The Art of Manipulation (A Short Story)

(From previous blog, unedited)

Here is the other short story I wrote a while back.

The Art of Manipulation
 John Liebert. A college professor adept in all fields, but focuses his teaching skills on philosophy and literature. A seemingly ordinary individual, but deep down he is a cynical, narcissistic sociopath. His mind is addicted to manipulating people and he will always find a way to make someone’s life a living hell.
 He sits outside a Starbucks with his long dark brown hair, messy and untidy, no attempts made to style it. Today, he is wearing an elegantly tailored suit and a long, flowing overcoat, both black in colour, with a dark purple tie.
 He takes a sip from his hot cup of coffee and then gently places it back onto the saucer. He opens his newspaper, ruffling the pages, speed-reading each page, absorbing the most important headlines. He finished the newspaper a while ago, but he feels an obligation to society to appear busy. He stops at a particular headline BODY FOUND! YOUNG WOMAN BURNED TO DEATH! and laughs to himself almost maniacally so. There is no attention drawn towards him, but he stops himself in order to prevent a scene.
 He leans forward glancing at passer-bys, judging their personalities by their appearances and movements. Liebert thinks to himself, “too dependent, too lonely, too masochistic, too frugal, too altruistic, too impulsive, too trusting.”
“All too easy,” he says disappointingly. Liebert sighs deeply.
The waitress is standing beside him holding an empty tray, “Is everything alright, sir?”. Liebert takes a brief pause before replying, “Long day.”
“I’ll bet,” she says annoyingly. “Would you like some more coffee?”
Libert glances at his coffee for a second just to double-check the waitress’s intelligence. He fights the urge to point out that his cup is practically full. “I’m fine, thank you…” he reads her nametag, “Harmony?”
“You’re welcome,” she smiles and wanders off to pester more customers. Before getting a chance to take another sip of coffee a woman sits down in front of him. In only a few seconds Liebert has already memorised her appearance; velvet red hair, dyed, hazel eyes, a pale complexion, smooth-looking skin, beauty mark on left cheek and a red dress to match red lipstick and red stilettos.
“Are you John Liebert by any chance?” she asks excitedly.
“Am I supposed to be famous?” Liebert says nonchalantly.
“Oh, don’t be modest! I’ve seen you do Shakespeare. You killed it as Iago!”
“Did I now?”
“I must have your autograph! Would you be so kind as to…?”
“It would be my pleasure, my dear.”
“Oh! Thank you so much!” she hands him her copy of Othello, “It’s Scarlet by the way.” “Your name? Or your hair?” he asks jocularly. Liebert signs his name hands it back to Scarlet firmly. “Is that all you wanted?”
“Did you have something else in mind?” she said flirtatiously.
“Well, I was planning on going for a stroll after I had finished my coffee,” Libert says matter-of-factly.
“I have two tickets to the opera.”
“What time?”
Startled, Scarlet blurts out her words, “Uh.. umm.. Oh! Uh.. 7:30!”
“And what opera will be showing?”
“The Pirates of the Carib-No. That’s not it. Um.. The Pirates of–”
Liebert interrupts with suavity. “Penzance?”
“Yes! That’s the one! It’ll be fun, won’t it?”
Liebert stands up and takes his coffee up off the table. “We’d better get a move on then.”
“It’s only gone one.”
“Exactly. We only have six and half hours to get to know each other.”
Scarlet opens up her red handbag and checks her reflection while occasionally looking up at Liebert. “Let’s get going then. Shall we?”
“After you.” Liebert keeps his composure despite the plans flooding through his mind right now. His thoughts get the better of him later during the opera showing. Liebert felt like a king sitting front row on the balcony. If there was anything good to say about him it was that he had fine taste in arts and furniture. He could feel the lumbar support of the red velvet seats caressing his back. He then turned to Scarlet and realised he hadn’t completed his objective for the night. Liebert whispers to Scarlet and leaves. Scarlet follows. She pursues him to the rooftop worryingly. As she barges through the entrance to the roof, Scarlet screams “Don’t do it!”
Liebert is standing dangerously close to the edge. He places one foot in the air, gently leaning forward.
“Today will be the day.”
“Is doesn’t have to be!” Scarlet moves closer to Liebert, slowly so that he won’t do anything rash.
“Will I be missed?”
 Liebert turns to Scarlet. His eyes pierce into her. Now frightened, Scarlet panics and rushes to Liebert. Liebert backs away from the ledge, presuming that Scarlet’s speed and movement was just enough for her to trip and fall. Dangling on the edge, Scarlet struggles to pull her body up. The weather picks up some wind . Liebert walks over to the ledge, admiring the starry night sky as he kneels down with one knee. He reaches out to her with his hand. Scarlet grabs his hand in desperation, trusting him with her life. Lifting her arm high enough for them to be face-to-face, Liebert looks Scarlet dead in the eye and says “People are so predictable.”
He let’s go of her hand, watching her plummet to her demise, and then walks away with a blank expression.
 The next day, Liebert sits in the same spot as he did the day before. Holding the newspaper in one hand and sipping his coffee with the other, he reads the headline WOMAN FOUND DEAD! NO EVIDENCE OF HOMICIDE. Liebert smirks before taking another sip from his coffee.

“…a new beast, slouching towards us…the beautiful mutant”

(From previous blog, unedited)

Thought I might speed up the process and post two more stories I wrote a while back.
Here’s the first.

