Jin 1 – the beginning

Breathing hard, Rina looked around the room she found herself in. Its walls had been painted plain white, and it was lit with bright spotlights. The air was dry and cool. There were no windows, and no furniture except for a single pedestal in the centre which held some sort of brass antique thing.

There was only the one door, and she’d come through it. No other exits. Outside, she could hear the ear-slamming sound of the alarm, mercifully muted in here, and the sorts of bangs and thuds made by, say, people opening and closing doors quite violently whilst running around in heavy boots. They were not, on the whole, friendly sounds.

On the other side of the room, Jin smiled. Rina had thought she was… elderly when she’d first met her. A little slow on her feet. Perhaps a touch of arthritis here and there. Now, standing with one hand on her hip, she seemed considerably more sprightly. Old, yes, but more the kind of old person who ran marathons at weekends, waving cheerily at youngsters who were puffing and throwing water over their heads as she passed by without even breaking a sweat.

There was no way she’d ended up in this room by mistake. “So, how do we get out of here?” asked Rina.

Jin shrugged and nodded at the door. “You can always go that way,” she said.

Rina noticed the emphasis. “And you?”

The woman said nothing, but the wrinkles around her eyes twitched.

“Come on, you have to help me! I can’t go out there! I’ll be caught, arrested! I can’t have a criminal record!”

“You should not have followed me.”

“There was a huge dog about to rip my arm off!”

“I taught you the whistle.”

“You taught me the whistle to make the damn thing attack me so that you could get in here!” Outside the door, Rina thought she could hear raised voices. It had clicked when she’d slammed it behind her. Had it locked?

“Perhaps. But you had a choice. You could have run the other way.”

“Funnily enough, I had the idea that the very fast dog with four legs might catch up with me!” There were bangs from the door. Rina thought she heard someone say something about a key.

“They’ll be in here in a minute! How are you going to get out?”

Jim grinned again. “I have a way.”

“Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“I am not.”

“Come on!”

“But,” said Jin, slowly, appearing to decide something as she spoke, “there is one thing you could say.” Her eyes flickered to the pedestal in the centre of the room.

“Oh, god, it’s not please, is it?” said Rina in desperation. The door behind her rattled.

Jin shook her head, looking a little disappointed. Her long fingers reached for the brass object on the pedestal. It had a loop of a handle attached to a wide section that tapered to a narrower spout. It was sort of shoe-shaped, if a shoe were placed on a small, upturned saucer and had a handle stuck on its heel. Rina thought she’d seen something like it before, somewhere. This was larger, and probably older, but…

Several things clicked into place in her mind. It was a lamp. An ancient, brass lamp. And the woman she’d followed into this room had said her name was Jin.

The lock rattled in the door behind her. “I wish you would take me with you!” she said.

Jin threw her head back and laughed. The door flew open and someone shouted something, but the sound dropped away. Rina’s skin tingled, her vision turned first black and white, and then, just black.

***

“Where am I?” said Rina, pushing herself into a sitting position.

“Welcome, child!” said Jin, cheerfully. “This is my craft. I call her The Slipper!”


Author’s notes

Unlike the other pieces on this site this is not a complete work. It’s something which starts here, with this first scene between Rina and Jin. These characters had been bouncing around in my brain and my notebook for some time, and I decided to let them out. And then, once they were out, they started clamouring for more.

You can read the next part of their story here.

© Kat Day 2017

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Making a Packet

Emma’s fingers curled around the mug of coffee, her knuckles white despite its heat. The Ikea kitchen clock hanging on the wall opposite ticked loudly, almost accusingly. She raised the mug to her lips and sipped. The pain of the hot liquid on her mouth was a welcome distraction from the knot in her stomach.

The door opened and her daughter, Hannah, flew into the room, all hair and gadgetry. She saw Emma’s face and froze.

“Sit down,” said Emma, quietly.

“Why, what’s–”

Do. It.” The words were like gunshots.

Hannah dropped her school bag and sat at the scrubbed pine table, her posture alert.

