A couple of day’s ago Emma Cooper posted this blog asking for pieces of new writing, fiction or non-fiction inspired by fire. Well, it had been a long time since I have written a short story but I felt like stepping up to the challenge. So here is my story, set in the not so distant future in a time where fire is outlawed. It is a little silly in places but I hope you like it.
He opened up the instant fire and poured it onto the carbon logs in the fire place. The flames began to dance, lightening up the corners of the room. It provided no heat, just a light glow as the microscopic particles reacted to the oxygen in the room. He remembered the fires of his childhood before they were outlawed. Real flames and real heat, heat that burnt logs, logs that could give you splinters or break your back if you were eager to pick up a large one. Not like the wood of today, logs made from reconstituted carbon that never burnt because no real fire would ever touch them.
He glanced at his phone, “You’re going to be late Charlie” it said to him after registering his eye movement. He always had to have the latest gadget, this phone was advertised as the ‘Best friend you never knew you needed”, it virtually read your mind. It picked up on subtle changes in heart rate, pupil dilation, increased fidgeting all those small subconscious signals you wouldn’t even know you were making. It tried to fulfil all the needs you never consciously knew you had.
“I’m fine, I know what I’m doing”, he retorted, slightly indignant that a machine was giving him orders once again.
“No, you were day dreaming, you will be late, it normally takes you 5 minutes 43 to get out the door from the state of unreadiness you are in, judging by the weather and the traffic report the journey will take you 14 minutes 24, you need to be there in 15 minutes, you must sacrifice brushing your hair to get there in time”
“I’m not going, shut up!” said Charlie, his eyes fixed on the fireplace.
“He’ll be waiting, you made this appointment a long time ago”, the phone answered in its usual chirpy way, always helpful, always knowing and ALWAYS a pain in the arse.
“OFF” he commanded, smiling to himself that his electronic tyrant could be silenced.
A raindrop spiralled down one of his thick grey curls building in size until it left its human host for the surface of one of the cafes bright orange plastic chairs. He looked up from the cracked screen of his ancient phone melancholically staring out of the rain soaked window. Rubbing his calloused fingers over his thumb rhythmically he wondered how long he should wait and if he had enough credit on his phone to check Charlie’s whereabouts.
“Credit status” he said into his phone expectantly.
Welcome to Tesco phones for you, I think you would you like to check your credit status?
“Correct” He answered as if he were speaking the lines of a well-rehearsed play.
Would you like to hear abo…
“No latest offers” he butted in before the phone could finish
“Then how abo”
He sighed and waited knowing what was about to come next, his hands covered the phones speakers but still a muffled sound could just about be made through the hard skin and ingrained dirt.
“Brusha, brusha, brush our teeth, brush our teeth…” the phone sang, he closed his eyes and waited for it to finish before taking a sharp intake of breath only to exhale,
“Option 1, Credit Status”
“You have no credit”
He dropped his head into his hands, head-butting the phone as he did so.
The sun had now set completely, he looked up at the clock it clicked on the hour telling him it had just turned five o’clock. He remembered back when he worked the same hours as the rest of humanity. He would pray for the days when it got dark after five, when the city streets were lit by the rays of the sun rather than the incandescent glow of the street lamp. He wouldn’t have to drive, he felt safe to walk home in the light, and there were fewer places to hide in the daylight, the city felt safer. The fake flames licked the fake logs and he remembered, he remembered meeting him for the first time, when things were somehow worse but somehow much better than they are now…
“What’s this?” he asked looking at the knobbly tuber with the numbers one to twelve written on it.
“It’s a potato clock?”
“Why are you giving it to me?”
“Well, every morning I get a potato clock, I’ve got a draw full of them so now I’m giving them to you”
The screen flickered across his face; it was a face of confusion
“You get a potato clock every day, who gives them to you?”
“You’ve got that data-entry glow haven’t you, how many hours have you been on that screen?”
He looked up at the strange curly haired figure in front of him, his dark eyes looked mischievous and alert, a rarity in this place. He studied the figure longer, his clothes looked like they’d come out of a charity shop bargain bin. His shirt was brown with a bold stripe across the front, a tennis t-shirt rather than the regulation white most wore in the office. He looked down to see a pair of corduroy black trousers rather than cotton and dark trainers rather than shoes.
“HELLO!” a voice came from above the shoes, “Every morning I get up at eight o’clock, a potato clock, up at eight, a pot tate” He breathed a sigh, “Jesus, why do I bother”
“Ha, ha, ha”, the laugh came from nowhere, he giggled uncontrollably, he started to cry with laughter.
“That is such a bad joke” he struggled through the tears looking at the corduroy clad man.
“Okay, okay” you looked like you needed cheering up.
The friendship began there, with of all things, a potato.
He got up from the plastic chair, the chair behind him wobbled as he did so spilling tea all over a young man who could do nothing but glare at him.
“Sorry” he said in almost a whisper but the apology did not appease and the young man looked away in disgust.
He walked up to the counter finding some change in his pocket whilst being sure not to inadvertently put ALL the pockets contents on the counter. He forced a smile and walked out into the night.
They worked side by side as data entry clerks, scanning endless ‘competition forums’. Charlie dealt with the cat food contract and Daniel with the dog food. Both contracts only differed by the animal, the data otherwise exactly the same. The pair realised it was a scam, a bogus competition to get data on the lives of unsuspecting pet owners. Someone would win a year’s supply of pet food but the data they supplied was worth a lot more than that! The tragedy was the people sending in the forms believed they would send into someone who cared. Old women would send in pictures of their pets that had long since been dead, the photos showed a cat or dog surrounded by the fashions and the trappings of ten years earlier, or more!
