Self-Help for the Sad Sack

This is my submission for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: “Must Love Guns” 

Anger management counselling. That’s how I got here. That’s the reason why I shit in the same room that I sleep in and I spend my days trying to avoid getting beaten on by other inmates.  My wife, Angie, had suggested it. She’d slapped a leaflet with the title ‘Managing Anger’ on the kitchen table one evening, right there next to my beer, and told me that I had an appointment the following Tuesday at two o’clock.

Now I’ll admit that I dance with the devil every now and then in regards to my anger but I never laid a finger on her or my son; mostly an outburst would end up with me sticking my fist or my foot through a wall. But on that Sunday evening Angie told me she’d had enough and that, if I refused to go, she and Henry would pack up and leave me. That wasn’t acceptable to me; a man who loses the respect and love of his wife and child loses the respect of everyone around him and leaves pity in its place. So I conceded and told her I’d go and talk to some shrink about why I couldn’t control my own emotions. With the benefit of hindsight, if I could go back I’d happily tell Angie to go to hell for putting me between that rock and that hard place – as it stands all I can do is face the consequences.

My anger management counsellor, Mr Brody (“Please, call me John.”), was a short man with a shiny bald head like a boiled egg. He wore wire rimmed glasses on the edge of a stout, piggy nose and seemed to squint in a mole-like fashion despite of them. Everything about him got on my wick – the pretentious leather elbow patches on his stupid little tweed suits, the high-pitched nasal tone of his voice and, most of all, the way in which he scribbled things, about me, into his tiny black notebook during our sessions.

“Okay, today we’re going to talk about pinpointing triggers and managing anger.” It was our third session in the same amount of weeks and I’ll be damned if my anger ‘problems’ had improved. If anything they’d worsened; I’d grit my teeth and clench my fists during the meetings but once I’d escaped the quiet pompousness of his office I’d go off like a bottle of fizzy pop, tearing at my hair and kicking anything my feet could connect with. At home, though, I’d smile sweetly at Angie, play with my son and bite my tongue until I tasted blood if anything began to light my ever shortening fuse.

“Tell me, Theo, what makes you angry?” He looked over his glasses at me with grey-blue eyes and an unreadable look plastered over his pudgy face. I leaned back into the plush leather sofa and crossed my legs, trying to look nonchalant,

“Casual use of my name,” I said levelly. The plan I’d hatched after my second session with Mr Brody had solidified like cooling wax over the past week and the feeling of having a plan had calmed me somewhat. “Limp-dick wannabe shrinks trying to ‘reform my behaviour’ when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me.” He didn’t look surprised at my quiet outburst, just pushed his glasses further up his nose with his index finger and leaned back in his black leather office chair.

“Why are you here then, if there’s nothing wrong with your behaviour?” He asked. He tilted his head to one side, as if he genuinely didn’t know the answer to that question. His reaction hit my calm exterior with the force of a bullet, surface cracks began to form; I clenched my fists and could feel a ball of rage beginning to manifest itself in my stomach like a huge, pulsing stomach ulcer.

“You know full well why I’m here,” I spat, “I’m here because my wife threatened to leave me if I didn’t. I’m certainly not here on my own steam.” I leaned forward at this point, unable to maintain a laid back demeanour in the face of such antagonism. “Look, Doc, just tell everyone I’m cured and we can both just get on with our lives.” I tried to say this calmly and quietly but even I was a little shook by the venom in my voice. The weight against my back, wedged between my skin and the waistband of my jeans, seemed to get heavier and heavier. Brody took a deep breath,

“We both know I can’t do that, sir.” No casual use of my name this time but ‘sir’ seemed to irk me even more, winding up some imaginary lever in my head. Before I could even think about what I was doing I’d reached behind me and pulled the 9mm British Army Browning L9A1 out from my waistband and pointed it at that mole faced bastard in front of him. I looked on with satisfaction as his hand loosened in shock and the crappy little notebook with all of those judgements of me slid off his lap and onto the floor.

“Not so intelligent now are you, sir?” I sneered, pointing the gun right between his eyes. I quickly bent down and picked up the notebook. I flipped through a few pages, catching a few titbits here and there: ‘inferiority complex,’ ‘feels stripped of his masculinity’. What was this bullshit? I threw the book back at him in anger and the corner caught his left temple before it rebounded and fell onto the floor. Brody held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

“Theo, you don’t want to do this.” That was the straw that broke the camel’s back because he was wrong, so very wrong. I did want to do it and he’d just cemented in my mind the reasons why I wanted to do it.

