A.J. Walker


The Black Mosquitoes

Mid Week Flash #211 - 04.08.21

The Black Mosquitoes

I’d been sent in search of tubers into the former agricultural areas west of the city. I’d gone alone as September said she was feeling too weak after her illness. I thought she was probably okay to work, but in any case I preferred to work alone in this area of town. It was boringly predictable land, but it could be dangerous. September would have slowed me down at the best of times: never mind with a touch of Malingerintitus.

As I passed the old ring road around the city the air became thick with the Black Mosquitos and together with the inevitable heat haze, even before 9am, they made the air the usual fuzzy representation of sadness. In other words: all was normal. Apparently it had been wetland years ago, and whilst it was now dry somehow mosquitos still haunted the area. Maybe they’d found enough moisture somewhere to still make it their home. I’d never seen any evidence of it. I’d heard tales from several of the oldsters of it being lakes and marshland back before The Collapse. Maybe mosquitos had evolved due to necessity like we seemed to be trying to do. Change or die; it was said a lot. My mother had said it often and it had annoyed my father immensely. When he passed away mother had said it was denial that had killed him. But I think he’d truly died of sadness at what had been lost.

I was lucky to have only dreamlike memories of some minutiae of time before The Collapse. I’d been too young to be afflicted by the hurt of how easy things had used to be. After years of “hardship”, I felt I’d never known anything else. Like my mother used to say; “you don’t miss what you’ve never had” - she clinged to such sayings like a crutch. Myself, I couldn’t be sure if anything I vaguely remembered had ever truly happened. Every so often I did get a pang of hurt from the belief that something I thought of as having happened really had. These things hurt more than any deep wound ever could. If this hurt to me from memories I couldn’t separate from dreams could be so bad then what if these things were actually true? If they were and these stories I’d been told of life before were all true then how could people live with the difference between now and then? The guilt.

My father had spoken of guilt. I never believed it could have been his fault. Of course I could no longer ask. As many of his contemporaries had he left too quickly. History. What will that be but a dream when there is no one alive to remember it?

Today, while I walked through the expanse of the Black Mosquitos, it was a Monday by the reckoning of our busy little tribe. I reckon there was precisely a one in seven chance of that being correct. These things did not really matter as long as we - our tribe - were consistent with measuring time for our own purpose; how can it matter if it’s a Sunday or a Monday? Life has been day to day since The Collapse of what was before: the Normality. But like the days of the week, maybe that’s only what people told you to believe. What is/was normal? Normal is finding food and shelter for you and yours to survive. Sometimes normal is not finding it. Maybe one day to thrive could be normal too, but for now it is just to survive and I can’t see that ever changing. The very word thrive will die if no one can understand it. The world has changed forever. It’s said “We” changed it: whoever we are. Not on purpose, but by stupidity and ignorance: by ignorance my father said.

Here I am alone, waiting to pass through the Expanse of Black Mosquitoes to search for tubers; hopefully to supplement whatever else the tribe could find today. I had to pause my transit for thirty thirsty minutes when I came upon the husk of an ancient car surrounded by a gathering of The Monks Of The Holy Order of Hydrocarbons calling out in song for forgiveness for what “we” had done. These bastard cranks preyed on the weak for alms for their act of prayers. Prayers to what exactly?

The world was dying. Unless, like the Black Mosquitoes, we could change. Seeing the Monks I felt little hope.

A Different Bus

Mid Week Flash #210 - 28.07.21

A Different Bus

Mark had missed his last bus home and had to get on another that took him only roughly in the right direction. It halved the walk home had he not got it, but it left him in an unfamiliar territory. When got off the bus he spotted two silhouettes beneath a lamppost a hundred metres down the road. It was dark but he felt sure they were looking at him. Following a long day at work he’d felt he’d deserved a couple of relaxing pints. Now with the hairs on his neck acting like a poor man’s Spideesense and his adrenaline beginning to pump he wished he’d gone straight home. It was two miles home now and he couldn’t justify a taxi ride.

Mark had taken the bus to this point before over the years. He’d made it back in one piece on those occasions. Why should it be any different this time. This time though something felt different. Years changed a place. It also changed people. He wasn’t the same person who’d walked care free here before. The years had stripped his bravado and confidence back. Time heals all wounds they say. But what do they know? Time could be a fucker too.

He was pretty good with directions. He was almost sure that he just needed to walk two blocks in the direction the bus had come from then take a right, a left and a right and he’d be on the main road heading straight home.

He was glad to see it meant he was walking away from the two guys. All the same he walked with a little more haste than normally.

It took five minutes to walk the two blocks and hang the right on to Colquitt Street. It was a narrow half tarmac, half cobbled street with Victorian terraces either side. The only light came from the dim and occasional street lamps: no sign of life.

But other life introduced itself to Mark: he’d made it fifty metres when he heard the loud, clicking footsteps behind him. Whoever it was wasn’t trying to sneak up on him, which didn’t comfort him.