“Would you like to tell me,” said her mother, “what this is?” She picked a small, plastic packet full of something fluffy and green up from the table, and held it between finger and thumb.

“Oh, crap.” Her daughter’s face instantly dropped two shades paler. “Look, Mum, it’s not what it looks like, I swear!”

“Really? Because it looks like I found skunk in your bedroom, Hannah. I can’t believe how many times I’ve talked to you about this sort of thing!”

“I know, I know, Mum! But, honestly, it’s not mine!”

Emma snorted and raised her eyebrows.

“It’s not! I swear! I took it for N–, um, a friend. Look, you know that trip I went on today? To the power station? For physics?”

“What on earth has that got to do with anything?”

“They’re taking the whole year group, only they split us in half, on separate days, so’s it wouldn’t be too many at once. My friend’s group went yesterday, but, like, in form time their tutor told everyone that the security guys might search them.” She gulped a breath.

“Are you telling me, Hannah, that one of your friends had cannabis at school?

“Um, yeah, but, like, not to use.

“That’s all right then,” said Emma, dripping acid. “I’ve half a mind to call the Head.”

“Nononononono! No, Mum, don’t do that!”

Emma shook her head despairingly. Of course she would never do such a thing. That would be madness. She sighed. “And where do you come into this?”

“Well, she couldn’t leave it in her locker ‘cos she shares it with someone else and she could hardly leave it lying around and she didn’t dare risk it so…”

“She asked you to look after it, and you said yes? Hannah, what were you thinking?” Emma’s voice became momentarily shrill. She coughed and took a deep breath.

“I know I know I know, I’m sorry, Mum, I know it was stupid. But she was stuck and I felt sorry for her and it was only meant to be until the end of the school day.”

“What if a teacher had found this?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t. I put it at the bottom of my bag. They can’t go in my bag without your permission. Um, I think.”

Emma put her face in her hands. “I’m reassured by your in-depth knowledge of school policy. So why did I find this in your bedroom?

“Yeah, well, her coach was delayed on the way back so I missed her, and I was going on the trip today so, so, yeah, I hid it in my pillowcase.”

Emma picked up the plastic packet again and waved it at her daughter like a referee with a red card. “Hannah, this is a class B drug. It’s illegal to possess it! I do not want to see the police at the door.”

“It’s just cannabis, Mum, they just give you a fine–”

“That is not the point!”

“Well they–”

“Hannah!”

Her daughter stopped talking, chewed her bottom lip and looked at Emma. For a long moment they stared at each other. She had grey eyes. Exactly like her father’s.

“Do you understand what a stupid risk this was?” asked Emma, eventually.

“Yeah.”

“You’re grounded for a week. And I changed the wi-fi passcode,” said Emma, expecting protest. Given a choice between losing a toe and losing internet access, she would not be at all surprised to find her daughter removing her sock and shoe.

“Okay.”

Emma’s eyes widened.

“I’ll go and put my bag upstairs,” said Hannah, meekly.

“You haven’t got a router up there I don’t know about, have you?”

“No, Mum.”

“You’d better not have. Tidy up while you’re up there, it’s a pigsty.”

“Yes, Mum.”

After her daughter had left the kitchen, Emma stared at the packet again. Even through the sealed plastic she thought she could smell the distinctive, green scent. She took a mouthful of her coffee, letting the now-cooler liquid sit on her tongue for a moment, and considered.

The sun was sinking by the time Emma reached the house, its light painting the whitewashed walls in shades of red and gold. She stood on the pavement and looked up at the building. The house was detached, with a neat driveway bordered by carefully-tended delphiniums and hostas. Its back garden overlooked some fields. Quiet, but not too far from a train station. A decent school nearby. House prices rising steadily. A good investment, she’d thought. But then the first lot of tenants had trashed the place. Thousands, it had cost.

She rummaged in her Radley handbag. Lips pressed together, she strode up the front path and slid the key she was holding into the lock.

