Writing with Banshee: LARP Fic

Writing is my full time job, but my writing has a hobby…

That hobby comes with a bit of a confession. I LARP. And not only that, but I write fiction about those LARPS after the fact. 

Hold for applause, hold for booing, hold for confused noises…

LARP, for those of you who have blessedly not seen *this* is Live Action Role Play. Think like Dungeons And Dragons, but instead of using dice and a table, you dress up in a costume, and use an entire field. 

You’ll never see these fics on this blog, they’re not really up to my usual standard, and without the context of the setting, they can fall very flat. 

So why do I write them? What is there to be gained?

Well, it all starts as a hobby…

 

Getting On the Same Page 

 

While this article is mostly aimed at people who already LARP who are maybe looking to dip their toes into writing about it, I do want this blog to be actually legible to those who don’t. With that in mind, here are some quick fire explanations:

  • Festival LARPS (Festlarp for the terminally lazy) are big events that occur at predetermined dates throughout the year, usually over the course of a weekend. They’re like big music festivals, only everyone’s in costume…and horrible tents…and there’s usually a lot of drinking and…actually hold that thought. 
  • At festlarps, you play a character, whose status is continuous from event to event. If your character dies, you can make a new one. 
  • LARPers are people who play in LARPS. Simple enough. 
  • Yes, it is as dorky as it looks. Yes we know this. Yes, we’ve heard literally every joke. No one cares, Sandra.
  • Fic/fanfic/fan fiction/larp fic are all shortened terms for the same thing. For the purposes of this blog, this is referring specifically to people writing about what happened at events after the fact, but people also write fanfic about things that could have occurred between events. It can also refer to people writing stories about other people’s fiction (say, a short story about Kirk and Spock going on a date, or Holmes and Watson only it’s the modern day ohwaitthathappenedandmademillions).

With me so far? Right, now let’s look at what sets fanfiction apart from … literally everything else.

Fanfic Teaches Bad Habits…

On a purely technical level, fanfic is an entirely different beast to original content, for reasons that get more obvious the more you think about it. 

In a fanfic, the reader has an assumed level of understanding about the setting and the characters, so you can jump right into juicy bits.

Sometimes those juicy bits are exactly what you think they are, (how many synonyms do you think there are for ‘turgid’ because I can assure you I have seen a lot)  but sometimes it’s two characters who’ve never canonically met going off to solve mysteries…and then they get to the bit you’re thinking about. 

One alternative to turgid is tumescent. Just…one for the notebook.

Sometimes those juicy bits are people sitting in a modern coffee shop talking. This is always bizarrely compelling. 

You can often tell, when workshopping other people’s fiction, if they’ve come from a fan fiction background. There’s a certain cadence to the language, and certain rushed sense of moving pieces where they need to be to get to those juicy bits. 

Often they’ve inhabited the world they’re writing in for so long, they’ll forget to catch you up to it. 

Don’t think of fanfic as baby’s first foray into writing a big proper grown up book. It’s a different form, with a different skill set, and has a totally different appeal. 

I don’t tend to write regular fanfic much anymore, partly because I don’t have time, but I still write LARP fanfic. Why is that, do you think? 

EXPLAIN, NERD

LARP has two noted psychological phenomena among its player base.

  1. Bleed
  2. Post Event Blues

Bleed is when IC feelings and OC feelings start to blur together and affect each other. When your character dies, for instance, you feel sad. When your character’s friend dies, you feel sad. When you win a fight, you feel happy. Pretty simple stuff, despite having a spooky name. It’s not that people can’t differentiate between the game and reality, it’s just that no one has such a stoney heart that they’re not emotionally affected by these things. It’s like reading a book, only you’re directly involved.

Tied into this are the post event blues. LRP events tend to ride on some pretty big emotional highs and lows, not to mention the physical strain of running around a muddy field for a weekend, and the occasional intellectual rigours that pretending to be someone else throws up. It’s a pretty common feeling to be a bit down for a few days after an event. 

Both these facts sound a bit spooky out of context, and it’s definitely true that dealing with them constructively can be a challenge.

(Consult your doctor if you’re affected by Post Larp Blues for more than a week…)

We don’t give actors shit for being sad after a show ends, and while not everyone on a LARP field is a TRAINED THESPIAN these feelings absolutely are rooted in the same sort of thinking. 

Writing up what you did that event is a good way of getting those feelings compartmentalised. Fanfic is powerful in that way, I’m not having to worry about the nitty gritty of setting, you can cut right to the emotions. 

I write my LARP fics in the first week after the event. If it takes longer than that, I tend to stop, because by then the vividness of the events tend to fade. I don’t share everything I write if it’s not up to standard, but I write after every event. It’s not really for an audience, it’s more for me, and I choose to share it. 

Get those bleedy feelings out on paper, pop them in a box, and don’t think about them until your next event. It makes everything a lot easier. 

But still. It’s nice to be good at things, and it’s good form to make sure I’m putting out the best stuff I can. It’s all good practice. 

I know of a lot of LARPers who want to write fic, but for a myriad of reasons don’t. One of the big ones is that they worry they won’t be ‘good enough.’

