From the park bench, Miranda watched the ducks bobbing on the surface of the pond. People smiled at her as they passed. This is all an illusion, Miranda thought, as she stood and walked along the perfectly paved path, through the perfectly kept flower beds, taking the route she always took to her comfortable home in the peaceful suburbs. Yesterday Miranda hadn’t questioned her safe and orderly world.
An impulsive decision had led to a chance discovery: Miranda was not in control of her destiny. Now, despair clawed at her insides as she struggled to maintain a normal appearance. Everything was the same, but she was not. She was trapped, and she had no idea how to escape.
The city surveillance cameras tracked Miranda’s progress on her homeward journey. With electron speed her personality profile data was reviewed, her social networks mapped, her consumer and behaviour patterns analysed. The super-computer completed its calculations and made its predictions. An anomaly had occurred. A citizen had deviated from normal parameters. The electronic brain of the global network formulated its conclusions: Divergent behaviours must not be allowed to threaten the order of society. Measures must be taken to neutralise the threat.
Susan slipped inside the study, closing the door quietly behind her as she scanned the cluttered room. A number of possibilities presented themselves, but she didn’t have time to pursue them all. Ignoring her thumping heartbeat, she crossed to the desk. Pulling each drawer open one by one, she rifled through the contents, trying not to leave obvious evidence of her intrusion. Nothing. The filing cabinet refused her access, but she abandoned it readily, what she wanted probably wasn’t inside.
She flicked a glance at her watch and cast one last desperate look around. Time was up – she had to get out now. The sound of voices in the corridor froze her at the door. Pierre! She darted across the room to the sliding door, releasing a relieved breath as it slid open, and escaped onto the balcony. Pressing her back against the wall next to the door, she listened intently to the sound of Pierre’s footsteps approaching his desk. She’d never be able to explain her presence if he caught her here! Motionless, she waited. As the minutes passed, the frigid night air closed in, adding its chill to her fear-frozen limbs.
Sugar. Is it poison? There seems to be no doubt that excessive quantities of pure, refined, concentrated sugars are bad for our health. But who is to blame for increasing rates of obesity and its related health problems? Is it, as governments and sugar barons would have us believe, solely the fault of the consumers who continue to ingest larger and larger quantities? Is curing society of the ills of excessive consumption, simply a case of educating the ignorant masses and taxing sugar sales? I think not. Sugar is an addictive substance. Just like nicotine, alcohol and illegal drugs, and the effects on the health and well-being of its addicts, just as devastating. How is it then, that the producers of this toxic substance get away with mass-producing it, marketing it so deceptively, and hooking users as such extremely young ages?
It is because they have masses of money. Money which they use to ensure that the truth about sugar is obscured, to investigate precise and effective ways of keeping their customers hooked, to entice consumers with irresistible advertising, and to buy the favour of politicians. The truth is, that money earned through the deliberate cause of suffering to others is nothing short of evil. To get to the real heart of this problem and nurture the hope of a cure, we must demand honesty and ethics in business. We must demand that the good of humanity be the central guiding principle of enterprise, not extraordinary profit margins.
David reached the crest of the sand dune ahead of Bethany. He turned and beckoned her to hurry.
“C’mon Mum, the waves are really huge!”
Smiling, Bethany lengthened her stride, pushing her feet into the soft sand. Before she reached the top, David was off down the other side.
“Wait for me David,” Bethany called, but the wind snatched her words and carried them away. David ran on towards the foaming ripples.
The whipping wind at her ears was penetrated by the squawk of seagulls and David’s laughter as he splashed into the water, jumping the incoming waves. Bethany bent to scoop up David’s discarded sneakers and socks as she followed his footprints to the edge of the water.
“Roll your pant legs up higher.”
“I don’t care if I get them wet,” David shrieked as the next wave crested and soaked his trousers to mid-thigh.
Bethany sighed. David stopped jumping and looked at her face. Another wave splashed behind him, wetting the seat of his pants. Bethany glared.
“Come out of there now!” she commanded, but her eyes twinkled. David laughed.
“I can hang them by the fire when we get to Nana’s,” he said.
