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Science Fiction Funny Horror

There are some people who see celebratory events as just that. I see them as a task. A chore. A to do list item, pencilled in between doing some exercise and doing the laundry. During lockdown, I ended up adding things like ‘brush teeth’ just to feel busier, more accomplished. To bring structure to the uncertain number of days stretching out ahead in bewildering vagueness.

Hal’s birthday. Last year it was such a piece of cake (cake being the only thing I actually missed about the date). Instead of getting washed and dressed, wondering whether he’d expect a present alongside the card or would a round of drinks do, battling through bantering hordes of weekend revellers to try to cram myself into whatever microbrewery he’d adopted as pet for the night to feed coins and drink the piss of, I merely contributed £20 to his Penny Pool. Sent an appropriate emoji to the infernal group chat the night before when Deb, no doubt waving her third prosecco in one hand, poked that slumbering beast with the other saying how weird it was that we couldn’t all meet up this year.

I muted them for 24 hours and continued my TV marathon.

‘Marathon’ indeed. I’ve levelled up now. If we’re allowed the Olympic Games this year, I’m sure I could (along with many others) make a case for screen-watching being made a competitive sport.

But now? I’ve got to focus on getting through this evening. Hal’s birthday. The comeback special. See, I even translate real life to scripts now. One of my many worries (naturally, I have a list) was that I wouldn’t be able to understand anyone without a string of subtitles threaded beneath their chins.

This year, Hal had set up a Facelook event with instructions that took me twenty minutes to scroll through. Something about an app we had to install as this new watering hole he’d found had to have a bespoke one separate to the national tracking system of course. The pub is called Take a Pitcher (ugh). I had to spend ages deleting the WAGS-who-somehow-manage-to-grasp-selfie-sticks-in-their-plastic-clawed-hands app I’d accidentally installed when hunting for the stupid pub’s stupid microapp.

I hadn’t even gotten so far as opening my front door, yet already my stress levels were ready to touchdown on Mars.

The correct app finally installed, I did a recce of my wardrobe to look for clothes I didn’t mind being destroyed. The fast fashion industry – which had been losing favour with buyers for their non-sustainable ways prior to the superflu – was back in business. Largely because the government had enforced a bizarre new weapon of fighting whatever remained of the flu by telling people they had to remove their clothes outside venues before they were allowed to mingle inside. Picnic tables in beer gardens were sacrificed to the installation of incinerators. Security staff, when not asking to see you vaccination certificate, were throwing shoes as though they were basketballs into these hulking silver monsters. I found a suitable pair of shorts and a t-shirt to surrender.

It was a five mile walk. I did not want to get on the bus. That would require another thousand words of explanation. Hal had informed the group it was a 3.2 mile walk, but I’d made adjustments to the route I programmed in to my tracking device. I wanted to avoid the places where large groups would be conglomerating. Putting off the inevitable, in other words.

Starlit suburbia faded behind me as I finally had to enter the city properly instead of skirting around its edges. The sky was full of pale grey ghosts bred by incinerators all working together to destroy the hard work of sweatshop children.

I joined the back of the small queue. Even with staggered entry times for pub events, we English can never resist a queue. I noted the faded snake tattoo coiled on the left butt cheek of the woman two metres in front of me. I felt how it looked: twisted up in knots, along with the scaly skin. Side effect of the next step that awaited me. It was just as well the climate change ministry had banned birthday cards. They’d never have made it through this process.

I saw the bucket guy up ahead, working his way down the line. I pulled my t-shirt over my head and stepped out of my shorts so they’d be ready for him. I flipped off my flip flops (the cheapest footwear that Shoepark sold). I heard a cough behind me and tensed. I glanced behind me and saw that it was just a young woman vaping. A year or so ago I may have given her a longer look but everyone was used to seeing naked flesh now. The porn industry had had to become very creative.

A few minutes later, I was at the front of the queue. My vaccine certificate was approved by a bored-looking man behind a window, sovereign rings twinkling over his gloves, as was the unfathomable style these days. I put my valuables into the small machines ahead of the Bodywash. They would be returned to me once I’d passed through the cleansing gate in canvas bags the bar provided. “Kind of like a goodie bag!” Hal’s event blurb had postulated. God knows what kind of parties Hal went to as a kid.

The Bodywash was kind of like a carwash, only more invasive. Nasal swabs, throat swabs, and all the rest. The rich could add on things like moisturiser and perfume, whereas plebs like me just walked over to the dressing station to be given our inside clothes. Flimsy polythene things that made everyone look like they were about to perform surgery rather than collect their pre-ordered drinks.

I spotted Hal and the gang in the tent he’d booked. Car-themed, as that was his thing. Go faster stripes painted on the outside, wing mirrors and a novelty horn, as I found out when Hal spotted me and blessed my ears with them.

I was about to head over when an assistant stopped me with her stick.

“Mr Duff? We just need you to attach your safety helmet first please.”

“Ah yes. Right. Sorry. Still getting used to all this.”

The assistant attempted a look of sympathy, but strain overrode it. She handed me a tube.

I pulled out the Helmbrella. I could feel the others watching me and chuckling as I struggled to loosen the screws to fit it on my head (my childhood nickname was ‘Moonface’). Once I knew the damn device wasn’t like to topple off and try to take my scalp with it I began walking towards the already giddy crew, now I was certain anyone who tried to get within a metre of me would be lasered by one of its spokes.

I walked not with the bouncy step of anticipation the others no doubt bounded in on, their calves strengthened by the daily walks, pushing the limitations of what lockdown allowed from what I could tell from their endless compulsion to document it all and from mine to watch it. I dragged my freshly scrubbed feet towards the door of the tent feeling with every step the impact of pulling my body away from its soul; my true self, warm at home, in front of a screen.

March 12, 2021 16:44

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1 comment

Thom With An H
19:52 Mar 20, 2021

It is not easy to write funny. Most people try to hard and it shows. Yours is so natural and subtle it had me laughing the whole time. I must admit I thought the main character was a female until the end. I'm not sure if that was intentional but for some reason it made it even better. Great job embracing the prompt and the virus. 😂 I wrote one this week called "Grace and Mercy". Give it a look see if you have a moment.


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