Friday, 24 May 2013

Night Of The Living Living

Edgar woke up, well, he's not really awake, but he's not in that state where his eyes are shut and the world is dark.  No, now he's in the awake state, the one where he gets up from wherever he was before - very rarely a bed these days - and begins his day.
    A regular day for Edgar involves shuffling around town, sometimes shuffling into buildings, but, if the weather's ok, he'll shuffle around the high street and into the park, maybe sometimes along the promenade.
    There are lots of other shuffling people shuffling past him, but he doesn't recognise any of them, beyond the fact that they're shuffling as well and occasionally they'll groan or murmur towards one another, almost as if they're saying hello, not that Edgar knows why he'd say hello to anyone, or knows anyone to say hello to.
    In fact, Edgar doesn't even really know he's Edgar, and the only reason anyone would ever know he's Edgar is because of the name badge he still has hanging from his work shirt.  But, quite why anyone would ever need to know his name is another question altogether, as nobody that Edgar shuffles by every day is capable of reading that name badge, let alone forming the sounds to utter the word Edgar.
    But, despite all of that, Edgar, as much as he was capable of doing so, had become distracted by someone uttering a familiar sound.  It had a certain lilting, sing-song to it, and was high pitched, in stark contrast to the bassier groans and whimpers he was used to encountering.
    "Uhhhwuuuhhh!" it brightly sang, slowly drawing Edgar around, his head twitching trying to place the location of the noise.
    As his ear became more accustomed to the repetition the sound began to take shape: "Uggwurr... Egggwurrr... Edggwwwwurrr... Edgar... Edgar... Edgar..."
    Edgar blinked his dry eyelids, lolled his bottom lip from side to side and moaned.  He began toddling towards the sound, it was coming from down a slip road leading off of the promenade onto the beach.
    With increasing eagerness, or perhaps just the slope's gradient forcing him to up his pace, Edgar reached the lower walkway and twisted his head, seeking the next repetition of the word, that strangely familiar word.
    There!  It was coming from a tunnel leading towards a public convenience.  Edgar shuffled ahead, pressing on into the darkness, not able to be the type of person who might be cautious about this sort of thing, because Edgar had lost any real personality a long time ago.
    Suddenly, Edgar felt different, he felt smaller, and his body wasn't working in quite the way it had been a moment ago.  If Edgar had really been able to realise what was going on, Edgar would have noticed that he was being restrained.
    He swung his head from side to side, like a dog trying to bite its own elusive tail.
    If he had been able to see what was restraining him, he would have seen a person dressed in a welding mask and leathers, with thick black leather gloves, a leather apron over their leather jacket and leather trousers, tall leather boots, and duct tape wrapped around every conceivable join from sleeve to cuff, neck to head.  If anything this person looked less like a person and more like a sentient sofa.
    If he had been able to understand what this person was saying he would have heard this conversation:
    "Do it!"
    "I don't know if I can..."
    "You have to."
    "Wh - Because you said you would!  Plus I'm the one wearing all of this, it's not like I can... Just do it, will you?!"
    "Oh, but, it's so... he's so... I... urgh... I don't know if I..."
    "You know it'll be ok once you do it.  You've seen me do it."
    "But, he's all... yucky..."
    "They're all 'all yucky', just do it!"
    "Do it or I'll let him go."
    "You wouldn't!"
    "I might!"
    "It's doubtful."
    "Oh!  Hmph... Fine... Just don't look at me whilst I do it..."
    "Are you looking?"
    Stepping in front of Edgar was a young man, late-twenties, dressed much more casually than his friend, though he was gripping a baseball bat in his hands.  However, once he was in front of Edgar he let the baseball bat fall to his side.  He took a deep breath, ran one his hands through his dirty blonde hair, licked his blush pink lips, leaned forwards, his eyes wincing, and kissed Edgar on the mouth.
    It was a long kiss, lingering, sensual almost and Edgar was dumbfounded, he blinked and looked about himself, unable to quite understand what was occuring until finally this man pulled away and Edgar said:
    "What the Hell are you doing?!"
    "See, it worked," the leather sofa with his arms around Edgar beamed, and Edgar understood every word.
    "Oh my God," Edgar exclaimed suddenly, hunching over and retching, "What's that smell?!"
    The leather sofa and the young man laughed and high-fived as Edgar dry-heaved.
    "Oops, sorry," the young man said leaning down and placing a hand on Edgar's back, "that smell, um, that's you old chum."
    "It's me?"
    "Your clothes will probably smell a bit like, well, like rotting flesh."
    "Good God, why?"
    "Because that's what's been in them for the past, well, five years at worst I'd reckon."
    "Why am I wearing a dead man's clothes?"
    "Well, because up until," the young man checked his watch, "one minute ago, you were a dead man."

