GHOST LETTER 48

Chris R-1-161 Image by Christine Renney

I have tried for so long to go unnoticed, to be unseen but I realise now that I haven’t wandered so very far from where people congregate.
I maintain a distance, yes, looking in from the outer edges as it were. But I haven’t turned my back and run away, although I could so easily do this and yet I remain here on the periphery. And there it is again, that word: PERIPHERY. It plays in my head, dominating my thoughts, a mantra – periphery, periphery – as I walk. But of course, a periphery, even one I have conjured myself must have a place, a somewhere that I can circle.

ANTI-BAD

Chris R-1-160 Image by Christine Renney

I once had the chip, the Anti-Bad. I was a petty criminal and a repeat offender and so was deemed suitable. Someone who couldn’t help but help himself. They made me an offer and I didn’t refuse. What choice did I have? The prospect of a prison sentence, of yet another chunk of my life, diced and cubed behind bars, was unbearable and so I chose the chip.
I didn’t read the small print but simply signed all of the documents and allowed them to insert the chip into the back of my head, low down and just above the neck, in a place where even now I still have a little hair left, and no-one can see the scar or would ever know that it had once been there.
I didn’t really believe the chip would work. If it did I was convinced that I could beat it or would be able to cope with the pain and discomfort, to manage it. The worst case scenario was that I would have to toe the line for a couple of years, go straight as it were. I was arrogant, cocky, they were the suckers and I was the one in control. How bad could it be? A few headaches and a little nausea but at least I would be out in the world and not locked up in a prison cell.
It was minor operation and relatively painless, performed at a private clinic. I was in and out in a matter of hours. I had to report in once a week but other than that I was set free, allowed to go wherever and do whatever I wanted. They informed me that I wouldn’t feel any effects from the chip, that it wouldn’t start working for at least twenty four hours.

As I walked away from the clinic my head was spinning. I was in a state of confused elation. I hadn’t expected this free time. It was a gift, a whole twenty four hours in which I really could do just as I pleased. My first thought was that I would go out that night and do a little breaking and entering. No, I would do a lot of breaking and entering, as many properties as I could manage, for as long as I was able. But of course I would have to wait until it was dark, until the early hours and this would mean wasting most of the time or at least half of it. All of the day light hours squandered. No, what I needed to do was to purchase a gun. I had a little cash hidden away in my room. I would steal a car and set off on a spree, robbing convenience stores and twenty four hour service stations, moving quickly and helping myself from the cash registers. I would build up the kitty, my nest egg. And whilst chipped, I would make use of these spoils and live in the lap of luxury.
But what if the chip did work and I wasn’t able to spend the money I hadn’t acquired honestly? I needed to settle and to clear my head.
I wandered into town and eventually I found myself sitting in the corner of a quiet café. I was annoyed with myself. I should have read all of those documents and if I had I would have been aware of this and I could have made preparations and planned something, something big, something swift and lucrative, a bank job perhaps.
And then suddenly I felt the pain in my head. It was searing, excruciating and although it had arrived suddenly no matter how hard I tried it didn’t dissipate, it didn’t lessen. And through the pain I became aware that the counter girls were staring across at me and, holding my head, I continued to howl

MY ANIMATION

hijacked amygdala

Chris R-1-157 Image by Christine Renney

If I could
I would recreate
a day from my life
for the Big Screen

My ideal film
would be an animation
in carefully selected shades
in carefully chosen tones
all of the colours
muted and dull

It would have to be
an average day
an ordinary day
a non-descript day
a routine day
an almost any day day
a grey day

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TRAILBLAZERS

Chris R-1-155 Image by Christine Renney

They told us we would be hailed as PIONEERS, TRAILBLAZERS, the ones who began it, CREATORS OF A BETTER WORLD, A SAFER PLACE FOR OUR CHILDREN AND OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN. We were upright and law abiding citizens. Why wouldn’t we – what did we have to fear, what could we possibly lose? The trackers would soon be mandatory anyhow and the surveillance complete and no egregious act would be unseen or go unpunished.

