Night Lights

There is a

light bulb inside

my head that stubbornly flickers

on and off; on and off; on and

off,

creating an unsatisfying half-sleep

– a no-man’s land –

some way between consciousness and unconsciousness.

All of my worries and wants for the future reside there,

crackling electrical currents that conjure both

a beacon of hope

and a garish

warning

signal.

 

A.N. I wrote this poem at about 2AM on a Tuesday morning. I couldn’t sleep and thought writing might be a solution to that, seeing as it would help to empty the contents of my buzzing brain. As it so happens, writing this poem didn’t solve my sleep issue, though I did get a decent piece out of the situation.

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Metamorphosing Squirrel

“Is that a rat or

a rabbit?”

“What happened to

the poor squirrel’s tail?”

 

A.N. This slightly irregular haiku was inspired by something that myself and some friends came across whilst out for a walk. That something was a tail-less squirrel. We couldn’t get over how different it looked without the iconic bushiness and took some while to confirm that it was actually what it was. I can’t help but think that it must have been attacked by a fox. Hopefully the squirrel’s tail grows back soon.

Praying

Why am I praying

When my worst nightmares still come

True despite my dreams?

 

A.N. I wrote this haiku at a time when I felt that everything in the world was taking a turn for the worst. Although I am unsure about religion and God, I pray regularly as it helps me to reduce my anxiety and to remind me of everything I should be grateful for. However, sometimes I wonder why I and many others feel that praying will make any difference to events outside ourselves, when it has been proved over and over again and terrible things happen regardless of prayer. Doesn’t this make the effectiveness of prayer an illusion – a coincidence? Are prayers just heavenly dreams that cannot keep up with the mass destruction of Earth’s nightmares?

Moment Twenty: Punctured Balloons

I rake my eyes about the room in attempt to glean inspiration to write, an exercise suggested to me by Kitty. Recently I’ve been trawling through my tattered tome of Japanese haikus for some idea – some emotion – with no joy.

However, as I study the space intensely I notice a cluster of multi-coloured balloons climbing the corner of my desk. Kitty recommended that I store them there in case Theo comes in to play. One, baby pink, is shrivelled on the ground beneath the rest; it must have a hole in it somewhere. Theo and I keep taking it in turns to blow it up as large as we can before all the air flows out of it. So far Kit, with her Tardis-like lungs, beat us both into second and third during the one event that she competed. Imagine how enormous we could get it if we could all blow at once I wonder.

Inadvertently, I experience a sort of eureka moment – the kind that you get when inspiration strikes. The idea is a little random but I jot it down anyway:

A punctured balloon                                                                                                                          Can still be reflated if                                                                                                                You’ve got enough breath

And, together, I guess we have.

Moment Nineteen: The Cure

Luca’s house is our unspoken destination, seeing as all its inhabitants are in the long and twisted loop. Although, Thomas is nowhere to be found, which unsettles me. The four of us crowd into Luca’s bedroom rather than downstairs, should Thom bring anyone home. I hope he doesn’t.

“So, who wants to go first?” Luca queries, rupturing the silence that has fallen.

“Me! Please!” Helen shouts enthusiastically.

I chuckle somewhat waveringly at the child that she has been reduced to.

Said child frowns, snaps “shut up” and holds out a bare upper arm to Luca. The flesh is suitably pale and vulnerable, coated with downy blond hairs.

He slips the cap off the needle he is holding – and jabs. It is over in a heartbeat.

Helen sits back in her spot on Luca’s bed, smiling grimly.

“Who next? Saffron?”

My stomach lurches at the thought of the sharp metal beneath my skin. “What about you?” I respond forcefully.

The question was rhetorical, yet he pauses as if to answer. “I – I don’t think I want it.”

What? “What?”

“I mean, it – it’d be absolutely amazing to be such a prodigy. And there’re worse ways to die. Than being overcome with humanly feeling, I mean.”

I shake my head at him for a full minute. I should be shocked but instead I just feel disappointment; I guess I expected it. As did everyone else, judging by their silence. Or perhaps he’s told them already. “You go.” I say to Sam.

He glances at me, startled, but I plead with my eyes and he sighs in defeat, visibly setting his shoulders in preparation.

I use the delay the mull over my options: permanent hyper-sensitive phenomenon or – with any luck – temporary emotionless curiosity. I know which one my heart would choose. Who gives a crap about my head? The second choice is close to home and full of promise. I hear it calling. By this time, Sam has silently endured the vaccination and I’m as ready as I can be. He winks at me despite the situation; I look away and try not to melt, plainly nodding when Luca approaches me with another needle so that he doesn’t leave me time to think or feel anything other than resignation.

My eyes are closed seconds prior to the sharp pang that pierces my bicep, allowing the instrument to inject me with an alternate fate. Sam’s flirtatious glint flickers as a projection on the backs of my eyelids. Maybe I can still learn to be more in tune with my emotions, I contemplate, overcome with a hopeful happiness as I experience the hot flush dousing my head and chest for the penultimate time.

