The pub was so rowdy I could barely hear my date speak. So I took the liberty of stopping time for us. It was great at first: complete silence, and all the free beer we could drink.
But later, when I tried to turn it back on, the mechanism wouldn’t work.
It’s been weeks now, alone together in a timeless world.
And we’ve nothing in common.
My wife is a witch. Our flat has become a dispensary, and so has my mind. She uses my thoughts to incubate her spells. Apparently my mind is open, trusting and empty enough for her purposes. Somewhere in those adjectives is a half-compliment, so I take it. She enthrals me.
On New Year’s day 1952 my grandfather, an amateur surrealist, resolved to eat nothing but green food for an entire year.
With spinach, broccoli, cucumber and a trusty bottle of food dye, he succeeded.
And when the bells rang in 1953, he gorged himself on a beetroot.
As part of the human simulation alpha test, a dozen new models were offered a silver platter containing everything the individual android believed it had ever wanted.
All but one android received the platter with joy. C1Z looked at it a moment, sniffed it, then turned up its nose and sent it back. C1Z passed the test.
I tell no one this but at heart; I prefer my pasta slightly overcooked, my steak overdone, my pizza with pineapple, my curry tepid, and my avocado on someone else’s plate. I’m married to a chef.
Some predilections are best left unexpressed.
Knowing the importance of backing things up, Jess made a 3D photocopy of herself. The colours were slightly stronger in the photocopy, and she soon found that the decisions were bolder and the jokes saltier. Sadly for Jess, everyone seemed to prefer the photocopy.
To Homo Sapiens, self-sustenance is a remarkably inefficient and circular endeavour.
Within hours of clearing away the absurd paraphernalia of one nutrition intake, they might begin laborious preparations for their next.
It’s both exasperating and rather touching.
Mo once prided herself on being a People Person. That was before an evil genie tricked her: would she rather the gift of mind-reading or be banished to a lonely desert island forever?
Easy, she thought.
But the gift has no off switch. Now she dreams of the desert island.
Sentimentality was my undoing. I kept his glass eye as a memento of the good times. The tricks we played. The fun I had at his expense.
But I underestimated his powers. For years he’s watched everything from the corner of my office.
And now the blackmail is endless.
He had everything.
Everything but the thrill that comes with hope and the poetic satisfaction of longing.
He used to think he'd be good at having everything. That he'd know what to do with it.
But he isn’t, and he doesn't.
Everything is wasted on him.
I was so proud when, in a dream, I learnt to fly.
I ran to tell my older brother.
His response was to roll his eyes and tell me it’s impossible.
So I jumped in the air and hovered before him.
"That’s levitating," he groaned, then walked away.
The night the gods deemed us mature enough to do our own emotional banking, hell broke loose.
But not before heaven had its lavish swan song.
The sky lit up with cascades of joy and burning happiness as we all blew our entire psychic savings on one night of unrepeatable bliss.
Sid was a master craftsman. He could turn his hand to anything. A writing desk from tyres. A guitar from old shoes. A mini David Bowie from crisp packets.
But a cheerful facade from the remnants of his shattered pride. That was going to be a challenge.
My crystal ball app really works! Yesterday it predicted what I’d wear, what I’d eat, and even the first words I’d say to my boss (“sorry I’m late. Trains!”).
Now it’s predicting who I’ll vote for. I’m slightly surprised by its choice for me, but it’s been right about everything so far.
In the past we had the future. But we lost that with the asteroid news.
And since we've never been great at the present, the past matters more than ever. Leading implant companies like Thanks For The Memories can provide us with a better past for our remaining months.
I take myself on an arduous, meaningful journey every day of my life.
Today I will travel to the hilltop where my best friend's step-father-in-law first decided to join Tinder.
I am a Pilgrim.
My enemies call me a pilgrimage addict, amongst other things, but they’re just jealous.
The battle had begun. Thankfully, Ralph had his sardonic eye, and a pen. His plan was to nail his opponents weak spots, pillory their foibles, and show no mercy.
It was brutal.
He left them in foetal position, clutching their puny assault rifles to their useless bullet-proof vests.
I shouldn’t complain, but it’s hard being a magnet. Life is too extreme.
If something shiny catches my eye, the next moment it’s clinging to me, a dead weight refusing to let go. Or it’s backing away, repelled.
I just want to love and be loved. Or tolerate and be tolerated - I’d settle for that.
My grandfather was a peerless judge. In his hands the blunt tool of law was sharpened through a keen understanding of the nuances in each individual case.
Yet as a father, he had a knee-jerk, cookie-cutter approach. He coddled his spirited daughter, breaking her independence, and handled his sensitive son with boxing gloves.
