Just as I left it…
Writer’s diary: 19th October, 2016.
That seems like false advertising to me. Not the date, the writer’s diary bit. I don’t feel much like a writer these days. That’s probably because I’ve done hardly any writing since I left my writer’s retreat (aka home) in Turkey to go back to the UK for a spot of property maintenance… just over six months ago. Six months! Hard to believe I’ve been away that long. I came back to Ankara yesterday.
I confess that in the last few weeks – when my return date was looming and after months of very little writing time – I’ve experienced feelings of mild anxiety regarding whether I still have anything worthwhile in the writing locker. Would I be able to sit down all day making stuff up and make it entertaining enough for the discerning reader to get their £1.99’s worth? Or, Dog forbid, was I going to have to get a proper job? Something involving… children…nooooooo! For the record, I’ve never had a problem with sitting down all day, it’s the creativity aspect I’ve been getting my knickers in a twist over.
The good news is that within a short while of being back at my desk, with family members either out of the way at school or earning the money needed to keep my dream of early retirement alive, and me with a tummy full of Turkish breakfast, I feel that everything is going to be OK. Ever the optimist.
Being in the UK is great for me the person but no good for me the writer – too many distrations, too many jobs needing attention, things needing fixing, people to see, beer to drink, films to watch, books to read, … you get the picture. In the UK I have never been able to ignore everything else, lock myself away and apply myself to the art of story telling for concentrated lengths of time. Living in a foreign country, with no responsibilities, no job, horrible beer, TV that makes no sense, and no friends is great for writing.
I wrote a couple of short stories while I was back home. Nothing brilliant but I felt I was keeping my hand in, ie refreshing my memory with the qwerty keybaord . And, like anyone who considers themselves a ‘writer’, I’ve generated some ideas for more shorts and some ideas that might lend themselves to longer efforts.
My first task is to deal with the two projects I abandoned back in April. I left Booker & Cash #3 at 85000 words. I still feel bad about that. I should have completed it. Because of my awful memory, I can hardly remember anything about it now. It’ll be back to the beginning on that. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Seeing it with fresh eyes. Make that adjusted perspective, there is nothing fresh about these eyes.
The other project is a book that is finished. I’ve probably mentioned it here before. Its current title is Cold Kills. It’s a one off that’s outside my normal writing scope. I like it. The people I’ve shared it with like it. Cold Kills is not something I’m planning to self-publish. Before I came to the UK I submitted it to a trio of literary agents in line with my desire to get traditionally published. A couple of weeks ago I got my third rejection email. (Now that does make me feel like a real author.) I need to read it again, tinker with it and then I’ll be firing it off to the next three on my list. I will give it and my vanity a few more months and then reconsider my position.
So that’s me hopefully back in the writing groove. And to commemorate the ocassion I’m posting a free read. It’s a short, short story that filled a few hours during an uncharacteristic bout of insomnia. If the name and writing of Ray Bradbury means nothing to you, my advice is to give it a miss. Come to think of it, if Ray Bradbury’s science fiction short stories hold a special place in your heart like they do mine you might wish you hadn’t bothered. I’m sure I heard him turning in his grave as I was knocking this one out.
‘I’m delighted to report, and I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to hear, that updating of the Work-Easy terminals should be completed by the end of next week. I want to thank everyone for their patience and hard work over the last few months. It’s been challenging but I’m confident we’ll all enjoy the benefits and a reduction in our workloads and responsibilities when the system comes online and the duty-drones take over the monitoring tasks.’
‘Until it all breaks down and one of them runs amok with a broom,’ said Dennett. That got a little ripple of amusement.
‘Now, now,’ chided the Head. ‘We need to remain positive about the changes, the improvements I should say…’ all present then noted that he hadn’t, ‘…that The Foundation is making. We need to think like a team, all pulling in the same direction if we are to make this work. The Foundation will be paying particularly close attention.’ He paused for a moment, bending to study his notes, providing them an opportunity to reflect on what he’d said.