The clicks were getting louder and they bounced off the terraces making it difficult to place. He initially tried to just plough on, but ultimately he had to turn to see who was making the noise. Perhaps it really was a tap dancer after dance practice or a maybe a woman in heels homeward bound on the cobbles: It wasn’t. There was a man in the middle of the road thirty metres back looking like he owned it. He nodded when he saw Mark looking. Then grinned. Mark knew he was one of the silhouettes from earlier. There was no sign of the other man.

But then he came around the corner with a swagger. Mark sensed he was in deep trouble. He’d no enemies; no valuables. Were these guys just after him for fun? He crossed the street: and the new guy crossed too. The first stayed in the road. Mark had already made an assessment of the street and was short on options. All he could do was run. The only place he could see that was open to him was a single ginnel between two sets of terraces. If he could get down there he could turn left or right and run down the alley at the back of the terraces. He had twenty five metres or more on both of them. He hoped his sudden movement would steal him an advantage.

But the ginnel wasn’t as expected: there was a locked gate. He was trapped and his only options were two gates to the terraces. The right one was locked. The left gate opened but he was only faced with a series of steps down back against the house. He hoped his best bet was to find a door and either knock like hell; or if he found it unlocked he could shut himself in and wait. It was not much of a plan.

The steps led to a narrow red brick corridor ending at an open metal door. It looked as inviting as an old prison cell, but perhaps he could lock himself in. As he pulled it shut he heard the laughter and the singing; “
Another One Bites The Dust”. He fell back and tripped over something. He felt the skulls with his hands and wondered at the trap he’d fallen.

Sitting Comfortably

Mid Week Flash #209 - 21.07.21

Sitting Comfortably

Mike was preparing for a meeting with the councillors. He thought the argument would be a fifty fifty call if he performed poorly; but he’d confidence he could turn it his way. Sarah would vote with him. Her soft spot for Mike was obvious: she’d always voted with with him even on contentious issues. He was equally sure though that David would vote against him for the opposite reasons. Not once had he voted with Mike even on what should be slam dunk decisions.

God, he hated council meetings. But he’d signed up to Adrienne’s retainer and he couldn’t say his time was more valuable than what she was paying.

He’d only have to work on Darren and Emma. He’d done his homework, and although both were of an environmental bent they were thankfully also occasionally pragmatic.; unusual for those that called themselves environmentalists.

Handily he knew a fairly cute environmental consultant from the golf club and she’d helped him out with some of the arguments; for the price of a slap up dinner and some wine (and a little half baked passion he’d already forgotten). So when it came to Agenda Item: 14.1 ‘
The Removal of Waste from Highland Wood’ he took the lead. ‘I’ve been having some thoughts on this and can say I’ve changed my mind several times. Personally I thought we should find the funds and remove all the waste from the wood. An old mouldy sofa is just not natural; it’s our duty to look after our environment. It’s hard to argue against.’

Sarah and Emma nodded, whilst Darren looked impassive and David looked like he was about to argue the opposite case: so far, so predictable.

‘Then I thought about the reality - and went to the wood.’

David’s eyes narrowed. He’d only ever seen Mike interested in items like nightclub licences; never the environment.

Mike then pulled out some pages from a folder. ‘Here’s a map of the location of the areas of waste, including that damnable sofa, along with some photos.’

The councillors shook their heads. It never ceased to amaze them how rubbish, which could easily be dealt with in the normal scheme of things, could be discarded so callously. It made the blood boil of all but the most hardy and heartless of bastards; even Mike thought it was wrong - so didn’t have to work too hard on his act for once.

‘Have any of you seen the infamous sofa’

They all shook their heads. Mike wasn’t sure if that was a positive or negative. He’d have to sell it sight unseen.

‘It’s horrible to see what our constituents can do to our own community. I was quite emotional when I saw it. It took me a long time to find the sofa. It’s deep in the wood - which you can see marked with “S” on the plan.’

‘Not an X, Mike?’ said Emma. ‘Then again I suppose it’s not treasure.’

‘Indeed. I had to sit down when I found it. It was so deep in the woods I was tired and sweaty. It’s a bloody mystery how it got there. And there lies the rub. It’s deep into the wood. I’ve spoken to the environmental consultant about removing it.’

‘If we have to do it, we have to do it. Morally surely?’ David said.

‘Side park the morals for now. It’s not our doing after all. The consultant said we’d cause more damage to the wood - to the environment - by removing it. She said it was not an eyesore because it’s impractical for people to find it. It took me over an hour: and I knew about it!’

‘Sounds quite reasonable. How much are we paying this consultant?’

‘Nothing. She’s a casual acquaintance. But she talks sense and seems to know what she’s talking about.’

‘Free: that’s my kinda price.’ David said. Mike knew he meant it - some of David’s backhanders and freebies were embarrassing: he never paid for toilet roll.

