Wednesday 3 June 2015

The Fort

This was a short story I tweeted over three days for the #TwitterFiction Festival. I'd pitched my story to the Twitter Fiction judges before the festival, and made it to round two (of three)! Last year I didn't even get considered. I didn't make the final round this year, but maybe I will next year! Enjoy :)


“Bars, pubs, watering wells or whatever your word for it; always have a motley collection of regulars, kid,”
Lance had the back of the young man’s neck in a cobra clutch and had leapt over the fence of what usually constituted private space about five drinks ago.
“You have the piss drunk patrons that you can always count on to be unconscious, no matter which day and no matter what hour,” he slurred in Tiny Thulani’s ear.
“You also have the types always looking to pick up inebriated voluptuous females. The ones you wouldn’t be happy to wake up next to in the head-pounding morning.”
Tiny Thulani looked around the smoke hazed room and could identify all the unsavoury characters Lance pointed out. The unconscious one drooling on his collar but firmly clutching his beer; the borderline perverted one that was only there for the voluptuous but lacking in the pretty facial features department--
--“…and then you have the fisticuffs instigators. The ones that’ll start a fight over any debate, wrong look or slight brush of the shoulder. I’m the latter,” Lance turned and smiled at Tiny, “I love a good fight,”

Lance was the resident shit stirrer at The Fort, a dingy little bathroom corner that attracted all the kind of people he loved to shove fists down the throats of. He regularly precipitated knuckles on unsuspecting and most times, undeserving people.
Small, dirty drinking holes deprived of coats of paint, properly functioning plumbing and award winning customer service came by the dozen. But what made The Fort special was that it was one of a handful of establishments that still catered to super powered humans [one of the reasons why the pub had a ‘no frills’ policy. The Fort’s proprietor squeezed out just enough of the profits to install reinforced adamantium counters and doors; special padding and easily reassembling furniture, because fights were commonplace among supers. The bottles and pitchers however, remained glass].
“Since I’m out of conventional employment, I spend most of my days here!” Lance said spilling a little brew on his listener’s sleeve. He practically lived at The Fort.
Things had not always been so grim. About ten years ago, Lance was a celebrated superhero and he’d spent his days foiling super villainy and fighting in the pantheon of champions like Stronghold of the Power Squad! and the Tenaka Twins in Japan. The world sang their praises and built statues in their honour. But all that is now just a stain on humanity’s collective conscious.


Unlike the pretty picture pop-culture will sell you, superheroes aren’t always nice people. There were ‘incidents’ people no longer spoke of; incidents that led to the policing of all supers and passing of legislation that strictly prohibited the use of powers--supernatural or otherwise--if it wasn’t in the service of respective governments. All vigilantes were arrested and sometimes even executed. Heroes for hire and their unions were disbanded and unfair taxes and fines imposed on them. Those that hid their tails between their legs and enlisted for national service were the few that remained ‘heroes’. Not even a whisper of super criminals and villains passed the lips of people. They were dealt an even harsher blow.
Lance and others like him refused a life of forced servitude. They vehemently opposed the new legislation and chose to live away from the newly prescribed society. They formed little communities that resembled ghettos and were policed regularly by drones and armoured humans. Places like The Fort were a kind of refuge.