Emma waited for her breathing to slow again after climbing the two flights of stairs to the large, converted attic. She pushed open the door. The air inside was thick with scent, catching in her throat.

She closed the door firmly behind her.

“Oh, hello, Mrs Davison! I wasn’t expecting you today, was I?” asked Jas, turning towards the sound. His crisp vowels and polite tone contrasted oddly with his ripped jeans and greasy hair.

“I thought I’d drop by,” replied Emma, curtly.

“Ah, well, everything’s fine, as you can see. Should have a new batch ready to go by Thursday.” He sounded calm. “Is there something you particularly wanted?”

“Yes, Jas.” Emma’s eyes scanned the rows and shelves of plants lit by purple light. She forced herself to take a deep breath of the pungent air, trying to relax the knot which persisted in her gut, a thrill of fear twisted up tight with strands of guilt.

Emma reached into her handbag again. “I want to know how my sixteen year-old daughter came to have a packet of my own product hidden in her bedroom.”


Author’s notes

Another thriller-type story, with a twist. It perhaps has the feeling of the start of something, rather than a complete work, but I think it just about stands on its own.

© Kat Day 2017

The Silvery Spoon

Detective Inspector Lisa Anderson stared at the iPad she’d been handed, then pinched to zoom in on the image.

“It’s a spoon,” she said, eventually.

“Not just a spoon, Guv,” said Detective Constable Ben DeSouza, adopting a pretentious tone, “it’s an ‘insight into the inconsistency of our future via the medium of a replica of a mundane object.’”

“It’s a spoon, Des.”

“Yeah,” he conceded, “but it’s a spoon worth over a million quid. It’s an original Junion.”

Lisa whistled. She considered her surroundings. The house was Edwardian, spacious, but not enormous. Round here it would be worth a fair bit, but hardly millions. The furnishings were tasteful, neither super-modern nor antiques. The parquet floor was probably original. Smells of leather and polish drifted in the overheated air – yesterday’d been the hottest day so far this year. There were a few framed photographs on the wall, but none of the usual detritus that accompanied a family. In short, this was the home of a retired, single man who was well-off, but probably not hugely wealthy.

Everything seemed to be in place, apart from a Perspex box lying on the floor below a shelf containing a small, but conspicuously empty, white plinth.

“I’m thinking Mr Ekal isn’t a millionaire art collector. So how’d he end up with a piece by Daniel Junion?”

“He was given it a few years ago by the artist, he says. Knew him before he was famous. Family friend, apparently.”

“Some people get all the luck, eh?”

“Yeah, until he got robbed, I suppose.”

“True. What happened yesterday?”

Des looked at his notes. “Mr Ekal left yesterday afternoon at 1pm. Locked everything, set the alarm. Spent the evening with friends. Came back 2am, found the back door lock smashed, spoon missing. Nothing else touched.”

“Did the alarm go off?”

“No. But logs show it was definitely set.”

“What about the cleaner?”

Des frowned. “What cleaner?”

“This place smells of polish. Maybe Mr Ekal is a lover of lemon Pledge, but I think it’s worth checking.”

“Good point. Will do.”

Lisa lowered her voice. “Is it likely he took it himself?”

“Maybe,” murmured Des, “thing is, he was massively under-insured. Says he hadn’t realised how valuable this thing’d become.”

“How much?”

“He’ll be lucky to get a hundredth of its value.”

“Ten grand is still a decent chunk of money, especially if he’s still got the damn thing to sell on.”

“Don’t reckon that’d be easy, guv, Junion’s pretty famous. Something like this up for sale would be hard to keep quiet. And if Ekal really wanted to get rid of it, why not just sell it publically? From what I can make out, he’d easily get seven figures at auction, especially with some publicity. Why go to all this trouble for a measly ten grand?”

Lisa drummed her fingers on the iPad’s screen. She had to admit, if it was an insurance scam it wasn’t the smartest she’d ever seen. “Anyone hear anything last night?” she asked.

“Nothing from the neighbours. And before you ask, the only fingerprints are Ekal’s.”

