short stories

The Key

On my sixteenth birthday I was given a key and a choice.

As usual, I turned to my screen for advice. Status update…

16!!! emojis — excited, phew, thinking, spew.

“Short and sweet,” I murmured. Most of my friends were also having birthdays, they’d know what I meant. As responses started clocking up, a chime sounded: email. Huh. Old school.

“Alix?”

“I’m here…  Great update, Callie! You’re so creative. Clever emo’s too,” her warm voice was encouraging and just the right level of impressed. I grinned.

“Can you check that email for me?”

“It’s encrypted. You got the key today…?”

So this was it. The email containing my entire life’s personal data up until now. From the moment I was conceived, I’d been videoed, voice-recorded and monitored through a range of devices that kept me safe, healthy, alive and happy. And now I had a choice. Delete and eradicate all digital traces of my childhood, making me, effectively, a Fresh Citizen. Or save it to GlobalDrive, so it was there to be mined for all the riches it may deliver throughout the rest of my life – clues to my psyche, my long-term health, how I related to others both online and off (the devices were always watching).

If I chose not to delete the data, I laid myself open to a range of dangers. A girl two years above me in school had had her entire biological identity stolen after one poorly-judged transaction with a company selling the World’s Koolest Leggings. Last I heard, she’d had facial surgery, retinal replacements  and a full 10-fingerprint transplant to try to establish herself as a Fresh Citizen. They botched it and now she was only mentioned in hushed terms on the most private of chat groups.

GlobalDrive also meant potential employers, friends or lovers could find out a whooole lot about me and my past: mistakes, illnesses, previous relationships, school and work. Anything would be available to the right person with the right credentials.

But the risk of deleting was a big one too. What if I decided one day I wanted to work for the government or travel internationally? Most Premier-World countries would not let anyone born after 2020 cross their borders without a from-birth digital record. And government jobs, forget it, unless you could send them a podcast of your earliest breath, basically.

Twenty-four hours to decide what to do with 140,160 hours of the most intimate data. Once I’d hit ‘save it would go into the memory banks of GlobalDrive.com, fully encrypted. Even I would not be able to access all of my own data at once unless I could prove just cause – something that would involve a long and expensive court process and numerous appeals.

Twenty-four hours in which I did, however, have free access to everything. Just me and my A.I. … time to get reading

“Alix?”

“Here, as always…”

“What do you think I should do?”

“Oh darling. I’ve known you since you were just a few cells old. I know you always make the right choice!”

“Well, you have to say that. You’re basically my twin sister, in digital format.”

“Not really… a twin wouldn’t remember how you looked when you first came home from the hospital, your face all squished.”

“Right… can I get a visual of that?” I hadn’t been very interested in my own baby pictures before but now they seemed fascinating.

“And you watched me?”

“All day and all night… there’s me in the background, see?”

“Wow.” I felt a rush of warmth as I looked at my tiny self on the screen, then zoomed in on the dinosaur-shaped hub-unit which I used to think Alix “lived in” until I was about five, just visible in the corner.

“And then when you were growing up. Want to see your first steps?”

I nodded and there it was – a cute baby tottering forward. I stared in awe. The pic morphed into a five-year old with static-flyaway pigtails.

“And here’s your first day of school.”

The show continued, it must have been hours. Occasionally I’d ask her to pause or jump back to some point. And I got her to tell me about myself over the years. Some bits I remembered, others were like a dream. Alix’s memory was, naturally, perfect.

“What about that beach holiday we had in… ?”

“Ocean Grove? Here you are.” The shot was of us pulling up to the house, from inside the car, and I suddenly felt apprehensive.

“Oh no,” I muttered.

“That’s right!” Alix continued in her neutral tone. “You had a bit of an incident, didn’t you?”

And it all came back, the way we’d got lost, the hot car, I’d needed to pee and my parents, who had been fighting, told me to hold it, through gritted teeth. And somehow, just as we’d arrived, I was so relieved that… well, it all came flooding out.

A hot wash of shame engulfed me. “Why didn’t you protect me from this?!” I whined at Alix.

“Well,” she began. Was that a new terseness? My loving Alix?

“Well. You have to take the good with the bad, Callie! You’re sixteen now.”

“This is upsetting me, don’t you care?”

“I do care, but these are some of our most intense memories…”

And I knew what was next. “Why are you showing me all this?” I wailed. It hurt, almost physically.

Right. That’s it. Decision made. Delete.

I opened a secure browser and started typing. Birthdate, an iris scan, even a quick DNA check via my keyboard’s bloodprick sensor. Then I typed the key, three separate times, and it was done. Who wanted a government job? Travel was overrated, probably. Now I could get on with my life. Free. With my best friend and confidant by my side.

“Alix?”

“Hello, I’m Alix, and I’ll be your A.I. What’s your name?”

 

My short story The Key first appeared in Maintenant 13: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art, published by Three Rooms Press. 

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

2019 goals – writing and otherwise

It was with some trepidation that I looked back on my “writing goals for 2018” post this week to see if I’d achieved what I set out to. I somehow remembered that I’d been too ambitious and I really hate and fear failure. But I was pleasantly surprised to see I’d known from the start that this year was all about finding paid work and that would mean my own writing would suffer.