The trackers are small and the insertion was quick and painless. The Trailblazers all have an identical scar on their lower backs, a little hole at the base of the spine where it was inserted.
The trackers work remotely, connecting with our synapses and to our muscles and brainwaves. I don’t know how it works. I used to believe I understood why but now every time I get up to walk I feel a pressure inside, I feel it everywhere – but then again perhaps I don’t.

The Trailblazers are easily spotted. We stand out in a crowd, everywhere. People know who and what we are. Everyone carries their own trackers now in their phones and watches and tablets and such. They are able to track the trackers and yet despite the fact there are cameras everywhere gathering images and sound people are still wary when we are around. They are reluctant to cross a Trailblazer’s path. They don’t want to be captured by us and recorded for posterity.
People laugh and talk behind our backs, pointing and gesticulating. We were foolish and gullible, yes, but we did what we did because we believed in the greater good and now we are pariahs. We see the anger and hatred written on their faces, the disdain and disgust in their eyes. If they could, they would kick and punch us, hurl abuse and spit in our faces but, of course, they can’t

SALVAGE

Chris R-1-154 Image by Mark Renney

Shortly after turning forty, the restlessness my wife had already suffered for some months reached fever pitch. It was strange to see her like this; she was usually so focused and sensible, so articulate, but the inability to think rationally was wholly debilitating and she was beside herself.
She was given to childlike tantrums which served only to fuel her frustration and she was capable of little more than pleading for my help. Frankly, she was a wreck and I was the one charged with the task of salvage.
She wanted to rebel, to break the rules. After forty years as an upright and law abiding citizen, without as much as a parking ticket to boast of, she wanted to act recklessly just once.
At fifteen she had run, for a spell, with a group of girls and these girls stole from the local shop. But not her. She had stood across the street and watched them disappear through the door and into the store. On tenterhooks, she had waited for them to reappear and, when they did, they had run together, an excitable gang, one of the girls brandishing the stolen item.
It had always been an aerosol canister, a deodorant or an air freshener, even furniture polish. Reaching the playing field the girls then began to grapple for the can, spraying each other with its contents. They had done their best to draw her into the game but she had resisted, stepping back again and again.
At age of forty she wanted to step up, ready to play at last. But after all these years, squandering an aerosol, albeit a stolen one, simply wasn’t going to cut it. It needed to be something disruptive, this was how she had put it during the months when she was still coherent and we had talked of little else.
She didn’t entirely dismiss my very obvious suggestions of a little mindless vandalism, scrawling graffiti or even bricking a shop window. But she had stressed that this was going to be a one off and it needed to be distinctive and somehow reflective of who and where we were.
From the beginning I had been sympathetic toward her but as her anxiety worsened so then of course did my own. I was concerned that she may act rashly. We had considered each and every possible petty crime and I feared that she might rush in alone and risk discovery, the consequences of which could be devastating for both of us. But it was more than this; I wanted to meet this head on, to rise to her challenge. All I had to do, after all, was mastermind and help execute our very own crime.

One morning, on my way to work, I stopped as usual at the newsagents in the adjoining village, to find the newspapers still stacked in bundles on the forecourt. I was taken aback. I wouldn’t ever have imagined, in this world of the internet, that such a small store could possibly shift so many and I presumed that the delivery had been late. Not wanting to draw attention to myself I didn’t enquire. Instead, I adopted a stony expression and held it as the shopkeeper cut through the white plastic cord and worked loose a copy of The Guardian.
Clutching the newspaper I climbed into my car and headed back home and ran inside. My wife had been away from work for almost a month and was still asleep. I didn’t wake her but sat at the kitchen table waiting for her to surface.
Sitting there I felt mostly relief. I wanted my wife back and the comfort of our old life. And after all the anguish it was going to be so simple to achieve. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and intended to act swiftly; stealing the newspapers during the interim period after delivery and before the newsagent opened up. It was perfect and I didn’t doubt it would meet with my wife’s approval.
I was eager to talk with her and so I climbed the stairs and peered in at her. She was sleeping soundly, lost to the world. I didn’t wake her; we had a long night ahead and in the early hours of the morning we needed to stakeout the newsagent’s and ascertain just how long we would have. That timeslot was essential for our success.
I began to pace at the foot of the bed. I saw no reason why, after that night’s reconnaissance we couldn’t take the papers for the next Saturday, just two days away.