Wallace looked around the little group of his colleagues and caught Randi exchange a cynical raised eyebrow and barely suppressed smirk with Grayling. They were a pair of time-servers who’d been around forever, seen and heard it all before and refused to be impressed by anything new – by change.
Wallace wiped his sweaty palms on his trouser legs. His time to speak was near. He hated speaking in front of the staff. In front of his class of boys he could talk all day: theatrically and dramatically, emphasising and enthusing, instructing, directing, informing, performing. Being a Curriculum Delivery Operative was what he was born for. But speaking in front of his colleagues, all of them more worldly and experienced than he, far more respected – often far more mocking – daunted and tormented him to the limits of his wits.
With an air of finality intended to communicate to all that he sincerely hoped there would not be, the Head said, ‘Any other business?’
They began stirring, switching off their tablets, folding over the protective covers, picking bags off the floor in preparation for the rush for the nearest exit and the shuttle back to the lodgement.
Wallace felt his heart-rate quicken, his face heat and colour, and his throat dry. He moistened his lips with a quick flick of his tongue, swallowed, raised his hand and said, ‘Yes.’ He was aware of the collective body language then: the twisting in the seats, the noises in their throats, the forced exhalations of air to signal their displeasure at being kept here when the comforts, distractions and escapism of their little living units beckoned. Fourteen pairs of eyes glared in his direction and at his impertinence – the new boy at the institution daring to keep them all here with his arrogance, his idea of self-importance. He heard himself apologise by way of reaction and then regretted it bitterly and despised himself and them for it. He was a member of staff here too. He had the same rights as them. He was, on the screen, their equal.
‘Wallace?’ Even the Head was struggling to keep the surprise out of his voice. Was it surprise or something more critical – irritation, perhaps? ‘You have something that you would like to share?’
‘Not exactly like to, sir,’ said Wallace. ‘It gives me no pleasure, but I must.’ He realised talking like that sounded pompous and was likely to get their backs up further. ‘I have a serious infringement of The Foundation’s code of practice to report.’
‘Go on,’ said the Head with a wary professional interest. Wallace could see that his humourless smile was fixed and forced.
Wallace took a deep breath. ‘I caught one of the boys in the act of Violation 451 this afternoon.’
The silence was instant and loud. Not a bag rustled. Not a seat protested a fidget. Thirteen pairs of eyes transferred their gaze from the new boy to the old boy. Violation 451 was serious. It had serious implications for them as an institution. Violation 451 meant that security had been breached, bypassed, authority undermined and ignored, rules broken. Violation 451 was worrying news for all of them, but potentially career threatening for one.
The Head gave Wallace a look that the more experienced of the staff interpreted as deep and bitter disappointment, resentment even. It said you should have come to see me privately about this. It said did you have to raise this most serious violation of The Foundation’s rules in front of this bunch of gossiping back-stabbers? It said you’re going to regret your decision, you self-righteous little shit.
The noise of a baker’s-dozen of backsides settling back into their seats filled the awkward and tense moment.
The Head went on the offensive making it clear to all that the reason for the delay in getting back to their private rooms and the pleasures that awaited them, that sustained them through their days and years at the Bradbury Foundation was not of his making, although no-one appeared to be in a hurry to leave now. ‘This is indeed serious; serious implications for security and for us as an institution of learning. You should have come and seen me immediately. Why did you not? Why the delay?’
Wallace had not because he feared that had he done so the matter would not have been treated with the seriousness that it warranted. Wallace believed without the slightest reserve in the aims and the objectives of the Bradbury Foundation’s mission statement and any instance of Violation 451 needed to be met, in his opinion and the Foundation’s, with full exposure and harsh penalties. It was the only way. Having a private word with the Head would, he feared, only see the incident downgraded, brushed under the interactive flooring. Wallace believed that examples had to be made for discipline to thrive. And discipline was essential to learning.
‘If I have acted inappropriately, Headmaster, I apologise.’
‘Well, now that you have, acted that is, we must discuss it. Details, please.’ This through a tight-lipped mouth. ‘Who? Where? When? How? What?’
‘Dawkins Major. Prep. ablution room. Before afternoon recess.’
