Flash Fiction: Fraternising

Here’s some grubby Northern sci-fi for you.


It was a small, grey, scrawny thing, slumped in the corner of my dad’s shed on a pile of compost bags. It stared up at us with those giant saucer eyes they have. I felt a pang. It was like looking at a puppy in a pound, only ten times worse; like looking at a super-puppy.

                “What the hell have you done, Jimmy?” Sam said, as he caught sight of the alien.

“I was out picking snails for my mam,” I said, “down the alleys out back of the club. Then I see it just ambling along like. And I had the sack already.”

“Jesus, Jimmy. We should phone the council… or the government. You’ve seen the posters.”

“Don’t you want to see for yourself what it feels like?”

Sam narrowed his eyes at me, then his whole expression changed and his mouth fell open.

                I crouched down and watched it watching me. The government had put up posters with warnings, and adverts on the telly giving out scares about the risks of “fraternising.” That’s what they called it. But the rumours on the street said different. Most said these aliens were harmless. More than that, word was their touch was like the best drug you’ve ever had, and with no side-effects. So when I’d seen the little grey fella walking along, I took my chance. I’d brought him down to the shed on my dad’s allotment. No one really came here since the rift opened, and my dad got conscripted. It was the safest place I could think of.

                Sam crouched down next to me. “How’s it done?”

“I think you just touch its hand.”

“You first then.”

“Too bloody right.” My stomach churned, but I didn’t want to show my nerves.

The alien was still staring at me. I put my hand up, palm facing towards it, and I hoped Sam didn’t notice me shaking. His eyes were still on the alien, nearly as wide and round as the creature’s.

                Slowly, the alien held its hand up, mirroring mine.

“Shit,” said Sam under his breath. He said it really slowly, stretching out the middle. “This is it.”

I moved my hand towards the alien’s hand, and then we touched.

                A wave of blue enveloped everything. The deepest blue, like the UV lighting in the club, but ten times as deep. It hummed with depth, but I couldn’t feel the humming. I couldn’t feel a thing. The blue was me and I was the blue. For a moment, I felt completely at peace. And then it hit me like a wave made of pain. Not physical pain. I still couldn’t feel my body. Sorrow, sadness, fear, and hurt pulsed through my consciousness. I wanted to cry out, but I didn’t have a throat to make the noise or a mouth to shape the sound.

                A second wave came, this one of loneliness. I realised how we’d connected. Could it feel what I felt? I saw myself like an onion being peeled, layer after layer, until, in the middle, the core, black and rotten, spreading decay, like something on my dad’s compost heap. Something selfish, using, corrupting. I didn’t want to feel its pain. I didn’t want it to see my rottenness. I pulled away with some part of myself, and willed myself out of that place.

                The blue disappeared. I was sprawled on the floor of the shed, looking up at the wooden roof with its damp stains and mould patches where it hadn’t dried out from the winter. I struggled to stand, limbs all at the wrong angle. The alien was curled up in the corner, its knees pulled up to its too-big-head, its skinny arms wrapped around its legs, its face hidden.

                “You all right?” Sam asked. Now he was staring at me.

“Come on,” I said to the creature. I crouched in front of it again, gesturing for it to get out of the corner. I didn’t dare touch it. I just knelt there and waited. It probably couldn’t understand me, anyway.

                Finally, it raised its head to the side, one big eye peering over its arm.

I gestured with my hand again. “Come on.”

I moved out the way, shoving into Sam as I did. I’d forgotten he was still crouched there.

“What are you playing at?” he asked as he fell on his arse. “Watch it.”

I didn’t care about him. I just wanted to let the thing go, and it wasn’t going to come out of the corner with me blocking its way. I pushed the door open, then stood back and waited.

“Go on,” I said. “Get going.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Sam shouted, picking himself up. “What about my go?”

“You don’t get a go,” I said. I couldn’t be arsed explaining. No. I couldn’t explain. He wouldn’t understand. I wasn’t sure I did. I just couldn’t keep it here anymore.

“What’s your problem?” he asked.

“I’m letting it go.”

Slowly, the alien uncurled itself from its ball.

“But …” Sam began. He didn’t bother finishing. The creature ran past us and shot out the door as fast as its skinny little legs could carry it.

                I stepped outside.

“I wanted to see what it was like,” Sam said. He just sounded confused now.

The sun was setting over the backs of the houses, spilling orange light across the rows of red bricks and the alleyways, the washing out on lines in back yards, the half-dug allotments, some going to weed since the conscription came. It reflected off windows, making the houses look like they were on fire, and leaving me twice as cold. Fizzing away like a great electric eye, the rift’s blue light warred against the orange flood. I couldn’t see any sign of the creature.

“You’ll have to find your own,” I said. “But if I was you, I wouldn’t bother.”



Early Learning | Ambrose Hall

My flash fiction in THE FEM.


“Don’t play with that. It’s for girls.”

My head whipped round. Across the toy shop, a boy sat behind a pink plastic dressing table, exploring the array of small drawers with delight. The dressing table was lurid, bubblegum baroque, the mirror oval, a real fairy tale dream. His mother hovered behind, her face stiff with tension. For a moment, the boy was oblivious to her disapproval.

