Friday, 25 March 2016

Batman vs Superman review

I don’t think I've ever seen a film as immediately at odds with its own material as Batman vs Superman. It is fundamentally and joyfully a silly premise, but the film appears to be terrified of being labelled in any way silly. And that works against it.

Instead, we have a movie that is so desperate to appear mature that it actually comes across as a teenager trying to make out that the patchy bum-fluff on his upper lip and chin is real stubble. It feels a bit like two and a half hours of Zack Snyder shouting at his mom that comics aren't just for kids. This is why we have tortured dream sequences, references to human trafficking and paedophilia, terrorism, PTSD and Clark Kent having sex with a strangely nipple-less Lois Lane in a bathtub. And it’s why we have a Batman that really likes his guns (and boy, that’s a strange sentence to write) and won’t hesitate to kill if he has to. Because it’s a grown up movie, mom!

What’s frustrating, in a similar way to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, are the glimpses of the film (or even films) that it could have been. The cast is fantastic throughout - everyone works hard, delivering performances that feel the most perfectly realised versions of these characters that have been around for a long time.

Henry Cavill is the best Superman since Christopher Reeve, and a pretty good Clark Kent as well. Ben Affleck is a really good Bruce Wayne and an even better Batman. Gal Gadot is immediately right as Wonder Woman, leading you to wonder just how studios thought this was a character that couldn't make money for so long. Amy Adams still feels miscast as Lois Lane, but she clearly has her working boots on, and she’s a great actress. Jesse Eisenberg, oddly, appears to play Lex Luthor as Jim Carrey’s Riddler, but he has moments that he hits a level of menace and intelligence that feel more right than any major comic movie villain not played by Michael Fassbender.

The movie looks, in places, perfect. A dream sequence of Batman leading a resistance brigade particularly stands out, where he’s wearing goggles and a heavy coat over his batsuit, in a way that looks ripped out of the comics. That this feels natural, in character and unremarkable is an achievement, considering how ludicrous it actually is when you think about it. In sequences where Superman appears in front of City Hall, you get the same thing - visuals that should appear incongruous enough not to work, yet they’re carried off so well that they bypass that part of your brain in exactly the same way the comics often do. You ignore the ludicrousness of what you’re looking at and just think ‘oh, Batman’s doing this… I'm on board’.

It has moments where the ideas work as well. There's one, in particular, which makes fantastic use of a mild coincidence between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne that I've somehow never noticed before, and hits exactly the right emotional chord.

Oh, and Hans Zimmer’s score is wonderful - easily his best since The Dark Knight, and it’s not like they've dipped far in quality since then.

All of which makes it a bigger shame that it wasn't a better movie. Because just about everyone involved deserved more. The biggest problem is that it isn't really a movie. It’s a studio checklist of what they think they have to do to compete with the Marvel cinematic universe. So it’s trying to catch up with where Marvel are now, rather than take the time and build the blocks in order. You know how, after 12 movies, the Marvel universe has become a bit too complicated for its own good? The DC cinematic universe has got there in two.

In the space of one movie, it’s trying to be a sequel to Man of Steel, a new Batman movie, a new Wonder Woman movie, the first Justice League movie, the first part of Crisis of Infinite Earths, the first part of Kingdom Come, an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns and an adaptation of a major mid-nineties DC event that I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers. All at the same time.

It’s exhausting to watch as a result. By the last half hour, I was totally numbed. It wasn't just that I didn't care about what they did - I couldn't. I was just sat there going “Oh. This is happening. And now this is happening. And I see that this is happening as well.”

I've been a comic book fan for a long time. For others that have been as well, I can best sum it up by saying that this is the kind of movie that Wizard Magazine really thought we’d have wanted, and that is actually everything that was wrong with comics in the 1990s.

It used to feel like mainstream comics (and DC in particular) were very aware of their core audience, and aimed everything at them. So you’d get events that only made sense if you’d already been a fan for at least ten years and bought everything.

You may remember how comics used to feel like a more exclusive club. And you may remember how it could make some (and I stress only some) comic book shops feel like a rather unwelcoming place to be if you weren't already a bit obsessed with the right characters, or if you seemed at all like you might not be. Some of them could be the kind of places that attracted the repressed and angry, those who felt marginalised and unfairly treated.

