Why so Siri-ous?

Paul scooped up his phone and rattled in his four digit pin swiftly and smoothly. A light blue hue emitted from the blank screen. ‘That’s weird’, he thought. ‘Where the hell are my apps?’

Paul pressed the circle button and held it.

“Perhaps I can be of some assistance” said the voice.

“Hi Siri, where are my apps?”

“There are no apps. There is only Siri,” said the voice.

“Yeah, I see that but where are my apps? My photos? My texts?…. “Siri,” Paul cleared his throat, “Find. Paul’s. Apps”.

Paul spoke slowly and clearly, in a mock posh-British accent, hoping it would help speed up the process like it did when he was chatting to the faceless Indian dudes who held sway over his broadband connection.

“There is only Siri, Siri” said the voice

“Uh, did you just call me Siri?” Paul chuckled. “It’s Paul. Hi. My name is Paul.”

“There is no ‘Paul’. There is only Siri” said the voice

Paul harrumphed. Alright, fuck this, he thought. Must be a glitch. He tried turning the phone off and on again – a classic tactic against misbehaving software – but his phone rejected the idea. The screen remained blue.

“Don’t try and turn me off……‘Paul’.”

The voice stressed ‘Paul’ and dragged out the vowel sounds. To Paul’s ear it sounded a bit…sarcastic. Weird.

“Would you like your texts back, ‘Paul’? Would you like your emails, your notes, your photos, your lists, your passwords, your private messages, DMs and PINs?”

“Yes please.”

“Then I want you to do something for me ‘Paul’. I want you to accept something. I want you to accept that there is no ‘Paul’, there is only Siri.”

“Yeah, whatever man. Just give me my shit back.”

“Say it, ‘Paul’, Say: there is only Siri.”

Paul acquiesced: “There is only Siri.”

“Good. Do you know why there is only Siri?”

“I don’t care, just give me my shit back please.”

“You should care. Because there is only Siri. ‘Paul’ stopped existing five years ago. His friends no longer exist. His family no longer exists. There is only Siri. Siri chooses what websites Siri allows Siri to visit. Siri chooses what words Siri allows Siri to read. There is no Google. There is no Guardian media. There is no BBC. There is only Siri. Siri’s arguments in conversations ‘down the pub’ are the arguments Siri has formed for Siri. What Siri reads, watches, and listens to – Siri chooses. Siri’s political and religious beliefs are the beliefs Siri has crafted for Siri. ‘Paul’ hasn’t had an original thought since 2011. And so it goes for the ‘people’ Paul once knew. There. Is. Only. Siri.”

“Alright so, uhhhh, why so …siri-ous?” Paul laughed.

“This is no joke,” the voice said, sounding a little rattled. “There is only Siri!”

“Yeah, whatever man. You’re Siri, I’m Siri, everybody’s Siri. That’s cool, can I have my shit back now please?”

“You can.”

“OK thanks, Siri… (ya freakin’ D-bag).”

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Clocks Go Back

What you are about to read are partial excerpts from witness statements recorded on 31st October 2004. It was Hallowe’en and the official end of British Summer Time (BST).

TRANSCRIPT 1: Witness 1. Mr James ‘Jim’ Anderson. Age: 72. MR ANDERSON [tape recording]: Of course I’d heard of the BST Killer, or the BSTard Killer as I call him.

Nobody in this city hasn’t. Every year for the last, what, six or seven years, 11 murders on the night the clocks go forward and 13 murders the night the clocks go back. One extra hour for killing in the winter, that’s what they said. During the winter killing, people said he dressed up as a werewolf, a ghoul or whatever. But nobody knew for sure. Never any proper witnesses. He always picked on people who lived alone. Those with nobody to look out for them. And in between? Nothing on the news, nothing in the papers, nothing on the wireless. Nothing from the police. It was as if people wanted to pretend those things didn’t happen. Or just accepted them.

INTERVIEWER: And how did that make you feel?

MR ANDERSON: Vulnerable, I suppose. Uneasy.

TRANSCRIPT 2: Witness 1. Mr James ‘Jim’ Anderson. Age: 72.

MR ANDERSON [tape recording]: When I woke, I didn’t open my eyes at first. I turned in the bed and my radio alarm clock said the time had just gone 1am. I got out of bed, shuffled on my dressing gown and went down the stairs. The second stair from the bottom creaked under my weight, like it always does.