So, Edgar's new acquaintances told him all about the time he had missed.  Firstly, they asked Edgar to recall the last thing he remembered, really clearly remembered, but there seemed to be a long foggy gap in his recollection.  Eventually he dredged up a memory of going to meet his girlfriend June at a cafe, but didn't remember what they talked about.
    "When was that?"
    "It was... in the Autumn sometime...?"
    The leather sofa, whose name was Brian, nodded, "Autumn five years back I would say, probably late October actually, because people thought it was a Halloween flashmob or something for a while."
    The young man, Ken, laughs, "Yeah, a lot of the people who survived to begin with were actually dressed up like zombies, y'know, because they saw the mob and wanted to be part of it!"
    "Yes, but," Brian's tone and expression, now visible since he'd raised his welding mask, were impenetrably serious, "a lot of innocent people got killed because they were just dressed up as zombies also."
    Ken sheepishly toed the ground, "I know, but you kind of have to see the funny side now."
    Brian shook his head, turned his attention back to the still bamboozled Edgar.
    "So," Edgar asked, "you're telling me there was a zombie apocalypse and the entire human race was brought to the brink of extinction?"
    With very little regard for the magnitude of such a sentence, Brian and Ken responded at once; "Yep."
    "Good God!"  He let it all sink in, and then looked up to his new friends; "How did you survive?"

It turns out that only Brian had survived, and he had rescued Ken via the same method that Ken had rescued Edgar, and the two of them were part of a small alliance endeavouring to turn the population back into regular people and not the shuffling corpses that roamed listlessly about hungering for brains.
    Edgar was, naturally, rather curious as to how they had discovered that a mouth-to-mouth transfer of bodily fluids would turn a zombie back into a generally-accepted-to-be 'normal' human.  At this point, both Ken and Brian became sheepish.
    "Look," Ken began, "we live in a modern age, we're not that sheltered to certain people's... um... perversions..."
    Edgar's face contorted.
    "Well,when things started there were people who weren't so dismayed at the outbreak of the undead, people who perhaps were drawn to them sexually, y'know, even before the 'un' part of the name was introduced."
    Edgar held the back of his hand to his mouth.
    "Well, someone saw one of these underground zombie movies and... saw y'know, it happen... the, er, the kiss of life as it's become known."
    Edgar exhaled, trying to wash the pictures from his mind.
    "I know it's not to everyone's tastes, but, look, it happened, we found out, and now you're alive again, so, it's not such a bad thing, right?"
    Edgar weighed it up in his mind, it did feel nice to be able to weigh things up in his mind again.
    "So, what's the plan?" Edgar asked.

And so, the three of them set off together, their intention to gradually reawaken members of society and restore human civilization on a planet that had become gradually ravaged by brain dead monsters.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Private Lives

She's such a perfect baby, a perfect weight, a perfect little face, radiant eyes - when you can glimpse them from under her blush pink eyelids, the world is still so bright and new to her.  Her mother would be so proud, but it's not worth her mother knowing, and her mother doesn't really mind, she's received her money, it's the first thing she checked after the delivery.  The baby is off to be incubated.
    The mother is happy because there was a broker in the hospital who happened to work for Paragon Inc, and when she saw the stats on her baby, well, she put in an offer straight away.
    'Who was the father?' the broker asked, ID-pad in hand.
    The mother tapped his name in to the registered parents database, his photograph, medical history and a brief biography appeared on the screen.
    The broker nodded her approval and presented the mother with her offer, the mother warmly accepted.

Returning to the waiting room the broker couldn't help but let a smile slip, she was congratulated by brokers from rival organisations, clapped on the back for such a successful acquisition.
    'You might as well go home early!' one joked.
    But she had the fire under her now, that purchase had given her a passion for the day, but like a gambler in Vegas she knew this hospital was dry, so best to move on to another location in the hopes of finding a similarly promising candidate.