“I still wear this uniform as a sign of honour, Tiny” Lance said with palpable nostalgia. He held his beer mug as if searching its contents for a particular memory.
“WE WERE GLADIATORS, KID!” He’d gotten up with one boot on the bar stool and another on the counter, leaning toward the bar like a triumphant hunter with a foot on the neck of his trophy. Tiny Thulani was nervous.
“The people would come out to watch us do battle with monstrosities cooked up from the darkest labs and lairs!” Lance was beating his chest and spilling beer all over the counter, “The people braved flying debris and even harmful radiation to watch us triumph over evil!”
Lance paused, “Until they became the evil…”
“Ah, Ba Lance naimwe! Spare us the sob stories! We’ve heard it all before,” said Chilu, the hero formerly known as, Ember.
Lance turned to look at Chilu. He didn’t like to be interrupted.
“Mind your own business, Ember! I wasn’t addressing your face!”
“Get over it, you bum!” Chilu replied, “We all have! Get a real job. Maybe even start a family and sentence someone else to this punishing story time you inflict on us daily!”
The Fort erupted in laughter.
“So I can grow up to be just like you, huh, Ember?”
“I don’t go by that anymore,”
“BECAUSE YOU LIVE A FAƇADE!” shouted Lance. “At least I stay true to myself! You all just took on different masks! You became a bloody accountant for goodness sake, Ember!”
The Fort was silent.
“You all cowered and pretended we never fought for any ideals. Like we didn’t symbolize anything. Like we were all just merry men in tights prancing around for the cameras! Dammit, we inspired the very sheep that turned into wolves on us and forced us into this dirty little corner! Why should we live like we never mattered?”
“So what do you suggest we do, Lance?” said Chilu, “Start a revolution? Isn't this the same guy that takes part in that barbaric Friday night fight club? Tearing at each other for peanuts and the entertainment of brain-dead individuals!”
“I do what I need to, to keep food on my table and keep the ZESCO on,”
“What you need to do is go home, you bum. You’re drunk and pissing allover our solace,” Chilu said.
Lance got down from his stool and walked over to Chilu’s table. His drunken act seemed to have subsided and it looked like his anger had burnt all the alcohol in his blood. Chilu stood up and towered over Lance. The two stood toe to toe and stared each other down.


“Or do you not have a home?”
The patrons of The Fort correctly predict it, but they didn’t actually see Lance’s fist connect with Chilu’s jaw. It happened so fast it would make a bolt of lightning cower in shame.
Chilu was knocked across the room, crashing through tables and breaking beer bottles in his path. Lance then lunged at him and received a concentrated heat blast from Chilu’s palms; his hands glowing in a fierce red and giving a visual anecdote of how he’d earned the name, Ember. Lance didn’t notice the flames on his beloved uniform jacket. All he could see in his mind were his fists making contact with Chilu’s face and landscaping his facial features. The flames did little to harm Lance’s skin; his power was near invulnerability. The heat blast intensified and flung a toasty Lance towards Tiny Thulani. Tiny shrunk to the size of a shot glass and dodged his frying friend.
Lance picked up the shrunken Tiny and leapt at Chilu again, dodging flares as he charged on. He grabbed Chilu by his throat and forcefully shoved his miniature friend down Chilu’s oesophagus.
“GROW!” Lance commanded Tiny.
What sounded like a muffled protest could be heard from the shrinking-man inside Chilu’s neck.
“I’ll do worse than that if you don’t! Now GROW dammit!”
A lump began to grow from the flame thrower’s throat, choking him in the process. He clutched his neck and streamed saliva from the sides of his mouth. Lance and the rest of The Fort watched, both in disgust and crude amusement. Chilu placed his palm on the growing lump and sent a pint-size heat wave through his neck. Tiny Thulani jumped out of the mouth he’d been forced down wailing in pain and growing back to full size by the time he hit the ground. His clothes were sizzling and patches of his skin had scalded.
Chilu coughed and spewed out his last beer, tasting the trail of Tiny’s travels that day since his boots had been on his tongue. He placed his hand on the adamantium counter top and sent his rage through his palms. Lance had not noticed this and blindly went in for a head-butt. Chilu side-stepped to dodge the blow and palmed the back of Lance’s head. He then bashed the head in his palm onto the sweltering hot counter top and sent a fiery fury down Lance’s ear.
“You tried to kill me, you asshole!” raged Chilu.
Lance’s face began to smoke and even his near invulnerability would soon not be able to take the solar flare of Chilu’s hands.
Before Lance could retaliate, the two former heroes received crippling shocks of electricity from two very large bouncers. “No fighting,” they said simultaneously.
 The fighters both got up on one knee and looked at each other. “You bastard, you ruined my jacket!” said Lance, “You ruined my friggin’ jacket!”
Chilu said nothing and wiped the blood from his swollen lip. He lit his index finger and lightly burned the cut in his lip closed.
Superheroes and their abilities vary. Some may be invulnerable or are able to take immense amounts of pain; but even they got their feelings hurt. Their words had cut through the cigarette smoke and smell of hard liquor. Lance and Chilu; both tired from the fighting and the current state of their world dusted themselves off. Each man had spoken the truth, neither more truthful than the other. Each man cut deep. Their physical wounds would heal at an accelerated rate, but both were yet to heal from the wounds humanity had inflicted on them so long ago.
The music continued to play and in a few minutes, the pub was buzzing like nothing had happened. It was just another Thursday evening at, The Fort.


