Thursday, 31 July 2014
It was half past one in the afternoon on a hot, humid morning and the experiment was, Moss and Eleanor agreed, not going too well. Their friend John had been rustled in to provide the sound and camera work, and he was doing a stellar job, except there was nothing to film. All morning, people had been walking on, heads down; those who were willing to stop for a second and talk to either of them either asked why they weren’t doing proper work, or where the Big Issue was.
It was only around two o’ clock that someone stopped, listened to what was required of them, and agreed to do it, as long as they were “definitely not some hidden-camera joke setup thing”. Upon being assured not, the lady who they learned was called Rita proved to be the starting point for at least some element of the project. She acted first, and asked Moss lying on the ground if he was okay, at which point three other people immediately came over.
“I’m going to put you in the recovery position now,” said Rita in Moss’s ear.
“Okay,” he whispered.
“Keep your eyes closed, remember.”
“And don’t talk.”
At which point Eleanor, the authority figure stepped in. “Excuse me madam.”
“You are incorrectly applying the recovery position. I am a trained medical doctor with five sets of letters after my name. This is how you do it.”
At which point Moss’s arms and legs were yanked about by Eleanor, somewhat brusquely, he thought.
Another voice spoke up. “That’s not how you do it! Call yourself a doctor?”
“Yes, of course. A doctor. And as a doctor, I do not believe it is prudent for you to be wasting my time here when as you can see I am trying to keep this man comfortable.” She grabbed Moss’s arm, practically ripping it from its socket.
Several other people have arrived at the scene now. The man who had argued against Eleanor had resorted to tutting noises and the occasional ‘Oh for crying out loud’, at which point Moss became aware that perhaps this was reaching a point of no return.
“Oh,” said Eleanor, and the tone of her voice suggested something ominous was approaching. Moss sneaked a glance. An actual doctor was coming towards the scene.
Moss, unsure of whether to stay in role or get up and disappoint everyone, did what came naturally to him - namely, nothing.
“Get up,” said Eleanor, kicking him.
“He can’t - he’s hurt!” said a man with grey sticking up hair.
“I’m going to go now. Thanks,” said Rita.
“Excuse me, doctor coming through,” said the doctor, showing everyone his stethoscope.
“You’re not a real doctor,” said the man with sticking up hair. “Real doctors don’t look like you. You’re just dressed up. Look everyone - this man’s a nutter. Someone ring the local lunatic asylum.”
At which point, to Moss and Eleanor’s surprise, the crowd turned on the man who had turned on the doctor, ignoring the prone form of Moss on the floor.
“You getting all this?” he muttered.
“I hope so,” she replied.
“This man thinks neither you or that lady there are doctor. What are you, an expert on doctors?” said a lady, prodding her finger at his face.
The argument went on for a few more moments, at which point Eleanor had to clap her hands loudly. “Stop. This was an experiment. Sorry. He’s fine. See? He’s up, and healthy, and fine.”
“What was the fucking point of that then?” said the spiky-haired man. Others walked away, shaking their heads and tutting. The doctor with the stethoscope remained, eyes narrow.
“An experiment on the Bystander Effect.”
“Look here, young lady,” said the doctor. “This was something close to being fraudulent.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“Oh yeah? Your mum is one to talk.”
At which point Moss and Eleanor backed away. The last thing Moss saw of the scene was the doctor getting into what appeared to be an actual doctor’s on call car, the spiky-haired man shouting obscenities at him.
A somewhat stupid way to spend an afternoon, but productive nonetheless. Watching the footage with Eleanor outside a local cafe, Moss found his eyes drawn more to the onlookers than the angry spiky-haired man. All wore blank faces, as though what was happening in front of them wasn’t of any consequence. Perhaps it wasn’t. All these deep and meaningful thoughts were perhaps what it meant to be a student.
“What are you actually trying to achieve here?” said John.
Eleanor stared at him, cigarette perched between long fingers. “Something interesting.”
“Is this interesting?”
“I think it is. If you don’t, your opinion is irrelevant anyway because you do Sports Science, not Sociology.” She cast a grin his way, and he received it.
“Right, right, but... it’s just people. People being idiots, like always. You two weren’t exactly ethical in your approach either. Can’t see what you’re aiming for here.”
“This is about more than just people’s responses,” said Moss, digging through his sundae. “It’s about how we use what tools we have at our disposal. How we approach things and deal with them. We are capable of changing the world for the better, but we can’t. We don’t. There’s no real collective morality or unity. Look, right... I’m a level 20, and you’re both 19s, but what exactly do we use it for?”
“Last time I used it was when I accidentally kicked a homeless man’s hat, spilling money everywhere. Ended up giving him money. He was none the wiser. I think I did a good thing there.”
“Last time I used it was last night, drinking, and a glass of wine fell off the table. Red wine... everywhere. The wall, the floor. But of course it didn’t happen. Wine tasted good, dog ended up sober, everyone wins.” She put her cigarette out on the ashtray. “I mean, yeah, in an ideal world, I’d undo this cigarette I just had, but then... I don’t want to. We’re not perfect, Moss. No point pretending we are. We are selfish as a people.”
“Look...” said Moss, quietly.
He paused for a moment, a tingle running up his back. His stomach shrank. A part of him tried to squirm out of what he was about to say.