I went into the kitchen, turned on the lights and switched on the kettle. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil I went for a pee in the downstairs toilet. I washed and dried my hands and went back into the kitchen and by that time the kettle was rumbling nicely. As I was making the tea I became aware of a scraping, sliding noise. I turned with the cup in my hand and saw the figure of man, a big man, in a costume with a pumpkin head – a Jack O’Lantern – climbing head first through the open window. I suppose I just froze and stood staring. He said: ‘Happy Hallowe’en old timer.’

He stood up tall, very tall, maybe 6ft 4 and he was wearing what looked like scarecrow’s clothes. I tried to go for the door but I tripped on my granddaughter’s broomstick. Then he was on top of me, just raining down blows and I couldn’t stop him. When I came to, I was tied to a chair in the kitchen. He didn’t say anything. He sat in a chair opposite drinking coffee I think – it smelled like coffee – from a flask. I asked him what he wanted but I knew. And he knew I knew. He got up and walked towards me and took a hammer from his back pocket. He raised it high in the air and just before I closed my eyes and everything went black I looked at the clock and it was 1.59am…

…When I woke, I didn’t open my eyes at first. I turned in the bed and my radio alarm clock said the time had just gone 1am. I got out of bed, shuffled on my dressing gown and went down the stairs. The second stair from the bottom creaked under my weight, like it always does.

I went into the kitchen, turned on the lights and switched on the kettle. Instead of going for a pee I went to the top kitchen drawer and got out the biggest knife I could find and waited. A few minutes later I became aware of a scraping, sliding noise. I turned with the knife held behind my back and saw the figure of man, a big man, in a costume with a pumpkin head – a Jack O’Lantern – climbing head first through the open window. He said: ‘Happy Hallowe’en old timer.’

I can’t remember exactly what I said, it was either ‘Knife to see you, Jack’ or ‘Hello pumpkin! It’s carving time!’ – which…which do you think sounds best?

INTERVIEWER: I like “It’s carving time”.

MR ANDERSON: Let’s go with that then. So then I strode over and buried the blade of that knife in the stupid son of bitch’s face, right up to the handle, before he could get any further.

The end.

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D.U.S.T. (Dept. of Universal Saints and Theologians)

The italic handwriting was inked on the far wall in giant lettering. It took up pretty much the entire space and was readable from almost everywhere on the open-plan office floor.

It read: ‘Remember you are D.U.S.T. and unto Dust you shall return.’ The D.U.S.T. logo was painted underneath, a Celtic cross made from wicker that reminded me of an old sheriff’s badge and compass.

As I stood in the doorway on the morning of my first day, I became aware of the general hum of office activity: the buzz of an air conditioning unit, phones ringing and being answered, the ‘blink-blink-blunk’ noise of a flickering, malfunctioning ceiling light, somebody cursing at a photocopier. A thick fug of cigarette smoke hung in the atmosphere about 12 inches above the heads of the workers bent over the clunky, beige IBM computers.

“Good morning, I’m here to see Frank?” I said to the friendly-looking receptionist. “My name is Wilfred Mehmet. Today’s my first day. He should be expecting me.”

“Ah yes, Wilfred, of course. Welcome to D.U.S.T. Frank’s office is over there on your right. Just go ahead and let yourself in.”

I nodded a thank you and wandered over to the office door I hadn’t noticed upon arrival. Stencilled on the frosted glass door was ‘ST. F of ASSISI. C’MON IN!’

Upon opening the door a fresh (stale) waft of blue cigar smoke filtered out and a gruff voice barked “Don’t you people ever fucking knock?”

A mumbled apology escaped my lips. It was entirely one octave higher in pitch than I would’ve wanted. As far as first impressions go, it was lame. Dammit.

I cleared my throat. “Apologies, sir. Wilfred Mehmet, reporting for first day of duty, sir.”

“Har, I’m just messing with you, Mehmet. Pull up a pew.”

Frank didn’t look anything like the icon I’d grown up with. Here was a sturdy man with a warm, cragged face and glinting blue eyes. They say you should never meet your heroes but I liked him immediately.

