Friday, September 04, 2009

Random Writing 12

The three of us sat on the wall, passing the can between us. I hadn't drunk ginger beer since secondary school, and I took too big a swig and coughed as I drank it.

"Can't hold your drink, eh" Magnus said archly.

"Just hotter than I remembered," I sputtered, then seeing Roger frown I added "picante, not caliente".

Roger nodded in understanding.

"There's no ambiguity here," Magnus contended.

"There's a lot of ambiguity in three men sharing a can," Roger said. "It would be some kind of homosexual menage-a-trois in Japan."

I passed the can back to Magnus and checked my mobile. Still nothing.

"There's not the same distinction in English between picante hot and caliente hot," I explained, "but in Spanish there's two different words for it. Also, Rog, what?"

"Well..." Roger started, but Magnus spoke over him.

"There's a word in English," he said. "Spicy, that's what picante is. That's how they define it in the Spanish to English dictionary, if you look it up it says 'spicy'." He mimed flipping open a dictionary.

"What about caliente?" Roger asked.

"Hot, for god's sake, hot! That's what hot means. It doesn't mean spicy, spicy means spicy."

I took the can back and took another swig, then looked at my phone again. Still nothing, and the battery was down to its last segment. I ran over our last conversation in my head again - what could I have said? Or rather, since I knew what I said, what could she have heard?

"It's ambiguous," I insisted. "Hot can mean two things, it has two meanings in common usage. If you look that up in an English to English dictionary it says 'spicy' or 'warm'." I thought about that for a few seconds. "Warm. Damnit."

"What do you keep looking at your phone for?" Magnus asked. I didn't want to tell him, but Roger saved me.

"He's checking the time."

Magnus snorted.

"Why don't you wear a watch, man?"

There was a brief moment of silence. I turned to look at Roger. His eyes were wide. We both looked back at Magnus.

"You wear a watch?" Roger asked, incredulously.

Magnus frowned, then rolled up his left sleeve. There was a steel-coloured Rolex there, with an analogue face. He tapped on the glass. I examined it carefully - ten to eleven, twelfth of May.

"He wears a watch," I told Roger.

"He does. He really does."

We looked at each other, then back to Magnus.

"Why do you wear a watch?"

"Uh, well maybe to tell the time?" Magnus replied.

"Magnus," Roger told him. "You have a mobile phone."

"You carry a netbook," I added. "An MP3 player."

"You cycled here on your bike," Roger continued, "which has a cycle computer."

Magnus stared at us.

"...and?"

"And, Magnus, every single thing you own has a motherfucking clock in it. Why would you wear a watch which only does one thing - and badly, I might add." Seeing me frown, Roger pointed to his own mobile - 10:47.

I nodded, then nodded at Magnus and showed him my own mobile. 10:47.

"Network time, Magnus," I said. "You can't argue with network time."

"It's set like that deliberately," he said.

"You deliberately set your watch wrong," Roger said slowly. He pulled a face, and tucked his mobile back into his pocket. I glanced at my own, and immediately cursed myself. I'd been holding it in my hand all this time, I would have known I'd got a message. But I just couldn't stop myself checking. Jesus, I thought. I've got it bad.

"What's the deal there," I asked. "You're reliably three minutes late for everything, so you set your watch three minutes ahead so it'll cancel out?"

"No, it's a security thing - like a PIN for your phone. He's making it unusable in case it falls into the wrong hands." Roger paused for a second. "Falls onto the wrong wrist," he amended.

Magnus shook his head, and rolled his sleeve back down. The three of us fell silent, and the can did another round - I finished it off and passed it on to Roger. He tipped it up, then shook it next to his ear and gave me a narrow-eyed look at my breach of protocol. Jumping down from the wall he walked over to the recycling bin, lifted up the lid and threw it in.

"There's a pizza in here," he said.

"I'm not really in the mood for pizza," Magnus grumbled, wrinkling his nose.

"I'm not talking about eating it. It's in the recycling bin. Some people."

He leant into the bin and emerged again holding half a pizza, which he flipped into the food bin. I leant down to give him a hand back up onto the wall, and the three of us sat there in silence again. I wanted to look at my phone - I desperately wanted to look at my phone - but I couldn't while the other two were watching me, and at any rate, it was unhealthy. I could wait.

"An indirect kiss," Magnus said.

"What?"

"That's what Roger was talking about," he explained. "We were drinking from the same can, it's a thing in romantic cartoons in Japan."

"Japan, is there anything you don't do weirdly?" I asked.

"It's no more weird than cyber-sex," Roger objected, and Magnus nodded.

"Which is very weird."

"Listen. A physical relationship that can't be consummated directly is continued by the medium of technology - either the internet, or the equally advanced engineering of a coke can. It's engineering and science enabling love, isn't that the sort of thing your sister is always going on about?"

"You've never chatted dirty?" Magnus quizzed me. "You've never sent a salacious text?"

I shook my head.

"Never phoned Alice and told her you love her?"

"Not the same thing," I said.

"Why is it not the same thing? It's exactly the same thing. You're not telling her you love her, you're telling the phone. And the phone sends a signal that her phone translates into sound again, and then her phone tells her that it loves her using your voice. Two Japanese teenagers' lips touch the same can one after the other, that's just as much a kiss as you telling your phone you love it is a touching confession of love."

