a dusty word floated gently down the hallway.

Free- By Kai Lance

‘It’s already dead. You killed it.’  His words bounced around my brain for hours.  Was he right? No, madness!  I had done as I had always done; one small slip up couldn’t mean death. 

I looked away whenever he walked into the room; there was no chance I would give him the satisfaction.  Days went by, and the event replayed in my mind. Again and again, I poured the water in, I could hear the voices cry.  I had done it a thousand times before, but this time, I had set the temperature wrong, and now an entire colony was gone, destroyed.

They weren’t even sentient. No one else in the lab thought so, so why should I? 

I continued my work.  Placed one sample, scrapped, peered through the scope, tiny specks. Were they looking at me?

How could one mistake haunt me so?

‘Don’t blame me,’ I muttered. 

‘It’s OK,’ a voice said. I whirled.  There he was again.  ‘It happens to the best of us.’  To the best of us.  His smug face showed me all I needed to see.  Judgment.  What, I can’t do a man’s job?  ‘They’re not even sentient,’ he smiled and left me to my work.

I hadn’t even thought about it.  All these years, it had never entered my mind.  Of course, they’re not sentient, but why would that question only be raised when there was a mistake, a death, a slaughter?

Maybe my colleagues felt guilty too; this was them trying to assuage their guilt? Perhaps.  But the thing is, I didn’t feel guilty about killing a colony. I feel guilty for not even having thought about it ‘till now.  What if we discovered they were aware, that they knew?  And all this time, we’d never even raised the question?

The first time I asked about the new experiments and their cognitive structure, I was laughed at, the second time I was ignored.  This last time saw a report against me, but I don’t care.  I’m thinking now, I wasn’t before.  I’m conscious, even if our subjects and my colleagues aren’t, at least I am.  They know only as much as what the colonies we experiment on know; next to nothing. 

But I am here, I am free.

Update – Change of days

Hello fellow fiction lovers!

Two announcements to hit your devices today.

The first is that we are changing the day in which we release these tidbits of fiction into the wild. Mondays don’t seem to be working. So I thought that maybe, land closer to the weekend and perhaps people will have more time to read then.

We have been getting dozens of hits, which is great, but I want hundreds, not dozens, so we shall see what transpires with this change.

Secondly, I would like to welcome back: Kai Lance, who brought us the exciting ‘The Market’ a couple of months ago. This time, we have a thoughtful short story about intelligence and awareness. This will arrive next Friday 6th August. All stories will be on Fridays after that.

After Kai Lance, I have dusted off an older story that I have had sitting around with no home and thought a bit of dark horror might tantalise. I do hope you enjoy and as always, if you want to get published, click the submission link above and we can make it so!

Keep writing, keep reading, all the best.

T.W.

The Tale of Wang: Series 1, Episode 5 – By C.J. Quince and KC Pery

It began to occur to Wang, that the life of an Extra Terrestrial sent to investigate human behaviour could be a difficult one. Especially so if the mission was based in a regional town in Australia

It wasn’t the odd request at midnight that alerted Wang to the situation.  Nor was it the going out in a hitherto unseen white van.  It wasn’t the boss wearing all black (including a beanie) or handing Wang a pair of gloves to wear (in peak summer, no less).  And it wasn’t even when the boss struggled with the back gate in the way a stranger fumbles with the unfamiliar.  Even when they were loading the furniture into the van and none of the photos- from the humble three-bedroom home with old fashion wallpaper- seemed to fit.  Wang’s inner mind merely accepted all of these occurrences and observations as he did every day, acknowledging that he was the outsider and that he was here to learn.