“I can see things people Undo.”
Another pause. John frowned, before leaning back in his chair and staring at the sky. Eleanor lit another cigarette.
“So what... you can... no, what are you on about exactly?” she said, one eye closed, measuring him up.
“Alright. Do something, then Undo it, Ellie.”
“Alright. I did it.”
“I know you did,” said Moss.
John laughed. “You’re spooky, Moss. What did she do?”
“Yeah, what did I do?”
“You tripped a man up.”
Eleanor’s eyes widened for a moment, then regained their former shadowy cool. “How did you do that?”
“I didn’t... I don’t...” Moss shrugged. “I don’t ‘do’ anything. I just see it happen, and I remember it, like you do. John, what did you see?”
“You know what I saw. Nothing. She said ‘alright’, then she said ‘alright, I did it’. That was all I saw. What exactly did she do, Moss? You’re not both winding me up here, right?”
Eleanor shook her head.
“She got up, and tripped up a man with a green coat on. He was about sixty. I felt sorry for him.” He stopped himself. “Sorry. That last bit just came out.”
“Me too,” said Eleanor. “You try it now, John.” Smoke darted from the side of her mouth. “Do something.”
“Okay,” said John,
standing up. He took a deep breath,
then yelled “I AM THE GOD OF HELL-FIRE!” Everyone on the street around them
seemed to jump ten feet, and glare at them like a cat glaring at a remote
control car. “AND I BRING YOU... FIRE. DOO DOO DOO!” After doing a little
dance, John resumed his place on the
seat. “Ow. Stupid chair. Alright, done. What did I do, Moss?”
“You stood up and shouted ‘I AM THE LORD OF’ - ”
“Holy shit!” interrupted Moss, banging the table with his hand. “You really can do it.”
“What did he do?” said Eleanor.
“Sang ‘Fire’. You know, like that time at Gary’s.”
“Oh yeah,” she replied, stubbing out the cigarette. “That.”
“So... when did you first realise you had superpowers, Moss?” said John, leaning forwards.
“Heh, I... er, well no, it’s not that, I don’t know what it is. But. Well, I don’t really remember when I first knew it. Maybe I always had it, I just didn’t know I had it. Like that time I saw my mum and dad arguing and they both looked at me funny when I asked why they were swearing at each other. Needless to say, they didn’t have many arguments around me after that. Didn’t think much of that, but looking back, that was probably the first time I used my abilities. But how could I know I was using them most of the time? Life is awkward, and unpredictable, and for the most part, it’s me who’s being awkward and unpredictable, and I’m so aware of trying to be perfect and correcting myself that any other mistakes people have made aren’t anything like as bad as mine.” He sighed, and let the silence from the others let him know what they felt. Did they agree?
“I know exactly what you mean.” Eleanor’s voice had dropped in pitch. “I’m tired. I’m tired of correcting myself. It’s weird... so, everything that I’ve Undone when I’m around you hasn’t really been Undone?”
“I guess so.”
“That’s cool, Moss,” John said, “That means that I can really be myself around you.”
“You can be yourself around me too, you know,” said Eleanor.
“Let’s make a pact.” John took their hands.
“What is this,” said Eleanor.
“Let’s agree never to Undo anything we say around each other. Other people, yeah, but not us.”
“Alright,” said Eleanor.
“The obvious statement to make, I suppose, is that I’m already part of that pact.” He sighed. “That was a relief.”
Eleanor fumbled for another cigarette. “What was?”
“I’ve never told anyone that before.”
“Never? No one?”
“Nope. Can you blame me? Who else has this? I’m literally the only person I know. I’ve tried researching it on the Internet, but nothing comes up. Nobody else in the world has this.”
“That’s so cool,” said John. “You might actually be a superhero.” He grabbed the arm of someone walking nearby. “Hey. This guy here is Superman.”
“Get off, twat,” said the passerby.
“You could probably hear him say things just then that I didn’t even get the chance to hear.”
“He called you a twat,” said Moss.
“Oh. Then you did hear the same thing I did.”
“So yeah... I trust you both, and I really don’t want either of you telling anyone, okay?”
“Yeah,” said Eleanor.
“No problem,” said John. “But why? You could use your powers for good! You could literally do anything.”
“No,” said Moss, “I can’t.”
John stopped and laid a hand on Moss’s arm. “Sorry.”
“Must be hard.”
“That’s what a superhero would say.” He stood up. “Got to go, folks. See you tomorrow, for the rest of the shoot. How many more days of this?”
“Six,” said Eleanor and Moss together.
“Cool. Catch you later.”
They sat in silence for a while. This had been a mistake.
“Don’t do it,” spoke Eleanor sharply.
“Undo the last half hour.”
“How did you - ”
She smiled slightly. “Obvious. I’d want to do it.”
“No, but if you would do it, surely that means it’s worth doing?”
“Nobody should have to keep secrets, Moss. Not even someone like you, who has a probably seen more weird porn than everyone else on this road combined.”
“What? No, I haven’t...”
“You have. You’re a teenage boy. You’re designed that way. Be cool with it. I’m weird. I’m cool with that.”
“You do realise John is going to do nothing but talk about it with you for the next six days, right?”
“And that eventually he is going to tell someone else, right?”