‘Anyway, she said we could easily argue that the environmental damage of removing it would be significantly greater than the benefit of removing it and that nature could do our work.’

‘And it would save the council thousands:’ Said David. ’QED!’

It was the first time David ever voted the same way as Mike. The decision was unanimous: the sofa was left in-situ to be enveloped by the wood. It was indeed rarely seen - which was good for Adrienne as her contractors had hidden a body underneath it.

More Eyes and Ears

Mid Week Flash #208 - 14.07.21

More Eyes and Ears

Every Sunday David would go along to sit in Freedom Square and soak up the atmosphere from all the life going on around him. It never failed to uplift him to sense the bustle and the comings and goings. There were the bars and cafes hosts to family get togethers, the quiet drinkers reading their papers or books, couples on dates and others half hiding their illicit assignations. All life went on here. He enjoyed to watch it flow in front of him on Sundays, but for the rest of the week he watched and listened from five miles away in his roof top apartment.

He’d felt incredibly lucky with his work. David loved people watching as long as he could remember, and to get a job monitoring conversations and meetings in the square was a dream come true. To be paid to do the thing you loved. Not many people could say that: indeed he had tapes and tapes, and transcripts aplenty of people saying as much.

It was not lost on him that of all the squares in the city Freedom Square was the most unfortunately named one. What is Freedom when every person you meet is recorded, every thing you order is noted, and every utterance is transcribed, reviewed, and filed perhaps to be used against you in the years, months, days or hours to come. He didn’t like thinking about that aspect of course. So in his own filing system in his head it was kept under the heading ‘Not Relevant’.

He wondered what would happen if a friend of his was there saying something that he’d picked up. Would he record, transcribe and file it away. He thought he probably would. But he was glad that he had made the decision to eschew friendship for life outside: for looking in. He was an observer; and very good at it.

His masterstroke came when he was able to combine his hobby with his work. The men at the Ministry had said there was to be some hard landscaping in the square to celebrate some long forgotten revolutionary action from decades earlier. Even with his great memory for anecdotes and facts he’d never heard of the event. Still, he came up with the suggestion of a wall of faces to be constructed along the western side of the square. Everyday faces of the everyday men and women of the city. Faces to look out across the square eastward towards their communist forbears. How much irony could he cram into such a display? A lot.

Better still they accepted his offer and design too. Soon he’d made a large wall of giant grotesque heads. Each face different and full of life: and death. In addition to being visually interesting the glazed earthenware heads each held the video and microphone technology required to further the monitoring capabilities in the square. And each head also had the ashes of his family’s mixed in with the raw materials. From then on each time he would be in Freedom Square watching the world go by he would be doing it along with his family. It could not be better if he’d designed the world itself. He was glad he hadn’t tried to make the faces look like his family too though, that would have truly freaked him out.

The Rusted Bucket

Mid Week Flash #207 - 07.07.21

The Rusted Bucket

The basement of the
Three Fishes was an intriguing place. It suggest a rather grand building above. But the Fishes - more affectionately known as The Rusted Bucket - was of bog standard design from some time when architects thought boxes were best; or at least a lot quicker to bang out for the planners. The ancient pub had burned down countless times over the centuries and other than mapped evidence you wouldn’t be able to tell from seeing the pub at ground level. It was one basic mother.

If you made it downstairs though it was like stepping back in time. Half of it was obscured by the mountains of kegs and casks of beers and old boxes. There were two rooms which were unhindered by the workings of the pub or of random storage of life. One small room in particular was noted for the oddness of the metal bath beneath a stone arch. It was such an odd place to put a bath. There was no heating in the room and no lighting or mirrors. People wondered whether there were fires taken down there to heat it. Some kind of old cast heaters. That must have been the answer.

But anyone who thought about it properly would say that was a nonsense. There was nowhere in that room for the smoke to escape. You’d end up choking in the smoke in that tiny place in no time. And then there was the height of the arch. It was so low that you’d have to slink out of the bath like liquid itself to get out without banging your head.

Lastly there was the fact that the bath seemed wider than the door in all dimensions. It seemed an impossible feat to get it in. And to what end if you can’t practically bathe in there?

The bath itself was an ever rusting feature. If you approached it you’d smell first the mould then taste the iron in the air from the rust. The whole room scared people. It became infamous and people would talk about it - and there were photos of it in the pub lounge and in several books on mysterious buildings. And locals called the
Fishes ‘The Rusted Bucket’ or even just the ‘Bucket’ - which often confused visitors to the town. But people rarely visited the room these days for fear of being “creeped out.” And that is why the landlord of the pub and part time successful cat burglar hid all his ill gotten booty in the pipe work - apparently- connecting the bath. He never feared anyone finding the diamonds and gold. No one was stupid or brave enough to look too close at the room. He prided himself on his luck and ingenuity - and whenever locals referred to the pub as the Rusted Bucket he would always say, ‘God bless the Rusted Bucket.’