“Damn. Looks professional.” But, she mused, why would a pro silently disable the house alarm yet clumsily smash a lock?

Lisa stepped towards the plinth on the wall. It was a small, slender cylinder with “Number 31” etched onto one side. A hairline crack split the letters. The top surface was slightly concave. She looked again at the image on the iPad, which showed the elaborate, bluish-silver spoon balanced vertically in the dip, handle upwards.

“No crack here. When was this photo taken?”

“He said two days ago. A friend wanted to see it.”

“Follow up that ‘friend’.”

“Already on my list.”

“Why Number 31?”

Des shrugged. “That’s what the sculpture’s called. It’s an arty name, I suppose.”

“How does it stay upright? I can’t see any wires.”

“There’s a spike on the rounded bit at the bottom. It sticks in here.” Des pointed. Standing on tiptoes, Lisa peered and saw the small, dark hole.

“Why,” she muttered, half to herself, “would you leave the plinth?”

#

Mum? You never listen to me!” complained Lisa’s daughter, Ella, as Lisa opened the front door of their home.

“Hm? Sorry, I was… never mind. What did you say?”

“I said, can I go round to Ruby’s tonight?”

“How much homework have you got?”

“Nothing, honestly.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow.

Ella scowled. “I’ve got a bit of chemistry to finish. It’ll only take ten minutes.”

Lisa’s eyebrow remained raised.

“All right! History. And art, but I’ve got another week to do that.”

“You can go when you’ve finished chemistry and history. And don’t leave the art until the last minute.”

“I won’t, Mum.”

“You say that, but last…” Lisa stopped, staring at one of the books Ella had just opened on the kitchen table. “Why’s this bit a different colour?” she asked, pointing.

“Oh, yeah, Mrs McCastra told us this story. It was, like, quite interesting. I coloured that in as she was talking,” Ella shrugged.

“Really? Tell me.”

#

“I think,” said Lisa, that you know exactly where the spoon, or should I say Number 31, is, Mr Ekal.” She picked up the plinth. It was heavy in her hands.

Mr Ekal ran his hand across his balding head. “I don’t, I told–”

The cylinder hit the wooden floor with a crunch. “Oops,” said Lisa, “butterfingers.”

“How dare you! I’ll sue, I–”

Lisa prized apart the plaster to reveal a lump of silvery metal. “Goodness me, what’s this?”

“I have no idea!”

Lisa gazed at him, letting silence fill the space. Mr Ekal’s left eyelid twitched.

“It’s the spoon, isn’t it?” she said eventually. “It was made of gallium metal, element 31. It melts at thirty degrees Celsius. It was very hot yesterday, it must’ve tipped over that with all the doors and windows closed.”

For a moment, it looked as though Mr Ekal was going to argue. But then he made a sound like a deflating balloon and slumped into a chair.

“We’ve spoken to Daniel Junion. He insists that he warned you.”

“He didn’t! Not properly! He… told me not to handle it. He said people used to make joke spoons out of gallium, because they melt in hot tea.”

Lisa smiled. It was the same story Ella had told her when she’d asked why the square for element 31 was coloured in pink in the periodic table in her chemistry book.

“He never said it would melt in a room,” continued Mr Ekal. “When I found it missing I thought it had been stolen.”

“But then you saw the plinth was cracked and… what? You picked it up and realised it was heavier?”

He nodded despondently. “I… panicked.”

“So you smashed the back door and reported a theft.”

“I wasn’t sure my insurance would pay out anything if I just admitted…” he tailed off. “Are you going to arrest me?”

She paused, “I should. This has been a serious waste of police time.”

“Oh.”

Lisa took pity on him. “But I think you’ve probably suffered enough, losing a million quid’s worth of spoon. Tell you what, though, I could murder a cup of tea.”