“Yeah. It’s okay. I’ll do it first. No point not telling people. I suppose I’ll have to go to the press. Get famous.”
“Get used by scientists who will kidnap me and force me to do their experiments.”
“But Moss, without sounding dramatic... you’re too powerful to let that happen. And remember, anyone who’s famous ends up being upped a few levels.”
“You need to be ready for it, though. You need to accept that you might not be able to continue doing what you’re doing here. I’ll miss you.”
“What? I’m not going anywhere.”
“Maybe not now, maybe not next year, but I don’t think you’ll be able to be just Moss Baxter in three years’ time. You’ve got a special gift. The world will want to use it.”
“What if I don’t want it?”
She laughed softly. “This is where I say something about you having to accept who you are, and your destiny, and so on. Shit. I get to be the co-star in a superhero movie.”
“Fine. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe I’m just being dramatic. Maybe you’ll go on being what you are - an okay student, who gets by.”
“I’m better than okay, I’m...”
“You’re okay. That’s about as good at you are right now. You’re in the first year. You’re eighteen. You have some good ideas. But you’re no boy genius, let’s be honest. Nor am I, for that matter.”
“You’re a girl, for a...”
“I need another cigarette.” She took out the box. “Shit. Last one. Then I’m off. I’ve got a party to attend to. And yes, you can come.”
“But I know you like having someone to talk to about this, and I don’t mind being that person. When it gets real, everyone will want to talk to you. Right now, no one wants to talk to you. Well, that was harsh - I nearly meant to Undo that - but, you’re not exactly like, you know...”
“The heart and soul.”
“Yeah. I don’t mean that in a bad way - you’re cool the way you are - but when it comes to parties, social stuff...”
“How are you a mind reader?”
“Lol. I’m no mind reader. You are.”
“That’s just stupid.”
“It’s obvious, though, Moss. The reason why you’re good to talk to for those who actually bother is that you are honest. You are open, despite this secret you’ve been keeping. You’re a good listener, and even if you fancy me - which, considering today I look like a total minger, is unlikely - you’ll never act upon it unless you think I like you that way, which you know I don’t, right?”
“Errr, yeah, totally.”
“Okay fine, maybe you’re a bit like the other guys. Whatever. I’m not available, so let’s not go down that road.”
“Point being, you’re a cool guy, even if you’re not... ‘cool’.”
“You’re mad at me because I shattered your hopes to go out with me.”
Moss grinned. Had to actually look at her now the first time in about twenty minutes. “No. I’m not. I’m grateful, is what I am. Thank you for listening. I know I can trust you. I considered it a while back with you, I’ll be honest, but no - I don’t think of you that way. You’re not a minger, by the way.”
She rolled her eyes. “Go on.”
“All it is... it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who gets me. I’m literally being myself. I haven’t been able to be myself around people for a while. Even my best friend back home doesn’t know. Nor even my parents... man, it’s all going to come out.”
“Don’t panic. Look. Did me or John respond in a bad way?”
“Did you think we might respond in a bad way?”
“Well yeah, but - ”
“And we didn’t. So what does that tell you?”
“That maybe I should stop worrying about what people think.”
“Yeah. Now I’m going to a party. Want to come?”
“I kind of like talking to you but I don’t like parties, so I think I’ll pass, thanks.”
“That means yes.” She pulled him up by his hoodie. “Just sit in the corner, and I’ll be there as well.”
“That’s really nice of you, but I don’t want to.”
“Pretty girls there.”
“I know. I’m fine at the moment. Just because I’m a geek doesn’t mean I’m some desperate lonely guy looking to get laid. I’ve had girlfriends, believe it or not. I think I just need to relax now.”
“But thank you.”
“That’s okay. Now I’m going to get a Subway before I start drinking. Want to come?”
“Gave me a hug even though you know I’m not a huggy person.”
They made their way to the Subway.
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
Two years later
Moss took a deep breath and exhaled. Now was the moment not to quiver and shirk the task accorded to him - a task he had been up all night dreading, sleep occasionally waving to him but never bothering to cross the road and shake his hand. Knotted feeling in his stomach. Hadn’t eaten breakfast today - the last time he hadn’t eaten breakfast was own his first ever date - a girl called Stacey, who had been so lovely and adorable that the sheer thought of spending a minute doing anything but thinking about her had seemed sacrilegious. A year ago. What a buffoon. And yet here he was, words struggling from his overly dry gob like drunkards leaving a wedding party.
“The project we are embarking on is a collaborative
project demonstrating the power of persuasion on the public, utilising aspects
from the now-infamous Milgram and Stanford prison experiments to explore the
ideas set forth on both of those experiments. I - no, we - are aware that both
of these experiments, certainly the Stanford prison one, were driven by a flaw,
one that compromised what should have been strictly scientific methods into
showy, dramatic pieces whose fame is somewhat due to these fantastic elements,
rather like the premiere of the Rite of Spring in 1913, which is remembered for
being a riot when in fact it was more a case of people getting somewhat
irritated, and anyway Stravinsky organised it that way...” Stop talking about
Stravinsky. He coughed. “Anyway. What we’re aiming for here is almost a
re-examination of the conclusions drawn from the two experiments mentioned,
using them in a different context. One other phenomena which has a somewhat
more authentic basis in reality is the Bystander Effect, which has also been
studied and re-enacted in recent years with the public. I would like to
incorporate a mixture of this effect into our study. In essence, the film will
be a study of the public’s response to certain stimuli and conditions. Think
of it as a camera prank show except in the name of science.” That would
have been a stupid thing to say. Best to keep to the big talk, and make it
sound legitimate, and less like you and your friends are going to go up to
people and mess with their heads all day for a laugh. “So yeah,” he ended, instead.