That feels like the exact audience that Batman Vs Superman has been made for and by. Angry adolescents who feel like they've been laughed at too much and want to prove how grown up they are.

For all the good elements in it, I’ve mainly ended up wishing for more silliness. I’ve ended up, instead, wishing for this Batman vs Superman. The one we’ll never see, but could feel perfect in our heads.
"I'm sorry, Mr Bat, but I can't let you do that" 
"Sorry about this, old chum,"

Sunday, 7 February 2016

London Wanderings - Saving London

Walking around Central London at the moment is beginning to feel far too similar to walking around the city at the end of the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (admittedly, with less Donald Sutherland). You’re seeing all the areas you used to know stripped of all connection and all meaning.
I’m seeing a lot of this at the moment. Walking around London and seeing voids and building sites where entire blocks were before. Progress clearly has to happen, but it’s feeling like a feeding frenzy at the moment. And a feeding frenzy that’s indiscriminately damaging the city itself.

My point, before I go on, is not specifically about any individual cases. It’s about the overall effect and the scale and speed with which it’s happening. I’m just picking out a couple of specific shops I’m aware of. You will likely be aware of others.

Cinema store
Image source 
Just last week, the Cinema Store in Leicester Square closed down after 22 years. As the name suggests, it was a shop that sold film memorabilia and books with a downstairs section with more obscure movies (which sounds far dodgier than it actually was, especially considering the downstairs sections in other nearby shops – it was more likely to sell Jimmy Cagney’s Yankee Doodle Dandy or Italian Giallo horror movies than [insert your own joke porn title here]).

The first time I came to London on my own would have been within its first years. I remember finding it fairly quickly and found it immediately both appealing and comforting. London was still the big, scary city for me and a shop that seemed made for cinema fans like myself was the first thing that made clear that London can be a city for anyone. Whatever you’re into, there’ll be other people who are into it and who share your love of it.

The owner’s statement on Facebook said that “it has become increasingly difficult for a small business like ours to maintain a physical store in Central London due to the increasingly corporate nature of today's retail environment.”

Food for Thought (original image at The Guardian)
Within the last few months, we’ve also lost Food For Thought, one of London’s oldest (and most loved) vegetarian restaurants after 44 years. One of the staff members said “In the last few years, the landlords have put the rent up so much we couldn’t cope. It’s one of the few places in the area that is still independent, low-profile but very busy. Now the whole area is changing. All the older shops are closing.”

As a vegetarian cinephile, these are two that speak closely to me. But the slow death of Denmark Street is one that’s likely to hit home for a lot more – the spiritual home of a lot of the London music scene, generally know as Tin Pan Alley. It’s being redeveloped into a large, multimedia building complex with shops, cafes and a new performance space to allow people to “interact with the brands we love in exciting new ways,” in the name of “meaningful brand engagement”. 

Denmark Street in days gone by (original source louderthanwar)
Denmark Street plans (original source bdonline)
Meanwhile, gay venues across London are also closing - Manbar and Madame JoJos have both closed recently due to surprisingly mild-sounding legal issues surrounding noise and violence.  Both areas are being redeveloped at the moment in what I can only assume is coincidental timing.

The Yard in Soho, one of the few left, is currently fighting development. They say that “the Yard, not only of architectural and historic significance, has played a key role in the LGBT community. It is one of Soho's oldest surviving LGBT bars providing a safe haven during the dark years of persecution, while offering privacy and a unique Soho atmosphere. The Yard is not safe and the battle continues.” 

The Yard and staff - (Original source WestEndExtra)
A street away, where a number of small independent shops have been closed for redevelopment, there are large advertising boards instead of shops and windows, stating that the work will bring more colour to Soho.

More colour to Soho, apparently (image mine)

Chinatown Market a few weeks ago (image mine)
The Chinatown market is currently boarded up for redevelopment (although it’s not clear whether or not the businesses will return once the work is complete). 
A street away, the Kowloon bakery (the original Cantonese bakery in Chinatown) is feeling the heat of rising rents. As the owner, Danny Yeung, said in this week’s Time Out article on Chinatown, “‘I don’t know how much longer we can go on, though. The rents have got higher and higher until they’re almost killing our profits. We used to deal with individual landlords. Now it’s a consortium: they’re all owned by a hedge fund – a PLC. They don’t care about us. They just say: “It’s market forces. If you don’t pay it, somebody else will.” We’re having to pay £600 a square foot for rent and business rates. Even for a small place, that’s about £36,000 a month. You know how many buns you have to sell before you break even? That’s a lot of dough!”
Kowloon Bakery, Chinatown (original source HomespunLondon)
Over in Shoreditch, the Norton Folgate saga, which has been continuing for decades, nears a close. Norton Folgate is a tiny block surrounded by glass corporate monoliths by Liverpool Street. It’s a beautiful Victorian area, with plenty of local history which has been bought up by “British Land”, a non-private-sounding private business. They’ve allowed parts of it to become neglected in order to bring around the planning permission to destroy it.