What did finally trigger an inner alarm, a very human response to some base instinct, happened after the furniture was unloaded into a storage shed. 
The recognisable blue and red of police lights (without sirens) suddenly flashed, and the boss ducked out of sight.  He waved Wang over, who stood stupidly in the open looking between the light source and the storage shed which the boss was now huddling near.  It seemed futile. The van was the only vehicle in the lot at this time of night; it would surely draw attention.  Wang slowly walked over and squatted by the boss.
‘What did you just make me do?’ he asked.
‘Ah, nothing, we just helped my grandmother move, like I said.’
‘You’re white,’ Wang stated.
‘So?’
‘The pictures of the people in that house were almost entirely west Asian.’
‘What?’
‘Middle Eastern.  You don’t look remotely Middle Eastern.’
‘I was adopted, now shut up.’
‘Why?’
‘The cops.’
‘It’s a Random Breath Test.’
‘RBT? Are you sure?’
‘Sure.  I undertook the immeasurably intelligent task of looking at them; thus, I was informed.’  Secretly, Wang was pleased with his first-ever attempt at humour.  He couldn’t be sure if he wasn’t remotely funny, or he was brilliant, but the boss in such an agitated state couldn’t appreciate his genius.


Boss stuck his head out of cover, saw the police car with another pulled over.  Their business was concluded, and both drove away; no doubt one poorer for the experience.  Boss breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Ok, I’ll drop you home.’
‘I’d rather walk, thank you.’ Wang stood up and walked defiantly away.
‘Are you sure?’


‘Boss,’ he stopped and turned, ‘I put up with the customers’ behaviours, the late nights, the bad pay (but at least legal).  I put up with the sudden change of rosters without notice, the casual and therefore lack of regular pay, lack of sick and holiday benefits, which I hear were hard fought for in this country. I even put up with that strange man who always looked at me like I was a piece of meat.  After all, it made me appreciate what I’ve come to realise is ‘par for the course’ for the female staff.  But I will not put up with whatever it is you’ve got me into tonight.  Consider this my notice.’  Wang turned and marched away.
‘Well,’ boss said after his mind caught up with his mouth, ‘can I at least have my gloves back?’ 

The following day, tired and unemployed, Wang walked up to the local ‘Fresh’ supermarket, résumé in hand. 
‘Can’t be as bad as the last job,’ he thought as he walked in through the automatic doors and was enveloped by conditioned, sweet-smelling air.

The Tale of Wang: Series 1, Episode 4 – By C.J. Quince and KC Pery

It began to occur to Wang, that the life of an Extra Terrestrial sent to investigate human behaviour could be a difficult one. Especially so if the mission was based in a regional town in Australia

Wang blinked through bloodshot eyes and the haze of light that invaded his small room.  Working nights was not agreeing with him.  Weekends concluded at two or three in the morning and the summer sun would disturb him anytime from five.  The pub work itself was not wholly disagreeable.  Once he had adjusted to the odd use of language (primarily grunts, mumbles and profanity that passed for humour) and could decipher the orders whilst loud music assaulted his senses, the rest was trivial. 

Admittedly, the bureaucracy of ‘responsible service’ was a perplexing manifestation of government intervention and hypocrisy that Wang simple couldn’t process effectively. 
As far as he could tell, intoxicated behaviour was causing significant social issues, drunk driving, property damage and beyond.  Instead of adequately educating the population or prohibiting sales of alcohol (which has historically not worked well), the government decided to blame those who served it.  If someone enters the pub, Wang pours them a drink. The pub’s licence holder (and now Wang as he was employed by said licence holder) was somewhat responsible for the customer’s behaviour.  If they walked outside and got hit by a car, the pub may have to pay damages.  Therefore, personal responsibility was being outsourced to the authorities and the legal system. 


‘Is that all human society does?’ He wondered.  ‘The problems don’t go away; they simply move them.’


There was a loud clang and revving of an engine outside Wang’s small unit window.  It was the garbage truck that had awoken him this morning, not the sun.  It rumbled up to the front of his property and, following the usual routine, grabbed the green bin on wheels with the hefty metal contraption and disgorged the contents within the rumbling beast.  All of Wang’s troubles left with the truck.  He put on his uniform, ate some breakfast, and wrote his reports.  After staring at a device that beamed distraction into his household for a short time (more commonly known as a “T.V.”), he made his way to work. 