It was a good purchase, the baby grew into a healthy toddler and began its education with a focus on core skills such as languages, mathematics and communication, ultimately pushing towards marketing, account management and retention, and sales.
    By the age of 14 the baby, named Jo, was answering online queries, dealing with customers on a non-confrontational basis, but she showed such promise that she was moved into the call centre before her sixteenth birthday.

Jo had always been curious, it was a hard balance for any corporation to address, you want to inspire company loyalty but there is an inherent desire in human animals to question things, and despite years of research, and despite success in general, there are still newborns who grow up to want to know what else there is.
    'Why do you ask?' the manager of floor 93 said to Jo one afternoon.  'Are you unhappy?'
    'No, I enjoy my work,' but there was a shift in Jo's eyes, a response that suggested lingering doubt, the computer alerted the line manager to this.
    'But...?' he lead.
    'What's in it for me?'
    'Good service is its own reward,' the line manager smiled, remembering hearing that in his training.  'Imagine, you've progressed in this company faster than anyone I've known, just think where you will be in five years.'
    'Where will you be in five years?' Jo asked, as close to mischievious as would be tolerated.
    'I will have left the business, I'm a lot older than you Jo.' Though he did not look his age, his skin had been stretched and de-aged in accordance with research that suggested people prefer to buy from younger, healthier faces, it gives them a sense of aspiration.  'I have saved enough for a buy out, and I will move to the town.'
    'Congratulations,' Jo said, flatly, it was a nod of approval pre-programmed into conversation, most meant it, Jo didn't.  'It's a risk though.'
    The line manager was dumbfounded, so was the computer, 'A risk?'
    'Mmm,' she nodded, 'James, do you remember him?  James was on this floor, he worked next to me, he worked as many hours as he could, saving as much as was possible and he bought himself back, remember, remember how young he was, it was uncommon for someone so young to be able to afford a buy out.
    'I shook his hand, he smiled and left, off to live his own life, a public person.
    'It was only five months until he returned, do you remember?'
    'Yes, he asked for his position back.'
    'But he didn't get it.'
    'His company loyalty was compromised, it's policy.'
    'The company wanted nothing to do with him, not without guarantees.'
    'Of course.'
    'So he sold himself back to the company.'
    'How much do you get for a secondhand man?'
    The line manager smiled, endeared to the terminology, he made a mental note to use it in a future presentation to the board.
    'Your price goes down, but your cost goes up,' Jo continued.
    'But his quality of life...' the line manager cut in.
    'Back in company accomodation, though he's in Block 4 now, works down in the Sub-Levels.'
    'You've seen him?'
    'I was told.'
    Jo hesistated, without confession she'd be docked, but the computer read the pattern, the memory trigger.
    'Adam,' the line manager nodded, Jo's expression was all the confirmation required.  'You have so much potential Jo, I am advised to recommend that you discontinue this line of inquiry, there are no benefits.'
    She nodded, 'Understood.'
    'Review is in one month, I think you have promise.'
    'Thank you.'
    'Just...' he placed his hands out in front of him, as if to clap, but instead slowly drew them towards one another, palm to palm, creating a narrow.
    'I follow,' Jo nodded again.

A sea of voices, their intonations make waves of various pitches, each at different parts of a sale.  Jo, travelling amongst them, found her station, took her seat, replaced the head-set and returned to work.

