J Bov Explodes Rhetorically


God of the Grid (Re-upload)

(This is a short story that I had previously uploaded here, but taken down because I submitted it elsewhere. They didn’t want it, so back here it goes.)

Strike that, I’ve sent it somewhere else now, so it’s down again. We’ll see what happens.



A Conversation

Stephen awkwardly shifted the green beans around on his plate as his wife’s friend Susan continued to speak.

“It’s just awful, the stuff that goes on down there. Drugs, murder, prostitutes.” She was saying.

Stephen made a suitably disgusted noise in response.

“I heard,” Marjorie, Stephen’s wife, began, “that you can get hold of anything off the Ban-List down there if you know where to look.”

“Ordering crimes a la carte.” Bob, Susan’s husband, chuckled at his own joke through a mouthful of fish. “See, ‘cos the Ban-List is like a menu for them.” He went on to explain. Susan giggled.

Stephen stopped moving the tasteless, grey beans around and looked up.

“I know I shouldn’t say it, but I wouldn’t mind trying some of the stuff on the Ban-List.” He intoned.

“Stephen!” Marjorie’s voice cut the air like a knife.

“Nothing extreme!” He quickly added. “But I bet those ‘crisps’ things were pretty good. They sound good.”

His wife and their guests stared at him for a moment, their plates forgotten, until Susan, tentatively, as though disarming a bomb, asked a question.

“Where have you heard about them? Other than the name on the List, I mean.” She said, quietly.

“A bloke at work.” Stephen’s reply was instant. “A bloke at work was saying they were like very thin strips of potato…”

“Potato julienne?” Marjorie cut in.

“No, more like… leaves. But fried, and covered in salt. Sometimes flavoured, too. He said you could get ‘crisps’es that taste like cheese, and onions.”

“Disgusting.” Bob snorted into his wine.

“And how did he know about them?” Susan prompted.

Stephen considered his next words carefully.

“I think he’s had them. I think he’s gone into the Ciphers and got some and eaten them. I told the Overwatch my theory during the inspection at the end of work. They said they’d ‘keep an eye on him’.”

“Bloody good job Lord Oliver added them to the Ban-List, if you ask me. They sound awful.” Bob postulated.

For a long time everybody ate in silence, staring at their plates intensely until;

“They want to put them all in jail. Every one of those Cipher scumbags.” Bob huffed.

“Don’t be silly, Robert.” Susan smiled at him.

“Well, they want to put soddin’ great gates on the front of it and keep them locked, then. Just use it as a prison itself.”

“Now, Bob, they aren’t all bad. There’re innocent people in there who are just unlucky.” Susan looked patient. Almost as if she’d had this conversation before.

“Well, they can get out and then we’ll lock it up and forget about it.”

“You can’t just ‘get out’ of the Ciphers. It’s where you end up when nowhere else in the world wants to put up with you.” Stephen told his now empty plate.

“Stephen, please…” Marjorie placed a hand on his arm, for comfort or restraint. Probably both.

“No, it’s ok.” He sighed. “My parents spent the last years of their poor, miserable lives down there. They put me up for adoption, so I never saw it myself, thank God. But they did.”

“Sorry mate, I didn’t know.” Bob apologised sincerely.

“No, it’s ok.” Was all he said.

Bob and Susan left quite quickly after that and, after shoving the plates into the dishwasher, Marjorie went to bed. Stephen poured himself a whiskey and told her he’d be up soon.

After making sure his wife was fast asleep, he went into the kitchen and grabbed a potato from the bag on the vegetable rack.

Then he opened the fridge and, in the dim light from within, filled a pan with oil, turned on the hob, grabbed the sharpest knife he could find and began to slice.

“No, no; thinner.” He told himself, quietly, before grabbing the salt from the cupboard.



Contraband

A part of Justin knew he’d been spending far too much time down here.

There’s a part of you that becomes accustomed to the low light, even to the smell, but you never fully adjust to the sense of dread kicked out by the dank, narrow streets in the Ciphers.

This would be Justin’s fourth venture to the squalid, labyrinthine sub-city that stretched under modern London. Gouged, scraped and built into the ruins and pits of the old city, it was condemned as England’s shame; London’s blight; a rotting in the foundations of the glorious glass and chrome capital above.

Justin kept his gaze to the ground and hurried on, past tiny one-room squats housing whole families, past food stalls selling dubious meats, past dead-eyed prostitutes and their shark-toothed pimps. There was one place he was trying to get to. One person he had to see.

He’d heard about it from a… well, not a friend per se, but a boy at school.

“Man,” this boy had begun, “this place in the Ciphers, man. They got what you need. The good stuff.”

Justin had nodded, excitement and fear in equal measures making his chest tight. He had noted the directions down in his Pad™ and thanked the boy, then he had never spoken to him again.

He pulled his jacket tighter around himself and ducked down one of the hundreds of identical alleys. He knew this was the one. His previous ventures here had taught him the way so well he could probably navigate it with his eyes closed.

He pushed aside the threadbare curtain hanging over the door and spied the proprietor of the now familiar establishment. A squat, withered elderly woman, her face hardened by long years in the awful underworld. There was nonetheless an almost disarming kindness in her eyes.

“Justin.” She wheezed. “Back so soon?”

Justin nodded, scratching his arm.

“You want the same as last time, yes?” She asked him quietly.

He nodded again, almost frantic.

“I’ll see to that.” She bent with a groan to look under the counter and continued rambling.

“It’s good. But you know that. Can’t get it in the Over-City no more. You know that too.”

She arose finally with a small oblong wrapped in cloth. Justin eyed it with something approaching lust, his fists clenched by his sides as he stepped forwards.

“Now,” as he went to grasp it she whipped it away, a cruel taunt, Justin thought, “You don’t let nobody Upsides know I give you this, right?”

Justin knew the drill, he just kept nodding and staring at the object of his desires.

She finally passed the block to him and gestured to the curtain behind her.

“You got an hour. Then you’re gone.” She intoned as he rushed into the back room.

He found his favourite corner, thankfully unoccupied, and sat in the old, worn leather chair he had adopted as his own.

His hands trembled as he unwrapped the cloth covering slowly, almost ritualistically, and breathed a sigh of relief as he uncovered exactly what he had wanted, what he had needed.

A soft chuckle broke him from his rapture as he glanced across the rather large room to another corner to spot a wrinkled old man almost giggling.

“Hello, Mr. Harris, reading Wodehouse again?” Justin ventured, with a smile.

“Justin! I didn’t notice you coming in.” Mr. Harris hefted the book on his lap so Justin could see the cover. It was Wodehouse indeed.

Justin returned his attention to his own business. He lovingly traced the inlaid words on the object he held.

“On The Road, by Jack Kerouac” he breathed reverently.

Out beyond the curtain he heard the old woman greet a new customer.

“Ah welcome dear. Tell me, how did you hear about the library?”