He didn’t often work during the day, but he enjoyed the change of pace.  The sun was up, people were smiling (and not from alcohol).  He entered the pub and greeted his boss with a nod.
There was a customer at the bar, Larry.  He was staring at a piece of paper while he nursed a beer. 
‘What the hell,’ he mumbled.
‘What’s up Larry?’ Wang’s boss asked.
‘Rates notice.  I’m paying a bloody fortune, aren’t my taxes enough?’
‘Aren’t we all? Someone’s got to pump your shit away.’
‘That’s why I come here,’ both men chuckled, the paper went away, and Larry proceeded to tell his woes to any staff who would listen.  The problems didn’t go away; they were merely spread across different shoulders.  Wang recalled another recently learned expression ‘a trouble shared is a trouble halved.’ 
‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘perhaps.’

The Tale of Wang: Series 1, Episode 3 – By C.J. Quince and KC Pery

It began to occur to Wang, that the life of an Extra Terrestrial sent to investigate human behaviour could be a difficult one. Especially so if the mission was based in a regional town in Australia

Wang stood admiring his work.  The beer was good enough to use in an advertising campaign.  The froth was thick yet sat mostly atop the glass. The condensation had only just begun to form as the amber fluid sparkled in the bar’s lighting.


‘Hand it over son, I’m dying of thirst,’ the old man mumbled.  Wang snapped out of his trance of admiration and walked the glass to the end of the bar.  The grey-haired figure frowned over his bushy eyebrows as he hungrily snapped up the nectar.  Wiping away the froth from his moustache, he gave an approving smile.  ‘That’s the good stuff, mother’s milk.’ 
It appeared he required no reply, so Wang moved to the other end of the bar and awaited the next customer.  The air was thick with the smell of stale beer, and the lighting from the windows was sporadic due to the passing cloud.  No one seemed to care about these sensory deficiencies, so Wang paid them little attention.


‘G’day mate,’ a middle-aged man of thinner build than was customary emerged from the heat outside and made his way up to the bar.  ‘I’ll have a light beer. Whatever you’ve got on tap is fine.’  Wang obliged as the old man looked around.  He was evidently not a regular.  ‘Thanks mate,’ he handed over a note and left the change where it lay as he drank his beer with cool relief.  ‘Not bad.  I’m getting used to the light stuff.  Doc says I need to cut back.  The wife agrees, of course,’ he said without making eye contact.  Wang wasn’t sure if he was talking to him directly but offered a mumble of interest just in case.  ‘Thing is, I can have two of these and still drive.  Before, I had to take the back roads; damned risky if the coppers were on a blitz.’
‘You could have had one only, I suppose,’ Wang said, calculating standard drinks and their impact (by average) on human physiology.
‘Yeah, but who wants to have only one?  You only get the taste at the bottom of the glass,’ he took another deep drink.
‘Too right,’ said the older man at the end of the bar, emptying his glass.  Wang dispensed another of the same for both men, a mid-strength and a light.  His thoughts glossed over the words ‘rational’ versus ‘rationalised’, but he lost the thread.


‘Replay me ticket mate, thanks.  Maybe I’m rich this time,’ the light man handed over a keno ticket and a $5 note.  ‘Used to do two of those, but I’ve cut back.  Wife told me so, and the Doc agreed of course.’
‘Bloody women controlling your life,’ the mid man said.  His tone was gruff but taken as sympathetic.
‘Yeah mate, they mean well, but I’ve got make me own path, you know?’
‘Too right, that’s why the wife thinks I’m at the library.  Speaking of which,’ the mid man finished his drink, picked up his hat and made his way to the door.  ‘She’ll be picking me up there shortly.’
‘Won’t she smell the beer?’
‘Nah, I told her they serve grog there; she’s never been inside a library all her life.  Come to think of it, neither have I.  Well, hooroo,’ mid man was gone, light man chuckled.
‘Maybe people only believe what they want to believe,’ he said as he finished his second beer and waved his thanks as he headed towards the door.
‘Maybe,’ Wang was inclined to agree.