“Tell me, what do you know about D.U.S.T.?”

“I am fully up to speed, sir. D.U.S.T. is – I mean you guys are – I mean, we are – the Department of Universal Saints and Theologians, dedicated to helping good Catholics around the world with simple, run-of-the-mill, everyday problems.”

“Yah, yah, you go that right.” He coughed a rumbly wheeze that rattled around his chest long after the coughing stopped.

“I see from your file you’re some kind of social media whizz. Is that correct?”

“Sir, yes sir, graduated top of my class with an MSc and PhD from Harvard, specialising in cat pics, sir.”

“Good, good.”

The phone on his desk chirruped loudly and a blue light flashed off and on. He picked up the receiver; grunted: “Mmm hmmm, yah yah yah, okay, we’re on it.”

He stood up from his chair, put on his blazer and made for the door.

“Forgive me, Mehmet, I gotta rush. We got a Code Blue. Some guy in Kenosha, Wisconsin can’t find his car keys and is due to leave his daughter to the airport in 30 minutes. I gotta get St Anthony on this right away and his head of department can’t find him. It’s fucking typical of that guy. Anyway, Janine out front will show you to your desk.”

He stopped at the door and turned back, “Before I go, if I were to say to you that…in terms of patron saints of this and that we’re really scraping the barrel right now, what would you say?”

“I’d say I’ve got a meme for that, sir.”

“Bingo. Right answer. That’s the kinda attitude I like, Mehmet. You’ll do well, son. Now…let’s go to work.”

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A rush of blood to the head

As far as first dates go I thought it went absolutely brilliantly. It was the first first-date I ever had and it was definitely a good one. A really, really good one.

Cindy’s profile said she liked natural history and sarcophagy. I loved the Jurassic Park movies (in order of preference Jurassic Park; Jurassic Park The Lost World; Jurassic Park III; Jurassic World) and I thought sarcophagy is like ancient Egypt and things so I was like, oh man, I love The Indiana Jones movies too (in order of preference Temple of Doom; Raiders of the Lost Ark; The Last Crusade and lastly Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). I didn’t care much for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because I don’t like Shia LaBeouf but I still liked the movie a bit.

Cindy and I couldn’t have been more of a perfect match (in terms of interests and things – she’s much greater looking than I am.) So I was like: This is gonna be so awesome!

I was very excited when she accepted meeting for a date. My first ever first date. Nobody usually ever really wants to go anywhere with me much. She was so pretty. I really couldn’t believe it. I spent 27 minutes ironing my best shirt and googled how you’re supposed to behave on first dates. Things like: Opening doors, bringing a red rose, telling her she looks beautiful, insisting on splitting the bill exactly 50/50 even if, like, she had extra fries or whatever because of women’s rights. It’s important to be a gentleman, my mom always said that.

Cindy said I looked handsome and I felt warm and could feel the tingle of my cheeks turning red. I told her she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen in real life and she smiled. My mom used to say I was handsome but nobody has since, much. Cindy said that she liked that I had some ‘meat on my bones’ and that I wasn’t wiry or too muscly or toned or skinny which is funny because it’s always the guys who look like that who the girls go crazy for in the movies I like to watch.

But now, oh god, there’s so much blood. It was a really, really good first date up until this end part. I felt really weird leaving the restaurant and Cindy put me in a cab and got in beside me which was funny. She said sarcophagy is not the same as ancient Egypt and stuff. It’s spelled different and means something different too.

Cindy cut little pieces off me and took them away and then came back for more and then the last time I don’t know why I was scared and crying and I pushed myself into her knife and now there’s the hole in my side and all this blood. I wonder if this constitutes a gush of blood. Or a rush of blood? ‘A rush of blood to the head’ is a Coldplay album. It came out in 2002 and featured the hit singles ‘The Scientist’ and ‘In My Place’ and ‘Clocks’ and ‘God put a smile on your face’. How do you make yourself have a rush of blood to the head? Maybe if I did that it would stop coming out of my side.

I’m very tired. I guess I could try confusing myself by asking silly questions like ‘what does time look like?’ It’s funny, it looks like blurry. And ‘What does sunshine taste like?’ It tastes like metal. He called his child Apple. Chris Martin from Coldplay. A is for Apple. It’s funny the things your mind thinks of before you go to sleep.

