Friday, 9 August 2013

Stories For Homes

Hello there,

I'm not the best at advertising or promoting myself, but I contributed a short story to an anthology of writing called Stories For Homes, it’s available now on the Kindle, and all proceeds go to Shelter, a housing and homelessness charity:

There should be a hard copy version coming out in due course, but if you’re one of those e-reader types (I won’t judge you) then you can get your mittens on the virtual version now. It’s a great book for a great cause.

My story is called Leaving Home and was written specifically for the anthology, and I shall (probably) never post it on here, so if you want to read it - and many other pieces by a range of writers - then you'll have to buy the book, and help those facing homelessness in the process!

Many thankingyous,


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Opposite Of Omniscience

On the day he was born he arrived into the world screaming.  Everyone in the delivery room clutched their hands to their ears to try to dull the shrieking noise, as did everyone in the hall, as did everyone in the hospital, as did everyone in the town and the county and the country and on the planet.
                It took a while for everyone to adjust, and a little longer for everyone to realise precisely what was going on.  However it quickly became clear that absolutely everyone on the planet had an innate awareness of what little Gary was doing.  When he took those first steps everyone knew, when he said his first word everyone knew.
                But the shared consciousness wasn't invasive, more like something you could dip in and out of at will, but major events in Gary's life had a greater prominence than average occurrences.  For instance, the first time Gary cut himself by accident the howling wall of upset caused a number of traffic accidents and for Spain to miss an all important penalty in the world cup final.
                It was, for the population of Earth, primarily up to them how much they knew about Gary.  To begin with this mass telepathy was a startling new intrusion upon their thoughts, but it quickly became background noise.  Finally, most people were able to filter things, a casual thought would give you a quick update such as Gary's brushing his teeth, but prolonged concentration would allow you to get right into Gary's immediate internal thoughts.
                People quickly allowed Gary to become part of their daily lives, to begin with there was a certain degree of celebrity afforded to him, but his mother wasn't so keen on the idea and, with the support of some government officials and a handful of psychologists, convinced the world to just let Gary be.  Indeed, growing up knowing that everyone knows what you're doing might make you a little paranoid.
                It couldn't be helped though, the first time Gary tried to masturbate he could hear all manner of laddish woops and cheers coming from the street outside, which put him right off.  He found he was never chosen to answer questions in class, instead his teachers would just dismiss his hand and say "No Gary, that's wrong."  Or in P.E. he'd never get passed the ball because, as one team-mate told him; "Everyone knows who you'll pass it to."
                Gary, who had managed to remain largely oblivious to his unique predicament, just thought that people didn't like him.
                To some extent this was true, a lot of people - often those more susceptible, and ultimately who struggled to block Gary out - very strongly felt that Gary was a terrible burden on their lives, his meaningless thoughts constantly clogging up their precious brainwaves twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  Gary's mother would always open his post and carefully dispose of any hate mail, whilst the local police had a specific unit tasked with watching Gary - without Gary noticing - in case somebody tried to assassinate him.
                This had peculiar advantages, because the first time someone tried to bully Gary they found themselves at the mercy of five armed police officers.
                But then there were people who loved Gary, who if he thought about something he wanted it would suddenly arrive in the mail the next day, and then, strangely, everyone at school would be extra nice to him in the hopes of coming around to play on the brand new games console he hadn't told anyone he'd just received.

On his eighteenth birthday his mother finally decided it was time to tell Gary about his gift.  Managing, and hiding, the out-pouring of love and hate, or even indifference, towards her son had become practically impossible and Gary himself was growing increasingly more anxious, yet remained unable to put the pieces of the puzzle together to form the complete picture.
                So it was that Gary found out that everybody knew, or at least could know, what he was doing or thinking at any given time.
                "Everybody?" Gary asked, his face scrunched up in bafflement, a large shiny '18 today!' badge pinned to his shirt glinting in the light.
                "Yes Gary, everybody."
                "Even people who don't speak English?"
                "Yes Gary."
                "But how do they know what I'm thinking?  I think in English."
                "Well, you see, this is the wonderful thing about your gift Gary, it showed us that human thoughts are merely translated into language by our brain, but they exist in a sort of non-descript electro-chemical form that anyone, of any language, could perhaps interpret."
                Gary was confused as to why his mother had become so excited by this, but little did he know that his mother found the scientist who had explained all this to her to be very attractive and they had discussed this recently after they had made love for the first time.
                "We've studied people's brains and animals brains and -"
                "Animals can hear me too?" Gary squeaked with alarm.
                "Yes.  We've studied their brains and scientists think we might be able to translate animal thoughts into human language and vice versa, wouldn't that be amazing?"
                "Wait, but, people know when I'm eating my tea or going for a walk or playing with mysel- with my toys."
                His mother looked sheepish, she explained everything to him as best she could, though despite sleeping with a scientist she wasn't much for science.
                "So people can watch my dreams?  They can read my mind?  They can hear my desires?" Gary wasn't waiting for answers, he was listing off every thought that popped into his head and then; "It's not even worth me asking is it -" I mean I can just think these questions and you'll hear them, right?
                "Yes Gary," his mother said, then clapped a hand to her lips, having never allowed herself to respond directly to his telepathy for eighteen years she was surprised at how quickly, now the confession had been made, that she had broken her own ruling.