So, with that in mind, I’ve got a few tips for writing LARP fic that people want to read.

Centre Of Mass

A friend of mine expressed concern about writing fic because ‘I’d never be able to remember all the dialogue- all the things I say and all the things that happened.’ She was so concerned with getting things one-to-one, capital A Accurate, that she forgot the key joy of fic.

Allow me a wild diversion. 

There is a tendency amongst larpers to meet up after events and discuss things that happened. These are usually a right lark (technical term) but there is one moment everyone dreads.

The Anecdote. 

Someone starts telling a story, about a Cool thing they did. And it goes on, and on, and they diverge briefly to contextualise, they flashback to an obscure thing that happened two years ago, they’ve forgotten the original point, and there’s no real ending beyond ‘and then I hit them with my sword.’ Usually, they talk over someone quieter trying to share their own story, which is very obnoxious. It’s not chatting, it’s a monologue. 

We fear The Anecdote. We Dread the Anecdote. The art of conversation is Dead and LARPers personally killed it. 

The thing that makes The Anecdote so feared, I think, is not just the fact that it usually involves grabbing the spotlight from the gantry and dragging it onto you so no one else gets a look in. It’s also that the person gets so focused on the minutiae of the details that they can’t just get to the bloody point. 

LARP fic can stray perilously close to being The Anecdote if you’re not careful, which is where my advice to my friend came in: 

LARP fic should never be a 1-1 recreation of Events As They Happened like you’re a slavish scribe, getting things down as a matter of historical record. Instead, you want to capture the feeling of a scene. 

The ebbs and flows of mood in a scene are infinitely more powerful that getting every play by play exactly right. Don’t worry about dialogue. Worry about AESTHETIC.

Especially because it means you can use words like AESTHETIC. That way lies swirling wine glasses with your pinky finger out.

All these Other Players

When writing original fiction, I find that the best way to describe a character is to focus on one key part of their appearance, plus a distinct item of clothing. Rarely is this flattering, even if the character is nominally Hot Stuff. 

“John Smith walked with a slouch no matter where he was going, and his lips were so thin they vanished when he smiled.”

“Jane Doe was a woman who bounced, with a broad smile on her face that reached her ears. Her blouse wasn’t buttoned up quite right, and her tights had a ladder in them, but she barely seemed to regard this as she chattered away.”

Nobody wants to read a long paragraph about all the designer gear Jane Doe owns, or how her medium-sized breasts are especially voluptuous when she examines herself in the mirror (as female characters in badly written novels are often want to do). A character is more charming and memorable for the little details.

Now in LARP Fic, this gets a bit trickier, because the other characters are all real people, people your readers will directly interact with…or in fact are. 

It’s a bit awkward if you’ve drawn attention to the fact that Wulfric has small hands and an uncomfortable comb-over if Wulfric is in fact John Smith and he’s sensitive about these things, and he doesn’t really see his character that way. Likewise, Jane Doe absolutely does not want to hear what you think about her Medium Sized Breasts, even if you’re trying to convey that her character is attractive. 

But that doesn’t mean you can ignore description entirely, it’s an important way to make the world more vibrant. You have maybe a paragraph to get across a great sense of character. Use it. 

…darn this LARP business would be so much easier if it wasn’t for all the OTHER PEOPLE. 

Here’s some rough rules I go by:

 

-If a character is playing a fantastical race- an elf, an undead, an orc- odds are they’re wearing a trapping to draw attention to this, and odds are they’ve put a fair amount of work into the look. Ariana’s golden skin that seems to light up the night (face paint), Inez’ vibrant scales that catch the sun and dazzle you if you look at them for too long (a very nice face prosthetic), and Draken’s cruel filthy claws that look like they’d infect any food he handles (hand paint and stick on claws) are all fair game. 

– same goes for costume and kit. Did they have anything that stands out? Perhaps a nice weapon, or accessory. What colours drew your focus? What does the costume say about them?

– Otherwise, ignore physical descriptions entirely. Go with more abstract things, the energy the character puts out. Are they charming? Aggressive? Sly and sleazy? There are ways to convey this without being able to see anything. 

– Most characters in the field have a role, whether this is a traditional class (like a bard or cleric) or something more abstract (a group leader, or a trader). What parts of their job can you glean from their actions, their look?

– If in doubt, ask. Which leads me nicely to…

 

Getting Consent

LARP relies on a lot of subtle social cues which often surprises people, given how it’s the nerdiest of nerdcore things. 

(Which genius decided that all the best nerd hobbies required social interaction and can they stop taking all my money?)

Most people I’ve written about have, in my experience, been very flattered, even when the exchange between the two characters isn’t a pleasant one.

(LARPers being as thirsty for drama as they are, they’re often especially flattered if it’s an unpleasant exchange.)

But there’s no way of guaranteeing that’s the case, and you know what they say about assumptions and their propensity for asses.

If I’m writing about someone else’s character extensively, I tend to send the extract to them directly if I can, so they can check it over and make sure they’re ok with it. If they have any objections or amendments, those are added immediately, no questions asked. This isn’t always possible, but it’s good form. 

