Joe2stories

Stories from a Dublin Scientist

Month: July, 2014

A Dangerous Game

Jennifer took another look at the packet.

May Cause Drowsiness It said

Do not operate heavy machinery

Under no circumstances take more than four per 24 hours

She looked at the snowglobe: at how the light glinted off the floating glitter

She looked at the packet, new, freshly opened, and empty

Her fingers grazed her phone, expectantly

She had been told that if you took them properly you can see things in a whole new light

It was a dangerous game

She looked at her phone

She hoped it would be worth it

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image courtesy of freeimageslive.com
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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of Friday 1st of August 2014

The Social

I work in the Social in town. Every day they come, either weekly or monthly, depending on circumstances, so that they can sign on. Hundreds of them, lines going all the way back across the street, especially since times are bad, but even then you get to meet one or two who stick in the mind.

There’s Alfred, A bricky who had a bad fall eight months ago that left him with a searing pain in his back. He complains to me about how his doctor still won`t sign off to let him go back to work even though his still powerful frame cannot lever itself out of the chair without a wince.

Janice is only 21 yet she is pregnant for the third time. “Sure! I”m a late bloomer!” She says referring to friends who boast even larger families. She doesn’t know or really care where the fathers are of her little brood and not in the least concerned that she is in the same situation that her mother previously. Not that I would say much anyway.

James had finished college two years ago. Problem was, he was overqualified and under experienced. He even was unable to get work cleaning tables in a take away. He’s now on some sort of work scheme where he still gets benefits and the company gets free labour. Not quite sure how that will go, but James seems happy.

Derek has never worked a day in his life. He spends a remarkable amount of his time seeking all the loopholes in the regulations and enjoys every stroke he can get. Strangely he is also the first to complain to me about how the “Foreigners coming over here, stealing all our jobs”. I guess they don’t have a definition of irony in the regulations.

There is Martin, who was once a high roller. Gambled everything on one big bet and lost it all. He wears a suit when he comes, the edges already starting to fray. He rarely says much past what is required but at occasional unguarded moments he let slip now badly off he now is. Home repossessed, wife and family gone. Just himself, barely surviving. Though still walking tall, if only to sign on.

There are all kinds of people there. Sometimes: the same person can be different depending on when they come. On whether they have been accepted or rejected on the criteria set for them. The only constant is that as soon as they have signed that piece of paper they are gone. Out into the city on whatever business they choose. The street again empty, only the occasional piece of flotsam, a wrapper or half-empty bottle to tell who had been there before.

The whole world in line for the social.
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Picture Lyssa Medana
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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of Monday July 28th 2014

Picture it and Write: Tree Rats

Hi there. This is my offering for this week’s picture it and write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy.

Tree Rats

My grandfather, Aloysius, hated squirrels, he called them Tree Rats, more than any other animal pest that he would encounter on his land. “Not the red ones” he would say “The little grey bastards. The ones from America.”

His land was mainly in forestry, hardwood oaks mostly, a long term investment. Since he had retired Grandfather had very little to do with his time other than care for them. When I would stay over in his house I would be woken in the morning to the sound of shotgun fire from the forest. When I was having my breakfast, Grandfather would come in with at least a half-dozen squirrels in a cloth bag.

Depending on his mood, he would either had the bag to Grandmother, who would then cook them for dinner, or throw the bodies into the Aga where they would be completely incinerated. When cooked, squirrel is surprisingly tasty. It’s gamy flavor was something I quickly came to associate with my holidays in the country.

For all I liked it. My uncle Kevin, or more like it, his wife Jewel thought the idea was barbaric. Uncle Kevin had met Jewel somewhere in England and they had developed very strongly held but quite vague new-age beliefs. “Meat”, Aunt Jewel would tell my parents, “is the upmost in barbaric cruelty. If you kill an animal for any reason you are lesser as a person.” Such was their objection that even Grandfather Aloysius, not a man to be easily swayed, would hold back the squirrel hunts when they were present.

Whatever their beliefs, by the laws of the Land, Uncle Kevin, by virtue of his age, was still Heir, and when Grandfather and Grandmother both shed their mortal coils, he inherited the land and the forest that came with it.

They decided to put the land to work. Most of the unused pasture was converted to fruit trees and bushes. They had the idea of making organic fruits and jams to sell in the city. Not entirely misguided to be sure but they did have some problems from the get go.

For one thing they did not countenance keeping beehives to pollinate the fruit trees. “Why should we enslave our fellow creatures so that we may gain money?” Meaning half the trees did not bear fruit the first year. Bumble bee nests placed around the land helped the next year but it was took years before things started to work properly. That was when things went sour.