The room of a dozen students shifted in their seats. To his right, he could almost feel the blushes from Eleanor. Shit. What had he said that was wrong or embarrassing? Should he Undo anything? Making a mental scroll back of everything he’d said, he could identify at least one or two moments that might have been improved, but it was... it was too late now.
“Sit down, Moss,” she whispered, pulling his trouser leg.
Brian Nicolas, the lecturer, had been sitting the whole time with his fingers pressed against his pursed lips. His light blond curls were lit up by the sunlight outside, giving him the appearance of a dorky angel. “Okay, Moss.”
Shit. Sweat broke out on Moss’s temple. Or actually, his everything. Palms, arms... even bum. And Eleanor was right next to him. This was bad already. The urge to check his armpits for odour was so overwhelming he almost considered it. Perhaps a stupid way to waste Undo creds.
“Okay, Moss, that was interesting.” Brian leaned back, resting an arm on the side of his chair. He grabbed a Mars bar from his desk and chomped half of it off in one bite, practically taking in the wrapper as he did so. “I like it.” He ate, seemingly content for the class to wait upon his words. “So what are you going to do to people?”
“We’re going to tell them they’ve got to pretend to be traffic wardens,” said Moss.
“Or whatever,” interjected Eleanor, her voice arriving like a cascade of cool water. “Depends on the person. We’ll ask them some questions about personality. This first part will make it very clear as to why we’re asking these questions. Assuming they’re fine with this, we will ask them if they would be the first to respond to one of us lying on the floor prostrate, which we will then do. According to the Bystander Effect, people will mostly only respond when they see someone else respond. Our person’s response should affect people that way.”
“Er... and then, because we also like the ideas posited in the Milgram and Stanford experiments, we’ll take the role of the authority figure. Either I or Moss will take it upon ourselves to admonish our volunteer for their needless intervention, citing ourselves as authorities. How many people will challenge us? What happens when the Bystander Effect itself is challenged?”
“If I can just say, Ellie...”
“We can predict responses. What we can’t predict is frequency of response, or the variables. Is there any relevance in factors such as gender, age, or race? We may be able to find some correlations, we may not.”
“Either way, it will be fun trying,” finished Eleanor, blowing a hair from her face. “Pff.”
“Okay,” said Brian. “Okay, Ellie and Moss, that was interesting.” He finished the Mars Bar. “It’s something. It’s been done a few times before, but not by you two, so you never know, we might find something new and interesting. Also, you two are what - level 20s?”
“Are you going to use any credits?”
“We don’t plan to,” Moss and Eleanor said.
“Okay,” said Brian, for what seemed like the millionth time. “You know where to go to for equipment and such. If you are, indeed, going to explore factors such as age and gender, you will need a lot of shooting time. Weeks, not days. Also, you need to establish a control for this. Your actor or actress will have to stay consistent when it comes to ascertaining any possiblity of gauging the response in different control groups. In short, guys...”
“Don’t get too hung up over this person or that. You may end up dealing with too much data. Just a thought. This is first year undergraduate sociology, not PhD statistics. Anyway. Have fun. Next group, please.”
Monday, 28 July 2014
Simon Haley had made his name through his website, button.com. In button.com, there could be found a multitude of products, catering for those attuned to private creativity. Button.com sold accessories for these activities and achieved primary success through marketing itself as a sympathetic alternative to the websites that didn’t understand the specificity of the discerning sewer. Or knitter. Or general weaver. In short, button.com provided a home for those souls not catered for by the faceless bureaucrats of the larger industries. Simon Haley was renowned for his own, well-documented interest in the minutiae of Star Wars memorabilia, as well as a famed love of cushion design, as seen in his personal design of a Star Wars cushion featuring Han Solo buddying up with Lando whilst on-board the Death Star. It made little sense; but then, in the world of indie creativity, sense was the last limitation to true individuality.
Simon himself was famed for his ephemeral approach to relationships and sexuality - recently quoted in The New Yorker as decrying sex to be “nothing more than a meeting of atoms”, he was declared to be a “new saviour for those lost souls incapable of understanding the point of sex” by Melanie Phelps in The Daily Mail, and “God” by someone in NME.
Michael Phelan knew all this. He had read the articles. He knew the man inside out. As he walked the length of Whitechapel Road, mind stuck in preponderance, wondering why certain individuals took it upon themselves to pick cigarette butts up from the floor, he pondered upon the meaning of it all. Why did the ex-wife find him so repulsive? Why did she prefer that Benjamin? What was the point of shoelaces in a Velcro world?