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A cyberpunk short about memory.

The buzzing started in my ear a week ago. I thought it was tinnitus but the doctor says my augmentation is fried. My last company paid for it – neural enhancement, data ports, the works. Maintenance is one of the perks. Until I quit, of course. Repair would cost me half my severance. I need that money to coast a little while, get myself together. If I blow half now, things are going to get tough pretty soon. I’m not ready to go back to work. I jimmied one of the ports, stuffed a little loop circuit in, seemed to shut it up for now. Or at least, I can’t hear it.

I left on good terms, golden handshake, easing out with a slick handover, signing off the secrets, the properties, promises made. I can’t tell you why I left. Not exactly. I had this feeling that I needed something more. That was three months ago. I haven’t found it yet. Whatever it is. But then I wasn’t expecting to find it in the bottom of gin bottles, in empty fucks with bright young things. Where do you look?

There’s a certain pleasure in this life of dissipation. Hanging out in carefully manicured pseudo-seedy gin palaces on Lime Street, in pristine white bespoke suits, buying drinks for pretty arts students, spinning them a line – here a bit of existential angst, there a bit of northern grit. They impress easily. All it takes is a little Eliot or Baudelaire run off by heart. No one reads these days. I’ve no idea what these kids are learning. I’m a software engineer, for fucks sake. They’re all as rich as sin. Who else would study the arts?

A melancholy has settled over me, like thick treacle. Great globs of it stick to me when I move. I shamble through, illiterate to my own emotions. I was never taught to read the language of feeling, my people prefer to keep things surface-deep. I wear the blackness like an ill-fitting coat, many sizes too big. My family are on the phone every day. When will I get another job? I don’t know. I’ve fallen out of the world and the door back in has sealed over. Beyond the wall, I can see the world still, running on in black and white, scratched and worn like an old movie played too many times.

I find myself walking down the old cut between Gasworks Lane and The Friars. Grubby little back street. Real dirt here, not the manufactured stuff they ship in to those art districts. I went for a walk once before dawn through The Sawmill, saw teens out rubbing grime into the salvaged window frames for minimum wage. Authenticity to order. The endless fabrication of an original that does not exist. I’m no better. I like the junk shops down the cut, those little holes of dust and memory. I fill my flat with trinkets, collected miscellanea. I find these things representative of something out of reach. Perhaps it is merely second-hand nostalgia.

Only one shop remains open, a pokey place owned by a woman named Marie. She sits ensconced in a magpie’s nest of objects, fiddling with curios, polishing brass. She wears tweed and crocheted scarves. I feel clinical in that place, detached. She seems to recognise me. I have made a habit of browsing, of buying random pieces. I see a delicate lacquered box I like. I find boxes most suggestive of all, as though there is something waiting for me inside. They are always empty, of course. As I reach for it, I notice a locket. Lockets unsettle me as antiques – they are too personal. Opening them feels like an intrusion. Yet something about this fragile silver thing catches my eye – the work is so fine; a tiny filigree covers the surface.

I pick it up by the chain, place it in the palm of my other hand. Emotion hits me like a jolt. Something, a feeling in my chest like liquid bubbling up, like drowning. I have never experienced this depth of feeling before. I’m terrified. I put my hand out to steady myself. There are tears running down my cheeks. I wipe them away, catch my breath. Marie looks up with curiosity. “I’ll take this,” I say. My reactions are instinctive, cutting through my disorientation. She reaches out for the locket, ready to put it in a little paper bag for me. I slip it in my jacket pocket, not wanting to give it up. I pay with a crumpled old note. I need to be alone.

I move through the city like a ghost, back to my flat as quickly as I can. With three bolts across the door I shut out the world. I throw off my shoes, curl up on the sofa, take a deep breath and plunge my hand into my pocket, feeling for the chain. I pull it out and place it on my fingers. This time I’m ready but the sensation hits me just as hard as it did the first time. I fumble the locket open. A man and woman, greying sepia tones. She in pin curls, he in uniform. I wipe my cheek before my tears fall on the photographs. I know that the emotion belongs to her. Her eyes, like deep pools, stare back at me, the fear unspoken – will he return? How often did she clutch this locket when he did not? Her grief is so vast, I think it will bury me. I feel for the data port behind my ear, locket still clutched in my hand. I flip open the cover, pull out the little loop card and throw it on the sofa.

As quickly as it washes over me, the sorrow drains away. I feel something, everything all at once. I am euphoric, full of light. I can’t help but laugh with the joy of it. Is this what I’ve been looking for? I don’t care. For the first time in months, I feel something. And I think to myself, this is huge. A mere accident of faulty tech and I’d stumbled on pure gold. Possibilities flood my mind. Could I reproduce it? I was going to try. It had something to do with my augmentation and that loop I’d thrown together. There would be time for further tests. Forget manufactured muck in wannabe art zones. Here was authenticity on tap.

I pull out my phone, call up my old manager.

“Hey Mike, I’ve got something for you. It’s going to be massive.”

We agree to meet over breakfast. As I said, I’m no better.