Author’s notes

This is my attempt at a mystery, and naturally I wanted to include a dash of chemistry. Poison seemed a little obvious, but I’ve always liked the story of the disappearing gallium spoons (I also wonder if perhaps this is the secret behind certain spoon-bending “psychics”?) Mr Ekal’s name, by the way, is a little nod to Mendeleev – the scientist who developed the periodic table. He predicted the existence of the as-yet undiscovered gallium, and named it eka-aluminium.

© Kat Day 2017

Something in my eye – temporarily removed

london-959482_960_720This story has temporarily fallen into the cracks between words. It might come back….

Or, you never know, it might pop up somewhere else.

Watch this space.

 


Author’s notes

I wrote the first version of this story a year ago. There was something pleasing about that initial effort, but it was a bit of an uninflated balloon of a story – there was room for a lot more in the middle. I tinkered with it, and then ended up leaving it partially finished in a folder. Wanting something for February, I came back to it – and remembered that I rather liked it. Suddenly, the middle section seemed to come together, and here you see something a lot more substantial. It just goes to show – never throw anything away…

© Kat Day 2017

Out of the Doorway

supermarket-507295_960_720Jem let the heat of the shop wrap around her like a blanket. She stared at the rows of bright packets. Saliva filled her mouth.

“Have a nice evening!” The door swished as the customer left. Jem’s fingers caressed warm metal in the pocket of her jeans.

Coins. But not enough.

She headed for the door. Claws of cold air reached out to claim her as it opened.

“Did you forget something?”

Fingers gripped her arm, pulled her round.

Three packets of fig rolls fell from underneath her jacket, thudding softly as they landed, one after the other, on the linoleum.

“Cat got your tongue, eh? God, I’m so sick of you lot. Bloody freeloaders, think you can come here and just help yourself to everything.”

Jem kept her eyes down, letting the words wash over her head, like a wave. Hold your breath. Stay calm.

“I’m calling the police.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone.

“No,” she looked up. “Please.” Not that. “I’m– I’m sorry.” She looked up, pleading.

“Oh, so you speak English, eh? Well that’s something!” The shopkeeper peered at her. “Here, how old’re you?”

Jem didn’t answer. His mouth was hidden by a huge, ginger beard, but his eyes had a touch of kindness around the edges. She was short, and skinny, and it was a long time since her face had seen makeup. With luck…

“Oh for chrissakes. When’d you last eat?” He shook his head. “I’m too soft, that’s my problem. Here,” he picked up one of the packets and thrust it at her. “They’ll be damaged, anyway. Now get out of my shop.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Jem, blinking. She stepped into the night before he could change his mind.

#

“Haha, lookit this guy, Jem.” Her friend, Kev, rubbed his hands together, more out of habit than of any hope of generating warmth.

Jem squinted across the road where a bearded man was running, huffing and puffing. A yellow light blinked in the distance.

“E’s missed that cab,” said Kev. “He’ll be lucky now, this time of day.”

“Yeah,” muttered Jem, watching as the man leant against a lamppost and reached into his back pocket for his phone.

“What a muppet! Now he’s dropped his mobile!”

Instinct had her legs moving before her brain registered what was happening. The man was lying on the pavement by the time she got there.

“Shit, he’s had a heart attack. Kev, call an ambulance!” Jem thrust the dropped phone at Kev as she started chest compressions. A black chuckle bubbled up as she remembered her army instructor’s advice: ‘Use Another One Bites The Dust by Queen for the right rhythm. Keep it in your head, though.’

“Why’d you care? He’s probably a gonner. As if he’d give a fig for one of us.”

“JUST DO IT!”

She heard Kev mutter something, but then, a few seconds later, she also heard him say ‘ambulance’.

“He did give a fig,” she muttered, between presses.


Author’s notes

A story inspired by Aesop’s Fable of The Lion and the Mouse. It also seems appropriate, given current events, to remember the importance of a little compassion.

© Kat Day 2017

Acutus Lepus

road-1072823_960_720“The rabbit–”

Bocci ducked as his Aunt’s heavy besom swung round in a wide arc. The springy birch twigs caught his hair, leaving his scalp stinging. “Blasphemy! We do not question The Creator – May He Be Always Revered!