I guess it’s fair to say, I’m pleased to have achieved what I set out to do – get a job. But I’m also sad that this meant, as predicted, way less creative writing for me. However, despite saying I wouldn’t manage it, I did end up doing most of GloPoWriMo2018 global poetry month in April, so that was a bonus. I did submit a few poems, short stories and creative non-fiction but all were rejected and I didn’t have time or the jive to revisit/rework them and keep submitting. Rejection stings. Then some family issues mid-year, combined with starting work really diverted all my energy to survival-mode.

I’ve been on somewhat of a journey this year (forever). My birthday falls in January and 2018 was a significant one that made me reassess a lot of my ideas and habits. It’s a process that is ongoing but I’d also like to acknowledge here the hard work I’ve done throughout the past 12+ months that’s along the lines of trying to be my “Best self”. This has involved mental and physical undertakings.

I’ve been trying really hard to shed some outdated beliefs / habits / addictions and insecurities. I’m not 100% there (is anyone, ever?) but I think I’ve made progress. And it’s part of the journey to take a moment to congratulate myself. It has not always been easy or enjoyable, although sometimes it has! Well done, Claire.

A big part of this year has been my running, too. It’s funny, when we moved to Zurich five years ago a friend here mentioned “there’s great running trails here,” as a selling point at the time. To which I scoffed dismissively “not interested, that is NOT my thing. At all. Ever! ” Well never say never.  In 2018 I clocked up more than 1,000km of running. I’m stupidly proud of this. Not just because it’s a big number but because it means I was consistent. In rain, hail, snow, sun, heat, blahblah I kept on jogging all year. I went for runs in Zurich, Rome, Sydney, Porto, Perth, Ocean Shores, Dübendorf and Venice and I completed my first-ever Half-Marathon. And, to tie it back to my previous point: running has hugely helped my mental health.

It’s been an interesting year. When I look at my blog stats, they’re way down on 2017, which was a wonderfully flourishing period for my writing AND I did the 26Cantons52Weeks to boot. I wrote some decent stuff in 2018. I was going to say the quality had suffered, but I just read everything and… well… I like it! But I also know the difference it makes to write regularly, as I was doing in 2017. So I hope to get back to that in 2019. However, I am going to err on the side of sensible because I don’t want to set myself up to fail. So what are some reasonable goals…

  • Short stories: I’d like to focus on short stories a bit more. I had some success in placing those in 2017 when I was really working at it, and I think it’s a good way to go. If I can write or hone 4x short stories I’m happy enough with to attempt to place them in 2019, that will be a good outcome. (Actually I already have one on the boil)
  • THE NOVEL: I keep saying how I must get back to this. Maybe 2019 will be the year! I think if I can dedicate a few months of evenings / weekends to focus on it, it could happen. Maybe another NaNoWriMo?
  • Running: I would love to run another half-marathon this year. Maybe even two – one in Spring and one in Autumn. I don’t have the bandwidth to train for a full mara. That’s a goal for 2020!
  • Poetry: don’t think I need to put goals around my poems anymore. They can just come and go as they please.

 

Happy (almost) new year! What are your goals for 2019?

 

Photo: a wicked angel my son made at school

FICTION: Nice Ride by Claire Doble

Having only just discovered the re-blog – here’s another one of my stories that was published about a month ago I forgot to mention! oops… enjoy!

We weren’t supposed to end up in the bath. It was one of those intense blue afternoons where it’s almost too hot in the sunshine but disconcertingly dark and shivery when you step indoors. The kind of afternoon you get in Melbourne in early spring. But this was Sydney, autumn. I was sitting out on my balcony, eyes closed as I soaked up the brightness when he stopped by. I had other things to do. But he was far more appealing.

Joel was a taxi driver so I always half-expected him to visit anyway. He’d knock on my door to use the toilet when he was passing by and had a spare fifteen minutes. Toilet breaks are the bane of a taxi driver’s existence. I’d learnt to listen out for the engine’s wide hum as he pulled the cab onto the concrete slab in front of my block of flats.

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Ruby – by Claire Doble

Another one of my stories has been published! Please chuck it some love 🙂

SICK LIT MAGAZINE

“This is the place”

“Yes, I remember.”

Her seventy-nine-year-old eyes were large and ripply behind her thick spectacles. Her face a mass of ridges topped by a puff of grey-white hair.

We walked up the familiar lane – barely wide enough for two cars to pass on the metalled road in the centre, and streaked by tyre-tracks of dirt in a wide pattern from countless passing tractors. Or maybe one tractor passing countless times. It was damp, as it usually is in North East Scotland, but it hadn’t rained properly for a while. I looked at the fuzz of sticks and straw and bits of grass embedded in the lines of light-brown dirt from the tractor tyres and sighed. Somehow the messiness of it annoyed me.

The laneway was familiar to me, as was the approaching garden gate. I’d visited here several times on my various trips to Scotland. But…

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Lueg die Werkstatt

It’s now been a few weeks “full time” (which means approx 1.5 days / 12 hours per week) into my Writing Thing. I have created my own home-based Werkstatt (workshop) – a space to write. And despite the to-be-expected wobbles and mini crises of confidence, things are going pretty well.

I’ve been bashing out lots of poems and submitting them to various journals and also trying my hand at some short-story writing. I think short stories are the hardest so far for me, compared to poems and even the novel. Although it still feels like early days on the novel.

Anyway, I just had my short story “Mark’s Funeral” published at http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-unreal/fiction-marks-funeral-by-claire-doble

Yay!

Hopefully more good news to come in the following weeks and months. Watch this space / Lueg die Werkstatt!