Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

Tag: Shorts

Red Eye

I wake.

Eyes snapping open, I seek familiarity in my surroundings, reassured by the comforting glow of charging devices on my bedside table.

Why did I wake? Ah.

Early start. Right.

What’s the time? Have I slept in?

I roll forward, careful to keep my movement slow and smooth, to not disturb my slumbering companion. It takes two attempts to find the home button on my phone, and when I do the screen screams at my eyes, indignant I’ve woken it.

3 am. Fuck, way too early.

I slump back into the welcoming divet in the mattress, willing myself to drift off and snatch an extra precious hour of rest. The sensation of drifting caresses me, lifting my body in its loving embrace, then receding like an outgoing tide. My brain rejoices, enthusiastic to commence the day’s thoughts.

It’s going to be a long day. Focus. Empty. Calm. Sleep.

I drain the noise from my mind, calming myself.

New episode of Supernatural tonight. I wonder what it’ll be like?

My right brow lowers, declaring its displeasure like a bull preparing to charge. The left is too weary, choosing not to engage.

Empty. Calm. Sleep.

Deep breath, air rushing in, expanding my chest, disturbing the covers. Exhale — slow, steady.

Seriously. Will it be a monster feature? Or meta-arc? I hope Crowley is in this one.

I hate you.

Hurt, my mind recedes. The tide rushes back in, sleep wrapping around me, sheltering me in its sweet cocoon.

Dun du dun, daa du dun. Dun du dun, daa du dun.

What?

Oh, right. Alarm

Orienting myself, I war against conflicting demands — I must shut off the noise before it wakes my wife, but manage to move without waking her myself.

Somehow, in the nanosecond I was asleep, I’ve turned to face away from the bedside table. I roll, contorting as I do, grasping with a twisted arm to silence the infernal gadget.

Swipe. Miss. Swipe. Miss. Swipe — got it.

The relief is short-lived as I teeter on the edge of the bed — teeter, then drop, my knees arresting the fall when they greet the floor.

Fuck.

A statue. I am a gauche statue, resplendent in my nudity, frozen on the floor in an awkward pose. I am Jack, stumbling noisily whilst stealing the magical goose and now fearful I have woken its giant owner. My audience stirs, twisting into a new position, breathing deep and even.

Asleep.

Goosebumps rising in the chill morning air, I stare, a forlorn puppy put out for the night as I fantasise returning to the warm embrace of the blanket.

Unplugging my phone from its charging cable, I navigate the room using the meagre glow of its lock screen, reaching the bathroom triumphantly, only to trip over the tiny tidy bin — again.

“For the love of—”

Silence. Miraculous, sleeping silence.

With glacial progress, the door rolls shut. The noise a grinding roar.

Somehow I am still the only person awake. That anyone could have slept through my clumsy thundering movements defies belief. It deserves celebration, but such enthusiasm escapes me. Relying on muscle memory, I prepare; teeth, beard, hair. Each item of use finding a home in my travel bag as I go.

Clothes are next, blessedly prepared for the journey ahead and awaiting me in the closet. Dressing proves a plausible task — during which I only slam my arm into the wall once. Success!

Gathering up my things — toiletries, phone, tablet, chargers — I shamble down perilous stairs to the living room. My overnight bag lies waiting, packed but for the final supplies cradled in my arms.

As I traverse the carpeted floor, checking the time, my foot discovers the lego piece I hadn’t been looking for. Tears well, and I must scrunch my face to hold them back.

It doesn’t hurt.

This early in the day, the lie is half-hearted.

I take a deep, cleansing breath. The glowing numbers on my watch read 5:00. Time to go.

The roads are near empty – the one token blessing of consciousness at such an hour. The trip to the airport saunters by in an auto-pilot haze, no memory of the drive lingers.

Someone is parked in my spot.

There’s no sign, no marker painted on the bitumen. But it’s my spot. Opposite the pay machine and the arrivals hall, it’s where I always park — perfect for making a swift escape on my return. A large four-wheel-drive squats there, daring me to make a move.

I glide by, coasting into a spot further down. In my mind, the offensive vehicle explodes in flames and justice.

Joining the security line conga, I dance through the routine. The moves are familiar, friendly. Soon, I am deposited on the far side, collecting my detritus and stacking it back in my bags. I am so close now I can feel it.

Coffee waits around the corner.

Overpriced. Mediocre. Glorious. A jolt of happiness to light my way just as dawn begins peaking over the horizon.

The burgeoning light outside reveals the first plunging drops of a downpour.

They call my flight.

The wonderful thing about small city airports? You walk across the tarmac, rain or shine…

It’s going to be a long day.

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On Meetings: a short story

A fresh voice speaks, identical to the preceding drone. Many words amalgamate, joining the growing mass of wasted vocabulary. An epic of empty sentences and meaningless points.
I blink, lids scraping over burning eyes — pleading to remain closed. I glance at the clock in the corner of my screen. Twenty minutes to go.
Twenty. Interminable. Minutes.
The weight on my forehead increases — a crushing sensation reminiscent of a vice winding shut. Fatigue has never been this heavy.
Someone new interrupts, asking a question. A goddamn fucking question. What are they thinking? How can they do this? I swallow my impatience and reach for my cup.
It's empty.
Tears threaten to escape, but I must not cry. The promise of relief for my weary eyes has fingers twitching, eager to flick the web cam off, but I resist.
I can do this. I won't be beaten by a one hour meeting.
Focusing on the words, I wrestle the stream of gibberish back into sentences. The shared screen thrusts a phalanx of numbers at my abused eyes. Row upon row of figures linked to unfamiliar GL Codes. Columns parading progress devoid of reference to any landmark. It doesn't matter; the speaker has elected to explain every cell.
I switch windows and open Facebook.
Why am I even here? How did I get invited to this?
Ten minutes to go, but the spreadsheet continues its assault. I bring up the agenda, ready to calculate the likelihood of finishing early.
My heart stops. My stomach shrivels. My tears flow free.
It isn't a one-hour meeting. It's a two-hour workshop.
I release a digital plea for help to the first of my friends I spy online. Save me. Save me from this purgatory.
LOL.
First World Problems.
An animated gif of an orangutan falling over laughing.
I need new friends — people who understand my pain.
If no-one will save me, I must rescue myself.
I cast about, searching for salvation. It comes in a sleek plastic case, merry LEDs mocking my torment. Possibly the result of caffeine-deprived psychosis, but the device trembles as my hand draws it near, smearing fingerprints over its proud surfaces.
I pull the plug. The condescending lights dim.
A message of deliverance blazes across my monitor, "connection to the server has been lost."

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