“But–”

“One more word, boy, and I swear, I’ll have you digging out the privy. WITHOUT a shovel,” she added, with a glare that could have fired pottery.

Bocci’s nose wrinkled. He stayed silent.

His Aunt’s eyes softened. She looked around and scuttled a little closer. “Listen, child,” she said quietly, “this talk is dangerous business. If the high priest hears of it, it won’t go well for me. Old women have been used as kindling for less.”

She raised her voice again. “Away with you! Finish your chores!” She glanced around once more. “And your prayers!” she added. Just in case.

#

Bocci stomped through the forest, huffing away the heavy scents of leaf mould and rot. Shafts of cold sunlight slipped through the tangle of branches above. He sat down on a log and picked up a fallen leaf, letting his fingers trace the sharp edges and smooth surfaces.

Bocci’s thoughts were scattered by the thick scent and sound of moving earth. A rabbit poked its head through the newly-formed hole and looked around. It was holding a carrot.

“What’s up, Boc?” it said.

“Don’t talk to me,” muttered Bocci.

The rabbit shrugged and bit the end off its orange snack.

Bocci listened to the noisy crunching for a few moments. “The priests say that The Creator gave only humans the power of speech,” he said eventually. “So rabbits can’t talk. So you must be my imagination.”

“Interesting,” said the rabbit. “What about the dwarves?”

“What about them?”

“They’re not human. They talk.”

Bocci rubbed his sore scalp. “I think,” he said slowly, “they have a different creator.”

“Not ‘the’ creator, then?” asked the rabbit.

“Um…”

The rabbit swallowed. “Some rabbits think the Almighty Buck made all of us in His image.”

“But you don’t?”

“Makes no sense. Why go to all that effort? You just need two rabbits, then, you know,” the rabbit coughed, “you get two more, and then they get bigger and have more rabbits – before long, there’re loads.”

“But who made the first two rabbits?”

“Dunno. Common ancestor?”

“What?”

“Never mind. Gotta go. I’ve got eight mouths to feed.” It paused. “Might be thirteen by now.” The rabbit fixed its liquid eyes on Bocci. “May as well keep pondering the world, Boc. You don’t get off it alive either way.”

With that, it tossed away the end of its carrot and dived headfirst down the hole.

Bocci stared at the space where the rabbit wasn’t. After a few moments he remembered the leaf and held it up, eyes following the stem as it split into smaller veins, and then split again, and again.

He stood, brushing the damp from his backside. Whistling a complicated little tune he headed back towards his Aunt’s cottage.


Author’s notes

This little tale is inspired by Fibonacci and his sequence, and of course his rabbits. Really, this is about those people (or even animals) who are willing to think beyond what they’re told to think, even if doing so might make their life more difficult. It ends on a forward-looking note, which seems appropriate for the end of December. Happy New Year everyone!

© Kat Day 2016

The only winning move

death-valley-sky-597885_960_720

A landscape of barren, dark-grey stone. Above, a black sky dotted with pinpricks of light – as though someone had taken a piece of paper, repeatedly shoved a pin through it, and then put it in front of a something extremely bright. Like, say, the lights of an oncoming train.

There was no breeze. No sound. No moon.

Since the last thing David Snacknot remembered was playing Go with one of his colleagues at the University, this all seemed rather strange.

“Where in the hell am I?”

“Interesting assumption.”

David looked over his shoulder, giving the impression that while his head wanted to see what was going on, his feet wanted to stay pointing in the direction which might provide a clear run.

He found himself looking at a figure with its arms folded across its chest. Its black robe covered it entirely. Even its face was completely hidden by the fall of the heavy cowl.

At this point, David realised he wasn’t breathing.

He tried to take a breath, and found he couldn’t. Then, more out of habit than anything else he tried to panic, and found he couldn’t do that, either.

The cowled figure pushed back its hood. “Do stop opening and closing your mouth, Professor. You look like a goldfish.”