She had taken leave before and seen the consequences of buying yourself back.  She'd taken a trip to the hills, but had snuck into a town one evening.
    Buildings were lit up with activity, the sound of conversation, bawdy howling laughter, a sudden quiet when a glass smashed, there were people talking in small circles, each circle jostling for space with other circles, Jo imagined that from above it might resemble a bowl of oat loop cereal.  They all wore suits of varying shades, or smart dresses, their hair seemed to be held in place by some invisible force, and their skin was clean and clear, but not taut and anxious like her line manager's.  These were the people who bought and consumed that which Jo, and her colleagues, sold.
    Elsewhere, in the doorways of closed shops she found people wrapped in blankets, trying to get to sleep.  As she approached, one - tucked into their shiny bedsack like a cocoon, turned over to face her, their eyes were open, quickly examining Jo, trying to understand her intention.  From the branding that peppered her clothes they knew she was not from the town, they knew she was privately owned.
    'Hello,' she smiled.
    'Evening,' the woman in the sleeping bag responded, cautiously, but sitting up and shuffling her back against the wall, welcoming Jo into a conversation.
    'Are you...?' Jo stepped forward, crouching gingerly before perching on the edge of the step.  'Are you, um, your own person?'
    The woman smiled, mulling the words over in her head, 'Yes, I guess you could put it like that.'
    'How long have you owned yourself?'
    'Oh, two years, something like that,' she retrieved a thermos flask from inside the sleeping bag, unscrewed the cup and poured out some weak smelling tea, offering the cup to Jo who obligingly accepted.  'Were you thinking of saving up?'
    'I was, yes.'
    'Hope I'm not too off-putting!' the woman grinned, revealling a few lost and chipped teeth.
    'Are all those people,' Jo shifted her head in the direction of the gaggle outside a nearby restaurant and bar, 'are they their own people as well?'
    'Hmm,' the woman pondered, 'in a way.  Not like me though, they've always been their own people.'
    'Really?' Jo gasped, not least of all because the tea was surprisingly acrid.
    'Why would you want to go and do a thing like leave the company?  Paragon, right?'
    Jo followed the woman's gaze to one of the larger company logos emblazoned on the jumper she was wearing that evening, and then further down to the same logo vertically on each trouser leg, and then smaller idents on each shoe.
    'How did you guess?' Jo laughed, somewhat embarrassed.
    'I used to work for AllTech myself, saved up 700,000 credits and bought myself from the company, but I wasn't smart, you see, it's not just about having enough to buy yourself back, no, you need to make sure you can survive on your own.  See, no company wants you to work for them, there's no call for free agents, they've got more than enough staff of their own.  See, I can make things, simple things, preserves, jams and chutneys, things like that, but people didn't want them, they went to the company - KitchenGroup, DinDin - felt like they could trust their products.  I sought distribution deals, thought I could use the company, but they played me, asked to have some samples for consideration, sent me a rejection a few weeks later and then, a month on from that, they launched their own line of preserves.
    'I couldn't prove it, and I had no chance of fighting it, but I know they analysed my recipes, stole them somehow.  I didn't want to sell myself back to them, I couldn't afford my rent, my bills, all things the company covers when you work for them, they make life so comfortable and easy, but at what cost?  I didn't want to work in an office, I didn't want to live in a tower block, don't I deserve to be in control of my own life?
    'If this is it,' she surveyed her doorway, 'then I'm fine with this.'

That's what Jo would repeat to herself on those difficult days, sat listlessly at her station, standing in the elevator, queuing for her meals, letting the mild shower water run over her, or lying awake in bed in the middle of the night; 'If this is it, then I'm fine with this.'
    Sometimes, if she could get away with it, she would procrastinate at work and try to formulate a spreadsheet of her income, how much she could save, how long it would take to earn enough to buy herself back from the company, but, heeding that woman's words, how much to save enough to survive on the outside, to afford her own rent, her own bills, food, clothes, travel, entertainment.
    Of course, most buildings were company owned, most shops were company owned, ultimately she'd buy herself out of the company only to pay into the company for the rest of her life, and at a marked up price at that.
    At least if you were with the company you got a discount, besides, she could stay with the company and apply for reduced hours, a property upgrade, her line manager did think she had prospects.
    But Jo knew she would never be like those people she had seen in the town, the ones drinking and laughing, there was something about their manner that she could not associate with, and she was able to move amongst like a ghost, as if they could not see her at all.  It was not envy she felt though, because she did not want to become them, she did not want to be accepted into their fold, but she wanted their freedom and she did not want to squander it - as she perceived them to be doing so.
    Yet despite her training, her aptitude with numbers and accounting, she could not find a way to afford herself, not without the risk of either finding herself sleeping on the streets or selling herself back to the company, and, no matter what your abilities, they always treated re-sales with contempt and distrust.
    It made sense for Jo to stay, so she closed the spreadsheet, clicking No when it prompted her to save, she put her headset on and took the next call.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A Perfect Day

His perfect day began at 7.15am, he woke up prompted by his alarm clock and got out of bed. He went downstairs and made toast, coffee, ate them at the kitchen table. Showered and brushed his teeth. Got dressed in grey jeans, a red short sleeved shirt, and his white trainers. He caught the 8.47am train and went to work.