This doesn’t really gel with my usual rules for feedback (listen to everything, consider carefully, writer gets final call), but the circumstances are pretty unusual. 

You’re playing a game with other people, and other people’s feelings are important. You are not the only person in the world who matters. 

Having Something To Say

There are two problems, in my experience, that writers often run into, not just in LARP fic. The first is that they, after years of not having an outlet for the many thoughts they have, naturally tend to vomit forth every philosophical musing they’ve ever had onto the page. 

The second, more common, is that in getting caught up in plot details and such, the story just ends up being a glorified checklist of Events As They Occurred. 

This first can be fixed with an editor and a second draft. (…oh so many problems can be fixed with an editor and a second draft, people. Please.)

 The second requires you to look at your work and ask three questions:

  1. What is happening?
  2. Why is it happening? 
  3. What’s the subtext?

This is often mistaken to mean that I think everything written should be about THIS, THE SUFFERING OF MAN, THE STRUGGLE OF THE HUMAN CONDITION, TRULY WHAT IS MORTALITY- or that everything needs to be chock-a-block with symbolism that the narrative then helpfully spells out. 

But text needs subtext to be compelling, else it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened, which is one step above the Long Boring Larp Anecdote. 

Nobody wants that. 

If your character is going on a date, and is starting to get flutters about their love interest, what does this mean, in the greater scope of their life? How are they changing? 

If your character is in a battle, what are the stakes, both on a personal and a broader one? 

When picking and choosing what parts of an event to write about, try and get a cohesive theme going. One event, I wrote a lot about grief, another was about parenthood, and a third was about heroism. 

Because LARP is improvisational, involves other people, and rarely goes the way one expects (rather like real life), it can be difficult to draw these things out. But stick with it.

You’ll often find there’s more connectivity than you realised.

Summing Up 

Perhaps the keyword for all this is ‘catharsis.’ If you were moved enough by something that you want to write it down, there’s usually something in it deeper that you’re trying to draw out. Find it, and show us, your readers.

Anyone can write, anyone can put pen to paper and express something new. Oh there’s skills and nuances that can be taught and learned, grammar and structures and ways to sound better, but your voice is your own. Use it.

I’m of the firm belief that writing things down makes the game that little bit better. When we see the worlds we inhabit and the characters we play through a broader lens, they can touch you in a deeper way that you thought.

What do you think? When you write or read fic, what do you like to see?

If you don’t, what’s stopping you?

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Writing With Banshee: On Romance

As an absent minded space princess, I often get asked: ‘Banshee, you liminal space being, how do you write compelling romances? And also why is your skin so soft and your gaze so astute and why are you the most eligible bachelorette in all of Blankshire?’

That’s a lie. No one asks me that. Especially not those who’ve seen my skin.

But there is always that moment in my interactions with people asking about my writing where I mention I like writing and reading romance novels, and they look at me, raise their eyebrows and go ‘Really?’ There’s usually an unspoken, incredulous, ‘you?’ in there somewhere.

I like romance. I like all the silly tropes and all the serious tropes and the things that lie between. I even like the sexy bits. Shock.

I read it for the articles. You understand. It’s erotica. It’s artActually, no. It’s a fantasy. It’s fun. It’s taken me a couple of years to get comfortable with that. There’s another essay in that about internalised misogyny and letting people enjoy things but let’s get to that another day.

But from the bits of mine they have read, people tend to like how I write romance. I can’t say there’ll be anything revolutionary in here, but it’s always helpful to actually reflect on what works for you. 

(Helpful disclaimer: I’ve never actually attempted a proper asexual romance, or a polyamorous one. Most of this article therefore applies to writing monogamous, sexual relationships)

Why you?

A friend of mine once asked why he was struggling to find a girlfriend.

“Well,” I asked, in my wise, distantly knowing way, “What are you actually looking for?”
“I dunno,” he said. “Nice, I guess.”

With some pushing, he also added that she had to share in his hobbies and also be attractive. (But not, like, TOO hot you understand)

Women, (and I suspect most men, but I can’t speak to their experience) can sense when you’re not actually interested in us, but more the idea of us.

The same principle applies in fiction. Readers can tell when the writer is forcing two characters together and it feels weird and creepy. This character is attractive, and has a cute smile, so of course they’re going to fall helplessly in love with Protagonist. It’s as inevitable as the tides and King Cnut having damp feet 

If you find the love interest being described in vagaries, (‘beautiful,’ ‘effortlessly handsome,’ ‘funny’ and ‘kind’) especially if these qualities are never really shown to the reader, you have this problem.

I’ve also seen the reverse problem, where a love interest is described in excessively plain terms. 

They’re boring, plain, and profoundly uninteresting to read about. Worse, they tend to be prone to massive amounts of self-flagellation, convinced that no one could ever love them and their boring self.

In real life and in fiction, this is a turn off.

I think this might be an attempt on some writer’s part to avoided the dreaded accusation of writing a Mary Sue. No one wants a perfect character, so they shift too hard in the opposite direction, creating a character who is just limp.