Thursday 11 December 2014

Days of a Not-So-Distant Future Past

In the not-so distant-future, society would have visited every possible destination on the planet. Every nook and cranny, every crevice of the earth will have been a holiday destination or the subject of a tale of adventure and exploration. Man’s curiosity will have led him to the fiery pits of hell if there is promise of a new tourist attraction accompanied by a discount on travel costs and accommodation. But as with all things man touches, he will soon become bored with it all.
 “It’s not the same!” adventurers and tourists will wail, “Our curiosity just isn’t piqued anymore”. Curiosity will have already killed the cat and mad scientists will bring it back to life, and then in their spare time, provide man with alternative tourist destinations and activities. Virgin Galactic will face stiff competition from low cost carriers making no frills space trips and the future of travel will be brighter than the supernova you may see on a future Christmas day.  Here are a few popular destinations and activities that we might see somewhen:

 Nc’wala Traditional Ceremony  - February 20X5

Long ago, on their escape from the ruthless Zulu king, Shaka, the Ngoni people searched for arable land and engaged in fierce battles with the many tribes they came across. On their trek towards what we now refer to as Zambia, they left the southern most parts of Africa spattered with blood, and integrated weaker tribes into their settlements, diluting only their dialect but never their warrior spirit.
For decades the Nc’wala ceremony has been a celebration of their victories and the harvests of their bountiful pastures. In the not-so-distant future tourists will relive the battles through realistic holograms and eyeball exploding virtual reality technology. For a minimal fee, they shall experience the sights and smells of the original battles and be a part of the actual thanksgiving ceremony afterward. They could gain an authentic appreciation for the Ngoni customs or opt for a less vivid experience and just enjoy the vigorous dancing by the animal skin clad warriors.

The Zambian Art Gallery, Asteroid 1964 – Octember 20X5

Free land and real estate will be hard to come by in the not-so-distant future, so an innovative group of artists will curate and amass a definitive collection of Mother Zambia’s arts and cultural heritage, displaying it all in a gallery built on an asteroid that flies close to earth every 50 years. Its passing is an event the entire planet will look forward to and a once in a lifetime chance to see stunning works of art from memorable periods in Zambia.
Little boys with their orballoons, souvenir t-shirts and wonder-filled eyes will clutch their grand parents' hands tight as they weave through the halls of the world's most marvellous gallery. Universities will offer scholarships to budding art students and usher them to the asteroid on raggedy space buses. Struggling artists will boycott this event as another injustice to them and claim it is a commercialised exploitation of our heritage.
Regardless of the 'true artist's' opinion on exploitation, all will agree that the art housed and displayed on Asteroid 1964 is work that even the gods have always been in awe of. Unbelievably realistic Wood carvings, sculptures and visually breathtaking paintings; all visages of time's immortal memory of Zambian culture will flash across the earth's sky, painting a fiery streak on the planet's canvas. It will be stellar to say the least.

The Fiftieth Annual Jozi Film Festival – February 20X5

The Fiftieth Annual Jozi Film Festival will take place every February 30th in South Africa, showcasing the very best in filmmaking and presenting a multi-genre slate of films from emerging and seasoned filmmakers. From conscious films to passion projects, topics will touch on issues that affect our communities and will be awe inspiring.
Technological advancements will have made film making a lot easier and given those who dare to imagine a platform to create wonderful pictures. 5 dimensional films will be pioneered in South Africa, and Zambian cinema will be a festival favourite because of its attention to aesthetics.
The holographic erotica of France will have been scrapped from the program long ago because of its provocative nature, but one French artist will sneak a surprise into one of the screening rooms and earn himself some admiration and notoriety amongst his peers for his bravery. The Jozi Film Council will consider readmitting these holographic films into one of the festival categories. The matter will come up for hearing on a chosen future date.
International films will be screened over a three-day period at several venues throughout the country, including The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg.