Apparently, my favourite was an unusual choice.
I identified the usual top notes of rose and ylang-ylang, and the subtle amber base notes.
But there was something else. Something tucked around the corner at its lowest base. A tiny, perfectly measured whiff of pure misery.
The perfumier approved of my choice and gave me his number.
Most people agreed that the downside of teleportation wasn’t so much the old Luddite fear that one's atoms might be put back together wrong on the other side. It was the overcrowding at ideal destination moments. It ruined The Northern Lights, for example. And sunsets.
He was a master of disguise. And charming. Too charming for my mother, who warned me of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
I think she was close but wrong.
Maybe it’s rose-tinted of me, but I think he was a spy. A good spy exposing corruption. A sheepdog in wolf’s clothing.
Once, for an entire day, everyone I saw had the same face.
There were differences in age, skin colour and gender, but it was the same face, everywhere. In every painting and every photograph. On everyone, except for a solitary figure in the shadows. And that person had my face.
He doesn’t talk much. And he wears the same clouded smile whether he’s excited or crestfallen. But I’ve learnt how he expresses himself. It’s through the flugelhorn. I hear his emotions through the floorboards whenever he plays it.
When he’s happy his notes slide like the words of a contented drunk.
Your style was your downfall. That inimitable flair of yours. You always had to add a final flourish.
You were going to get caught sooner or later, it was inevitable.
You should have stuck with poetry and performance art.
You were too expressive for crime.
“You will never stop walking towards each other,” said the rabbi.
It depressed me at the time. I took it as a gloomy prediction, or a curse even.
But now I understand it was the wisest of blessings.
“You will never quite reach each other, so you will never stop trying.”
I think that’s what he was saying. And he was right in many ways.
Besides, I enjoy walking.
The first thing she saw was the huge door knocker in the shape of a grinning pixie.
The second, a brass plaque with ornate swirls and tiny engraved lettering.
A large magnifying glass hung from a rusty chain. She used it to read the message: Doorbell not working. Please use knocker.
At this year’s Candlemas Ball, Life, Death and Time troubled everyone by performing a curious and unorthodox three-way tango.
“Indulge me a moment,” he began, rolling another spliff, “what if we everything we know about matter, identity and reincarnation is wrong. What if we swap places all the time and become different people every day? You believe all your memories and daily concerns are yours, but they'll be someone else's tomorrow. And you'll have a whole new set to think of as yours.” The idea often occurred to Dave when he planned to give up weed. He’d start giving up tomorrow.
It was a rogue pendulum. It didn't just swing, it also spun.
A stacked deck of a pendulum, unevenly weighted.
And the hypnotist's charm backfired.
I have a tattoo on my left buttock.
I was born with it.
It’s in invisible ink that becomes visible once a year in the strongest moonlight.
It has words in microscopic ancient French mirror writing.
And its profound message: "It Is What It Is".
No-one was looking where they were going.
She could endure the drizzle but refused to suffer a poke in the eye every thirty seconds.
She put up her umbrella to protect herself, not from rain, but from other umbrellas.
First impressions never matter more than when one is blessed with the curse of synesthesia.
I only have to hear your name, and a very particular, heady scent fills the air. Roses, almonds, musk, hope, you.
But your sister…
Before you introduced us she was a stranger yelling at my bad parking. You remember?
She’s great, your sister. Huge heart. Wicked sense of humour. I like her.
But I won’t tell you the particular scent her name will always evoke for me.
First impressions, what can I do.
I dreamt I had a wine cellar. And on its floor a trapdoor leading to a hundred acre cavern, with serpentine corridors and a thousand rooms.
I knew somehow that one key opened every door, and that the key was steeped in fine wine at the bottom of one of the dusty bottles.
The lioness had toothache. There was something stuck in her back tooth. She asked for help so I grabbed a tooth pick and leaned in.
The lioness was my friend. She wouldn't bite me, would she?
She did. She bit my head clean off. Then unfriended me on Facebook.
Everyone gathered around the precious egg of the tiny, lilac-coloured, people-eating dragon as it was about to hatch.
When its dewy head appeared each villager fell in love eternally. Or at least till the moment the little creature ate every one of them.
In the old world there was little to play with and no guarantees, so imagination was everything. Castles in the sky was just an expression. Now, 3022, most of us live in sky towns. And why make Nano Bots build a bungalow, not a thousand foot tall chateaux?
Sometimes I envy the old world.
Sometimes I’d like to be in a bungalow dreaming of sky castle.
She spends half her life constructing cunning, elaborate stratagems to scupper anyone’s plan to put one over on her.