Despite a successful local campaign to prevent this, the history-loving Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has the ability to potentially overrule local council decisions on this. He has done this twelve times so far, and each time sided with the developers. He did it again with Norton Folgate, allowing a 14 story office building to replace it, despite an alternative plan being offered that would keep more of the heritage and provide a space for local artists and businesses. The Spitalfields Trust is taking legal action to, if not prevent it, at least see if there will be a ruling and some consequences over what they say is clear misconduct (due to him calling in the plans within an hour of receiving them – nowhere near enough time to begin to absorb the level of information in there). You can read more about this in the wonderful Spitalfields Life blog by The Gentle Author.
Spitalfield residents join hands against development (original SpitalfieldsLife)
British Land plans for Norton Folgate (original Spitalfields Life)
Again and again within a short space of time, we’re seeing small businesses in danger. Not because they aren’t profitable, but because they’re being forced to compete in an artificially raised market. A Nandos, a Starbucks, a Sainsburys or an Apple Store will always be able to offer more money to the people who own the land than small businesses. A small Cantonese cake store will never be able to compete with yet another Jamie Oliver restaurant.

It’s not the fault of the businesses, and it’s not even always the fault of the landlords – with the amount of money they’re being offered, it’s difficult to turn that down. Of course it is. And I don’t know what the answer is, outside of some kind of rent cap for businesses.

The London that I fell in love with was the London that offered something for everyone, no matter what they were into. It’s being replaced with brands aimed at everyone instead.

To quote Warren Ellis talking about the rise of the monoculture, “If we didn’t want to live like this, we could have changed it at any time by not fucking paying for it. So let’s celebrate by all eating the same burger.”

If you want to help preserve some of these, these are the campaigns you can join. If you're aware of others, I'll happily link more.

Save Soho - Twitter @saveSoho

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Some Gambit suggestions

I first became a fan of the X-Men in the early nineties. Along with a lot of you, it was because of the cartoon and the fantastic runs at the time by Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell. And because of the timing, there were two characters I particularly liked. Wolverine and Gambit. And while Wolverine was the one that became the biggest character in the Marvel Universe, Remy LeBeau always stayed my favourite.

I honestly believe that Gambit is potentially one of the most interesting and complex characters in the Marvel universe. For a whole bunch of reasons. And while the last few attempts to launch Gambit as a solo title have involved concentrating on the adventurous side of his persona, with heists a-plenty, I think there’s a lot that hasn't been tapped into for years. In fact, I think it’s money left on the table.

So I thought I’d outline my thoughts on the character – why I find him interesting and why I think it could make for good stories. And also a defence for some of the most loathed aspects of the Gambit back-story that I think could be the basis for an enormously fun run.

The guilty hero

More than any other characters in the same universe, Remy hates himself. That’s absolutely key to his entire personality, and it dates back for decades by this point. And he pushes everyone else to hate him as well.

He’s been raised as a thief. He killed his wife’s brother in self defence. He unknowingly helped cause a massacre. He spent a long time aware that people thought he’d betray his closest friends. And he became Apocalypse’s horseman, Death.

Remy carries around an enormous amount of guilt. And it’s not deeply buried either. He’s constantly aware of it. As far as he’s concerned, he’s beyond redemption.

And yet… he still tries.  Still tries to do the right thing. Still tries to use what power he has to be a hero. In spite of the fact he knows, deep down, he can never atone.

On top of all of that, he’s a character who gets things wrong. He doesn’t just make mistakes, he’s always one moment of selfishness away from ruining everything. He’s completely, constantly, self-sabotaging, because he can’t deal with being happy. Because he doesn’t believe he deserves it.