Simon had a haircut that made him look like a member of the Hitler Youth: thick on top, shaved on the sides. That might have looked cool once, but not now. Not now he was thirty eight. Man had three kids and an ex-wife. Ought to be able to dress with decorum; to dress like someone in that social position. No divorcee can pretend they’re sixteen anymore. He was slim - that was true - but that was offset by the impact of his lined face, and stubble that made the man look like a hobo. Perhaps it was deliberate. Unlikely, though. A man like that was too vulnerable to deliberately make himself look like a hobo. Stylists paid fifty thousand pounds a year would have prevented that - but Simon had never employed a stylist, as far as Mike knew. A foolish move. Anyone could have told him that. Mike chose not to.
“Morning,” he replied, offering a hand. Simon’s limp shake was to be expected: he was renowned for his practised ineffectuality. If that was even a word. Who could tell what was a word in these times? “I like your shirt.”
“Thanks.” Simon peered at it, mouth rumpled in contemplation. “Got it from a cunt in Camden.”
“They’re fairly prevalent, I hear.”
“2004. That was the worst time for them.” Simon’s eyes were glazed and nystagmic. What was it this time? Probably coke. Probably not. Man like Simon knew better than to be addicted to old drugs. Something new. Something hip. So new nobody had heard of it, not even Simon. “Cunts everywhere.” He burped. “I remember there was this one guy. He happened to be a cunt.”
“I’m here for the new level, Simon,” said Mike, trying on a grin in an attempt to offset the presumably offensive nature of his direct discourse.
Simon let out a laugh through his left nostril. “I get it. That’s fine. I was only here to talk about the deal anyway. I say deal, that makes me sound like a dealer.”
“I mean, dealer. Like, a dealer dealer.”
Simon clicked his fingers for no reason at all. It would have been slightly alarming to witness, except that nobody walking past took any notice. All too busy looking for cigarettes on the road. Too busy examining the dust remnants in a crevice. All too busy attempting to find meaning in the Gherkin lurking nearby, peering omnisciently at opportune moments. “The cash, please.”
Mike handed the cash over. A slight pang of regret was swiftly dispatched. This was a good deal. A life-changing deal. Nothing to be ashamed of: he had earned it. This was what it had all been for. Forget altruism. Forget the ‘family’. Forget everything but the knowledge that he held more power now than he ever had before. Inhabiting a space only occupied by five percent of the population. Pride swelled in his chest. This feeling had not inhabited his heart for a long while.
“Congratulations, Mike.” Simon clapped a hand on his shoulder and grinned. “Only five levels to go.”
Mike’s smile froze a little. He willingly forced it to stay in place. “I’ll get there, friend. Just a year or two and I’ll get there. Then we can be partners-in-crime.”
Simon’s face remained locked in that same idiot grin. “That’ll be an interesting day.”
Sweat broke out on Mike’s temple. The people around seemed suddenly to divert their collective gaze their way. The air clogged the lungs. Didn’t seem pure anymore. Why hadn’t they paved over the road? Jagged edges everywhere. Nothing consistent to rest upon. What was this, London or a Third World country? Didn’t these people understand that being this close to the Gherkin was a privilege? They ought to be rich. But they weren’t. Why weren’t they rich? Why did this place look like a South London dive?
“Why are we here?” said Mike.
“I like it here.”
His neck creaked. Finally, he took the face in. Simon Haley. Twenty-seven years of age. Pioneer. Supposed to change the world. Look at him. Not a wrinkle to be seen. That mole on the cheek - deliberate. Red-coloured trousers composed of suede. Black leather jacket. But the beard. That fucking beard.
“You know, Simon,” began Mike.
“You’re not up to it,” said Simon, holding up a hand. That smile never left his face.
It was as if he had started eating a bagel, and begun to choke on the first bite. Sudden dryness filled his mouth. A shiver ran down his back. Simon had known exactly what he was thinking, before he even knew it himself.
“Go home, Mike.”
“I can’t. I need...” The words didn’t seem to belong to him anymore. They happened anyway. “I need to prove that you’ve given me what I think you have.”
“Go ahead,” said Simon, whirling his head to encompass the canopy. “The entire street’s waiting for it.”
“You’re letting me do this?”
“I trust you.”
He Undid everything that had happened.
There he remained, standing on Whitechapel Road, with Simon’s grin in his face.
“Enjoy that, Mike?”
“I’ve been strangled to death seven times now. What do you think about that?”
A spasm in Mike’s right eye, which he struggled to hide. “Doesn’t surprise me, mate.”
Simon laughed. “Nice try. Go take your new-found power and have fun. I’ll see you again sometime.” He walked a few steps before turning for a moment. “I’m not your mate.”
Mike had no strength left to reply. It was all he could do to turn away and try to make his weary way back home. The Tube. Was there anything quite as disgusting in the Western hemisphere? Now that he was a level 5, it might be a good time to try and implement a new system. Something must be out there that could be made economically viable through the right connections; at the very least, the right way with words might be enough. Something, anything. Better than this disgrace. Not even a first-class cabin to ease the pain.
He felt eyes on him. Behind him. Eyes glaring like midday sun.
“Fuck,” he said, whirling. The kid. The same kid from before.
That wasn’t possible.
“What do you want, son?”
The boy’s face was pale. Not pale - white. Snow-white. Like he’d never seen the sun. Like he was about to faint. Like he’d seen something he shouldn’t have seen.
“Spit it out. What is it?”
“You killed that man.”