    His job is simple, mindless, he stands by a production line, doing quality control. On his perfect day there were no problems.

     After work he met some friends for a drink, he had two beers and saw her standing at the bar. He went up, introduced himself, they started talking and kept talking until the bar staff had to ask them to leave.

     He walked her to the bus stop, she kissed him, and gave him her number.

     Full of hope and happiness, he walked home and went to bed.

It hadn't taken long for things to go wrong after that, sure, for a while they were happy enough, but no day seemed as carefree as that first. He was constantly concerned that he meant less to her than she did to him, that perhaps she was treating him as an island between things, a stopover on her way somewhere better.

     He became paranoid, ugly, suspicious and would ask leading, provocative questions that frayed at her nerves until she could stand it no longer. She, quite understandably, left and didn't answer any of his calls.

     When he finally realised that she didn't care for him anymore he went to bed, cried into his pillow briefly, and then fell asleep.

He woke up at 7.15am, prompted by his alarm clock and got out of bed. He went downstairs and made toast, coffee, ate them at the kitchen table. Showered and brushed his teeth. Got dressed in grey jeans, a red short sleeved shirt, and his white trainers. He caught the 8.47am train and went to work.

     It was only then, on that train ride, that he was reminded of his perfect day, and how it had begun just like this about seven months ago. He suddenly became optimistic, an electric tingle inside of him, as if he was - just like the train - on a predetermined path to an unchangeable destination, moving forwards.

     He stood by the production line, checking each item for faults, they were all fine. Things were in his favour.

     He had called his friends, the same friends, at lunchtime, to arrange drinks after works and when one had shown signs of hesitation he had insisted, pleaded and the friend had relented.

     They went to the pub, he had two beers and then stood at the bar, waiting.


     His friends came up in turn, asked if he was ok, tried to draw him back to the table, but he was resolute and continue to wait as they returned, one by one, to say goodnight.

     When the bar staff asked him to leave he walked alone to the bus stop, waited for the bus and waved it goodbye, then walked home and went to bed.

The following day he woke up at 7.15am, prompted by his alarm clock and got out of bed. He went downstairs and made toast, coffee, ate them at the kitchen table. Showered and brushed his teeth. Got dressed in the same grey jeans, red short sleeved shirt and white trainers, they had wisps of last night clining to them like an invisible mist.

     He caught the 8.47am train and went to work.

     He stood by the production line, checking each item for faults, some seemed a little less than perfect, but he let it slide.

     He had called his friends, two were incredulous, made their excuses, he begged but they refused. One was surprised but agreed nonetheless.

     They went to the pub, he had two beers and then stood at the bar, waiting.

     His friend joined him, started talking, but he wasn't interested in listening and his friend became disinterested, finished his drink and wandered off, leaving the pub without saying goodbye.

     When the bar staff asked him to leave he walked alone to the bus stop, waited for the bus and waved it goodbye, then walked home and went to bed.

One week later, like he had done every day, he woke up at 7.15am, prompted by his alarm clock and got out of bed. He went downstairs and made toast, coffee, ate them at the kitchen table. Showered and brushed his teeth. Got dressed in the same, starchy, grey jeans, clammy red short sleeved shirt and off-white trainers.

     He caught the 8.47am train and went to work.

     He stood by the production line, he neither knew nor cared whether the products were perfect or otherwise, they filed by him as the hours wore on.

     He called his friends, but the calls just rang out or went to voicemail.

     He went to the pub, he had two beers and then stood at the bar, waiting.

     When the bar staff asked him to leave he walked alone to the bus stop, waited for the bus and waved it goodbye, then walked home and went to bed.

One month later, he woke up at 7.15am, prompted by his alarm clock and got out of bed. He went downstairs, but there was no bread, no coffee, he sat at the kitchen table for twenty minutes. Showered and brushed his teeth. Got dressed in the tatty, stained grey jeans, stinking red short sleeved shirt and dull trainers.

     He caught the 8.47am train and went to work.

     He stood outside the building, no longer allowed admittance and watched the people come and go, they all seemed so perfect.

     He called his friends, but his phone disconnected immediately, he had no calling credit.

     He went to the pub, he had two beers and then stood at the bar, waiting.

     When the bar staff asked him to leave he argued that it wasn't yet closing time, they were firm, insistent, threatened him with the police, he reasoned that he wasn't causing anyone any harm. They let him stay until close.