The Lost City of Atlantis

Too good a tale to be kept only in the imagination of lovers of mythology, pseudo historians and fringe scientists will come together to create the wonderful underwater paradise of Atlantis.
With its aquatic wonders, the carefully constructed city will attract more than a million visitors a year. Housed in an airtight transparent dome will be an architectural marvel that will shame even the Taj Mahal.  Exotic bricks and marvellous glass walls will be imported from around the world to build it. The entire structure will be self sustaining and run on 1000 Aquamegawatts of powerful hydroelectric power.
The attraction will come complete with bizarre marine life and even its own Merpeople. Some will say the Merpeople are genetically engineered specifically to dwell in this man-made wonder, but the sceptics will say they're just costumed kids willing to do anything for minimum wage. Still, there will be no denying the magic of the place. Gigantic multi coloured fish will swim around Atlantis's protective dome and provide the stuff of marine biologists' wettest dreams. Flash photography will not be permitted because it will scare and aggravate the aquatic denizens. The mermaids will be very popular with male visitors.

 Sunny Siavonga
Aside from a better road network and a dedicated airport, nothing much will change in Siavonga in the not-so-distant future. Conservationists will decide to keep this little slice of Zambia free from wretched metal technology and its pollution. Its sandy beaches will be a relaxing tourist destination and its beautiful sunsets the muse for countless poems. This will become one of the few places on earth where you can spot some hippos and if you’re lucky, you might even get mauled by a crocodile!
Families will enjoy boat cruises and take tours with the locals to remember what Zambia was like long ago. The tweens will bitch about how the boats do not travel as fast as the WaterFly 3000 or transform mid-cruise into a submarine, like the WaterFly 3000, and that the worst thing about Siavonga is that it does not have a single WaterFly 3000. A few vacations will be ruined by this constant wining, but none of it will take away from the serene beauty of sunny, shiny-metal-free Siavonga.

Image courtesy of Wallpapers Acknowledgement Portal

Monday 20 October 2014

Mr. Blow Kills Again

“Aaand we’re back! If you’re just joining us, I have here on the show with me, Steven Pee-ri! I finally got it right, didn’t I?”
“Hehe, yes, you did.”
“I mean, your name isn’t the easiest to pronounce! Well, it is, but reading it you’d think it’s pronounced, Firi! Because, you know, it’s spelt, P-H-I-R-I.”
“Don’t worry about it, Mike. I have been getting that a lot since I started travelling around Europe and America,” replied Steven in his Zambian accent.
Mike Stone turned to camera one and spoke to the audience at home, “If you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years or so, Steven is the bestselling author of, Assassin Rising.  A page turner of a book about a brutal freelance assassin, who in his spare time, is a friggin’ aspiring author!”
Steven Smiled.
“How ever did you come up with a concept like that, Stevie? Mind if I call you, Stevie?”
“Not at all,” said Steven shifting in the couch next to the host’s desk, “I quite literally stumbled upon it. I think it was the Italian artist, Michelangelo that said about his stone sculptures, ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.’ I found this unfortunate scene at the hotel and I saw a potential story in it.”

