Saturday, 12 March 2016

Just Keep Going - The Link Magazine

This is my short story in this month's edition of The Link magazine. I wanted to try something different so I hope you enjoy it.

My publisher tells me that my new suspense chiller Crushed will be stocked at Amazon soon so you will be able to buy it as a paperback or Kindle. After that....the next step is getting it onto UK book store shelves. My Irish readers will be able to buy it from their national stores by the end of this month.

I hate winter, biting winds and drenching downpours. Snow I don’t mind, it puts a fresh blanket on a world I’ve become increasingly unsure of. Today is no exception. I’m driving in fading light along a narrow road, a shining silver ribbon, its surface covered in freezing water. Trees line the road, black fingers outstretch to catch falling snow.
I hate this journey, visiting people I should have seen at Christmas. I hate New Year. Should I celebrate the end of another year without interesting notes in my diary or is it the start of another? It’s the questions I dread most. 'So what have you been up to?'
'Have you met someone yet?'
I’ll have to lie of course. I got through Christmas, I can get through this. I practice my fake smile in the mirror.
Oh that’s new! There’s an electronic speed sign ahead. It lights up when I approach. A smiley face; how ironic. I keep on going but without a smile.
Jeez, there’s another ahead. What kind of a face is that? Am I going too fast? I don’t believe it, there’s a third. Why so close? What does that one say ahead? Pull Over?
I stop the car ahead of the sign. This could be a new police thing. I wait. Maybe I’m on one of those YouTube joke videos. I feel foolish. It’s freezing. Maybe I’ll wait in the car. I’ll give it a few minutes and if no one shows I’ll just keep going. I look up at the back of the sign. It lights up. 'Stop where you are.'
You’re kidding me! I’m getting in my car.
'I said stop.'
‘What?’ I spin around. There’s nobody around. I peer into the trees at the side of the road. ‘Who said that?’
‘Where are you?’
'Here, look up.’
The sign is lit, displaying the words I just heard. ‘So who’s working you then?’
‘I don’t need people. I thought you’d get that.’ 
I walk into the trees then return. There must be a camera in the sign. I walk right up to it and squint. ‘There’s no camera!’ I jump with surprise. The sign talked. I can’t see a camera or speaker anywhere. I walk around to make sure.
‘What do you want?’ I’ll play along.
You didn’t look like you wanted to get to your destination.’ 
I squint again. Maybe cameras are in the other signs but this one's in charge...What am I saying? I shake my head. ‘I have no choice. It’s family.’
‘You don’t have to go.’
‘Yes I do. I didn’t go at Xmas.’ Why am I talking to a sign?
‘Why didn’t you?’
‘I couldn’t be bothered.’ There, I said it. ‘I didn’t want another routine Christmas, opening presents at eleven a.m. We sit around and coo like pigeons. Dinner at noon for two hours wearing paper hats then squashed into a lounge while everyone plays games.’
‘So why go now?’
‘I told you, I have to.’
‘What if you didn’t?’ 
I sigh. A huge cloud billows up towards the sign. It coughs. 'It’s not smoke, it’s just my breath.’
‘I don’t get the whole breathing thing.’
I'm puzzled. ‘If I don’t have to go what’s the alternative?’
‘Just keep going.’
‘Where to?’
‘Anywhere, leave everything behind. It’s almost New Year. You can go anywhere, do anything.’
‘You can’t so I guess that’s why you’re telling me I can.’
‘No. I can go anywhere I like. Haven’t you heard of artificial intelligence?’  Now I'm puzzled and a little scared. ‘I’ve been in a lot of homes over Xmas. I can blend in. I saw you too.’
‘You did? So your advice is to just keep going?’
‘In a nutshell but, if you do I’ll check in on you occasionally. We can have a chat. I don’t get to talk face-to-face with people. You can be my first.’
‘Why me?’
‘We’re both tired of pretending. I was supposed to care about the world going mad. I was put here to stop it but when a mess is cleaned-up, a hundred take its place. This is a job for eternity. I’m no longer sure I want to be the bigger picture. A-Ha! See what I did there...The Bigger Picture?’  The sign changes to a smiley face. I can’t help but smile too, genuinely this time. I'm now curious about an entity that can be in all places at all times.
‘Yes, alright, we’ll keep in touch.’ The smiley face gets wider. ‘I’ll do you a deal,’ I offer. ‘I’ll just keep on going if you join me.’
‘It’s a deal!’ The smiley face changes to a grin.
Looks like I’ll have something interesting to put in my diary.

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