His superpower is like a reverse Midas touch. He is capable of literally destroying anything he touches. Every relationship he has leads to people hating him – and if they don’t, he’ll do something that makes them stop trusting him.

But here’s the bit I really like. He doesn't realise any of this. Because, along with all of the guilt, he also has an enormous ego. He’s a show-off. And sometimes, he thinks he deserves more than he’s capable of. He looks at others who are loved with jealousy, and he feels the need to outdo them.
His ego veers wildly between non-existent and out of control. Moments of a need to be the centre of attention and moments where he can’t bear to be around anyone who knows him.

For me, this has some mental health connotations, and they’re part of what I think makes his character so rich and interesting. Whether he’s going through highs or lows, the person he’s damaging the most is himself, and his relationships with others.

If I was writing him, there’s something else I’d want to introduce as well. Gambit’s an addict, as far as I'm concerned. He’s a (former) smoker, and we've seen him go out of his way to drink in the past as well. He’s been enough of a flirt and a womaniser that the idea that he might be a sex addict doesn't seem unreasonable. And he’s absolutely an adrenaline junkie – he’s performed heists out of boredom before. And finally, of course, he’s a gambler.

If you could get away with it, I’d take it a step further. Have some substance addiction problems in the background. He’s got enough guilt tearing away at him already – why not have had him hit rock bottom a couple of times in the past? He’s managed to give it up, but by replacing it with other addictions. And this is all part of the reason nobody trusts him.

Remy’s lived. He’s been through it all, and he’s experienced highs and lows well beyond his years. He’s held down by his past, his weaknesses and his guilt. But even if he doesn’t believe redemption exists at the end of his path, he’s going to do his best to be a hero while he’s still here. And he’s good enough at what he does that he can do it with a huge amount of flair.

This is a character I want to read. This is a character I want to get to know. Hell, obviously, it’s a character I want to write. But I've only embellished on what’s been on the pages in the past a little – the vast majority of what I'm talking about here is text, not subtext. But we’re talking about a hugely conflicted, unpredictable character. One that I think could really be a lot more valuable to Marvel than they seem to believe at times.

The New Orleans War

Another millstone that’s perceived as being around Gambit’s neck is his background. And it’s easy to see why. He’s a very nineties character in a lot of ways. All trench-coat, long hair and stubble (and this informed far more of my nineties fashion choices than I’d like to admit). But even worse than that… the guilds.

If you’re not familiar with the background of the character, Gambit was an orphan, taken in by one of the criminal guilds that runs the underworld of New Orleans. Specifically, the thieves guild – the other being the assassins clan. He was due to marry the daughter of a major family in the clan, but he killed her brother in self-defence, pretty much guaranteeing the two families would continue to be at war.

It’s complicated, but nor has it been particularly fleshed out. It’s not attractive to new readers, and it’s separate to just about every other character.

But that doesn't mean it can’t be turned into a positive.

Two major criminal groups vying for control of the criminal underworld? That’s something that can be fleshed out. Each of them have their own traditions and histories? And there are families within that are battling as well?

I think there’s plenty of mileage in this. Game of Thrones that shit up. Let’s learn a little bit about who these families are, and let’s trust the readers to keep up. Because the point here is that the more complicated it is, and the more at each others throats everyone is, the more in the middle of the whole thing Remy is. And that’s before you get into how the upbringing has affected him.

Finely balanced battles can be fascinating – just look at the power struggles in shows like Breaking Bad. Make it very clear that the slightest advantage on either side can lead to utter destruction of the other.  Take it from a cold war to full-on hostilities. And in the middle of the whole thing, against his will, is Gambit. Having to play everyone against everyone, without getting himself killed.

But I’d go a step further. I’d introduce other groups in New Orleans – other clans and guilds that are struggling for power. Make sure that Gambit has to step carefully at all times.

And if you really want to shake things up? Bring in an outside element.

How about this? You have a truce meeting agreed between the clans and guilds. For the first time since Gambit’s marriage, there’s the opportunity of real peace in the area. Some of the higher-ups meet together in an hotel.

And then the hotel blows up. We don’t know who did it yet. But the clans and guilds blame each other, and it causes chaos. And in the middle of all of this, there’s a hostile group trying to take over. Wilson Fisk has seen the anarchy in New Orleans, and he sees an opportunity.