Gary's life changed considerably, at first he was too scared to go outside, staying in his room, worrying.  But he soon came to realise that no matter where he was and no matter what he did people would still be able to know and that it was irrelevant if he spent his life wallowing in his own bed or running around make a fool of himself.
                However despite optimistically psyching himself up, the actual act of being out in the world knowing that everybody knows everything you are doing and thinking was intimidating, and suddenly things he had taken for granted began to make sense to him.
                For instance, Gary now realised why his caramel latte was always ready for him to take away the moment he stepped into the coffee shop.  He also realised why his bank refused to let him have a cash card and he had to always take out his money in person, and he realised why Judy Miller hadn't wanted to have a second date with him after he had thought about her quite vividly that one evening.
                He was confused, he was unsure if perhaps his own thoughts were more depraved than any one else's, he thought he might ask Mel, at which point his phone rang.
                "Trust me, you're not more depraved than anyone else," was the first thing Mel said when Gary answered.
                "Um, thanks."
                "I just think it's odd that people can be so judgmental, I mean, we all think weird shit."
                I guess people find it offensive because it's someone else's weird shit.
                "I was agreeing with you."
                "But I... oh, yes... Could you do me a favour Mel..."
                "Could I not respond to things you haven't said out loud?"
                "Don't worry, I just guessed that was what you were going to say that time."
                "Thank you."

Later that day Gary was wondering about the nature of his friendship with Mel, and ultimately reasoned that she respected his absolute honesty, whether intentional or otherwise.  Gary could never censor his thoughts, things just occurred and people would read them, and he was never a cruel or malicious person, the intent of everything that came to Gary's mind was founded in positivity.
                Naturally, there were sometimes the fleeting shrieks of lunacy that bore no genuine resemblance to his actual feelings and merely popped into his brain as a by-product of the world that surrounded him.  These thoughts would be dismissed by Gary as quickly as they arrived, therefore nobody eavesdropping on his mind could surely misconstrue them for his actual opinion.
                Prior to the present, despite whatever Gary may have said aloud, Mel would always know what Gary genuinely thought and Mel must have respected Gary's honest opinion more so than anything else.  This made Gary realise that perhaps the Gary he chose to present to the world wasn't perhaps the best Gary he could be?  Maybe his previously paranoid perception of a socially acceptable person was not entirely true to himself.
                Gary made a vow, from this day forward, to not amend or adjust his opinions to cater towards a self-imposed worry that someone might disagree a little, that those repressed desires to be a little sillier, to dance to the music, to climb the tree, to splash in the puddle and kick up the leaves, to share his honest perspective and not be afraid to debate and challenge his friends, or stand up for strangers. 

Beyond the positive experiments that Gary's ability had brought about, there was interest from the military as to how Gary could be weaponised.  Various organisations had been training agents in ignorance, conditioning them to be able to filter out all thought bar their objective, with the idea that Gary could be kidnapped and tortured, and the ensuing pain signal sent out to the entire world would cause enough of a distraction for an agent - if he were unable to sense Gary - to perform some covert task without hindrance.
                Unfortunately without actually kidnapping and torturing Gary their hypotheses could never be tested, and if Gary were to be kidnapped the entire world would know about it instantly.  (None of this had occurred to military until long after millions of pounds of research and development had already been conducted).
                To some extent, outside of those that despised him, this had granted Gary a level of invulnerability.  He was once stopped on a street late at night by a mugger who himself was so emotionally overwhelmed by Gary's sense of fear that he had a panic attack and Gary had to take him to the hospital. 