Moment Eighteen: A Happy Ending

Sam and I arrive at the main road, taking turns dragging one another into a sprint as we start to tire. We encounter no obstacle, although alarm bells beat all the other background noise out of the air. I turn to Sam, hysterical with relief: like me, he is ruddy-faced and breathing as though his life depends on it. Together, we laugh breathlessly and bend double with dizzy adrenaline.

I feel a sudden impulse to grab the slender hands now flopping beneath him; so I do. Our arms are held out before us like they are our only prize, though they are one of many. The box of needles has fallen to the ground between us, a child kept at a distance yet in sight.

“We did it.” I force from my lungs with a jaw-cracking grin, half-using his weight to hold myself up.

“Yeah.” Sam agrees, crinkling his eyes so that his face is doubly radiant.

I feel weak and sweaty and feverous all of a sudden; I stumble slightly against him. And stay there. I can see his raspberry pink lips and all their indentations, surprisingly moist in the bitter atmosphere. I move closer. Closer –

“Not now Saff, the others are still missing.” He nudges me softly.

I snap out of my trance; I cringe; I wonder if the tender undertone is genuine or just a show of politeness.

When I turn my head, embarrassed, he touches my forearm. “Sorry.” He says apologetically. “I just don’t want to get too happy just yet.

That makes me happy.

Moment Seventeen: The Great Escape

We get down to the lab; Aeiou doesn’t say a thing as I let him hook me up to pulse and blood pressure monitors then slap a thermometer onto my forehead.

It is only now that it occurs to me to wonder what he is going to do with me. From what I can gather, he wants to induce an emotion-attack. Great. I bounce the gumball beneath my tongue. Then almost choke.

From behind a curtain pads Tyler Matthews, a cub taking its first steps in the shadow of its father.

I gasp and my body immediately responds to the shock as Tyler throws himself down into a chair opposite and Aeiou hurriedly attaches wires that are twins of mine. Immediately, his pulse rate spikes, a mountain range on the black backdrop.

Amidst my own panic, I vaguely wonder what he’s feeling.

Tyler is rocking on his chair, moving it in tiny leaps away from me.

Aw, I think instinctively, he’s nervous. I must smile because he looks even more terrified than ever, sweat dripping down his round nose. Okay. Focus, Saffron, focus. Conjure the anger. I struggle to cast my mind to Ms Stapleton’s surprise attack on me yesterday. “I’ve never liked her.” I accidently blurt out loud, causing the two Matthews to look at me funny. They must not have realised what I said however, because within seconds the scene is rewound back to its previous frame.

I clench my fists, topping up my rage with thoughts of our prolonged deprivation of the cure and of Aeiou’s treating us like lab rats; the saliva in my mouth boils, hardening the gum like a kiln does clay. Now my mind is skipping towards the weeks without Kitty, Thom’s worry for Luca – even Helen’s well-established and undeserved reputation. Then to Cosmo, as good as dead. Then, finally, to all the lost love the cure will cause me now that the virus has taken root. Strangely, this is the most devastating, that one of the bundle of nerves that makes up my human nature will be cut from me.

My internal surfaces are being licked with fire; the misshapen sphere beneath my tongue is rock solid. This is it. I suck in, carefully, for what seems like a lifetime. Then, before I choke on my weapon, I let rip.

As I watch the tiny makeshift missile fly its path through the air between Aeiou and Tyler’s heads and collide with the shelved glass behind, my eyes cross so that I can barely make out the image. The sound of the container shattering is unexpectedly musical – like the tinkling of a music box – a perverse theme tune cheering me on as I grab the package of needles.

Fuelled by adrenaline, I make a dash for it before my company can begin to work out what has just happened. Halfway to the door I encounter Sam, rushing inside to hinder them enough to buy us an extra few minutes. He shakes a blurry hand at me as he passes. I trust that he has already alerted the others to break out through the upstairs window. My fingers cross, on both hands.

I am out in the dark hallway, glancing in every direction at rooms that might provide an opportunity for escape. The front door would be too obvious – bound to be watched by cameras and the guards behind them – and I’m pretty sure that I can see a keypad, which means it’s coded. To the background groans and thud of limbs next door, I spot a kitchen window, perfectly placed above a countertop and leading out to the side street from which we came. I mark it mentally as the one.

Now I am forced to focus on the matter of Sam’s safety. My heart starts up a buzz in my chest and I imagine him flitting out of that room, victorious, wiry arms raised in triumph. He’s done well to keep them busy this long; he’ll hold out ‘til the end for sure. I glance down at the needles I am carrying: the plastic tub has moulded to the shape of my sweating hands. We can pretend to be confident but our nervous system will always betray us – especially mine.