So, now, you have a situation where you have multiple factions and groups all against each other. Outright war in New Orleans. And right in the middle of all of it, you have Gambit – both in debt to everyone, but also playing everyone against everyone else, and just desperately trying to keep as many people alive as possible. When he fails, he deals with it badly.

But when he succeeds, when he plays people the right way, manipulating and chancing his way into forcing the right things to happen… he uses all of his darkest elements to show the hero that he can be.

What are your thoughts? Is Gambit a character that could be a player in the Marvel Universe? Do you have favourite Gambit moments? Would you be interested in my take on the character? Or do you think I've missed the mark? Let me know in comments or on twitter.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Black Mass review

Black Mass has been hyped quite a lot, not least as a return to form for Jonny Depp. But it’s also a story about one of Boston’s most notorious crimelords, and one within living memory at that – James “Whitey” Bulger only went on the run in 1995, after all.

So, to start with the biggest selling point – Jonny Depp is a magnetic presence throughout. But you never quite forget that you’re watching Jonny Depp. And that’s a problem. It’s as mannered a performance as he’s given in many other films, but usually, that matches the film better. Here, it’s Depp playing a real person, and that real person never convinces.

There’s a scene where he’s sitting at the kitchen table with Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays Whitey’s Senator brother), and this shows the difference between the two. Cumberbatch comes across as far more natural and believable. Depp is far more mannered and far less believable. 

However… you watch Depp. Your eyes are drawn to him. While it may not be great acting, it’s a hell of a performance.

That’s indicative of a larger problem with the film. It’s ultimately shallow. It’s very much “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened”, and rarely slows down to find out what that means to anyone.

The best performance in the film by a country mile is Julianne Nicholson’s, and it’s squandered. She plays the wife of an FBI agent (Joel Edgerton) who grew up with Bulger, who sees the effects of the corruption of her husband. She plays it well and subtly, and was the only character in the movie that I ended up caring about. But she’s in about five scenes, and her story is played out in shorthand. It never feels like her story either – it’s there to enhance the men’s stories only.

This is what separates it from achieving the sort of connection that Goodfellas made. In that, the stories felt real and felt like they had real impact. We were made to care about the characters more, so as the degradation hits them, it matters to us.

In Black Mass, the film is so concerned about showing us what happened that it skips over taking the time to make us care about why it’s happening. That’s a scripting issue, and it may be one that’s occurred because it’s been hamstrung by having to keep close to what actually happened.

There’s an example of this in the opening, actually. The opening focuses on Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons, who you may remember as the creepy Todd from Breaking Bad) turning informant on Bulger. As a result, the first ten minutes are all about him, which make you think that the film is going to focus on him more throughout… but it’s not his story. He’s a background player in the film. But he’s a background player that took a large real life action, so he has to be there. In a film more removed from the recent past, he’d probably have been combined with another character (likely W Earl Brown’s portrayal of John Martorano), and the film probably would have been better for that.

All this said, the film’s actually pretty good. It’s brilliantly shot throughout – every fifth shot looks like it could have been the movie poster. And while I have issues with the plotting, almost every individual scene is fairly strong and giving some more-than-capable actors plenty to do.

The problem is that this could have been this generation’s Goodfellas, and clearly wants to be. But it falls short. It’s worth your time, absolutely, but I doubt it’ll stick in your mind years later.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Dentophobia - Fear of Dentists - #OctoboPhobia short story

The light is glaring into my eyes as I sit back in the chair, my mouth open, while the dentist prods and checks through my mouth.

“Okay, you’ve got a bit of an infection,” he says. “Just here…” He touches the end of the small metallic stick against it and a jolt of pain jumps through my mouth like electricity.

“Ah!” I say, involuntarily.

“You’re going to need a root canal,” he says, pulling his fingers away from my mouth and angling the light away from my face.

I’m relieved at the light being moved, but immediately apprehensive about the root canal. “I’ve heard they’re painful,” I tell him.

“They used to be” he says, looking at my x-rays. “Now, though, we can kill the infection before we extract the root, so it’s not as bad. Back in the day, they used to go ahead with it when it was at its most painful.”

“Oh,” I say, stupidly. I’m still nervous, the hairs on my arms rising.

I’m getting married next month, which is why I’m here. I promised her that I’d come and get the full check-up. Even though I’ve not been to the dentist since I was 16. I avoid them.