It crawled over me, one tiny tickling step at a time. I froze, gritting my teeth as sweat prickled my forehead. I stared at the long jointed legs lifting into the air and descending in slow motion as they sought a path across my skin. My breath stopped while my mind raced, searching for an escape from this torment. How did I get into this situation? I looked around, desperate for release.
My friends stood nearby, rigid, their eyes locked in horror at the tarantula as it halted mid-way up my forearm. Suppressing a groan, I released a slow breath as the feelers waved. Was it going to bite? Determined to stay calm I tried to recall the little I knew about the spider. It had a painful bite, but was it poisonous? The seconds passed with painful slowness as the answer eluded me.
The spider moved again with slow deliberate steps and at last, slid off my arm and crawled beneath the leaf litter. I withdrew my shaking hand from the enclosure, barely hearing the applause and the announcement: “You’ve won thirty dollars for three minutes!” That ought to buy me a good stiff drink.
Use the name Douglas Archer and the word ‘curious’ to create a character.
The auditorium pulsed with the vibrating base and the shrieks of two thousand obsessed fans, as Darch screamed into the microphone, “Curious! We were curious!” The laser beams roved across the audience like a lighthouse beam over a roiling ocean. Sweat glistened on his bared chest and dripped down the taught muscles bugling on his forearms as Darch thrashed the music from the guitar strings. Pete beat a final frenzy on the drums and as the last strangled howl of the synthesizer rang out and faded, Darch leaped from his podium to the edge of the stage, and leaned out close to the forest of clutching hands, giving the hysterical teenagers one last thrill.
When the make-up was gone and the spangled costume had been replaced with well-worn jeans and simple white t-shirt, Douglas Archer, the real man, flopped onto his couch and picked up his battered acoustic guitar. His song floated into the room on gentle chords. The way it had before the corporate genie had transformed it for popular public consumption. Douglas frowned, dropped the guitar on the couch, and stalked over to the window. He thrust his hands into his pockets and stared into the dark night.
The Weak winter sun warms through the chill of the bitter breeze blowing lightly as I wander whimsically through my garden. I follow the stone steps which snake gently down the slope, between the tall trees and bushes which bare their barren branches, tangling and twisting towards the sky. I hear the crackle and crunch of the crisp curling leaves, brown and bereft, a crumbling carpet beneath my feet.
Purple pansies peep from among the roots of the roses. Green points protrude, piercing the earth, promising a bountiful bank of beautiful bluebells, later in the spring.
A few early pale, pastel pink blushing blossoms are beginning to bloom. Bursting from the buds lining the length of the branches. Stark stalks stick up from the brown earth, waiting for the sleeping dahlias to return.
Fantails flit, following my path. Their cheerful cheeping, a sweet soulful sound to greet me.
The leaves of the flaxes, flap and flutter, tickled by the wind. My curious cat creeps cautiously, slinking silently through the shrubs, stalking me. Fresh-air invigorated, I return indoors to indulge in a hot brewed beverage and serenely sip with satisfaction while toasting my toes before the flickering flames of the fire.
The joint was jumping. The music was thumping. Bodies crammed the dance floor, weaving and flowing like water around rocks down a rapid river. They writhed and wriggled, with nothing but heat shimmering between them. Arms pumped the air. Heads jerked. The hazy, dim, thickness of the atmosphere was repeatedly ruptured by laser blasts of red, blue, green, and white. Flick. Flick. Capturing brief images of the frenzy, one after another, like time-lapse photography.
Jane observed the images, from her corner table. She watched as a couple emerged from the pulsing throng on the dance floor and flung themselves onto their chairs beside her. Their sweat-glistened faces radiated energy as they shouted happily at one another. They grabbed bottles from the table, and downed the liquid, before diving back into the swirling sea.
The bubble of noise surrounded Jane, isolating her, and though she was in a room full of people, she felt completely alone. She looked at her watch and calculated how much time before she could go home and be truly alone. Alone, so she could peacefully curl up on her couch near a cosy, crackling fire and read a book. Alone, so she could be happy too.
By Vicki Arnott