And the rest of her life striding, with calm certainty, straight into her own traps.
Sam wanted to make a salad bowl, and Jon a vase.
Pablo, the conceptual one, set out to depict his love life.
He had trouble centring the clay, so it spun off the wheel, soiling his clothes and smacking him full in the face.
Each achieved his goal.
The swans charged towards him like a fleet of phantom galleons on an angry sea.
“What do you want of me?” he asked.
“We want you back”, they replied with gimlet eyes.
Terror battled a strange unexpected joy as his body ruptured and mighty wings broke free.
The swans were gentle now, and tenderly they ushered him home.
We don’t watch TV now. Haven't seen a film, watched the news or read a newspaper in months. Instead, we gaze into each other eyes and navels.
There are worlds in his navel. Epic dramas, tragedies, comedies. A whole political infrastructure. Also, some fluff.
They met at a Surrealist ball. He swooned. She caught him in her lobster arms. They spent all night and day reinventing oxygen, then rode their zebras into the sunset.
My grandfather was a lamplighter.
He walked the streets at dusk and dawn, illuminating the shadows and cutting beacons through the pea soup fog.
My grandson is a specialist in renewable energy and solar powered smart cities.
I have lived through interesting times.
Since the leg augmentation, and his bold decision to go for the vulpine extra joint, his dance style had upgraded from an awkward back-and-forth side shuffle to wall-running, wild spins and ten-foot high ecstatic leaps.
Unbeknown to one another, two friends set up mutual fan clubs. When they found out about this, they laughed for days. But soon after competition set in. Who could adore the other more and gather the most disciples?
Eventually, in a badly organised duel, they shot each other to death.
It was a tacit agreement. She could drag him to an overnight family gathering, on the condition that he could do non-stop parodies afterwards, inventing fantasies in which he outwits each of his in-laws with increasing savagery. But for a week only. Any more and he was in the spare room.
For Ed, life was a narrow corridor flanked by two distressing walls: on one side the fear of not getting what he wanted, on the other the fear of getting it. He bounced off these walls with painful repetition.
Ann longed for the superhuman strength to push back the walls and make life a living room.
Our favourite pets are the two-legged ones from Earth. They’re a hoot—always in a cute tizz, getting spooked by nothing or chasing their non-existent tails. You know the ones? Bald but with silly patches of fur in odd places.
It was his powers of mimicry that seduced me. He could imitate anything: the mayor, the waiter, the cat, the weather.
One time he did an uncanny impression of me, and I felt I was looking into a magic mirror.
Now, sadly, if he does any imitation, it’s that of a stone.
He was as nonchalant as always, but there was something else about him.
When she first noticed the lassitude, it was a faint whiff. Within weeks it was visible - dripping from his eyelids, shoulders and fingertips. Soon it would form puddles, then solidify to clay.
She wore lime green lipstick every day because a gipsy told her it would attract the love of her life.
My cousin has no fear of stating the obvious or asking impertinent questions. He saw her across the pub and had to say something.
Now she wears the lipstick once a year, to toast their anniversary.
I grew up with some strange ideas:
To cure stomach ache eat dessert first. Stealing chocolate on behalf of a friend doesn't count as stealing. And, never trust an apology or a smile.
I learnt to denounce everything my parents taught me. But not before passing it on wholesale to my own children.
The two sisters had different approaches to finding a husband. Ann was a window shopper, Viv attended auctions.
Ten years on, Ann was happily married to a poet who nearly ran her over whilst cycling on the pavement, and Viv was happily divorced, twice.
She had a sense that to obtain information through telepathy was wrong. Likewise, love and loyalty through mind control.
Yet to secure these things through charm was OK. But why? Of her three unique talents, charm was by far the most potent.
He let out the tiniest sob, then disguised it as a cough. She noticed. The congregation noticed too. Nobody said anything, but everyone registered the significance and knew the marriage wouldn't last.
They were great friends. Ed was the winner in life, Ben the loveable loser.
When Ed caught flu at a bad time and Ben became team captain in his place, things turned a little frosty.
But then, when Ben flunked all his finals and Ed made it to Oxford, their old friendship was restored.
He was known for his predictable tastes. He lived in the suburbs, drove a Honda, and wore unremarkable shoes.
So it was a surprise to everyone when he married a real life Orcadian Selkie - in a tiny kirk on a craggy peninsula, to a congregation that was part human, mostly seal.
She told me I was wallowing in sadness. I told her she was wearing a green t-shirt: in other words, that she was stating the obvious.
We have different views. She doesn't wallow in sadness. I think she sees it as squandering. I think she likes to save it up.