Steven Phiri had literally stumbled upon his now world famous story. He had been a cleaner at a five star hotel in the backyard of high society’s streets. It didn’t pay much, but it helped him fund his education at a local college. He went about his work in the same half-assed manner millennials at the older end of the scale carry out their mundane tasks. But sometimes, on a good day, he would come across something valuable on the floors or in the crevices of the overly priced hotel rooms.
The occasional hundred dollar bill, used condoms, traces of cocaine or marijuana, gold chains and sometimes even semi-new clothes were some of the items he would find. He and the other cleaners would fight regularly to take on recently vacated plush hotel suites because they knew there could be hidden treasures within them. You could say Steven found a diamond in the rough.
“So you found this bloody scene in a hotel room you were cleaning, and you were inspired to write a book based on it,” Mike Stone asked, fingertips touching and elbows resting on his desk, “most people would be horrified by such a thing!”
“For a while I was truly horrified,” replied Steven. This probably being the only true statement he would make on the Stone Cold Show that night. “But people deal with trauma in different ways. My process was through story telling. I thought,” he said with his eyes looking up at the studio ceiling, as if the perfect lie or quotable were written there in bold, “How can I turn this tragedy...into triumph?”
“Admirable!” said Mike in that vaguely sarcastic tone late night TV show hosts employ. “Isn’t that absolutely admirable, folks?”
The studio’s ‘APPLAUSE’ light box lit up and the audience obliged enthusiastically.

On that fateful day at the hotel, Steven had rolled in the hand trolley with his cleaning supplies like he always did. He was playing soft music in his earphones like he always did, and he set out to raid the room of misplaced valuables like he always did. Because Lost and Found be damned, he figured. Once a suite was vacated, the area became his domain for the duration of his cleaning process and whatever he found was rightly his. He felt the universe owed him something for all the nasty messes he had to clean and wipe up. But no pot pourri scented multi-surface cleaner would have been enough to clean and wipe up the nasty mess he came across that day.
“I’m sure the people in the audience and the folks at home are just dying to hear you read an exciting excerpt from your book! Why don’t you grace us with a little something, Stevie?”
“It would be my pleasure,” Steven smiled, leafed through a copy of Assassin Rising and cleared his throat:

Roman was the type of mark I actually relished killing. I’d told myself long ago not to derive pleasure from my work, but there was a certain satisfaction that came with stopping the pulse of a fat parasite like him. I felt that I was doing society a favour.
I’d watched his place for weeks and knew his routine like the back of my glove. In my profession, even though you always showed up unannounced, you still had to set an appointment. And even though the party on the other end of that appointment didn’t know you would be visiting, you wanted them there when you arrived.
I could have used a muzzled 9mm pistol, a knife or even poisoned the burley leach, but I wanted to hear the saliva curdle in his throat while I choked the air out of his clogged lungs with my wire. I wanted his end to come slow and painfully. I wanted to rob him of his life the same way he robbed so many poor bastards just trying to make an honest living.
Roman didn’t see me coming. I was death in the flesh. He had collected millions in racketeering and ‘protection’ dollars, and now I had collected from him too. I had collected on his life.

Steven rummaged through the room carefully and methodically, turning over each pillow and throw, patting down the sheets of the queen-sized bed. He scanned the carpet for any tiny jewellery and checked the room’s closet for anything remotely valuable. He picked up a thick manuscript from the bedside table and tucked it under his trolley, naive to the fact that what he had just tucked away would propel him to superstardom and overrated bestseller lists.
He almost gagged when he walked into the bathroom to find a very hairy man sprawled naked in a tub of blood. Steven froze at the entrance in disbelief, staring at the blood smeared hand prints on the tiled wall and little puddles of blood-water on the floor. He’d seen dead bodies before, but they hadn’t been ragdoll contorted and this gruesome. Before he knew what he was doing, he was lifting the furry dead man’s hands and checking for rings. The thud from the lifeless arm dropping on the side of the bathtub sent him flying toward the toilet bowl and heaving his noodle breakfast.
The police questioned him for weeks and he was in therapy for about the same period. Every so often he would have a nightmare about the dead man coming alive and pulling him into the bloody abyss of the tub. He had almost forgotten about the manuscript he had found at the crime scene. Handing it to the police was out of the question. Unless he wanted to be grilled further and raise his prospects of being a murder suspect.
“That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand! You can actually FEEL the assassin’s emotion!” shouted Mike Stone. One could never tell if he was genuinely excited or he was just faking his enthusiasm.
“That is what I was going for,” said Steven, “I wanted to convey the same depth of emotion that I had felt when I found that body, except repackaged in a different form.”