Unbidden, David’s feet shuffled around as he stared. The face before him was not what he’d been expecting. Not that he knew what he’d been expecting, but whatever it had been, it wasn’t this.

“A-are you… Death?” he stuttered.

“I dislike that name. Such negative connotations,” said the figure. The face was feminine, and it definitely had skin. Admittedly, very pale skin, and skin stretched tautly over angular – one might even say bony – features.

“Er…” said David, then stopped to consider the fact that, despite not breathing, he still seemed to be able to speak. He fought back an inexplicable urge to whistle. Just to see if he still could. Then he had to fight back the urge to giggle.

“I rather prefer Entropy,” continued the figure.

What is it called, thought David, when actors are laughing so much during a performance that they can’t say their lines?

“Because that other name, it’s really not what I do. I don’t actually have anything to do with the D-word. That happens before people get to me. My role is merely to move things forward.”

Oh yes, thought David. Corpsing.

“So,” said Entropy. “Shall we begin? Or perhaps I should say, end? Ha ha.”

“Ha ha,” repeated David.

Entropy beamed. “That’s the spirit! Hardly anyone laughs at my jokes! Oh! Spirit! Ha ha!”

David smiled weakly. His eyes slid from her face to the surrounding landscape, and something strange behind her left shoulder caught his eye. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing.

“What? Ah, yes. Well, once upon a time, it would’ve been a pale horse. But we all have to move with the times.”

“A combine harvester?”

“There are a lot of you these days.”

David nodded slowly. I must be hallucinating, he thought. Just how much did I drink?

“The scythe just wouldn’t be practical.”

“No, I suppose not.” His rational side gave up. If he was dreaming he might as well go along with it. “Er, don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought Dea–, sorry,” he said quickly as she frowned, “I mean, in books and things you’re usually male.”

“How can you tell?”

“What?”

“I’m usually drawn as a skeleton.”

“Oh. Good point.” David resolutely fixed his eyes on her face.

“The people who draw me,” pointed out Entropy reasonably, “are not, generally speaking, people who’ve actually met me.

“Of course, yes. Makes sense. Wait a minute. If there are so many of us that you have to use a piece of heavy-duty agricultural equipment to do your job, why am I here on my own like this?”

Entropy smiled enigmatically. “Good question, professor.”

“Is it?”

“It is.”

“Is it a good question with an answer?” asked David, after a few moments.

“If you flipped a coin ten times, what would happen?”

“What’s that got to do with it?

“Just answer.”

“Well… I suppose you’d get a mixture of heads and tails. You’d expect half of each, but in just ten flips,” he shrugged, “who knows? Could be all heads, could be all tails, could be one to nine, or two to eight, or anything, really.”

“Very good. And if you flipped it one hundred times?”

“Then, assuming you had an evenly-weighted coin, it ought to come out closer to fifty-fifty. But I don’t see–”

“A thousand times? A million? A billion?”

“Closer and closer to an even split. And sore fingers,” he grinned. Entropy didn’t laugh, which seemed rather unfair, all things considered.

“Can you, perhaps, conceive of any other alternative?”

David frowned. “Not if the coin is evenly weighted…”

Entropy dipped her long, pale fingers into the folds of her robe and pulled out a coin. It glinted silver in the non-light. Slowly and deliberately, she pressed her thumb against her index finger, then balanced the metal disc on her thumbnail. With a soft ‘fthick’ the coin leapt upwards, turning over and over in a slow arc. David’s eyes followed it as it reached the apex, and then fell downwards, still spinning.

Clink.

He stared.

“You see,” said Entropy, “you’re like the coin.”

“On edge?”

“Exactly.”

The both considered the disc of metal for a moment, perfectly balanced on its side.

“Are you saying,” asked David slowly, “that I’m somehow between states? I could fall one way, or the other? I could… go back?”

“Perhaps,” said Entropy.

“Perhaps what?”

“Traditionally, in this circumstance, you would challenge me to a game.”