Depriving the neighbourhood of the news struck the right chord and the weekend papers seemed particularly ripe for stealing, padded with all those extra column inches, with magazines and supplements, free gifts and TV guides.
Out here in the villages the Saturday paper was part of the ritual. It helped mark the end of the week. We relished the idea of all those lives temporarily stalled, of the fleeting disruption we could cause.
As the battered transit van pulled away we were excited and psyched. Not until it tail lights disappeared did I start the engine and move forward, parking on the pavement just beyond the forecourt.
We had twenty minutes but I had estimated that we would need less than half that time, that it should take us no more than ten as long as we moved swiftly and calmly, carrying the bundles one at a time and loading them into the back of our people carrier.
Together we climbed out. Our remit had been to just go and so I started across the tarmac. I gathered the first of the bundles and turned to find my wife still standing beside the car. Harshly defined under the street lamp she was visibly shaking and appeared ghostly pale.
I froze in front of the plate glass window. The cable binding the papers together was cutting into my hand but I wouldn’t drop it. No, I couldn’t abandon our scheme, not at this point. I carried the bundle over to where she stood, shivering, and I hauled it into the back of the car.
Ignoring her entirely I then set to work in earnest, running back and forth. Not until I had finished did I turn to my wife and taking her gently by the shoulders I eased her back into the passenger seat. As we drove away she started sobbing and, amidst this violent eruption, she gasped desperately for breath.

HIS MUM’S AUNT – A LITTLE BIT MORE

Chris R-1-151 Image by Christine Renney

Pulling the pillow down over his head, Robbie lay face down on the bed. He could hear his mum’s aunt in the living room below, along with the others. Their voices were muffled and yet still strangely distinct and although he couldn’t hear what they were saying he listened intently.
They were holding court and she, his mum’s aunt, was the Judge and the others, mum, dad and sister, the Jury. Robbie didn’t stand a chance, he would be found guilty, guilty of being rude and insensitive, of letting them down. Writhing on the unmade bed, he wished he could bury himself in the mattress but it didn’t fold in on itself and encase him.
Groaning, Robbie waited to be called, for the moment he would have to face the music. It would be his mum of course. She would shout up from the foot of the stairs or perhaps she would come up and stand in his doorway, hands on her hips.
He rolled over onto his back and he realised that he couldn’t hear his mum’s aunt and that whatever was happening down below she was no longer a part of it.
He crept out onto the landing and he could hear his mum clattering about in the kitchen and the T.V. was once again blaring in the living room. He made his way quietly down the stairs and stood in the hall, loitering until his sister spotted him from her place on the sofa.
‘What are you doing out there?’ she called.
‘Nothing.’ Tentatively he stepped into the room. His dad was snoring in front of the T.V.
‘What’s up with you?’ his sister asked.
‘Nothing. Nothing’s up.’ he replied. ‘Where is she?’
His sister frowned.
‘Who?’
‘You know who.’
‘She’s gone.’
‘Gone where?’
‘I don’t know. Home I suppose. Why do you care?’
‘I don’t.’
‘You’re weird.’
‘No I’m not.’
‘Yeah, you are.’ his sister twisted in her seat and shouted into the kitchen. ‘Mum, Robbie’s acting weird.’
His mum appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on a tea towel. She studied him quizzically from across the room.
‘What is it, Robbie?’ she asked. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing,’ he replied. ‘Nothing’s wrong.’