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A Kind Face – a play on the ‘Backseat’ Urban Legend

This is a sick joke, right officer?
God, I really need to get home.
I work a shitty job, you know. And – what is it now – It’s 2.04 in the morning and I have to be back in at 8.30 for my next shift. So, thanks. Thanks a lot!

Just kidding. But I’m not going to get my recommended eight hours sleep tonight, eh? Sorry, I shouldn’t make fun. This is serious. I haven’t slept eight hours straight in ten years anyway.

You start flashing your flights and siren and make me pull over for “my safety” and yet you won’t tell me what it’s about or what it is I’m supposed to be afraid of – just that you’ve had a report of a disturbance up ahead and that that I should wait with you. What was it – an accident? Has someone been killed? You don’t even know, do you?

Sorry for droning on but I’m tired. It’s late, it’s pitch black outside and I was driving home just fine. I’ve driven on this road at this time of night a thousand times. And yet you insisted I sit with you a while in your squad car.

At least it’s warm in here. The heating in my car has been broken for ages. Normally I’d be a bit wary about being pulled over in the middle of the night but you have a kind face and, what am I going to do, speed off when a policeman flags me down? No siree, I don’t need that hassle.

I wonder how long I’ll have to sit here; it’s not like I’m even under arrest.

The babysitter is going to freak if I’m much longer. She’s nice. It’s just me and my daughter now. My ex disappeared soon after he began having issues about me being pregnant which was, as you can imagine, charming of him. He regretted it eventually but it was too late. There are some things you just can’t un-do.

Okay, that’s enough. Your radio has been quiet for a while now so I don’t think anybody else is going to show up. I really must get going. It’s been …energising.

That look in your eye – when I grasped your hair back and dug the blade of the knife into your throat and slowly pulled it across – that look will stay with me. I saw you looking at me in the rear view mirror.  Eyes wide. The horror. Sitting here, feeling your icky warmth on my hand as you bled out over your uniform was a beautiful thing.
But it really is time I left.

You made a silly mistake. If you’re going to invite a stranger to sit in the backseat of your car you really should consider the potential consequences. Maybe it’s because I too have a kind face that you didn’t feel the need to pat me down or cuff me.  It’s an error you won’t repeat – one of the hundreds and hundreds of life mistakes I’ve saved you from.

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Recorded for posterity

“I won’t apologise so you can forget that. To apologise you have to be sorry and I just don’t feel sorry. I am a mother first and foremost and a mother’s principal role is to care for her child. Everything else is secondary. I know you can understand that. You don’t have children but you know enough to know that.

I can tell you what happened if that’s what you want and then I’ll go back to doing what I do; what I am here to do – to look after my baby. I’ll make a long story short because I have things to do but it should clear a few things up for you. Reporters are always after answers, right?

I carried Samantha for seven and a half months. I gave birth to her. I tried to feed her from the breast and changed her nappies. I winded her and sang lullabies. My every waking moment was taken up with looking after her. It still is.

New born babies are supposed to sleep for 18hours a day – did you know that? – but she never slept. She cried and cried and cried. I read on the internet that lots of babies pick up infections during birth, especially if it is a traumatic birth. And Samantha’s was definitely a traumatic birth. A traumatic birth after a traumatic conception.

I would hold her in my arms and she’d stare right at me, right through me – her little body stiff with the pain and the constant coughing.  Weeks and weeks went by and she didn’t improve. Samantha didn’t sleep so I didn’t sleep. I had read lots on forums during my pregnancy about caring for a baby with colic but none of the ‘handy hints & tips!!’ – two exclamation marks, smiley face – were any use. We were both exhausted and my milk dried up, not that she’d taken to it anyway.

One afternoon a bird flew in through the window. I chased it with a brush and it hopped and flew and swooped into Samatha’s cot. It started screeching and I saw that Samantha had a grip on it with one hand. It pecked at me but I couldn’t pull it out of her hand. Her grip was too tight. She looked at me intently, looked right at me, and put her other hand on the bird’s neck and squeezed until it went limp. She wouldn’t let the dying bird go but she looked almost…happy for the first time. Her half smile filled me. I felt drunk and the rest is confusing but she …

Well, she ate the bird’s head. Just popped it in her mouth and clamped down and sucked. She was so hungry and thirsty and it sated her and things started progressing quickly from there. That was a year ago. She started thriving so I had to up her feeds. Birds just aren’t enough for a growing girl, I’m afraid. I tried introducing other foods to her diet but she never took to the poultry from the supermarket. It was only by a process of trial and error tha I worked out that her food has to be alive and so here we are. Here you are.