The pair would stick the photos around their consoles and laugh at them, sometimes drawing on the cats or dogs, anything to break the monotony. Management split them up like naughty school children but they just became more devious, scanning the pictures and emailing them. Then one day Charlie walked in to find a picture of his face on one of the dogs on ever console in the room.
They were both sacked on the spot.
After the job ended they signed up to a string of employment agencies, always working together but never holding a job down for long. They packed curtain rails and got sacked for making a giant igloo out of the boxes in the middle of the warehouse. They were sacked racing pallet trucks, crashing them into the aisles, the list went on, like a pair of uncontrollable schoolboys making up for a life of tomfoolery they’d missed out in their real youth. It didn’t take long before they became black listed and the jobs got worse and worse and worse.
There final job together was cleaning the decks of docked ship dubbed Club vomit. Every night the ship opened its doors to a visiting underage clientele from around the globe. It was well known in every language school and every 14 year old from Dusseldorf or 15 years old from Stockholm would descend on the ship for its cheap, sweet and very alcoholic booze.
The results were as obvious as they were messy.
The ship was old and wooden, a relic from a bygone age, gutted and decorated in full faux pirate splendour. It was a tacky paradise for anyone wanting their first drunken, clumsy sexual experience in its plastic crow’s nests or life boat hideaways.
The two hated it and tried to get the sack but the boss was so grateful of any help he put up with all their bad behaviour. There was nothing they could do wrong. They would turn up late, but the boss would just dock their pay and let them do what little they could before the club opened. They tried to break things but everything was plastic and unbreakable, even the drinks came in plastic containers impossible to break open.
Then one day something caught Charlie’s eye under the table. He couldn’t make it out at first it looked like a little cardboard box, with a picture on the front. He crouched down to get a closer look. As he did so he landed straight into a thin line of what he hoped was a spilt drink and nothing worse. He didn’t let this distract him, instead reaching for the little box.
. The front of the box had a pitcher of a ship, not unlike the one they were on may have looked like year before. Down one side of the box ran a small strip of sandpaper.
“It can’t be” he said to the air and shook the box next to his ear.
He hadn’t seen anything like it for a couple of years; it must have come from one of the Nordic countries.
“Matches!” said Daniel hungrily, his eyes dancing again with that mischievous glow.
“No Dan, we can’t, getting the sack is one thing but matches. These could get us ten years!”
“Oh where’s your sense of fun!”, Daniel cried out snatching the matches of him with a large grin on his face. He flipped the tap of the oversized barrel on the counter containing neat vodka it trickled a long line down the length of the boat, snaking its length as the boat gently rocked in the calm waters.
“You’re on your own with this one mate, this is dangerous and fire has been illegal since the last riots, you know that more than I do!”
His words were lost; Daniel seemed lost in a dream grinning from ear to ear.
He looked up from the fake fire, remembering what he had tried to lay buried years ago, remember the night the city last saw fire, real fire. The boat burnt for a few brief moments before it sank beneath thick black smoke and molten plastic. He had found out later that Daniel had thrown the match from the shore, escaping with his life but not with his freedom. CCTV cameras had caught the whole thing; there was no getting out of this one. Perhaps that’s what he wanted? Charlie always knew Daniel never really knew when to stop, that’s what made him such equally good and bad company, you had to live on your wits, escaping or fleeing trouble not avoiding it.
Was it all really a joke to him? Did he care as little as it seemed? Perhaps
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door, his felt his heart in his mouth,
‘Would he come here’, he thought to himself?
He slowly got up off the sofa, and stood motionless in the middle room wondering what to do next. The knock became more urgent.
He wandered down the stairs to his shared front door, knowing the knock was for him. He opened the door to see a note scrawled in what looked like Daniels writing.
“Look in the brown bin”, it said in bold black letters.
He puzzled for a moment holding the note in his hands, turning it over a couple of times as if it new mysteries were about to be revealed. When he was sure all he was instructed to do was look in the compost he made his way over to the side of the building where his compost bin was kept. He opened it hesitantly.
There on top of festering kitchen waste another note in the same handwriting revealed a new instruction, “Not this one, try the one for number 4b”
“I could be he a while?” he said to the air hoping someone, well hoping Daniel would answer.
He crossed the street and wandered down the alley were 4a and 4b kept their bins. He open the first.
“This is 4a the note said, back of the alley”
He walked down the back of the alley, treading in something as he moved though the gloom, it reminded him of the pirate ship and he chuckled to himself.
He opened the second bin where a box sat on the kitchen waste.
“Open me!!” the box exclaimed with two exclamation marks the size of its lid.
He open the box to see a potato with two hands crudely drawn in marker pen pointing to the numbers one and eight.
“A potato clock” he said to the night, hoping Daniel would hear.
He called out a few times but only dogs and angry neighbours answered him. He soon realised it was pointless and gave up the chase making his way back up to his flat.
He put the potato on his coffee table and sat back in the sofa, reaching for his mobile as he did so.
As the phone erupted into life he glanced at the fire, he’d never seen it look so vivid, so bright, he’d never smelt it before. The phone played its usual start up tune and he went through his usual charade.
“Play messages later, access emails later, go to address book”. The phone complied and he commanded “Call Daniel” As the phone rang the smell filled his nostrils.
“I can smell fire” he thought to himself as he looked up from the phone.
“I CAN SMELL FIRE!!”