Your character doesn’t have to be conventionally attractive. They don’t have to be confident. They don’t have to even think they’re attractive. They do have to attract

If, at any point, a reader goes ‘I just don’t know what they see in them,’ and you don’t have a sudden trick up your sleeve that sheds light on this, you have a problem.

Any writing problem can be resolved with specificity

Your Baes are Problematic

There was a period in my writing where, with the hoard of ‘Hot Takes’ and obsessive critiques of Twilight and it’s ilk ringing in my ear, I had an intense fear of depicting romantic relationships with any sort of potentially problematic elements. I think a lot of writers my age suffer from the same fear. We don’t want that kind of push back.

(Strangely, I never had this problem with platonic relationships. Those I can happily write as being horrendously toxic and draining. I don’t know what that says about me, as a person, but I’d like to think it’s good. Oh dear.)

So I sanitised. Every romantic relationship I wrote was wholesome, and without conflict. Problems they encountered were resolved within a few pages, usually through thinking things through and having long, long conversations. Most issues were external. Characters could have flaws and interesting rounded bits, but the minute they were in a romantic context these vanished and they became the dream partner.

Which is great! But what does it add?

In real life, a romantic relationship has to be fulfilling to you and any other parties directly involved. There’s a reason marital counselling tends to involve a therapist telling everyone to C O M M U N I C A T E and then everyone takes a nap. Probably.

In fiction, a romantic relationship has to be fulfilling to the reader. And that means the same rules as any other fiction. You have to keep the reader turning the page. Which means DRAMA. Conflict, character flaws, the whole nine yards. That’s not to say you have to write relationships which are unhealthy or abusive or anything of the sort, but they do need to have something that will need to be resolved by stories end, and can’t be resolved quickly.

If there’s nothing keeping them apart, what’s the reader supposed to root for?

Surprisingly enough, the thing that broke me out of this pattern was a particularly intense character relationship I worked on with another writer. That relationship was always at its most compelling when the two were one bad argument away from a nasty break up, and while there was a lot of sweetness and emotional support to balance it out, there were huge red flags on both sides that would’ve had me running for the hills were it in real life. That this was all done with the creative input and consent of another human instead of the echo chamber of my own head probably helped. But that’s a story for another day…

You aren’t a bad writer for depicting unhealthy dynamics or troublesome relationships. The important thing is you frame this as a problem that should be dealt with. Thus, you need to have an understanding of those dynamics, and why they occur. 

Note, that doesn’t mean you can’t have depictions of healthy, happy romantic relationships. Far from it!  This is especially the case if a romance is more a side plot. There’s a reason there tends to be a secondary couple in a lot of fiction that has fewer road blocks. People like gooey unhindered romance sometimes. 

But if it’s your main plot, your readers main reason for being present, there’s gotta be obstacles, and they gotta be interesting.

Bickering and other Inherently Funny Words

WITH ALL THAT SAID:

Readers are getting tired of That Couple in romantic fiction. You’ve all read about That Couple. You may even know That Couple. They fight, argue, have literally nothing in common. Every single disagreement is blown up in the most melodramatic way possible. Every misunderstanding is exacerbated by ‘I CAN EXPLAIN’ and then a pointed refusal to explain.

If one won the lottery, the other would complain about the tax.

Bickery couples can work, I’ve seen it happen, but it requires a deft hand. If they argue a lot, make sure there’s some actual wit to it. I don’t mean that snarky, deadpan quippiness where both characters sound the same that so many people like to write (including myself) but is actually getting really staid and trite when you break it down. Make them sound unique, make both have valid points, resist the urge to have one character ‘own’ the other or walk away with both them and the reader feeling like they completely won the argument.

And obviously, the good needs to outweigh the bad. The reader needs to trust that, ultimately, this is a coupling that can work.

They don’t have to be perfect for each other. They do have to be for each other.

Why They Gotta be Gay, Ay?

I’m queer. Surprise. Really pulled the wool over your eyes, didn’t I?

I’d like to think that my fondness for writing LGBT characters (mostly B, with a dash of L, I will be honest) is incidental, but there is a reason that Write What You Know is such an enduring concept.

Something that still sticks out to me when I was working on my undergrad was a question that came up a lot during workshops. I finished reading my piece, and asked for feedback. It was a mystery story, with a little bit of romance sprinkled in. One of my readers was frowning at me, and then when it was her turn to speak said, without irony or pause:

“I just don’t see why they have to be gay?”

I don’t know, Sandra, maybe I just want the world to be full of lesbians. This is how we get you, Sandra. First with tiny, inoffensive bit parts in mystery stories and then before you know it you’re bathing in wolf milk and chanting naked under Mother Moon about the Sisterhood. That’s the true Gay Agenda.

I didn’t say anything, of course. I just nodded thoughtfully and drew a frowny face on the piece.

Then I went back and made the whole thing gayer. Fuck you, Sandra.

(Disclaimer: I have never met anyone named Sandra. If your name is Sandra, and you are as confused with Fake Sandra as I am, then I can only apologise.)

What I should have said, of course, is ‘I just don’t see why they have to be straight?’ about her piece. But I didn’t. I’m not actually that smart.