It’s easy enough to avoid, most of the time. For the most part, tooth pain doesn’t last. It’s more an irritating twinge, without serious pain. Even when it gets properly painful, a mixture of painkillers and alcohol not only usually helped, but they also meant that nights out were fun.

But I promised. We want the wedding photos to be perfect and she wants me – for just one day – to be perfect as well. So I’m here, proving just how much I love her.

Before I met her, I was a mess. Drinking every night to get through to the next day, and just going out of my head at the weekends on anything I could get my hands on.

And the women. I never thought I’d be able to be satisfied with one woman. Every night, if I wasn’t drinking, I was doing my best to make sure I woke up in someone else’s bed.  Most nights, I failed, but every now and then, I’d reach one of the few times I didn’t utterly loathe myself. Some I saw more than once, but most I never saw again. I just treated them like bodies. Warm bodies, with presumably some past and home life, but not ones I ever cared about.

But then her. The one least likely, with the quiet demeanour, the brain I could never match and even the daughter that I loved just as much. The one who made me change everything. Eventually. I’d strayed once or twice, but even that had fallen by the wayside. A few problems here or there, but I’d decided to make it work.

And eventually, that brought me here. I’d been given a family, and even if I didn’t want to come to the dentist, if Sarah asked me to, I did it.  

“How do you kill the infection?”

“It’s just an injection,” he said, picking up a syringe and readying it.

I tried not to think too much about it. My fear of needles was not playing well with the idea, but it was outperformed by my fear of a painful root canal.

“Then we do the root canal?”

`“No, that’ll need to be in a few days, while this takes hold. It’ll be fine though – you won’t even notice.”

“Okay,” I said, thinking of Sarah.

I open my mouth and look up at the ceiling, not looking at him hulking over me, reaching down into my mouth and pushing the needle into my gum, then pressing down on the plunger.

I know that the needle is something I should barely feel, although it pushes against the root of my tooth. I know that, but I feel the hardness of it, pushing unnaturally into my mouth.

“It won’t take long,” he says. And then he chuckles. A deep, dark chuckle.

I feel a prickling sensation spread across my face and I pass out.

I wake up, my head pounding. I try to move it, but I can’t. I can feel something against my chin and forehead keeping it still.

I’m sat down. I can feel that. I try to move my hands up to my head, but they are prevented by a large, thick leather strap on either armrest. It’s the same with my ankles.

As I struggle against them, I realise that there’s another strap – a larger one – wrapped across my waist.

“What the hell?” I try to say, but my words come out wrong. Like I can’t form letters, my tongue too big and clumsy for my mouth. “Whu hu hehh?”

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” He says from somewhere behind me. I try to turn, my eyes still taking in my grimy, dark surroundings.

“Iduhd….I duhndnuh…”

The wall is covered in something that look like egg containers, but black. Lots of them, covering from floor to ceiling.

“No reason you should, I suppose,” he says. His tone is conversational. He could be describing what’s gone wrong in the engine of his car.

“Wuh… wuh…”

“To you, I suppose, she was just a one night stand in some hotel somewhere. A one night willing fuck that wouldn’t leave you alone.”

“I… I duhn….”

“I wonder if that’s why you chose her. From watching you over the last few months, you have enough going on in your own house, with Sarah and little Lizzie. You don’t need another relationship, do you?”

“I.. inevuh….”

I can hear something metallic behind me, grinding against something else.

“I mean it’s all good for you, obviously. You get to have your fun and then walk away from it all.”

He walks in front of me, across to another table, but doesn’t make any eye contact with me. 

“Pluh….” I say.

“Maybe she told you her real name. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. Because she left me.”

“I dih… dihn” He starts rummaging around the table and the drawers next to it.

“But I found her again. And I made sure that she’d never do it again.”

“Nuh! Nuh! Pluhs!”

“And that just meant that I had to find you. This took a long time, you know.”

With his back to me, he makes a low, deep noise. I realise he is laughing.

I try to speak, and try to shout, but all I can make is grunting, incoherent noises.

He turns to me, the dental drill whirring.

“You’re underground. I had this room soundproofed, just waiting for you.”

He laughs again, it becoming more high pitched as he moves towards me, or maybe that’s just the whine of the drill.

“Don’t be afraid to scream.”

He moves the head of the drill against my tooth, and pushes down slowly. The vibration in my skull is as deep as the noise is high.