     He walked alone to the bus stop, waited for the bus and waved it goodbye, then walked home and went to bed.

Some time later, he woke up at 7.15am, naturally. He walked down the street, past bakeries and coffee shops, staring in through their windows. In a public bathroom he ran water through his matted hair, rubbed soap on his face and hands. Itched at the worn away jeans, the red short sleeved shirt and trainers that had fallen apart to resemble sandals.

     He hopped the barrier and caught the 8.47am train.

     He stood outside the building, watched the people come and go.

     He stood outside the pub.

     He walked to the bus stop, waited for the bus and waved it goodbye, then walked away to find a place to sleep.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


"Who - why - when - what are you do - done - doing to - today?" my son asked, sat at the breakfast table, pondering his choice of jam.
                "I've got two meetings with clients, quite an important day for me." I smile and pour his orange juice.
                "Con - coke - cork - cool."  He takes a large bite out of the slice, it quivers under the weight of blueberry slathered on top.  "Cat - car - can I ass Mark arouse - around for tea?"
                I take a slow sip from my coffee, "You can ask him around, yes."
                "Who - why - when -what did I sad - say?"

It makes speech easier!  You'll never be stuck for the right word again!  Can automatically translate your speech into twenty different languages, with more being added all the time!  Consult your healthcare advisor about the Predictive Speech implant today!

So ran the copy, and every kid wanted it for some reason that eludes me to this day.  I argued with Terry about it, told him I didn't want to put a chip in our child's head, but he said it was fine.  I asked him how he knew and he told me that he had one implanted a couple of months back.  I was offended he hadn't told me, which he took as an opportunity to remind me that we're not married anymore and he doesn't have to tell me everything.  If anything this just reminded me why I divorced him in the first place.
                We spoke to Dr. Stephens and she said that it's a simple, painless procedure, just a little implant that sits snugly in the interior frontal gyrus of the brain.
                I asked if she knew anybody who had the chip and she told me about her neighbour's kids, said it had improved their manners considerably.  "None of that text speak," she'd confided.

I decided to let Harry stay with his Dad after the operation, I was still quite shaken by the whole thing if I'm honest and thought that if there was to be any teething trouble then Terry would be better at dealing with it.  Me, I'd just drag Harry back to the doctor and get him to take the damn thing out, it's not like our boy ever had trouble communicating before and I'd hate to think of him as part of a little crowd at school.  That Mark is a bad influence, but we all knew those sort of kids, I mean, I aspired to hang around with Julie Walker and Margie Kempton, and now I'm rather glad they ostracised me.

Harry came back a week later, he greeted me with a big hug and beamed, "Hi mum!"
                I must admit I let out a massive sigh of relief that he wasn't spouting gibberish or worse, and Terry could see this weight being lifted from me, he gave me a knowing smile and ambled back down the path to his car.
                Like any one would be, I was curious, and wanted to just test that things were ok.  We both headed, naturally, for the kitchen, where I began to make myself a cup of tea.
                "Would you like a drink?"
                "Yes pl - please," he smiled.
                "Cup of tea?"
                "No thanks."
                "Don't you like tea?" I teased, knowing how much he hated all hot drinks, apart from warm blackcurrant juice.
                "What's wrong with it?"
                "It's disguised - disgusting."
                "Dis - disgusting."
                "Disgusting? Why don't you try some?"
                "No!" he objected, laughing as I wafted a tea bag in front of his face.  "Y - Tu - Tic - Tuck!"
                "Tuck?" I squinted, confused at his little face sticking his tongue out in protest.
                He concentrated, thought about what he'd said, muttered the series of words again like they formed part of a spell and then finally announced, "Yuck."
                "Did you mean to say 'tuck', did you know you were going to say it?"
                "Was - wash - wasn't thinking."
                "So, if I were to make you eat this teabag, what would you say?"
                "Y - Yuck," he articulated the world with the same theatrical disgust, and I chastised myself for being over-bearing and suspicious.