Contrary to popular belief, writing LGBT characters isn’t that hard. If you’re straight, and worried that your lack of experience is holding you back, there is a secret technique, that will unlock the mysteries of writing characters who are not like you.

It’s called asking us. No good writer is afraid of research. 

Don’t be fetishistic. Be empathetic. Try your best. 

Obviously writing an LGBT romance doesn’t inherently make your story more compelling than a straight one. But it can add an interesting dynamic, broaden your world-view. All that good stuff.

Maybe just ask yourself, next time you sit to write ‘Why they gotta be straight?’

When To Kiss and When To Tell

Right. So. Now we get down to the nitty gritty. Back in my day, we called these Lemons.

Reasons to write sexual material:
1) Because it’ll serve the plot

2) Because you want to titillate the reader

3) Because it expands character

4) Because you feel like it.

I am of the firm (hah! firm) belief that every writer should attempt writing semi-erotic content at least once, even if they never intend to use it.

Focus on the mood of the characters, ah, partaking. Sensations and feelings will get you much further than any amount of direct physicality. Don’t be afraid to tease things out. 

Even so, nine times out of ten, any sex scene in a traditional romance in completely superfluous. If you can’t make it work, or genuinely don’t feel like it, the tried and true fade to black will absolutely serve points one and three.

But when do you fade to black? There’s an art to the cut off. Ideally, you should leave your reader a little flustered, and without feeling like they’ve been short-changed.

Pillow talk is also a valuable tool in your arsenal. People are rarely more vulnerable than when they’re naked and sleepy. True facts. This can be a prime opportunity to get some plot across. Real plot! Lots of it! 

You can also draw attention to the fact that they’re naked, which never fails to get a rise (HAH) out of immature types, such as myself

Key to all of this, however, is that any content like this fits in with the rest of the work, in terms of tone, language and character. Your sweet-natured Ingenue could turn out to be a total top, but this requires build up to feel right. And your narrative voice shouldn’t veer wildly between sweeping and melodramatic to ‘top shelf porno VHS’ based on the scene. That’s how you get into real trouble.

Final Thoughts

Romance is so often written off as difficult to write, and the fear of getting it wrong spooks a lot of writers who would be  good at it. Follow good writing principles, and you’ll go far!

On Sunday Morning, Part 4: Garrett

On Sunday morning, Garrett did not wake up. He did, however, unplug himself from the charging station. He flexed his fingers one by one while examining the power indicator on his palm. There was a slight delay to the action, but nothing to be especially concerned about. Plus he had enough power to last at least a good four days. Some of his skin was starting to fray, he was going to have to get that looked at.

Freddie was sat at the breakfast bar, reading a paper and circling his finger around the lip of a ceramic mug full of coffee. The mug was sky blue, and had the phrase ‘#1 Dadboss!’ painted on both sides in bright red, surprisingly neatly.

“What are you doing?” asked Garrett, as he walked into the kitchen, perching himself on the counter.

“Nothin’ important,” Freddie said, folding up the paper and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, “What about you?”

Garrett shrugged, “I was going to head to the library at some point. But that’s it.” He shrugged again as if that helped emphasise his lack of point.

“Actually then, if you’re heading out, do you mind picking up my suit from the dry cleaners? We’ve got a party to go to in a week or so.”

“Really? What for?”

“Some silly socialite having a celebration about how great they are and why I should give them money or something. But, appearances and all that,” he said, rubbing his temple absentmindedly. A lock of greying hair fell in front of his eye, but he ignored it.

“Do you need me to come? Like, really need me?”

“Well, no, I don’t need you. But it’d be nice. You did say you wanted to get better at the whole uh…social calendar thing, right?”

“Did I say that? I don’t think I said that.”

“And also at lying. You really need to get better at lying.” Garrett pulled a face, broad and exaggerated. “And subtlety.”

“Message received, Freddie,” said Garrett.

Garrett no longer had to obey direct orders but he liked to, given half the chance. He wondered how much of that was out of compulsion and how much was out of choice. He hoped it was mostly the latter. Freddie had a way of speaking that made you feel intensely guilty for not doing what he needed. This was probably how he’d made most of his money. That, and making sure he knew everyone else’s business, even before they knew it. It was hard to resent him for it though.

The dry cleaners was quite a walk away, taking the best part of half an hour. But Garrett enjoyed the walk. He liked to look at people and imagine what they were thinking. Empathy didn’t come naturally to him, but he was working on it. He just liked to keep his distance. There was a logic to that. He was in and out of the shop itself in minutes. Freddie’s name tended to open doors like that.

In fact he’d-

It was at this point that Garrett tripped. This was not usual. He took a second, while lying on the floor, to reflect on his life choices.

“Oh my god, are you alright?!”

Oh no. People.

“Yeah, I’m fine, don’t make a fuss, please. I’m alright.”

He felt someone grasping under his arms and hoisting him to his feet. He made an attempt at some kind of apology, but he couldn’t find the processing power, so it came out as a useless stammer.

“There you- oh. Oh!”