The manuscript was filled with post-its and annotations on almost all its pages. Little notes were made by its author to remind him to change some bits to make his ties to the gruesome tales inside less obvious. How a world class professional assassin had left this gem lying around at a crime scene was unfathomable. This book was no work of fiction, it read like a chapter by chapter confession of a hired assassin. Fake passports, disguises and stakeouts had never seemed so real. The world had to see this.
Steven read it cover to cover multiple times before finally pitching it to a few publishing houses. Of course a number of them turned him down, but one of them was bound to take the book on. He worked with several editors and made various changes and grammatical corrections, but essentially it remained the same. As soon as Assassin Rising hit the book shelves, Steven feared for his life.
He didn’t make any public appearances when the book was propelled to the New York Times bestseller list for months on end. He instead went into a paranoid spiral and surrounded himself with a security team and even food tasters. For a whole year, his dread of the author whose original story he had stolen added to his mystique and the book only sold more copies. People were intrigued by this man from Africa that had written a literally heart stopping book and chose to remain out of the public eye. He only began to feel safe after roughly two years had gone by.
He still suspected it would all come crashing down on him. He thought maybe the assassin would come forward and confess his murders, telling the world what a fraud Steven Phiri was and that the balance of the universe would finally teeter against him. So he occasionally made large donations to charities, giving him a false sense of the universe starting to totter in his favour.

“The big question now is: what’s next for Stevie Pee-ri?” Mike Stone said excitedly.
Steven smiled and crossed his legs, “I can’t speak on it just yet, but I have a new book in the works. People will just have to wait and see.”
“I can hardly wait! Well ladies and gentlemen, that’s all from us today! Look up Assassin Rising on Amazon, do yourself a favour and buy yourself a friggin’ copy! It’s to die for! Good night!”
The audience applauded and the studio lights dimmed as the credits rolled on the screens of the viewers at home. Steven made some small talk with Mike Stone and then made his way to his dressing room with no bodyguard or security in tow. He’d began to feel a lot safer after three years.

“I guess I really should be thanking you. You got my book to number one and that’s really something.”
Steven wished he still had an army of bodyguards standing outside the dressing room. He had never heard that voice before, but he knew without a shred of doubt that the universe was cashing its cheque.
“I’d tried for ages to get my work to a willing publisher, but they all thought my story wasn’t real enough. Ironic, isn’t it?”
“...I—listen –I – I’m terribly sorry... things just got out of control,” Steven wept.
“You stole from me,” the assassin said.
“I suppose there was nothing you could do. It’s not like I had left a number that you could reach me on, ‘Hey! I made millions of dollars off your work, I just thought you might like to share some of this money!’ My fault really, I shouldn't have been carrying my manuscript with me.”
“I cou—I could write you a cheque right now!” Steven sobbed.
“I don’t want your money,” the assassin said tearing a few pages from what originally was his book. He wore a black suit and tie that were so dark they absorbed any light in the room and complimented the emotionless look he had on his face.
“I’ve been waiting for the right moment,” the assassin said stuffing a page down Steven’s throat, “Patiently stalking the shadows and waiting for you to let your guard down. Patience is such a virtue,” another page. And another page. And another. Soon Steven had half-swallowed a whole chapter and his eyes had rolled back in his head, tears and mucus streaming down his face.
The assassin turned and left the room. He still had a page in one hand and he let it fall to the floor. It read:

As dark as the contents of this book are, it is still my wish that they should see the light of day. Death and murder are not matters that should be taken lightly, nor matters that the world would receive with open arms. But it is my twisted, and yet sincere hope that people will read about the good I have done; that they will look upon my work not as evil, but as a service to humanity. I hope that they will see that even though I am death in the flesh, I am an agent of the universe, restoring order and balance.


Benny Blow is a retired assassin with a penchant for fiction and offing publishers that reject his work. Follow him on Twitter, @Benny_blow.