One of the first things that the neighbors noticed when my uncle and aunt moved in was that the morning sound of gunfire no longer woke them from their beds. Uncle Kevin and Aunt Jewel both decided to never allow another squirrel to be hurt on their land. Instead there were rumors, probably fanciful, of Aunt Jewel being spotted walking through the trees naked talking to the squirrels, even feeding them if they came close.

Needless to say, the squirrels did very well out of this arrangement soon there were hundreds of them, scurrying around, in both the forest and the orchard.

This was where my aunt and uncle found out why grandfather had such a vendetta against those ‘tree rats’. You see, the grey squirrel is not native, it is not built for the Irish countryside and as such causes problems when their numbers are allowed to grow too big. They damage trees by gnawing at new buds and by stripping bark and they also attack fruits before they are ready to be harvested.

The results were inevitable. With the squirrel population booming. The little rodents took their toll on both the old oak trees and on the new fruit trees. The cost of constantly replacing what was lost as well as the well-intentioned but impractical measures that they insisted on first trying to prevent squirrel damage made my Aunt and Uncle’s new life increasingly unviable.

In the end Uncle Kevin got so angry as he watched one running brazenly with a bushel of unripe cherries in it’s mouth that he grabbed Grandfather’s gun from the cupboard and with a shout of “Tree Rat!” sent the squirrel to meet its maker.

It may have been unseemly, but it was effective. The losses to fruit and tree slowly reduced to nothing.

Aunt Jewel insisted for a while that the ‘Sacrifice of the noble squirrel’ be recognized by  giving each animal a proper burial. But the thing is, there were a lot of squirrels to be shot and when you think about it. To kill an animal and then not use its whole body, that would have just been wrong.

Wouldn’t it?

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Had it coming

“So he divided up the cake?”

“Yes my lord!”

“In what way?”

“He sliced off a sixth and gave it to me. Then another sixth to Janice.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes. Then he put the knife down and took the rest for himself.”

“The audacity of it! Then what happened?”

“He had taken the cake and the knife was right there.”

“And one thing led to another?”

“You might say that!”

“Because he took all the cake?”

“Well. That is not the only reason.”

“But he did take all the cake? That is clear.

“Yes”

“I say you should let this man go Baliff. The victim plainly had it coming.”

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Image courtesy of freeimageslive.com
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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of Friday 25th July 2014.

The Right Colour

Sylvia rushed through the door, the bell overhead jingling wildly with her passing. She looked over the shop’s vast inventory, trying to see in the vast range of colours the exact shade that she wanted.

“Can I help you ma’am?”

There was a sales assistant at the counter, all sparkles and smiles, looking expectantly at her.

“I need balloons for my daughter’s birthday. She wants a particular colour.”

“What colour is that?”

Sylvia looked a bit sheepish. “That is the thing. She was never very specific what her favourite colour was.”

“Ahh! Were there any clues?”

“She said it was the colour of beauty, the colour of hope. The colour of a magical sky. Any ideas?”

The assistant thought for a second “Maybe… How about this?”

Sylvia was a bundle of nerves as Cindy, her daughter ran into the house after school.

“Balloons!” She shouted “So many balloons! This is the best birthday ever!”

The living room was festooned with balloons all over. Every colour in sequence all along the walls and furniture.

Sylvia touched her daughter’s arm. “Honey! Do you like them?”

“Yeah Mum! I love them!”

“Is the colour alright?”

“I like it very much! Rainbow has to be my second favourite. It isn’t sunset but nearly as good. Thanks a lot Mum! Love you!”

“Happy birthday Honey. I love you too!” 

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Image courtesy of freeimageslive.com
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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of Monday 21st July 2014.

Picture it and Write: Immortal

Hi there! This is my offering for this week’s picture it and write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, it is by Robert Carter, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway Enjoy!

Immortal

When you’re young, you tend to think that you’d live forever. Age usually means you leave that idea behind but not in the case of William McDivitt, who was fast approaching his eightieth year, fifth with cancer.

William was a professor in cognitive sciences, specializing in the interface between technology and biology. He was a pioneer of the neural interface, the means so many of us now use to educate and inform ourselves of the vast stores of knowledge the world had to offer.

What he was really working towards wasn’t putting information into brains however. What he was working for was taking information, the knowledge, memories, the essence of life, out for safe keeping. He had a postdoc, by the name of Linus, who worked on linked computer systems, and he was able to cobble together a network of parallel processors, over 100 cores working together to give approximately the same amount of power on a table top as a single human brain.