My brother once had a bout of hiccups that lasted a year. But they were spaced out.
And it seems they had a similar regularity to my faux pas with work colleagues: roughly one-a-day, usually around lunchtime.
She’d worked hard for the trophy and was proud. "Martyr Of The Year."
It was a hefty thing and badly in need of a polish. But it was fine—she’d see to it later. And when they offered to help her home with it she said she’d manage.
She didn't. It broke her back.
His “don’t wait for me” came out as “I just need space”. He knew it was wrong. He’d seen how she could carry hope like a beloved child, too sick to walk but heavy enough to cause her bones to ache and her life to halt.
He left feeling empty and gutless as a helium balloon.
Stop talking, he was thinking. Stop revealing yourself to me. Stop interrupting me with these sweet, disarming details of your childhood, and your hopes and fears. I’d almost fallen in love with you. Now I’m going to have to start again from scratch.
Those were the static years. Uneventful.
But one evening as she was leaving work, she had a thought: what if this ordinary moment is one I will think of on my deathbed?
She remembered that thought. And fifty years later when her days were few but long, she remembered that moment.
New Year, 2568. The World President, known for his grand gestures and wizardry, decided to celebrate 200 years of peace by granting every citizen their perfect world.
And that was how the Homo Sapien age ended. 20 billion perfect worlds clashed with fatal ferocity.
There was a party on planet Xax to celebrate the birth of a new dimension. Invitations went to all species from every planet - but with one exception. The board thought long and hard about whether to invite humans and decided against it. Too much could go wrong.
Lara detected something nefarious in Joe's Tuesday night meet-ups. His eyes seemed to glow afterwards, and she was sure the scent he brought home was of absinthe and formaldehyde. One day she looked in his pocket and found the preserved heart of a mouse in a tiny casket.
She wore a fascinator made of hot water and a dress the colour of a circle. She always spoke in the key of B flat minor and survived on a diet of rough honey, tattoos, and men who wore glasses.
She wrote with a scalpel and her characters never smiled.
But in person, she was all light.
Now in her 80s, her latest book was the darkest, most jagged to-date.
Yet at book signings, she could flirt with the winsome flair of a three-year-old.
We had a good life together. We shared a love of cooking and cabaret, and made each other three course meals most nights. Dessert was never just dessert, pudding or afters. It was always The Finale.
She had the strength of growing roots. She seemed flimsy and malleable, but give her a year and she could break concrete. A year-long, slow-motion karate chop that would leave the pavement in pieces.
He considered himself "authentic". Really he was highly skilled in the underhand art of half authenticity, where self-disclosures disarm but never fully disclose. His daily meditation practice fortified a trustworthy veneer and urged him never to lose faith in his own hype.
Today I found out I have a hologram on the back of my head. I’m told it depicts a gargoyle mouthing obscenities and that his one-liners are hilarious if you can lip-read. It’s a shame I can’t see him myself, but I’m glad other people can because it’s clear he makes them laugh.
When you pin your hopes on a donkey you lose before the race has begun. The donkey might vaguely appreciate it, but even he will probably question your soundness of mind.
When they argued they both had extreme tendencies: he would cut too much slack, and she would just cut. They fit together like Velcro - sharp, complicated hooks and gentle yielding - a great tangled ball, rolling with the wind along a cliff top.
We used to love in perfect rhythm. But a honeymoon can’t last forever. Now I love him most when he has no time, and he loves me most when I’m not there.
I’d like to think it’s not a troubling limp, but a new, more sophisticated, syncopated beat.
There’d been a misunderstanding. She wanted love; he wanted breakfast. She said she could do without breakfast. He said she’d come to the wrong place if she wanted love: this was a greasy spoon cafe. When she asked for love, the waitress misheard and brought strong coffee.
Our marketing manager has got it into his head that humans descended not from monkeys but from chipmunks. He thinks this explains why people are so tiny compared to buildings.
I own half a drone. My wife and I bought it together, and we split everything down the middle when we divorced. I was lucky to get most of the working parts, so my half-drone still flies. But it's lost a lot of its zest and developed a tendency to go round in circles.
We once had 'loss of virginity' rituals where we paraded blood on sheets as proof of fresh sullying. It’s unthinkable now.
We have ceremonies still, but more than anything we worship success and good business. Our rituals mark the inevitable but bittersweet passing of integrity.
He made her laugh, and she liked that. But she made him guffaw. She had him howling till he wheezed, till flecks of spit flew across the table, till he was gasping for breath and snorting like a pig. It was unattractive. She resolved to avoid talking about her divorce next time they met.