Garrett turned his head to look at his rescuer. It was a young woman, with bright eyes, clad in a minty green dress. She was carrying a heavy looking, striped pastel-coloured box which had a swatch of fabric peeking out from the side. She blinked at him, taking him in.

Garrett did not look like a human, thus it was hard to mistake him for anything but a synthetic. But he had just enough in common with them to make most people feel a little uncomfortable. The fact that he had civilian clothes and was usually seen walking around unaccompanied made even more people uncomfortable. He’d long ago stopped counting the times he’d been threatened with scrapping, or worse. And then the overly friendly ones were worse. They always seemed like they were angling for something, which made him feel distinctly uncomfortable. There were more than a few people who were intensely curious about synthetics. It made his skin crawl, in as much as that was possible.

Usually, it was best to act as inoffensively as possible. He looked at the floor, folding his arms behind his back. The woman looked at him for a few moments more, before kneeling down and picking up the dry cleaning bag.

“Here, you dropped this,” she said as she passed the bag over. Garrett took it from her, forgetting to act inoffensive for a second and stared at her like she’d passed him a lit explosive. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“It’s not damaged or anything is it? I think I might have bumped you with this,” she indicated the box she was carrying.

“No, it’s not. Thank you.”

“DAHLIA! HURRY UP!”

Someone else was at the end of the corridor, waving frantically. Dahlia looked to the source of the noise and sighed.

“Alright then. You have a nice day now, yeah?” And with that she set off at a light jog. “I’m coming, alright?!”

Garrett stared after her for a minute, before turning on his heels and heading back to home. Freddie was going to want to hear about this.

On Sunday Morning, Part 3: Avery

On Sunday morning, Avery woke up and started gathering her clothes into a small plastic sack. She’d been putting off a trip to the laundromat for the best part of a fortnight, and she was starting to get funny looks. Plus, she had a job serving drinks at one of the nicer shindigs in a few days. If you looked respectable enough at those, you could get repeat business for months.

She swung her legs out of bed onto a rug she’d saved for a few months to get. It was a luxury, but it was worth it t not to get instantly cold feet. Although, as bedsits went, this was one of the nicer ones that she lived in. There was enough floor space to get two beds in, so Reiko could stay over, and the landlord wasn’t too much of a hard-ass. You took what you could get.

Reiko was already awake and fully-dressed, making a cup of Postum.

“Morning, Avery,” she said, rubbing grit from her eyes.

“Mornin’,” said Avery without emotion. Reiko rolled her eyes, then handed a mug to her. In a previous life, it had been a good mug. Now it was held together with duct tape and dreams.

“Are you off to the laundromat, love?” asked Reiko.

“No, I’m deliverin’ presents to all the good little boys and girls.”

“Har de har. I’ve seen your wardrobe, love. It’s no gift for anyone.”

Avery pulled a face.

“You got a funny way of askin’ for a favour.”

“So judgemental! I could just be expressing an interest in your life.”

“Hah!”

This was how most of the conversations would go. She’d never tell her, but Avery had a deep, and unerring affection for her friend, and she liked to think that this went both ways. She liked how she talked, for a start, with a deep plummy voice, and she used words like ‘love’ and ‘friend’ as if they were conversational candy, used for decorating sentences. And it seemed that whenever something was wrong, Reiko was always the first to attempt to make things right. ‘Never leave a mistake unfixed’ she would say, with a knowing glint in her eyes.

“Would you mind taking a few of my things too? You’re a better runner than me. And just faster in general,” she tilted her head, like a puppy angling for a treat. Flattery will get you everywhere, my friend, thought Avery.

This was true. There weren’t many who were better at running than Avery, while Reiko was terrible. Which made sense, given that Avery had been born on the lower levels, and Reiko had moved.

“You have everything you could ever want up there, what could be worth havin’ what warrants you havin’ to come down here?” Avery had asked at the time.

“Believe me,” Reiko had said, “this is better.”

There was a lot of value in getting to be yourself, Avery supposed.

“You know I hate doin’ your laundry. I always worry I’m gonna ruin your bras.”

“You don’t worry about yours.”

“Mine are full of holes. Also they look proper sad. Yours are pretty and have all that nice padding.”

“It’s not hard, just put it on delicate.”

Later, as Avery was clambering over a particularly sharp bit of pipework, letting the bag rest in the crook of her arm, she wondered if there was any kind of reality where she didn’t take Reiko’s things. The fact that she couldn’t think of one seemed unfair.

She pressed her foot against the wall to tie her bootlace, listening to the whirring of the internal mechanisms. A part of her liked to imagine that she’d be able to tell if there was some kind of fault. Either she’d be able to fix it, or she could laugh while everything exploded around her. It was a win-win.

A sudden crashing sound interrupted her thoughts, and she immediately dropped down into a prone. After a few moments, she peered over the side of the rafters. There were two men stood in the main gangway, each draped in climbing gear. One was fretting over a canvas sack, from which various shiny things were spilling.

Scavvers. Fantastic. This was why she travelled in the rafters. She could count two, but you could never be too certain with these types. They’d even cut their own grandma’s if they thought she had some good loot on her.