For a moment the entire world spun. This shouldn’t be happening. That shouldn’t have been said. No. Impossible. Mike’s subconscious mind considered eradicating this conversation entirely, dismissing it as a glitch. But it was real. It was really real. This kid. His white - almost translucent - face. And his eyes. His eyes didn’t lie. Not even staring at me. Staring at the memory. The memory of what I did. He doesn’t get it was a joke. I wasn’t ever going to really kill him. Just a fun version. Just a test. Not real.
“I didn’t really do it,” was all he could splutter.
Expecting a reply, Mike waited. But the kid’s stupid translucent face vanished, and all that remained was his back, fading into the distance.
The fucking kid ran.
Michael Phelan liked to smoke. So much, in fact, that having watched himself acting like the big businessman on Money for Ideas, he took out his pack of twenty and sat outside in the garden. A bird landed on the table - a bluetit. It uttered a few meaningless burps and whistles before fucking off. Over by the shed, the cat had spotted a butterfly and was leaping around trying to catch it like some sort of idiot. The cat finally accepted defeat, and actually licked his wounds. There were no wounds. Stupid mog. Outwitted by a butterfly. That tells you all you need to know about the relevancy of the domesticated species to which Fuzzy belonged.
He had looked weary on TV today. A paunch was showing. Hadn’t just been his imagination the other day. Jowls as well. That was the way it had to be, and no amount of Undoing could change that. Apart from plastic surgery. But that was the choice of morons. The other day he’d seen a clipping of Kathy Lehrer and she looked like someone had decided to use her as a puppet and her hair as the string. How can people get to that stage where they will actually do something like that to themselves? Paunch and jowls were a sign of being alive, being human. Michael smiled a little to himself. That sounded good, but a bit too much like the last session he attended with Dr. Fuckface. Dr. Fuckface - or Dr. Fortune to his friends - had been recommended to Mike by Rita a couple of months back. Bitch said the doctor would help him get through things. Mike tried to tell Rita that nothing could deal with the shit she’d put him through. Rita just gave him that sad smile and walked off into the sunset with that Benjamin prick.
The garden’s water fountain always drew his eye. Rita had asked it to be installed there. It featured a concrete angel at the top of it, spewing the water from its mouth. What had she been thinking? Michael glared at it, before tapping his cigarette out, walking into the shed and grabbing a mallet.
Without further ado, he approached the angel and, with one mighty whack,
smashed the thing to pieces. Having
Undone that particular act of rebellion, he resumed his place on the patio
seating, and smoked a second cigarette. It wasn’t necessary, but he did it out
There was no second cigarette, no smashing. Only in his head now. Only a false memory. But remembering the act, remembering how it felt - now that was therapy. That was the best part of being a level 10 - being able to do shit like that. Even if the neighbours had seen it, what could they do once he’d Undone the evidence? Nothing.
He made his way back indoors, mallet still in hand. The lounge’s white glare made sense in the overcast days of winter, but when it was 92 like today, the whole thing was the embodiment of a migraine.
“TV on,” he said, cringing a little at the sound of his own voice saying those words. Those were words that people in the future said. Might as well get video phones and flying cars while I’m here. Golf was on. Always golf.
He sat, watching the golf, shaking. The wave had passed. Never do that again. Could have died. He picked up the phone, meaning to tell Rita. Good idea - tell your wife you smashed in the telly and nearly died as a result. You know what she’ll do. First of all, she’ll get pissed off at you for smashing the telly - even if you did Undo it - then second of all, she’ll ring up the quacks and get them to talk to you. You want to keep this place? Get to see the kids? Don’t make the call.
So he watched the golf. Somebody got an Albatross. Remarkable display of skill, according to the commentator. Seemed like someone hitting a ball hard. Anyone could do that. None of these players had created their own IT business, making a profit of forty million every year, expanding into markets that no other competitors had even dreamed about. Sink a birdie? Try selling external hard drives to Mongolians. That’s real skill.
An hour or two later he made some spaghetti bolognese and drunk a bottle of wine. It was pretty good, if he had somewhat overdone the oregano. He picked up his phone.
“What do you want?”
“I know it’s you, Mike. What do you want?”
“You know what it is.”
“I’m sorry, Mike.”
“You know what I can do.”
A pause. “I know what you can do, but nobody can Undo the feelings I’ve been having for a long time. Not even you.”
“I know people.” He opened a new bottle of wine. 2009 Merlot. Good year. Would be a shame to let it go to waste. He made a mental note to Undo it while vomiting. “I can go up a level. Or five. Or however many it takes.”
“No...” she sighed. “You can’t. I’m going to block you now.”
It went dead.
That had been a bad move. Something there was wrong. Sounded like she was getting bored of him. Bored? Of Michael Phelan? How? He had made her life! He had given her everything! Fucking bitch!
Actually, it was probably best not only to Undo that whole bottle throwing thing, but probably best to Undo the entire conversation with Rita. Maybe he should have said something different. Maybe he ought to have given her more time to think. Maybe it wasn’t the right time of day. He checked his watch. Maybe try again in an hour. Anything but that. Anything but that boredom in her voice. It was enough to drive a man mad.
So he made to Undo the last ten minutes, but the dreaded sound came.