But, something lingered, and I phoned up Dr. Stephens who put me on to Mr. Enright at the company that designed the Predictive Speech units.  He reassured me that it would take a while for the chip to completely adapt itself to my son's choice of vocabulary, but it had some very smart software that would begin to recognise his most commonly used words and automatically default to those in future.
                "So the stammer?"
                "That's just the unit trying to second guess him, it goes to what our studies have suggested are the most favoured words based upon the electrical data released from your brain."
                "Why does it need to do that?"
                "Well, to make sure he's never short of a word really, that's the point of the unit ultiimately, you'll never be tongue-tied again, or perhaps it'll help you get the confidence to say those things you never thought you'd be able to, it's also a really useful tool when making an important presentation to..."
                "Save it," I rather curtly announce before ending the call.

I picked Harry and Mark up outside the school gates, they hopped into the back of the car and buckled up.  Mark said hello and asked me how my day was, which was an unexpected pleasantry.
                "How about fish and chips for tea?" I asked, glancing back at them in the rear view mirror as we set off down the road.
                "Yes please!" the two chimed in unison, when presented with a treat precocious boys always regress to being toddlers.
                I put the radio on and we drove to Ryan's fish bar, parked up and bundled out of the car.  It was quite busy for a Wednesday evening, all parents and children who had similar ideas in an effort to spare themselves an evening of cooking and cleaning.
                "What would you boys like?"
                "Cunt and chips." Mark grinned eagerly.
                "Me too, with my - mush - misguided piss," my boy smiled.
                I could see some heads turning, awkward eyes waiting for me to take action.  I crouched down, a serious look on my face, "What did you just say?"
                Mark looked up forlornly at the boards, pointing, "Cunt - cunt - cod and chips," the words came out after some stumbling efforts.
                Harry was already combobulating his sentence, looking down at the floor before raising his head and proudly saying, "Mushy peas."
                "I don't want to hear that kind of language from you Harry, and I'm pretty sure your parents wouldn't want you to talk like that either Mark. Ok?"
                I wanted to reprimand them further, deny them the fish and chips, but I was not certain that they were entirely responsible for their behavior.  Punishing them might only encourage them to swear some more, but this time out of choice.  So we waited patiently, quietly and awkwardly in the queue until we were served and then headed home.

Whilst the boys ate their dinner, with the greasy paper unfurled on their laps in front of the television, I - optimistically considering the time - called Mr. Enright again.
                "Hello?" was the puffed reply.
                "Mr. Enright, sorry to bother you, it's Sarah Alderton, we spoke about my son, he has the...
                "Yes, I remember.  What do you want Mrs. Alderton, I'm just about to leave the office."
                "You mentioned that the chip picks up on frequently used words, sets those as its defaults, well, what if someone used bad words frequently?"
                "You mean swearing?"
                "Well, yes."
                "It depends how much they swore to..."
                "He's a fourteen year old boy."
                "Oh dear, well, then, yes, there's every likelihood that swearing might be a more prevalent go-to for the device but..."
                "There are ways to monitor and control the output."
                "What do you mean?"

Upstairs was the instruction pack that Harry had brought back with him, I had dismissed it, having attempted to continue to treat my son as he always was and not some technological hybrid.  But, as Mr. Enright had said, there was a section about parental locks and, in a plastic pocket, a CD-ROM.
                I installed the software on my computer and looked through the options, it was laid out very clearly with a series of sliders to set the level of control.  I decided, considering the earlier outburst, to set the parental lock to high.
                Little green radar signals appeared on the screen, a cartoon representation as it searched for my son's output and then Harry Alderton popped up, alongside Mark Bollard.  I clicked on my son's name and a blue bar filled up to 100% before a rewarding little ping announced that the settings had been saved.
                Feeling satisfied I browsed around the software a bit more, realising that I could open up the implant and look at, and monitor, what new words had been added to the chip's dictionary that day.
                Mantle, tectonic, convergent, had all been added in the past six hours, he must have had a geography class.  But also, highlighted in red - with a note indicating that these words were now restricted from his vocabulary - was clit, cunt and jism.  At first I was more surprised that he'd learnt all three in such a short space of time, but then I did always presume Mark was a bad influence.
                Clicking back through the history of words over the past week since the chip was installed I was alarmed to discover what terrible language my son had managed to amass, words that I am certain I did not know until I was much older than he.
                I decided to look at what words Mark knew, and found a list of equal and greater depravity than my son's.  There were homophobic, racist, sexist, disablist terms, all manner of colourful swears and cusses, lurid descriptive terms, all of which I was able to order by their offensiveness as perceived by the software's online ranking system (clearly I was not the only concerned parent utilising this software).  Yet none on Mark's profile were highlighted in red, perhaps his parents were unaware of his pottymouth or this software, so I felt that they would be grateful if I set the parental restriction for him.