A hush and tangible nervousness gripped the gathering. Dawkins Major was from a good family, old money, influential parents. He was the third Dawkins to have been accepted into the Bradbury Foundation and he had a younger brother in The Fives.
Eyes now flitted nervously trying to both meet each others’ and avoid each others’ looks. Grave implications, indeed. Not a few of them settled unfriendly stares on Wallace. As part of the meeting, this information would now be on digital record, available for examination by the board. How they dealt with it individually and collectively would go on their own records. What they had to do was to be seen to treat the news with the gravitas that it demanded, regardless of their private feelings.
‘What were you doing in the Prep. ablution room?’ said Hitchens, Deputy Head.
A hint of embarrassment settled on Wallace’s features. ‘I was caught a bit short on my way to 7C. I nipped in to use the facilities. As I said, it wasn’t break time. In theory there shouldn’t have been anyone in there. I might have been late otherwise.’ That wouldn’t look good on the digital record either. Masters were not permitted inside the student ablutions rooms without very good reason and certainly not alone. Wallace moved on swiftly in an attempt to deflect attention from himself. ‘I was seeing to my own needs,’ he said, colouring with embarrassment at his choice of words, when I heard him in the next cubicle.
‘Heard what, exactly?’ Hitchens had taken over as interrogator and the Head seemed happy to let him.
‘Dawkins involved in the act of Violation 451.’
‘How did you understand what he was up to?’
‘I recognised the sounds. I am a man. I am not without experience.’ Wallace held Hitchen’s gaze comfortably now. Feeling threatened helped him to overcome some of his natural shyness.
‘And what did you do?’
‘I demanded that he identify himself and step out of the cubicle.’
They waited for him to continue.
‘I heard what I understood to be him trying to cover-up his activities. When he finally emerged he looked flushed and guilty. It was quite obvious that there was something big and unnatural protruding over the top of his trousers under his over-shirt. I told him to show it to me. He lifted up his clothing and there it was – a large, thick one, angry red in colour. I told him to take it out and show it to me properly, which to the boy’s credit he did without protest. I must say it is some time since I have handled such a fine specimen, but that of course is beside the point.’
‘Yes, it is,’ said Hitchens. ‘And then?’
‘And then I escorted him to Isolation. He is there now.’
There was another uncomfortable pause.
‘What is the protocol for dealing with Violation 451?’ said Harris. He was fairly new too.
‘Immediate isolation pending enquiry,’ said the Head. ‘If he is found guilty of Violation 451, expulsion and the first shuttle back to Earth.’ He didn’t sound too happy about it. He didn’t look too happy with Wallace.
Hitchens said, ‘The boys will have to be spoken to. We must determine whether Dawkins Major has been sharing his filthy habit with others, corrupting any of the younger ones.’ As the enormity of the repercussions began to dawn on him, he scowled. As Deputy Head the task to discover the extent of the corruption of individuals would be his.
‘Does anyone else know?’ said the Head.
‘Not as far as I’m aware,’ said Wallace. ‘There was no-one else in the ablutions room and we didn’t pass anyone in the corridors.’
Hitchens scratched his closely shaved scalp. ‘Where is it now?’
Wallace reached down to the bag that had sat between his feet throughout the meeting. From it he extracted the cause of all the trouble. Several stared at it as though they might at a small dirty-bomb. He placed it carefully on the low table that occupied the space between them all. No-one made any attempt to touch it, to investigate it.
‘How could he have got it past security?’ said Hitchens, airing one of the few thoughts that were filling the minds of the Masters.
‘I don’t know,’ said the Head, but we’ll have to find that out as a matter of urgency. We’ll also need to know whether this is the only specimen.’
‘I’ve never actually seen one before,’ said Harris. ‘Not in the flesh, so to speak. Wherever would he have got it from?’
‘Not our concern,’ said Hitchens. ‘Our concern is that it’s here and it shouldn’t be.’
‘What’s that say on the front?’ said Harris, tilting his head to see.
Wallace read the embossed gold-lettering of the tooled red leather binding, ‘The Holy Bible’.