The Tale of Wang: Series 1, Episode 2 – By C.J. Quince and KC Pery

It began to occur to Wang, that the life of an Extra Terrestrial sent to investigate human behaviour could be a difficult one. Especially so if the mission was based in a regional town in Australia

He took a long drink of his dark beverage and exhaled with satisfaction.  The ice clinked against the now half-emptied glass as it settled on the counter.  The smell of cigarette smoke wafted over the bar into Wang’s face.  The curious behaviour of inhaling and ingesting poisons was a, what was the expression he’d just heard? ‘A hard nut to crack’. 


‘Nothing better than a Bundy on a hot day,’ the old man broke into a smile, ‘or any other day for that matter.’  Indeed, with reasonable air conditioning, it mattered little what the weather was.  ‘Don’t worry so much,’ he said, ‘it might never happen.’ 
‘Hmm?’ Wang realised the statement was focused on him.
‘You look concerned; what are you thinking about?’
‘Oh, I was just wondering why people drink and smoke.’  A short intake of breath from the pub’s owner further down the bar filled the silence for a brief moment.


The old man eventually cracked another smile and followed it up with a laugh.
‘Lucky for you, they do, or you’d be out of a job,’ he raised his glass and sipped.  ‘You not a drinker?’
‘No, I tried it and smoking.  Didn’t like it.’
‘Well, good for you.  If you don’t want it, don’t touch it.  Nasty stuff.’
‘Then why do you drink and smoke?’
‘Been doing it forty years, why stop now? Besides, if I do things that make me happy, I’m a better person to be around.  You wouldn’t want me without a drink or smoke in me hand,’ he laughed again and took another sip.


‘Being happy makes other people happy,’ Wang processed that for a moment.  ‘I’d not thought of that.’
‘Well, that’s why you come to work, learn something from the infinite wisdom of your elders.’
‘You would sacrifice your health to be happy and to make those around you happy.’
‘Pretty much,’ he sipped again.  ‘Oh, that reminds me, I need a glass of water.  Thanks mate.’
Wang poured him a glass while the old man retrieved a hidden packet.  Inside was an array of medications in tablet form.  He threw them in his mouth and gulped them down with the water.  ‘Doc says I need to take them with water,’ he explained, washing it all down with the last of his rum.  ‘Another one, thanks champ.  Need to spread the joy.’

The Tale of Wang: Series 1, Episode 1 – By C.J. Quince and KC Pery

It began to occur to Wang, that the life of an Extra Terrestrial sent to investigate human behaviour could be a difficult one. Especially so if the mission was based in a regional town in Australia

Wang wasn’t sure how he felt dispensing alcohol to gain financial security.  It was a good learning experience regarding local conduct.  Watching the deterioration of human behaviour when intoxicated was very informative, although occasionally dangerous.  The pub he had selected as his prospective employer seemed interested in his work history (entirely doctored).  Most of the other workers were also immigrants, and Wang could find no discernible reason for this initially.  After the third week and third pay that was factually inaccurate, it became apparent. 


By researching the ‘awards’ or pay structure, he found that he was getting paid an illegal amount and that his ‘superannuation’ was not adequately funded.  Wang first had to learn what superannuation was and discovered that it related to the retirement of workers. However, workers seemed to know almost nothing about its function.  Politicians liked to talk about it, and economists would add their critique. Still, there was no general connection with this, apparently, essential and monstrous beast of an industry.  It was worth hundreds of billions of dollars. When the sector chose to fund something, for example, building roads rather than rail, or renewables rather than fossil fuels, it could change the landscape of business and society. 


Why no one cared, he could not discern.  Upon enquiring to his colleagues, Wang discovered that none of them knew that they were being underpaid.  None of them knew of minimum wage nor what it was. 

Ignorant immigrants save the manager money; it was a simple equation. 

Upon presenting his case to the employer and using the word ‘unions’ three times, there was backpay in everyone’s accounts by the following week.  It was a simple economic decision, of course.  Had he been caught in this act by the authorities, it would have cost more in penalties.  Yet, he still delivered the pay as if he were gifting something that was his, rather than returning something he owed.  A curious lesson in what Wang was beginning to learn called ‘spin.’

Update!

We humbly welcome back to the FWS cause- C.J. This time he brings a companion. KC Perry, a previous collaborator in a past life, has rejoined C.J. to produce a fascinating and witty satire. The tale of Wang asks the question: ‘If immigrants find it hard to move to Australia, what would happen if the immigrant was an alien?’ As in, from outer space.