Somewhere I am screaming. Somewhere he is laughing. But the whine of the drill is all I can hear.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Decidophobia (fear of making decisions) - #Octobophobia short story

The announcement has been overdue for months.

“You’ve tested the radio,” The daughter says to her father.

“I’m testing it again,” The father replies.

The noise is irritating her and setting her off. “There hasn’t been anything for weeks. It’s broken.”

“The system’s down, that’s all. “

“It’s broken,” she says and walks away from the room.

The whirring of the generator and the static of the radio are too much for her. She goes to the area of the bunker that’s been cordoned off to give her some privacy and lays down on the campbed. She tries to think of somewhere else.

Anywhere else. Anywhere on the other side of the door.

She tries to sleep.

The father tinkers with the radio still and tries not to think about his wife. Tries not to think about everybody else.

The food won’t last forever. They both know that, but he has a more realistic idea of how much is left. He knows how quickly it will realistically work out. He hates to see her hungry, but if there’s one thing he can do while they’re stuck down here, it’s to keep her alive.

They don’t have much privacy or space, but they have some. They have some dividers for their own spaces, but they can always hear each other.  That’s the bit he finds the most difficult. They’re cut off from everyone else, but they are never entirely by themselves either. Instead, he knows that he irritates her now more than any human being ever has, even while he knows that she loves him.

He tries not to think of the door.

Slowly, he goes through every frequency on the radio, testing both ways. He repeats the phrases as he does and waits for responses.

Like he does every day. For months now.

The daughter eventually stands up and walks to the bunker door.

“What are you doing?” The father says to her.

“The radio’s broken,” she says. “We’ll go crazy if we’re down here.”

“What if it isn’t safe?” He says.

“Then we’ll… we’ll…”

“This is why we wait for the announcement.”

“What if the announcement never comes?”

The father doesn’t say anything. All his answers have fallen apart. They’ve been down here too long.

“We need to leave,” the daughter says, weeks later.

“We can’t,” the father replies.

“What do we have if we stay here?”

“What if it isn’t safe?”

“We don’t have a choice,” she says. “We’re running out of food.”

“No, we’re not,” he says. “There’s still enough.”

“We’re running out of options, then.”

“Then that’s enough to keep us alive.”

She nods. “Keep us alive, yes. But this isn’t living. This is just waiting. We don’t have a choice. We need to go outside and find out.”

“We might die if we do.”

“We will die if we don’t.”

She looks at the door. “It won’t take long,” she says.

“We cant,” says the father.

She walks up to the door. “We don’t have a choice.”

“Of course we do.”

“We don’t know how bad it is out there.”

She smiles sadly. “We may never know.”

The father pulls back, nervously.  He watches her for a moment, then sits at the table where they’ve been eating the same four meals for days.

“I know,” he says.

The daughter stops. Her hand just in front of the door handle. “Really?”

“Yes,” he says. “But if we go out… if the radiation is bad…”

“Wouldn’t you rather know?”

“…we can fix the radio.”

The daughter shouts now. “We’ve tried fixing the radio! We’ve been trying for weeks to fix the radio! There’s nothing!”

He hangs his head. “We should wait. We don’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice,” she says.

“But taking it may kill us,” the father responds.

She steels herself and then places her hand onto the door handle. The metal, like the door, like the walls, like the table, like the campbed, is cold.

“Don’t do it!”, the father shouts.

She holds her hand on the handle. All she needs to do is push down and then pull.

That’s all she needs to do.

But she hesitates.

OPENING (#Octobophobia Decidophobia ending)

She feels the heat first. The clouds are dark and heavy, with only the smallest fragments of daylight making it through.

“Come back in,” the father pleads.

She ignores him and takes some shaky steps forward. The air is acrid and thick. The ground feels hot underneath her feet.

He feels the heat now behind her. “Is it… is it… okay?”  He moves towards the door.

She looks around her, trying to see in the darkness. The air is hurting her eyes, burning like chlorine.
“I… I don’t know,” she says.

Her eyes slowly, painfully adjust.

She can see for miles. Rubble, dust and death is all that there is.

Bringing her hand to her eyes, she rubs them. It helps with the stinging a little bit.

“Is there anyone there?” the father asks.

“No,” she says. “There’s nothing.”

She begins to walk.