“Really?” asked David, champion Go player, “then I choose–”

“But in this case,” she interrupted, “I think perhaps not, given what happened the last time you proposed a game.”

Memories crawled through David’s mind like a drunk getting back to the house at 3am. They missed the lock, knocked over the furniture and set fire to a frying pan. He’d been playing Go with his friend Jian. And they’d been drinking. A lot. Because, because…”

Entropy shuddered. “Spit all over the playing pieces. Revolting.”

Oh yes. The classic Go variant: I bet I can fit more of these playing pieces into my mouth than you can.

“We’d been drinking,” he protested. “I wouldn’t do that normally.” Thirty-four, he’d managed. Then, before anyone could say Heimlich manoeuvre, here he was having a cosy chat with Dea– Entropy.”

“Traditions,” she mused, “are a very human idea. You spend all this time and energy inventing new and more efficient ways of doing things, but every now and then you insist on making life difficult for yourselves because great-great-grandma would have approved.”

Why had he drunk so much? They’d been celebrating, because…

“I don’t have a ancestors. Or descendants. I remember how everything was done, and I know how it will be done.”

“… brandy. They’d been drinking brandy…”

“And I do have a job to do. I can’t sit around playing complicated strategy games.”

“… because…”

“So with that in mind, pick a number.”

“What?” asked David, jolted away from his fractured memory.

“You say that a lot. Pick a number.”

“Any number?”

“Yes.”

“But there are an infinite number of numbers!”

“I didn’t say it would be easy.”

“Can’t you at least give me a, a, range?”

“I can say nothing.”

“What about fractions? Decimals? Irrational numbers?”

“It’s a round number.”

His birthday! They’d been celebrating his birthday! Jian had been meant to be keeping him away from the surprise party he wasn’t supposed to know about!

“Come along, Professor Snacknot, before the universe reaches heat death, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Fifty! It’s my fiftieth birthday! That’s a round number!”

“Fifty is your choice?”

“Yes!” It was an hallucination! His brain had just been trying to process everything. He’d been trying to find a way back to consciousness! Now he’d remembered, he could go back!

Entropy nodded and raised a finger. Arm outstretched, she drew a spiral in the air, the line picked out with glittering silver. The shape pushed outwards, creating a cone-shaped tunnel. In the distance, David thought he could see colours. The brown of a battered wooden desk, the green of an old carpet…

She pointed.

David ran towards the tunnel.

He could see the desk. See the toppled brandy bottle. See his carpet with round, black and white pieces scattered across it. See the two paramedics. See the figure lying prone on the floor.

He was close. He reached out. Almost there.

And watched in horror as his finger dissolved into a thousand glittering pieces.

Tried to cry out as the fragmentation spread up his arm and along his chest.

Felt his larynx splinter before he could make the sound.

The essence of David Snacknot scattered into trillions and billions of particles and drifted away on the silent winds of the universe, never to be joined again.

#

In the grey-stone dessert, Entropy climbed into the cabin of her combine harvester and patted its dashboard. She sighed. Despite what she’d said about traditions, she had rather preferred the horse.

“You’d think a physicist would’ve worked it out, wouldn’t you?” she said to the silent piece of heavy machinery. “There’s only one number where entropy cannot be. And only one number of playing pieces a very drunk, middle-aged man could survive having lodged in his windpipe.”

The combine harvester, of course, said nothing.

“I gave him clues. ‘I can say nothing’ I said. I mean, short of actually telling him the answer, what else could I do?”

The combine harvester rumbled and rose into the air in an upwards arc.

The silver coin toppled from its edge and fell heads up, a single, round disc of silver against the dark stone.


Author’s notes

This story began life as a piece inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. It didn’t really work, and I didn’t like it. But I had a sense that there was something there, particularly in the character of Entropy, so I picked it up again. I ended up gutting the original tale, chopping up and rejigging more or less everything bar the very beginning and some parts of the end. I hope you like it, and if you do it just goes to show: a writer should never throw anything away!


© Kat Day 2016