“Sorry, Doc, it must be my inferiority complex.” I cocked the gun and steadied my shaking hand. And then I pulled the trigger, easy as that. I stood over him and watched as the blood leaked out of the gunshot wound in his skull and his secretary hammered on the door, shouting though the wood that the police were on their way.

And here I am now serving out my sentence, all thirty years of it, as a murderer. I suppose Angie was right, I did have an anger problem, and in the end it got the better of me at the expense of someone else’s life.












Rioting and the Role of the Social Network

There is no doubt that over the coming weeks there will be a lot of debates over the role of social networking in the riots that swept over England over the last few days. When social networking sites such as Facebook were used in organising revolutionary movement in Egypt earlier this year there was an abundance of praise – not for the sites themselves but for the way the youth movement utilised the features of them in order to organise themselves.

The riots that have occurred in London, and subsequently Birmingham, Manchester and many other cities in the UK, certainly highlighted the other side of social networking, how it has the potential to be used in order to organise disorder and highlight hotspots of violence. I was in my home town on Tuesday 9th August and had the misfortune of experiencing the pre-riot atmosphere that seemed to settle over it; walking up through the city centre I was confronted by scores of people congregating in a central point on the high street, surrounded by police officers and cars. My instinct, being a lone female, was to remove myself from the situation as quickly as possible, and that’s what I did but as soon as I was at a safe vantage point I was gripped by the urge to share this information with my friends on Facebook and my followers on Twitter, not only as a way to share gossip but to warn people not to head into the city centre. But as soon as that thought occurred to me, another one did, a thought that made me reluctant to post any kind of updates of disturbance in the area, I realised it had the potential to be used by troublemakers who might want to get in on something they viewed as ‘fun.’

So I held up on updating my Facebook status but at the same time I was desperate for news myself. Being at home and out of harm’s way I had no way of knowing what was going on in my local community. So naturally I turned to a real-time news feed on Twitter, searching for the name of my home town and reviewing what the tweets contained. The difficulty with this kind of ‘news’ is that it’s, by and large, unverified; rumour and truth circulate in equal measure, and at a time when media outlets are keeping very tight-lipped about what is going on (presumably for the same reason I refrained from reporting what I saw) rumours roll out much thicker and faster than the truth. So whilst I could understand why information was so scarce, it was frustrating being kept in the dark, especially when trouble was so close to home.

Verified Twitter feeds, such as WM Police, to their credit, updated as much as they possibly could but people were distrustful. It was felt that what was really happening was being downplayed; situations branded as ‘in control’ by these sources were refuted by photographs and videos showing broken windows and gangs of youths hurling missiles. It became very obvious very quickly that everything had to be taken in context, something Twitter couldn’t provide, and so it was incredibly difficult to build a full picture from, what was essentially, gossip and rumour.

But among all of this there were beacons of hope and goodness that stood up at such a dark time. Tweets condemning the actions of rioters greatly outnumbered those that praised them and before the riots were even over details of the time and meeting place of the cleanup operation had already started circulating. On Facebook groups sprung up – the anti-riot group ‘Operation Cup Of Tea’ urged people to take pictures of themselves drinking tea in their homes as a show of solidarity against the actions of the rioters, and others cropped up pointing people toward the official BBC website on which they could identify pictures of rioters so they could be brought to justice. A volunteer radio station for sixteen to twenty-five year olds from the West Midlands, KICfm, actually went out into Wolverhampton and tweeted updates for their followers about the state of the situation and quickly became one of the most re-tweeted accounts with people praising them for being out in the fray and keeping people up to speed.

Because of these polar opposites it’s hard to tell how social networking will be treated in the wake of the riots. No doubt some aspects of the media will use sweeping generalisations, labelling the young demographic of these sites as the people instigating the violence, but I feel to a great extent that this is unfair. There is no doubt that sites such as Facebook and Twitter, with their real time news feeds and potential to spread through to large amounts of people, did aid rioters in pinpointing hotspots of violence and exacerbating the problems – but no more so than other sources of media, such as the news.  On the other side of the scale there were acts of solidarity and great kindness and continues well after the trouble has died down, just recently I encountered a charity website posted on Facebook dedicated to raising money for the Malaysian student Mohammad Asyraf, who was mugged during the riots in Barking – they have already raised, at the time of writing, £1,370.

It may seem like these rioters have had the upper hand over the last few days but it is the solidarity of the people that will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone.

Flash Fiction Challenge #1

This is my first go at flash fiction and it’s for Terrible Minds‘ Flash Fiction challenge titled ‘That Poor, Poor Protagonist’

Here goes!