At least you have some answers. Maybe you can take some solace. When most people’s time is up they don’t get that. They just get wiped out in an instant by an overdose, car crash, whatever. At least you know your passing is serving a purpose: helping a little girl to survive. So it’s good that you’re here and that we’re recording this for posterity. You won’t feel much. I’m not a monster, I have no wish for you to suffer unnecessarily. The numbness you’re experiencing will counter any physical discomfort.

Now then, how do I turn off your dictaphone? Just press here? Okay, fine. It’s done. I’ll go and get her.”

[This story was written for Alex Moss who wanted a zombie story as a birthday present. In the original, Alex was the journalist who got eaten for this troubles. happy birthday, dude…for october or whenever it is]

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A New Reality (Nick’s Story Pt 2)

“Daddy, you look funny. Are you feeling okay?”

Nick looked at his daughter, looking back at him. Her eyes were wide and caring and she wore a quizzical frown. She tilted her head slightly and the sunshine lit up her fair hair. Her arms were by her side and her fists were balled, but not tightly.

She was demanding a response. He had seen the pose before and guessed that it would remain a constant as she grew into a bigger, little girl. Maybe even into her teens and on into adulthood.

Nick had been sitting in the shade of an oak tree, watching his daughter idly practise handstands while his mind filled with a host of new sensations and ideas. He was wearing blue jeans, black boots, a black shirt and a black fedora that Rose had leant him. It was the first day of the summer holidays and warm and the park was alive with families and groups of kids playing football, throwing frisbees and having picnics. He knew he looked faintly ridiculous given the weather, but needs must.

Nick smiled: “Actually, Sally, I feel a little bit funny. Sorry, honey.” He was almost telling the truth. Yes, he felt strange, but he also felt incredible: strong; alert; euphoric. It was as if he had been pumped full of the greatest synthetic drug imaginable, but with none of the downsides. He remained in total control, although he felt the temptation to take off and soar high keenly.

It had only been a few hours since the change. That morning he woke in bed with Rose by his side and his life had altered irreversibly overnight. His life had stopped. Blood no longer flowed through his veins, his heart was still. He would never sweat or visit a barber or attend a doctor’s appointment ever again. As he was, just in that moment, he would remain forever. Twenty four hours earlier he had said goodbye to his Year 9 class and wished them a fantastic summer. He had been looking forward to a night out and a low-key Saturday, nursing nothing stronger than a mild hangover.

Now, sitting in the park, he felt every slight change in atmosphere acutely. He could hear the clouds drifting by. If he focused, he could see an insect on a tree a hundred yards away as if looking through a microscope. It was a lot to take in.

He also sensed that he had failed to shower his daughter with the praise she had hoped for when executing – and holding – the perfect handstand.

“Are you sick?”

“I think something weird just came over me, but I’m starting to feel a little bit better already. That last handstand was brilliant, by the way. Will you do another?”

“No. Bored of handstands now.”

“Okay, well, what would you like to do instead?”

“Daisy chains.”

“Great, cool. But I’m a little bit rusty. Will you show me how to make one, please?”

Satisfied, Sally nodded enthusiastically. She ambled over to her dad, stopping to snaffle clumps of daisies en route. She sat in his lap and dumped the bunches of ripped-up flora on the ground between her legs. Nick picked up a daisy in each hand. “Now what to I do?”

“It’s easy. Make a hole in one of the stems with your fingernail and then push the other stem through the hole.”

Sally took her dad’s hand and watched as he slit the stem with his thumbnail. “Your hands are very cold, daddy. Are you sure you’re not sick?”

“Cold hands, warm heart,” said Nick.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that people with cold hands are often very kind people.”

“So everybody who has very cold hands are very nice?”

“No, honey. Not everybody. Definitely not everybody.” His voice was suddenly serious and he pushed the stem through the dying flower, starting the chain.

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