I went to a despair fair. There was a bottomless pit, some crying clowns and a trade tent where I swapped mine for someone else’s. We have a trial month before we decide whether we want to swap permanently.
Her despair is like nothing I’ve known. I’m already attached to it, and I really hope she’s happy with mine.
‘Trust in the Universe,’ they said. It was terrible advice for Cathy.
To her, the universe was a fickle lover and her blind faith that this-time-would-be-different, bordered on Stockholm syndrome. Better advice would have been to radically improve her interview technique.
I saw a man laughing at something he shouldn’t so I glowered at him. Then I saw he was in fact crying. And when I saw what was making him cry, it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I crumpled with laughter. Passersby gave me dark looks, but that only made everything all the funnier.
It was the funeral of my imaginary friend and I was shocked by how many people were there. I’d always thought he was my friend alone. I suppose it was arrogance or a lack of imagination on my part to think that just because he was imaginary other people couldn’t love him too.
Gloria set up a university dedicated to the art of being popular. She was disappointed when nobody came. But rather than mope, she made the best of things by taking classes in the history, economics and astronomy of being popular. She finished with top grades.
“My shoes are a prison for my feet,” he said. “OK, they protect me from injury and they’re the most stylish and comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. But why can’t my feet just be FREE!” He was drunk. She helped him to bed. “And your love is a prison for my soul,” he slurred.
Few people know this: most mime artists are not ordinary people, but special emissaries from a faraway planet.
Their speech faculties can’t survive the brutal journey so they use gestures. They’re trying to tell us something of vital importance, and all we can do is laugh.
You don’t choose your audience; they choose you, and Ben’s audience had an appetite for nasty.
Comedy was becoming an increasingly harmful addiction, and a bonfire for those he loved.
Whenever laughter waned, he'd throw another friendship on the pyre for three seconds of warm dopamine.
In the language of flowers a red rose means love, a yellow one friendship or jealousy. A daisy is innocence and a gardenia, secret love. It is a language humans have imposed on flowers. But flowers have their own language, and with it they are withering of human folly.
Mo was consulting her map in a lay-by when the monster appeared over the hill. She panicked and tried to start the car, but failed. Soon it was beside her, panting and yelling though the closed window. “I need help. My bike has a puncture and I hear a hideous monster roams these hills”.
It was the emperor's new cuisine: tenderly sautéed, exquisitely seasoned intestines of tiny birds and mammals. The chef was a sensation in court, a maverick and a mystery. No-one knew he liked to chant “let them eat shit”, privately, as he fried each batch of vole colons.
She clung to the hot-air balloon. It was a lovely looking thing festooned in scarlet flags, with its name, Inadvisable Hope, emblazoned across its centre in an attractive Art Déco font.
When the cat was away on business, the mice of the am dram society put on a play. It was a scathing satire mocking the cat’s many foibles. The show got great reviews and sold out every night of its three-week run. They hid all evidence before the cat returned.
He could be sensitive, thought Mo. A little particular. “The last time you said my name out loud, you failed to capitalise the first letter”.
Something of a petty tyrant, insane pedant and paranoid despot. Still, feedback was always useful. She would try harder next time.
I was walking through a field of bad haircuts when I bumped into a man giving great advice. The sloth has the answer, he said. Chase the sloth. So I found the sloth and chased it. But it ran faster than The Shanghai Maglev, and I never got the answer.
A guru told Ben that if he dug deep enough, he might find absolute resolve. Ben could do with that. But as he dug he had a worrying thought: what if he found counterfeit resolve instead? That would be worse than no resolve at all. It wasn’t worth the risk, so he stopped digging.
Some people find it strange that I wear a necklace made from the nether filaments of a robot. I tell them, “the robot didn’t have to die to adorn my neck with its pubic hair: the robot was never actually alive.”
Then they look at me as if I’m the worst kind of barbarian.
I have a new husband. His eyes are precious stones. His smile is a painting. And his head is full of the finest straw.
It was the winter of 3121 and reality was in trouble: not because everyone wanted to live their dream lives in endless sunny days (most people, in fact, kept their personal settings around the mid-range, ‘normal’ mark), but because virtual reality offered the convenience of choice.
Real-life suffered. Real-life relationships, gardens, restaurants. Real life theme parks. There were protests.
The romantics were the fiercest defenders of reality, which some found ironic: hadn’t they once been reality's biggest detractors?
But romantics like an underdog.
I adored the little creature, with its pink eyes and blue nose, its sarcastic smile and its faint smell of broccoli.
Thankfully, it reminded me fondly of an ex.
Thankfully, because if I hadn't loved it, it would have killed us all in our sleep, but because I loved it, it protected us.