Hands Up, Who Likes Me?
So I’ve got a Facebook page now. Not a profile; I’m talking an actual fan page. Yeah, that’s the kind of guy I’ve become. In an effort to get people to ‘like’ it, like a needy Army Brat who brings in cupcakes on her first day at the latest new school, I post exclusive little stories on there. They’re few-hundred-word pieces that fit into a status update, and as a one-off treat for the people who only read the blog, I thought I’d cast exclusivity to the wind and share a few of them here. But these are all you’re getting, unless you start following the Facebook page by clicking here. Literature by blackmail.
(If you’ve already ‘liked’ me on FB, then you may have seen these before, but not with title pictures, you big baby)
Huey’s dad is weird. I could have sworn he told me both his parents were dead, but one day, his dad just rocks up out of the blue, in a beat-up truck covered with lights and wires, with smoke coming off his clothes like he’d been laying on a BBQ grill. Families, man. So embarrassing. I tease Huey about how much they look alike, and how he’s gonna lose that hair he’s always been so proud of, cos his old man is a total cue-ball. It must be like looking in a haggered mirror, right down to the mannerisms. Same stooping walk, same way of twisting a pen in the corner of their mouths when they’re thinking. It’s funny, but even where Huey’s got that dint in his head from falling off the back of of Black Bill’s dirtbike, if you look in the wrinkles, you could swear his dad’s got one too.
Huey Senior doesn’t talk much, and since he showed up, they both keep to themselves. These days, they spend all their time working on the stupid underground shelter they’ve dug into the yard. If they’re not hammering or welding, they’re coming back from the store with another crate of bottled water or shotgun shells. Last night, I asked Huey if he wanted to hit the bars, but he looked back at his dad who gave him some wicked stink-eye and yelled something about how there wasn’t much time. Whatever, man.
I’d blame it on her catching me on a low day, but they’re all low days. It’s a low life. A low world. Guy like me sees a hot girl beckoning him for the very first time, “Yeah, you…” it hits like a ceramic toilet to the face. Doesn’t matter that the girl is a mermaid, sat on a rock some hundred yards off-shore; a creature nobody would believe in unless they saw with their own eyes those sleek, renaissance curves and the coquettish wave of a hand.
They say your life flashes before your eyes in the moment before death, but mine unspooled at the possibility of life. Thirty years of sneering looks and evening meals that need the plastic cover pricking with a fork. In those dreary seconds I knew I had two choices; keep trudging through the outer fringes of this grey world, or toss my shoes and dive down into one where I might be happy. We don’t get that, most of us. So, I hurl them over my shoulder and picture all their stupid faces at my back as I flop down into the ocean.
I’m not a strong swimmer, so I keep my mind on the finish line. The next time the life flashes before my eyes, fifty years from now, in a bed that’s as cold when I’m half-dead as it was when I was alive, I’ll see the smile on her face, the smile that was all for me, even if that’s all it is. Spluttering on salt and pushing against the rolling waves, I understand now why people do it. I feel full, radiating warmth from the hollow, dusty recesses of my chest. A Siren of the sea, I think, looking for her prince, and as I thrash out ragged strokes, my mind fills with thoughts of coral thrones and dancing within a school of tiny fish.
And then, I’m there, the rock at my fingertips. I look up and see her, and she’s beautiful, like a girl on a toothpaste ad. She’s with a friend, another exquisite mermaid, and their hair is coloured seaweed, radiant even in the dull of a February afternoon. Be cool, I tell myself. This won’t be like the others; she wanted to meet you – just don’t refer to her mouth as a blowhole. There’s a moment of quiet, with nothing but the gentle slap of sea against rock and me trying not to breathe like a man exhausted, and then, her friend speaks.
“Oh. My. God. I can’t believe he, like, thought you were serious!”
“I know, right?! Cringe! Wait until we tell the Crab Twins. Gawd, what a tool…”
“Epic fail, he’s still there! This is soooo embarrassing. Ell oh ell.”
Land is a long way behind me, and I’m barely keeping myself above the waves, but I say nothing, keep my head down, and swim onward, out towards the horizon. There’s a freedom in letting go, and of knowing what the final line will be before the screen fades to black. But there’s no fear, not anymore. As the sky disappears, the only thing I’m truly afraid of is of seeing their faces again, when it all flashes before my eyes.
Alexei Sychkin would have been remembered as a hero, had anybody known he existed. At the dawn of the Space Race, Premier Khrushchev ordered the Soviets to build on the success of dog and monkey cosmonauts, by experimenting with other species. The results were less than fruitful, with snakes unable, or unwilling, to operate even the most basic of levers, and a cat that flew a half-billion ruble probe straight into the sun.
With America nipping at their heels, the only viable remaining option was plucked from a Leningrad orphanage, barely halfway into the first year of his life. Alexei spent the next two months undergoing a series of Pavlovian training exercises, and a thrice-daily dose of vitamin injections that would keep him strong for the ten week orbital voyage to the dark side of the moon and back. The Space Baby was launched on December the 3rd, 1957, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was on December the 6th when all radio contact was lost. Drifting alone through the silent black of space, and redacted from the pages of history, there would be no marble statue for Alexei the Space Baby, nor would he be welcomed home with showers of ticker-tape and a special parade.
Two decades passed before Alexei found himself gazing on that swirling blue marble once more. And he was a baby no longer. Rescued by a passing Venusian scout ship, and raised as their planet’s GodKing, he was now Alexei Sychkin, leader of nations. His was a world that hadn’t abused and cast him aside, but had embraced and loved. And worshipped. With the warrior hordes at his command, darkening the moon overhead, finally, he would have his homecoming, a homecoming worthy of a hero.