“Shit, dude, what’s dropping the loot gonna prove to anyone?”

“This one’s my take, you hear?!” said one of them.

“We split it, that was the deal,” said the other, evenly.

I said 60/40. You weren’t listenin’,”

“Now I know for a fact that we didn’t, ‘cos I don’t agree to anything less than fifty.”

Avery briefly entertained the thought of intervening, like a ninja or a superhero, but thought better of it. She was trying to avoid that sort of thing now.

“Look, man, I got kids, you ain’t got anybody. Sixty to me is more like…like twenty to you.”

“You were never good with numbers, you asshole.”

There was the distinctive sound of a fist smacking into someone’s face, and the two men disappeared from her view. The sounds of struggle continued though, or more accurately the sound of something being smashed into the metal walls. A body dropping. A sigh.

“Shit.” Avery wondered who had lived. Who’d wanted it more? Probably the second one, if she had to bet on it.

She sat. And she waited. And when she was certain the cost was clear, she kept on running.

 

On Sunday Morning, Part 2: Joshua

On Sunday morning, Joshua woke up twice.

The first time it happened, it was 2AM. He went downstairs and sat on the sofa with his knees drawn up and waited quietly. This was what he usually did. The sofa was threadbare and springy and probably would need replacing at some point, but he’d never had the heart to. Anything newer probably wouldn’t feel right.

Next to the sofa was a balsawood coffee table with a thin, rattling drawer. There was a bottle of whiskey inside, with two neon post-it-notes attached.

The first said: ‘Happy Birthday! xxx’ in a neat, considered print.

The second said: ‘Don’t’, in a much less considered print.

Joshua pulled off the second, then put the bottle back. An hour later, he went back to bed and stared at the ceiling until he fell asleep again. This was all quite normal.

The second time it happened, it was the more reasonable time of 8AM. This time he was awoken by a gentle ‘ahem’ from the other side of the bed.

“You woke me up this morning.”

Jacqueline was wrapped in one of the thin sheets, lying on her side and resting her head lazily on one arm. Joshua liked Jacqueline best in the morning. Her eyes were softer then, and her ash brown hair naturally fell in tight ringlets that framed her face. In the evening she tended to tie it to the side, and her eyes gained an aloof quality to them. It was like a set of armour for her.

“Sorry.”

“I’ve got a show tonight.”

“Sorry.” There was a pause, as Joshua considered this, “Who the hell goes to a cabaret show on a Sunday evening, anyway? Don’t these people have jobs?” Jacqueline chuckled, rolling over so that she straddled him, and let the sheet fall away.

“Not real ones. Although perhaps I shouldn’t start throwing too many accusations about in that regard,” she sighed, absentmindedly tracing her hand over his chest. Her fingers were smooth, but cool which made him wriggle uncomfortably and turn his head away. She’d hung her costume for the evening on a hook on the door. It was made of a sheer, peach-coloured fabric, and trimmed in something glittery. He liked the sheer part, at least. And the peach looked good against her skin. Although Jacqueline was the type of woman who could wear a ball gown and still look naked. He wondered if that was the correct opinion. He wondered if he should ever tell her that. “You really should talk to Dr Kalua about it, if you can’t sleep.”

“I know. Been too busy.”

“You’re always busy, darling.” The ‘darling’ was pointed like a shiv. Jacqueline had pet names for everyone, but ‘darling’ seemed to be reserved for him, and even then only when he was disappointing her. She called him darling quite a lot. Joshua felt a little patronised, but was too sleepy to comment.

“Crime never sleeps, Jazz,” he said, in an equally pointed way, drawing out the zeds.

“Yes, but you still need to,” Jacqueline prodded him in the chest, a little sharply. Nicknames, thought Joshua, should probably not be a way to score some cheap points.

“It ain’t like-“

“Isn’t.”

“It isn’t like I’ve got plans that need me to be well and wide-awake.”

Jacqueline sighed again and rolled off of him, heading over towards her vanity and directing her attention to a powder puff.

“You never have plans. Get some plans.”

“Mmm.” Joshua rolled over and pulled the sheets back over his head. The bed was warm and non-judgemental.

Jacqueline had introduced herself to him in a fairly typical way. A lounge singer who’d gotten herself on the wrong side of the law and was rather insistent that only he could help her. In hindsight, it was perhaps less of a coincidence that they’d ended up together. Joshua doubted he’d actually had much of a choice in the matter. Not that he minded. Much. Jacqueline was good company at the best of times, and often quite funny.

“Hey.” The bedframe creaked slightly, and Joshua became aware of their being a weight on the bed next to him. Jacqueline tugged the sheet back down firmly, but there was a warmth to her smile. “Happy six month-iversary.”

Joshua waited for the punchline. The slightly earnest look on her face told him that one was not coming.

“You just made that up. Also, no way has it been six months.”

Jacqueline smirked. That was concerning.

“Firstly, maybe I did. Secondly, it totally has.” She reached over to the nightstand and produced her PDA from one of the drawers. “See?” Joshua blinked, deciding it was probably best to take her word for it.

“So…what does that mean?”