William had the latest, most advanced, interface installed and had Linus switch the program from inject to extract.

The process was, to say the least, traumatic. In order to read his mind the interface had to destroy it. Ethically, he could only try it on himself. He was sacrificing his life in order to live forever.

Linus watched the screen on the computer as the loading screen went from 60% to 80% to, finally, 100%. Then he waited.

Minutes passed. He typed in a query. There were petabytes of memory in the hard drive, he could see the filled files, but nothing was working. There was no answer.

Minutes changed to hours. Linus ran diagnostics, glanced at the raw data, looking at how it all fell together. But something was wrong.

The computer was humming, filled with information as Linus looked on. Deep inside the casing, within the hard drive, was all the information that was within William’s brain.

But the force with which it had been removed, the trauma had distorted it, broken it up, beyond use.  Though his body had died, William’s mind remained. But only as a shadow, scattered to the electric winds, without the soul to use it.

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Magical

“Guess your combination?”

The man was suave, dressed in a new suit, and handsome.

“Ok!”

He passed his hand over the bike-lock, eyes staring at hers, when it magically clicked open.

“Wow!”

“Thank you! And now I must be off”

But he made to walk away only to find himself handcuffed to her.

She reached into his pocket, retrieved her wallet, and showed him her badge.

“You’re under arrest!”

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Image courtesy of freeimages.co.uk
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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of July 18th 2014

Aching Bones

Alfred’s back hunched, his knees knocked, and his very bones ached. His eyes were clouded, hearing non-existent, and senses addled. He remembered his youth like it was yesterday. Yesterday was another story. However, his mind was still sharp, more or less, and to keep it in trim he would go on a daily walk.

He slowly made his way down the old pathway by the river, avoiding snaring branches and haphazardly left dog’s dirt. It was invigorating, the closest to a workout his aching bones could take, and he felt happy. He was in nature, of a sort, just like the old days, back when his friends were still there, so long ago.

Occasionally some young person, nearly everybody was young to him these days, would pass by on some unfathomable errand. They often used the river way as a short cut and would be in a hurry, running occasionally.

Alfred thought about stopping them sometimes. Of trying to tell them to slow down. To appreciate their knees while they still had them. To live more in the moment and not treat time like something to be rushed through.

But he knew they wouldn’t listen. They were to young to understand. By the time they were old enough to get it they wouldn’t be able to appreciate it. Age is a terrible price for wisdom Alfred would think And you never get the chance to get your money back.

Still, while life runs by, Alfred walks on. With aching bones, scratching lungs and a fluttering heart. Every day there’s a new ache and getting out’s just that little bit harder. But it’s worth it, even for a moment, absolutely worth it.

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Image courtesy of freeimages.co.uk
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Written for The Light And Shade Challenge of 14th July 2014

Best Mate

Today was the worst. Fired, girlfriend gone, life in a box. Wandering until the sun set.

Texted two words only

Need Help

Two back

Come Over

I parked outside the building. The guard let me in. I climbed the stairs, exhausted until I came to his door.

The keys were in the lock.

He wasn’t there, he didn’t have to be. It was a place to crash, a port in the storm.

I needed it now more than ever. 

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Image Lyssa Medana
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Written for The light and Shade Challenge for the 11th of July 2014

Picture it and Write: A crazy Idea

Hi there! This is my offering for this week’s picture it and write challenge from Ermila’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, it is by Diggie Vitt, I only use it for  inspiration. Anyway: Enjoy!

A Crazy Idea

Malcolm looked out over the wide expanse of the Main Bay. Here, around the central spin-axis of the ship, the pseudo-gravity was almost negligible and great trees grew under the diffuse light of a thousand lamps.

It was a crazy idea. Sure he had done the numbers, the strange accountancy of the universe allowed it, but it was still as mad as a bag of badgers, beyond the pale, even allowing for the acceptable limited of madness in teenagers. But it was too late now, he was already committed.

He had scrounged an six meter by six sheet of toughed paper from the Fab and press-ganged three friends to help him fold it. There was a lot of arguing as they worked to fold the awkward sheet but they managed to achieve a rather traditional design, with ridged wings for greater stability. Not that he would have much control anyway but still, better then before.

Finally he sat on the thing on a ledge near the access, rocked forward, and was away.

It took twenty seconds of slowly accelerating fall for the paper to catch the wind and then he was flying. Actually flying.

Malcolm had never felt so alive. He was riding the air like a bird sailing through the giant branches as if he had been shrunken to tiny insect proportions. It was magical, it as wonderful, it was unbelievable.

It was a crazy idea, a mad idea, but Malcom was overjoyed that he had tried it.

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