Over time Gary began to realise the true potential of his ability, it had, up until this point, always seemed like the cruellest and most pointless of gifts.  He had decided to go on holiday with his friend Mel, and having finally arrived in Almalfi they headed to a café in the square and were perusing the menu.
                The waiter had approached, and, as far as Mel was concerned, he had greeted Gary with warmth and familiarity, noting down his order and then turning, expectantly to Mel, who stumbled through some broken Italian, at which the waiter shrugged, turning expectantly to Gary who repeated Mel's order in the same pidgin language, but this time the waiter nodded and noted Mel's request.  The waiter said something, laughed and placed a friendly hand on Gary's shoulder, to which Gary grinned and nodded.
                Once the waiter had gone back inside the café, Mel turned to her friend and whispered; "What did  he say?"
                "I don't know," Gary confessed.
                "But, what was all of that?" Mel asked, gesturing a little back and forth with her finger.
                "He must have read my mind."
                "But you don't speak Italian."
                "I know, but I don't think our waiter realises that."
                "What do you mean?"
                Gary explained to Mel what he had understood from his mother, and her partner Karen - the scientist, about thoughts not having any language and instead being an abstract signal that is translated by our minds into thoughts as we perceive them.  At the purest level, a thought is the same in everyone's mind, but we all adapt our thoughts to suit however we communicate, be that into English, Italian, Dutch, Sign, Morse code, binary, hieroglyphics, meowing, whatever.  If all thought was expelled and received un-translated then every creature on the planet would be able to understand one another.
                Mel, despite knowing Gary - she hoped - better than anyone else, wasn't entirely convinced.  Despite the fact that Gary would never, perhaps could never, lie to her, she sometimes suspected that Gary could be misinformed.  In this instance she was doubtful and wanted to somehow test Gary's ability.
                Looking around she noticed a cat sat on a second floor window across the street.
                "Ok, see that cat over there, don't say anything out loud, but I want you to convince it to come over here and, um, jump up onto the table."
                Gary, enjoying a moment of showmanship, cracked his knuckles and turned towards the lazy cat licking its paws.
                Almost immediately the cat looked up from its wash and tried to follow the sound it heard as if a fly were buzzing around its head.  It then proceeded to hop back inside the room behind it and was gone from view.
                Mel and Gary waited, but the cat did not reappear.
                Their waiter did though, placing the coffees they had ordered down in front of them and saying something in Italian to Gary.
                Sorry, I don't speak Italian, Gary thought.
                The waiter was taken aback, looked suspiciously around and then, in a slower voice said; "But, er, we were speaking... the first time..."
                Yes, Gary thought, You're able to read my thoughts.
                The Italian waiter, as if trained in cliché, made the sign of the cross and returned to the kitchen muttering something incomprehensibly to himself.
                Mel laughed, shaking her head, when suddenly a cat leapt up onto their table and a elderly woman - who had hurried across the road after it - apologetically picked it up and carried it back to her flat, chastising it and wagging her finger.
                "Poor thing," Mel grinned.
                Gary smiled, "The waiter or the cat?" 

For the rest of their holiday Gary was able to use his projected telepathy to allow people to understand him, despite having no knowledge of the language.  Though Gary could not understand when others replied in Italian, he was able to communicate effectively enough, letting them know - with varying reactions - that he could not speak the language, but they could hear his thoughts.  Some of them, like the waiter, were alarmed by this, whilst others felt a surge of understanding, having heard about Gary before, but never expecting to actually meet him.
                Gary began to realise that, even though he was unable to always understand others, there was something comforting about being able to, at the very least, let people know what you're thinking regardless of any other barrier that may be attempting to hinder understanding.  He started to think that he should, having been able to let everyone know what's going on in his mind for his entire life, begin to take an interest in what's going inside other people's.
                Once he returned home he enrolled in various language classes, he didn't just limit himself to spoken language, but started learning Sign and Braille.  He was fortunate and found he had a natural aptitude for language, it helped that his teachers would listen to his thoughts and could, with great ease, see where Gary was struggling and help him overcome those hurdles.
                But conversely, Gary, as he began to work with those deprived of various senses, started to discover a new, and peculiar, side to his powers.  Gary was able to communicate the thought language of sound or sight to those who lacked either or both.  He was able to project a hitherto unknown concept towards them, as opposed to being like someone attempting to explain hearing or sight to a congenitally deaf or blind person, it was an entirely realised representation, in fact, through Gary a deaf or blind person could experience the world in a way that their condition denied them.
                And with this, Gary began to listen more, so often had he become consumed by his own thoughts, and ultimately burdened the world with a potentially constant stream of his paranoid, self-obsessed witterings that it was a new and surprising experience for him to really listen to others.  His own thoughts began to not consume himself so much, he started to realise how little he had previously looked outside of his own bubble, his little world that worried about the expectations of others, and he started, instead, to think about putting his thoughts to a better purpose, one that ultimately could help and unite people, as ultimately, Gary had realised, we do all speak the same language.
                Gary felt a weight lifted from him, as if unshackled from himself, and a responsibility to an audience of his own creation.  From those early neurotic and formative childhood years, through to his late-teenage angst about people's perception of his mind as more tawdry than those around him.  At long last his brain did not feel like something he should have to be ashamed of.
                He was thinking about this, smiling contentedly, sat in the park with his friend Mel.
                She looked at him, sitting there happily.
                Gary turned to Mel.
                "What are you thinking?" she smiled.
                Gary leaned forward and kissed her, and she kissed him back, and it wasn't just the kiss that made him happy, it was the fact that she wasn't anticipating it.