“Besides the obvious time thing? I don’t know. What do you want it to mean, darling?”

“It’s way too early for questions like that,” Joshua said, a little too quickly. Jacqueline leaped on the opportunity like a house cat on an unwitting mouse.

“In the day, or in the relationship?” There was a playful tone to her voice. Joshua never knew how seriously to take her. This was exhausting. He briefly wondered if he could fake falling asleep, or if that would just make the situation more awkward.

“Yes.”

She laughed at that, and the tension dissolved.

“Now, not to panic you or anything, but I’ve got a performance at Dahlia’s launch party in a week, I’m not saying you have to come along but if you do then could you try and talk like someone of decent bre-“

And morning Jacqueline was gone. She’d put her armour back on. Joshua rolled over again and let her talk some more.

On Sunday Morning, Part 1: Dahlia

On Sunday morning, Dahlia was wide-awake and annoyingly perky by 7AM. She’d never been one to sleep in, it always felt like a waste of time. She immediately set about the kitchen to make tea, but made far more noise than was warranted. The kitchen was full of sleek, branded equipment, but the only piece that seemed to have any evidence of use was a large, cream kettle, which had some light water-staining on the metal.
Sam was also in the apartment, sleeping on a slightly deflated blow-up bed. Sam was definitely one to sleep in, in their mind anything that happened before 10AM should be forgotten by history. Dahlia always wondered whether she should find this endearing or tiresome. She clicked the button on the kettle again, letting the screeching roll through the apartment. It was at this point that Sam finally woke up.
“Hwuh?”
“Morning!” said Dahlia cheerfully. “Tea?”
“Hwyuh,” came the muttered response. Dahlia immediately poured in a tiny splash of milk into a mug, then turned away from the kettle to let it boil and watched her friend try and wake up.  Sam rolled off of the bed, and made a weak attempt to simultaneously rub the sleep from their eyes and smooth down an errant, dark brown cowlick.
“I’ve got something for you,” said Dahlia, drawing out the words in a sing-song way. Sam pulled a face.
“Why do I get the feeling that comes with massive caveats?”
Dahlia mouthed ‘massive caveats’ in mocking outrage.
“I would never- OK, yeah, there’s a caveat.” She darted back into her bedroom, returning with a box, “so it’s my launch party in a week, and I thought it might be cool to have a few plants, by which I mean willing participants, to wear some select pieces.” She rooted around in the box, producing a soft cream-coloured scarf, with light gold embroidery. “I embroidered this one by hand. I’ve got a machine that I can program to do that now, so this one’s unique!” Sam seemed unmoved.  “You promised me you’d help,” she added, pouting a little. Sam furrowed their brow excessively.
“I don’t remember that.”
“Well, I didn’t get it in writing, but if you’re going to be difficult, I’ll make sure to draw up a contract for all casual promises in the future,” she said, clicking the kettle button again as if to punctuate her point. “Look all I want you to do is wear the scarf. And also tell everyone I made it. And also look pretty.” The last part wouldn’t be hard. Sam would never admit it, and barely seemed aware of it in fact, but they had a pretty face, with sharp, angular features and soft, tawny beige skin.
“There will literally be mannequins with all your designs on them. Why do you need me?”
Sam, I swear to god, thought Dahlia.
“All clothes look different when worn by a real person,” she said, waving her hand as if that answered the question. Sam rolled their eyes again.
“Fine. Show me how you want me to wear it.”
Dahlia clapped her hands together like an approving monarch and draped the scarf around Sam’s shoulders.
“See, it’s like a neckerchief, but you have to make sure the embroidery goes like this.” Sam nodded, but their eyes were shut. “Hey, don’t fall asleep, you arse.”
“I don’t see how this is helping,” said Sam. Dahlia continued to drape the scarf, making small adjustments to how it fell. “And I don’t see why you invited me. To the launch party, I mean.”
“It’s helping,” said Dahlia, “and I invited you because you’re my friend?”
“It’s not like you need the moral support. I’ll just bring the whole mood down. You know I’m no good at parties.” Sam spoke with a breezy certainty, but it was clear this had been bothering them.
“What makes you think I won’t need moral support?”
“Because, no offense, this is the third launch party you’ve had in as many years. Surely you’ve gotten used to it by now?”
“There has not been three.”
Sam grinned, as if taking this as a challenge.
“So the photography album and the poetry collection, those were just what? Trifles?”
Dahlia frowned, “I just lost interest…I don’t know. Made some good money off of them but…” she shook her head. “I’m thinking this,” and at this Dahlia inhaled sharply and spread her arms wide as if to add emphasis, “is going to be my thing.”
“Sure.” Sam padded over to the counter. “Now how about that tea, eh?”

Seeking Drowning Pearls

Emma’s Notes: This particular poem comes from a seminar prompt about ‘Experimental Poems’, which always struck me as missing the point somewhat. Still though, it matched my tendency to write down a lot of gibberish. Also, my unending love of homophones. You can read this poem anyway you like,  some of the lines are intended to wobble a bit. Much like the sea. Poetry, son. My poor tab key has never quite forgiven me.

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