Josh’s Choice

He woke up to a throbbing pain in his left temple and an acute awareness that he was lying on an extremely cold surface. He was blindfolded, his legs and hands were bound together. Something woollen had been shoved into his mouth to act as a gag, the creaking of the material between his teeth caused goosebumps to rise on his skin and his jaw to jut forward in a grimace.

“Hello Josh.” Despite the blindfold he craned his neck toward the sound of the voice, a woman’s voice. He heard high-heeled footsteps move toward him and then a foot rest on his left pectoral, the stiletto heel digging into the skin just below his nipple. He inhaled sharply through the gag. The woman laughed, a high-pitched giggle, and pushed down a little harder causing Josh to cry out this time. I was beginning to think you didn’t have feelings, Josh. I suppose it’s good to know. Not that I won’t be putting it to the test anyway.” He rocked his body, desperately trying to pull away from the pressure of her heel.

Then, swiftly her foot was removed and he felt two strong hands grab him by the armpits and haul him up into a chair. Before he could even begin to put up a fight his wrists were quickly untied and retied behind his back and his legs tied to the chair. The heels clicked again on the concrete floor, grew louder and came to a halt in front of him.

“I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here, Josh. Well, let’s just say we’ve been watching you, and you’ve been a very bad boy. Let’s talk about it shall we?

“You have a wife? Susan, right? And a kid. I like the kid’s name. Oscar. Suitably upper middle class. You’re an accountant, a highly paid one at that. Little Oscar gets to go to the posh public schools and Susan gets her fancy holidays to the Caribbean. It’s all very cosy.” There was a pause. “But that’s not the whole story, is it? Oh, no. We have Erin. Lovely, little Erin. Twenty two years old and so full of life. Oh, the things we’ve seen you and innocent Erin get up to.”

Josh felt a heat rise in around his neck as she spoke, a feeling he could only place as panic. How the hell did this woman know all these things about his life?

“What we’ve got set up here, Josh, is a little…what would we call it? A little test. Something to let us see what really matters in your life. Your wife, your child, your mistress” here she paused again, “yourself.”

Suddenly hands were fumbling with his blindfold, wrenching it away from his head carelessly. The woman was no longer sat in front of him. Instead, six feet from him, there was a huge glass window, and behind that window sat Susan, Oscar and Erin. He began to struggle, slamming his shoulders forward trying to release himself and attempting to cry out through the gag.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” He heard the smile in the voice and struggled harder only for a hand to land on his shoulder and stay him. A buzzer sounded, and then a voice:

“Stand up.” He watched as his wife, Oscar and Erin did what they were told.

“Now, Josh. You’ve got a choice to make. You could: Save Erin at the cost of your wife and child.  Save little Oscar at the cost of your wife and mistress. Save your wife at the cost of your mistress and child.” She paused and he heard the sound of a gun being cocked, then felt the ridge of a barrel pressed against his temple, “Or save them all at the cost of yourself.”

The pressure of the gun against his temple caused him to whimper and writhe in an attempt to sever the contact; he was breathing hard through the gag, sucking in long gasps of hot air that filtered through.

“Oh, and did I mention you have thirty seconds?” Terror rose in him and he struggled to get away from the gun, struggled to get to the people he loved the most in the world.

All of the options flicked through his mind – it should be an easy decision, his own life for the lives of those he loved, but he didn’t want to die. He was sweating and crying, still trying to cringe away from the gun and time was running away from him. The gag was torn from his mouth and he cried out.

“You bastards!” But even as he said it he knew he was wasting time. He had just ten seconds left. “Okay, okay! I choose Oscar. Please, save my son!” The timer stopped, the gun was pulled away.

He watched as a man in a ski mask entered the room from the left hand side, grabbed his wife by the hair and in one smooth movement slit her throat. Even from this distance he could hear the sound of his wife choking on her own blood as well as see it pouring from her, impossibly fast at first and then slower. The man held her up until the noises stopped and then pushed her forwards; she slumped down, a dead weight now, onto the concrete floor. Erin had begun to scream but the man grabbed her mercilessly by her ponytail and forced her onto her knees. He pulled a gun from behind him and pressed it to the back of her head, then pulled the trigger. Erin’s whole head seemed to explode towards him, coating the glass screen in red.

Josh slumped forward, sobbing and exhausted.

“There,” he screamed, “I made my choice. Let me and my son go.”

The woman’s voice was at his ear again.

“I’m afraid that’s not how this works,” Her voice was a quiet whisper and the barrel of the gun was placed against his temple again. “You chose wrong, and now everyone dies for nothing.” Through closed eyes he heard another gunshot and the sound of something hitting the floor.

“Goodbye, Josh”

And then darkness.