Later that week I received a concerned phonecall from the school deputy headteacher, she asked me to come in for a chat.  I was with a client that afternoon, but let her know I would pop in around 4pm if that's ok, besides Harry's father was looking after him over the weekend.
                There is a note of hesitation, but the deputy headteacher said it would be ok.

When I arrive to the school I'm shown through to the deputy headteacher's office, she stands to shake my hand, but my eyes are fixed on Terry, sat with a stern and serious look on his face, barely a hint of a smile to say hello.
                "Is everything ok?" I ask, my voice immediately weak with worry.  "Where's Harry?"
                "Harry's in the nurse's room taking a nap, he's had a rather stressful day," the deputy headteacher, who hasn't yet introduced herself to me properly, though the plaque on her desk reads Ms. M. Slocum, says sitting back - hand unshook - at her desk.
                "What happened?"
                "They're not sure," Terry begins, resting his elbows on his knees like he would every time he wanted to have a serious talk and scold me for something like I was a child.
                "Harry," Ms. Slocum wedged in, wishing to deflate any pre-prepared tension my ex-husband and I may have brought to the room, "complained about having a headache during his biology lesson, he was then found having a - well, a seizure in one of the corridors.  He's ok," she hastened to add, "we asked him if he had any history with..."
                "No, never, he hasn't gotten any allergies or epilepsy or anything like that, not that we know of."
                "Is he a squeamish boy?"
                "What do you mean?"
                My ex-husband tuts, "They were doing a lesson about reproduction and they think our lad might have got disturbed by it.  He sees worse on telly every..." Having seen how wide Ms. Slocum's eyes had become my ex-husband abruptly ended his sentence early.
                "We've had children faint in classes before, it was just," she searched her mind for the right word, "the severity of his reaction that alarmed us.  I don't imagine you've talked about the birds and the bees with your son before?"
                "My son, Harry, isn’t an idiot, he’s got common sense about things like that… Christ! He’s fourteen, he knows that it’s not a bleedin’ stork that delivers a baby, he knows it comes out of a woman’s…”
                “Mr. Alderton,” Ms. Slocum stood up, her chair squawking across the floor, “that’s completely unnecessary, thank you.”

I went into the nurse’s room where Harry was lying in bed, there were tissues crumpled up on the floor with spots of blood on them, and as I got closer I could see he’d had a bloody nose.  When I gathered them up and tossed them into the bin, Harry began to stir.
                “Mum?” he murmured as if he suspected I was part of a dream.
                “Hey trooper, how are you feeling?”
                “My he – he’s – head hurts a bit.  What happy – happen – happened?”
                “They said you passed out after something in class, do you remember what they said?”
                After a bleary moment trying to recall he turned back to me, “I put my hand up to answer a question, but when I tried to speak I… my head…” he reached to his forehead, started rubbing.
                “It’s ok, sshhhh, there there.” I reassured him, rubbing his hair.

Harry went home with his father for the weekend as planned.  I picked up a pizza and hopped through TV channels until I stumbled upon a cheesy 80s action movie, it was edited for television so kept awkwardly cutting away during the violent scenes and the hero would growl bizarre phrases like: “Go fun yourself!”  After a while it ceased to be entertaining, so I flicked over to a chat show.

The phone woke me at 4am, it was Terry, he sounded desperate, like I’d never heard him sound before.

I arrived at the hospital an hour later, where the doctors told me that our son had had a brain aneurysm.

We deactivated the implant, but were unable to prove a link between the product and our son’s hemorrhage.  We were lucky he didn’t die, but he suffered severe brain damage.  Terry took it terribly, he started drinking again, I was always stronger than him, but it meant that I didn’t have any help looking after our boy, who was now barely a toddler again.
                Sometimes I look in his eyes and see a growing boy buried somewhere deep within, but there’s nothing I can do now to bring him out, to get him back.  The same thing happened to his friend Mark, I know it was that chip in their heads, yet people continue to get them implanted.  Sometimes I open the software on my computer to see if the radar picks up any new devices in the area, I don’t know what I’d do if it did.