At that moment, the restaurant door opened and Joseph emerged.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Random Writing 11

Scrambling over the edge of the skip, Adrian's foot slipped and his lead leg fell onto the metal wall, sending a red burst of pain up his injured thigh. Shocked, his grip opened and he began to topple backwards, catching himself awkwardly with his other hand before he fell completely. Knowing that he mustn't, but unable to stop himself, he glanced over his shoulder and saw to his horror that a few of the monsters had got clear of the rest of the shambling pack and were running towards him at full tilt. That was wrong, surely? Surely they couldn't run fast, they were dead weren't they? He remembered suddenly what Frank had told him - they get slower as they get older, just like us but more so.

"Shit! Shit!" He pulled himself up, ignoring the complaints from his shoulder muscles, and managed to get his right leg under him. Jumping from the wall of the skip he got onto the top of the raised area at the side of the car-park and began to sprint.

Behind him the skip clanged as the first of the running zombies hit it at full tilt, but his heart jumped at the noise and he stumbled, almost falling. Looking ahead, he saw to his dismay that one of the slower ones was waiting on the ground ahead, and he realised that he would have to jump to the top of the stairwell roof to get past.

The metal panels under his feet groaned and sang under his weight, but all he could hear were the shouts from behind him, the incoherent screams and groans of the zombies which sounded like words in some foreign language. Do they talk? He thought suddenly, and the momentary idea coming at that moment saved him - his feet reached the edge of the metal panels and, not thinking about it, he cleared the jump to the stairwell roof easily. Barely a second later he was sliding down the slope and leaping off over the fence and onto the grass.

"Up here!"

Above him, a voice - a woman's, an accent he couldn't recognise. He wanted to look up, but behind him he could still hear the shouts of his pursuers, and he could not take the time. The woman seemed to understand.

"Keep running, turn left."

The office block to his left was wrecked, the ground floor glass smashed and the innards burnt out. She must be on one of the upper levels. It was too dangerous, the zombies could easily follow him in - there might even be some in there already. But still - provided she barricaded the stairwells the higher floors should be pretty safe. It was certainly better than where he was now.

Rounding the corner, he ran along the base of the building as quickly as he could, left hand out against the plaster that covered the ground floor walls to help balance himself when his injured leg spasmed. Looking back again he saw one of the zombies round the corner - and stretching back from him to it, a line of red handprints irregularly spaced along the pristine white surface. The skip, he thought. Where am I going to find an anti-tetanus jab now?

"In the next window!" The voice from above called again. His heart sank and lifted almost immediately as he saw that the window was full-length and he would not have to climb. He darted inside as the voice above shouted down: "Straight into the lift!".

Inside, it looked as though the building had been firebombed. He was in a small office liberally covered in black and grey ash, the ceiling burnt and torn to expose data cables and power leads that hung loose. He thought of Frank, and the bile rose in his throat. Pushing a wheely chair to one side, he jumped towards the space where the door had once been and saw that a corridor lead ahead directly into a lift.

It won't be quick enough, he realised with a flash of inspiration. It won't close, this is how it works - it won't close quick enough, and then... He turned back and picked up the wheely chair just as the zombie appeared in the window. Viewed up close he thought for a moment that he'd made a mistake - there were no visible injuries on the thing - it was a man in his mid-thirties: white, slim, a short tidy beard, taller than him by a few inches, jeans and a t-shirt with an obnoxiously big DG logo on it. But then he saw the cold blue pallor to the zombie's skin and he thrust the chair forward with all his might like a modern lion-tamer, the center of the wheeled base hitting its face with a horrible crack. The zombie recoiled, stunned, its head snapping back as it stumbled. Adrian expected blood, but the image he saw as he dropped the chair was almost comical - it seemed more like he'd thrust a pot of jam at the dead man's nose, jelly-like blobs smeared all over its face.

He did not stop to look too closely, though, leaping backwards and sprinting towards the lift. The doors were open - how were the doors open? Unable to stop himself, he smashed shoulder-first into the metal rear wall, then spun round quickly and hunted for the buttons. Which floor, which floor? To his dismay, all of the buttons except two had been pried out - ground floor and close doors. With an anxious glance back at the window, he stabbed at the close door button. Nothing happened. He hit it again, then again, then again and again and again, thinking about all the times he'd impatiently done this while shopping or going up to his apartment. If only I'd known then, he thought to himself. Jesus, I could have waited. Then I could have waited.

With a click and a disturbing grinding noise, the doors slid shut in front of him, and he let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. Now what? He thought, but almost immediately the LCD display above his head showed "4" and the lift began to move.

"Fourth floor", said the lift after a few moments, and the doors slid open. In front of him stood a woman in a powder-blue business suit. She was alive. Safe, he thought, safe. But as soon as he did, another thought struck him. Fuck, he thought, not safe. Not safe at all.

"I've got to tell you something," he said. The woman did not reply, merely tilted her head. Her eyes made him shiver. "I've been bitten."

He turned to show the blood marks and tear in the back of his left trouser leg. The wound felt awful now, as though it were on fire. He heard the woman step forward, then fingers brushed the wound, making him jump.

"You're not infected," she said emotionlessly. He turned back, and she stood up and began to stride away down the corridor. "You're facing the wrong way."