There are longer versions of this tale in existence, but I am pleased to say that the two writers have given us a digestible version here to enjoy. Episode one will be landing this Monday, so stick around!

Once again, I am hoping that we can get a regular and larger role call of writers so that we can have stand alone stories as the bread and butter of this site. Nevertheless, when I am offered a wonderful mini-series, I won’t hesitate to add it in.

So remember, head to the top tab and hit submissions if you want to get published! Otherwise, keep reading.
– T.W.

The Market – By Kai Lance

The market was buzzing with activity, too much activity.  Sara turned and watched, hoping she hadn’t missed the more delicate details necessary to reveal her target.  There were a dozen races, stalls, languages, dialects, trade, exchange, barter, noise and more noise.  Sara’s vision froze on a figure in a dark cloak. The sun cut through the opaque ceiling but revealed nothing. 


It’s him.

The countless figures and noises receded from her mind as Sara focused on the one dark figure, an inverted ball of light.  Everything came down to this.

***

‘You can’t take him,’ the voice had said through her earpiece. 

Months earlier, when she’d taken the task upon herself, this seemed to be the one constant piece of advice received.  The voice, her employer, never minced words.  ‘He’s too much for you; even the best won’t touch this man.’
‘So he’s human then?’
‘Close enough.  Look, C (Sara’s codename), I’ve got other work for you, good money, short jobs.  Even if you get close to him, it’ll take months, I can’t pay you for this unless I was sure you’d bring him in, so you’d be on your own.  Do you understand?’
‘I do,’ Sara had understood.  No resources, no contacts, no help from The Network.  She had enough money to get by until the job was done, not that this was about money, but there were practicalities to face.  The truth was, she didn’t care what happened to her. She wanted this man brought down. It’s all that mattered.

***

The market continued to stir. The figure turned and glanced her way but didn’t pause for long.  He moved calmly away.  Had he seen her? Likely, he was the best, but it didn’t matter now.  She was so close she could smell him, even over the spices, the heat, and the crowded stalls’ and body odour.

It was now or never, she made her move. 

Darting between bodies, she moved with keen purpose.  The figure was nonchalant.  He stopped to look at some wares but moved on immediately.  She was twenty paces behind and catching up rapidly.  He turned down an alley, one of many. Sara was right behind him but stopped abruptly. 

He was gone!

How could this be?  She continued, hoping for a sign. Pacing around the next corner, the noise of the market began to subside.

A hand snatched and dragged her into the shadows.  They were eye to eye. His face was right there. She could smell him.  His cloak covered his features.  She fumbled for her blade, but his arms and legs pinned hers to the wall.  It was an intimate stalemate—two highly-trained killers.  If one limb were freed for a moment, death would result.  The thought of the months of searching all leading to this; Sara could see the bodies and the figure standing over them.  Her pain, her inspiration returned; this was her revenge!

Suddenly, her thoughts darted.  She’d lost so much, but there was a brother, a lover, friends.  Her desire for vengeance had precluded their importance.  Was this really the way? It didn’t matter now. She had to move or die.

Only a moment had transpired, a blink of an eye.  What had he been thinking? Sara wondered. Probably nothing, just another dead being standing before him.

A flash of movement, his four limbs darted with hidden poisoned weapons, blades, needles, the kind that would kill you painfully yet quickly.  Sara responded in kind.  Her movements redefined close-quarters combat as slight shifts in his body, designed to penetrate her skin, were eluded.  Sara deflected and applied equal and opposite counterattacks forcing the figure to defend.  It was all a blur, a moment in time, but the man disengaged, leapt back and froze for a moment.  He seemed to nod his concealed head.  Was that respect?

And then he was gone. 

Sara pursued him but knew it was futile.  She’d lost him, missed her chance.  But she had gone up against the best and equalled him.  Her vengeance would likely never occur, so be it.  She turned towards the port.  It was time to go home and see her brother, her friends, her lover.  It had been far too long between drinks.

End