MONTHLY CREDIT USED, spoke a voice in his HeadSpace. AS A LEVEL 10, YOU ARE ENTITLED TO NO MORE THAN 10000 MONTHLY MINUTES OF UNDOING. YOU HAVE USED YOUR ALLOCATION. IF YOU REQUIRE MORE, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL SERVICE ADMINISTRATOR AND THEY MAY BE ABLE TO ASSIST YOU.
“Fuck,” he repeated.
It was only the fifteenth.
He lit another cigarette and forced himself to be positive. At least he had salvaged the television. Never mind Rita. She didn’t have a clue about anything or anyone. And anyway, Benjamin was smaller than he was. A month or two ago, Mike had checked up on that, murdering both of them in their bed. That had felt good. Best not to talk to anyone about that one, though. Hadn’t been the first murder he’d even done, but it was definitely the first murder of someone he had loved.
Perhaps it was time to talk to Simon.
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Monday, 21 July 2014
It was 19:30 on a Wednesday, which meant Money for Ideas was on, which meant Moss Baxter’s eyes were glued upon it.
The judges took their solemn seats, and laid predetermined eyes upon the next intrepid soul to enter the room. A man of about forty held in his arms a cuboid device, whose wires wove into one another, giving the device the appearance of a crushed car. The man’s forehead glistened under the hot studio lights; his hair, presumably stylised to within an inch of its life seconds before, had already begun to unravel and curl towards the ceiling, as though attempting to escape his cranium. Finally, the man decided that he needed to stop walking at some point, so in a rather abrupt manner, he let his legs cease their movement and there he stood, eyes emblazoned with defeated hope.
“Hello,” he said.
“That’s him already done,” remarked Moss’s mother, striding in from the kitchen to the lounge where Moss sat eating salted popcorn and drinking Coke (not diet, although of late his dad had begun to point out with a certain lack of tact that around his age, Moss’s dad had begun to put on a ‘spare tyre’). “Nobody should walk on this show looking that flustered, but saying ‘hello’ like that? Whatever he says next had better be witty.”
Moss made a grunting noise suggesting a certain degree of agreement.
“What can we do for you today?” said one of the judges, Michael Phelan, a development technician at Cache, an IT firm that Moss would have been interested in had they made games (but they didn’t).
“My name is Tony. I’d like to introduce to you my invention.” He put his cuboid that looked like a crushed car on the table. “The Carry-Car.”
“I thought it looked like a car!” said Moss to his mum, but she’d gone back in to the kitchen. He munched on the popcorn, relishing how as it got deeper into the packet, the popcorn became more and more buttery. “I was totally right.”
“Tell us about the Carry-Car,” spoke Elisabeth Ellis, an entrepreneur specialising in party planning for celebrities: her name was known through most of Europe, and it was predicted by experts that in two months’ time she would attempt to crack the notoriously difficult US party market, using her unique selling point of catering for more Level Ones than any other party host in Europe.
“It’s portable - you can carry it like this - but if I have your permission to show you what happens when you press this button on this remote - ”
“It opens up! You see?”
The box opened itself up into a car, capable of carrying one person. It held the appearance of one of the toy cars that Moss liked to drive around loads when he was about four. No windows. A curved roof. It was probably his favourite toy. Maybe Mum still had it somewhere. Bit big for him now but maybe he could build a bigger one from the prototype. Yeah, he could drive in a year, but that wasn’t the point - it was about being able to build a replica of his childhood treasure.
“You could have put the box on the floor before you opened it,” said the dry voice of Boris Mason, the man behind the technology firm Rhizome, who twenty years ago created a series of computers famous in England for about two years, and spent the rest of his career milking that fact. “You’ve succeeded...”
“In breaking our table. I’m sorry. Not interested.” He pressed a button that caused his chair to slide backwards and turn 180 degrees. There he sat, the lights no longer on him, the message of rejection clear enough. Moss wondered whether it must feel a bit stupid having to sit there in the dark while the others talked.
“Here’s the thing,” spoke Elisabeth Ellis. “This product, as well-designed as it is, doesn’t appear to be very practical. How do you get the car to go back to...” The man pressed a button and the car folded instantly into the cuboid shape once again. “That’s fine... but how do you intend to sell this?” In response to the man pointing a shaking finger at her, she said, “That’s fine... but how do you intend to make a profit?” The man’s finger remained pointed at her. “That’s fine... but how do you intend to market this to a populace, seventy percent of whom live under the poverty line?” His finger stayed pointing, although it looked ready to fall off in terror. “That’s fine... alright, I’m going to offer you a deal. One million up front, and a sixty percent stake in the company. In return, I can market this product to a populace clearly in need of a car they can carry around. Over to you, Michael.”
Michael Phelan nodded. “I also see the potential of this product. It must have taken you a long time to come up with the idea.”
“The idea wasn’t too long. The making of it took a little longer!”
“Heh, yes. You see,” he said, taking a sip of water, “I don’t know why anyone would invest in this. The idea is a good one. The product is a good one. Who’s to stop me from simply hiring someone else to make this?”
“Because... I’ve patented it.”
“Heh, I see.” Michael nodded his head. “Good. Good. In that case, I’d like to buy out your patent. “
“Buy out his patent?” said Elisabeth. “You can’t do that.”
“Of course I can. In return, John...”
“My name’s actually Harold.”
“Ah, right. Harold. In return, Harold... I will offer you Level 3 status.”
Moss gasped. Nobody had ever made such a deal on Money for Ideas before. To offer a civilian a status was unprecedented. Michael Phelan had literally changed the rules of the programme. Of reality, perhaps. He ran to where his mum was chopping courgettes and almost crashed into the counter.
“Mum... mum... Michael Phelan just offered the man level 3 status.”
“Good for him. Did the man take the offer?”
“Isn’t that amazing? How lucky is he?”
“Go check if he said yes.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” He didn’t wait for a reply as he stampeded back into the front room, diving onto the floor to await the man’s answer. Turns out Harold had already given his answer: he had said yes. But he had said yes to Elisabeth Ellis.
“What? Why would you do that?”
Moss spent the next ten minutes watching Money for Ideas in silence. Why wouldn’t you want to become a level 3? Even to be a level 10 would be amazing. No hierarch had ever offered status to a civilian on national TV before. It would have changed that man’s life, even more than the money. The power he would have to decide his future... it boggled Moss’s mind to think about. To be able to alter time, on level 3 status, would mean being able to acquire five million pounds in no time. Even a level 10 would be rich within a month or so. Why would you turn that down?
“Why would you turn that down?” said Moss later at the dinner table, as he, Mum and Dad ate risotto. “It’s like, you could be anyone. Become anything. Say what you want. Control what you want. Be someone. I don’t get it.”
“You’ve got rice on your cheek, Moss,” said his dad. “You got it. Thing is, son, some people don’t want all that. They’re happy with being who they are. We’re happy the way we are.”
“Don’t you want to be able to make a difference?”
“We do make a difference.”
“Not really. Someone could just come along and undo whatever you’ve done and you wouldn’t know any better. You might be level 20, but that’s not exactly high.”
Mum and Dad gave each other ‘the look’. The look which said ‘teenagers have no idea, but let’s humour him.’ Moss hated that look. Condescending as it was, it also displayed a degree of defensiveness he would not have expected from two adults three times his age and presumably endowed with a degree of life experience that would except them from such emotions as defensiveness.
“We thought the same way at your age,” said Mum. “We thought we could change the world for the better, make all the changes necessary to keep things just right. But - I know I’m speaking for you too, Bill - there comes a time when you are happy to accept that there are things in life you can never change, and be happy with the things you can. Being able to live with the imperfections are what makes life worth living. And, ultimately, it’s the imperfections that sometimes end up being the best aspects of life.”
“Pfff,” said Moss, devouring his risotto. “So that time you fell and cracked your head on the pavement was just a part of life. And you are glad you didn’t have the credits to undo it.”
“Yes. Exactly. Ask me whether I would do it again.”
“Would you do it again and not undo it?” said Moss, his voice betraying his irritation at knowing the answer already.”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, okay, if you say so, everything we do is for a reason, blah blah blah.” For a moment he considered entering sulk mode. “This is really nice, Mum.”
“Thank you. It is, isn’t it?”
“Yes, love,” said Dad. “Spot on.”
“My face,” said Moss.
They both looked confused for a moment, inevitably assuring him he had no spots - the joke itself wasn’t perhaps worth the hassle. And so the conversation turned to whatever else Mum and Dad wanted to talk about: the weather, how was school (usual answer - alright), Rita and Dave invited them for dinner tonight but Moss didn’t have to come if he didn’t want to (he didn’t want to) - they’d make up an excuse like he was revising (he’d be playing a game), when was the game starting (football was a cheating game now, every footballer was level 1), and finally when was Moss going to tidy his room.
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Dad checked his watch. “We’ll be back from Rita and Dave’s after midnight, so I expect your room to be tidy.”
“What, you’re going to sneak into my room when I’m asleep and check it?”
“You never know.”
“Nnnnh,” said Moss, clearing his plate and half-jokingly storming to his room. Hard to tell these days whether he was sulking ironically or actually sulking. He didn’t feel like a teenager most of the time. Most of the people he went to college with had friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and liked modern music. Not him. He wasn’t even weird in the way expected of a weird kid. Most weird kids made friends with other weird kids. Not Moss. People were irritating. Everyone.
Still sucked to be solitary most of the time though. He repeated the same old mantra: when he turned 18, he’d be able to inherit his parents’ level 20 status and change things. No more awkward conversations. He’d be able to correct things he’d said wrong, and say all the right things like those rich level 15 guys in college. Like Daniel Fletcher. Imagine being like him - perfect.
And he wouldn’t have to tidy his room like this. He’d be able to go back in time and alter it so that the spilled drinks and piles of dishes would never form. It’s going to be amazing, he told himself. So just hold on.
Sunday, 13 July 2014
So a guy called Mario Götze scored the world cup winning goal for Germany, and so, being as I am a cunt, I wrote a Facebook post saying
"Goatse has opened up the rear end of the Argie defence and scored. They look pretty bummed out."
And some woman from work 'liked' the post.
Out of embarassment I deleted it.
I think what scares me more is the possibility that she got the joke.
"Goatse has opened up the rear end of the Argie defence and scored. They look pretty bummed out."
And some woman from work 'liked' the post.
Out of embarassment I deleted it.
I think what scares me more is the possibility that she got the joke.