A sci-fi story with quote “…a new beast, slouching towards us…the beautiful mutant”.
The date is Friday, the 31st December. The year; 2027. The location; Downtown New York, Sacred Mind Laboratory. The night had rolled in over Manhattan. The air is still and the sky is tormented with clouds. The city lights dwindled to the smattering of stubborn night owls. A cold breeze rustles the trees. The owls are sent on their way.
One of the owls catches the gaze of one absent-minded scientist, Phil Tucker, age thirty-four, seen wearing a white lab coat with brown slacks staring out into the starry night, seated facing the spine of his caster-wheel chair. Amber Grey, age thirty-one, blonde, wears a similar lab coat over her blue dress shirt, calls him over to join in before the clock strikes midnight, but he ignores her. Cecilia Cross, age twenty-seven, a kind young woman with silver-like hair, crystal blue eyes and a smile that convinces Phil to join them in the celebration.
They all count down “Ten. Nine. Eight…”. Phil turns his head towards the window, refusing to say the words. “Three. Two. One! Happy New Year!” The sounds of popped confetti and party horns are followed by a celebratory crack of the cork by Phoenix Temple, age twenty-five. Phoenix has the appearance of a lanky young man. He has short black hair swept back and has a small amount of stubble on his chin. Cecilia holds the glasses while Phoenix pours the champagne. Everyone clings their glasses together “Cheers!”. Phoenix and Cecilia trade smiles.
Amber observes Cecilia’s hand “Cecilia! When did you two-”
“I’ve been wearing it since Christmas. I’m surprised it took you this long to notice.” she says playfully.
“I should have noticed sooner. Sorry.”
Cecilia giggles “It’s alright, Amber.”
Phil glances around the room in an almost paranoid manner.
Phil is caught off guard by Phoenix’s pat on the back. He turns to Phoenix, scanning him up and down.
Phoenix asks “Is everything alright? You look a bit overworked. Maybe you should get some shut-eye.”
“I’m fine.” Phil argued. Phoenix places his arm around Phil’s neck.
“Don’t overthink it, I’m sure we didn’t overlook anything import-”
Amber interrupts urgently, “Guys! You might want to see this.”
They rush to Amber’s computer only to find on screen-
“It’s out!? How did it get out!?” Phoenix exclaims frantically.
“I told you! I told you this would happen!” Phil complains.
Amber looks closely in on the camera “Is that Cecilia? When did she-”
They turn and examine the room, then quickly return their gaze to the monitor.
“Cecilia!” Phoenix yells anxiously.
“She can’t hear you.” Phil says sulkily.
Phoenix rushes out the door, through the corridor and down the flights of stairs until he hears a scream of agony from Cecilia. “I’m coming, Cecilia!”. He makes his way to the room where Cecilia was last spotted “Not here.” He then passes through the corridor until he discovers a trail of blood leading into the room labelled ’17B’. His eyes widen as he hesitantly pulls the slide door open. Nothing could prepare him for the horror inside.
One glimpse. That’s all it took. His skin turned pale and his appetite rendered him nauseous. He drops to his knees, facing the ground, weeping. He can’t bring himself to look, but he can’t look away either. His fiancée, Cecilia Cross, soon to be Cecilia Temple, lies with but a torso left to recognise. Her intestines have been half-chewed and her legs have been devoured whole. What remains of Cecilia Cross is but a disemboweled corpse with a pretty face. Before Phoenix gets a chance to compose himself his phone starts to ring “Phoenix! You daft maniac, get up here before it… before it… Amber, what are you doing with that-Ahhhh!”
He hangs up the phone. “I’m sorry.” he cries softly.
The thought of being eaten alive by that beast is what gives him the strength to stand up and lock the door. He does everything in his power to ignore Cecilia. He rummages through the desk drawers in search of something to defend himself. His mind drifts “Why should my fate be any different than theirs? After all, this was my idea. This was my project. This was my fault.” With eyes closed he hits his head off the wall, clenching his fist, bearing feelings of both grief and guilt. He checks the last drawer, Phil’s. Inside the drawer is a handgun. He takes the gun from Phil’s desk and checks the magazine. “It’s loaded. What was Phil thinking?” He shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter anymore.” He walks over to Cecilia (or what’s left of her). “Nothing matters anymore.” He takes a seat with his back against the wall, right next to Cecilia. The lights go out. “It’s even smart enough to cut the power, huh? I guess in the end, we reap what we sow. ‘A new beast, slouching towards us… the beautiful mutant.’ That’s what Amber called it. Remember how we laughed, Cecilia?” A roaring snarl is echoed through the corridor. “It’s on its way, Cecilia. Death will soon come knocking on my door, and then we will be reunited.” There is a clamorous clonk at the door. It makes a noticeable impact. Phoenix looks to Cecilia “You always wore that cross, even when I teased you about your name. Your faith is so much stronger than mine, but… for you I’m willing to give it a try.” The violent thumps at the door are beginning to take shape. “Forgive me father…” (thump-thump) He raises the handgun at the door. “… for I have sinned…” (thump-thump) He steadies his aim, lining up his shot. “… for I have sinned…” The door is knocked down. It is too dark to see the beast, but that’s not what the shot is for. “… a lot.”
An ear-piercing bang echoes through the laboratory.

“… all the time in the world”

(From previous blog, unedited)

Continuing with the theme of my older works here is another piece from a couple years back I did with a more exaggerated touch.

Write a light-hearted and entertaining article, intended for publication in a magazine aimed at young people, in response to the phrase “…all the time in the world”.

It is truly a remarkable phenomenon watching the youth waste away their lives worrying about their status on social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc). You are creating a vortex of unnecessary anxiety that once you get sucked into there is no escape. I have the seen the future my dear readers, and it is a zombie apocalypse. Now, wait- just give me a moment to explain. Don’t click off the browser yet, because I have no doubt that you’re reading this online – and to the readers at home actually holding a newspaper – get with the times. But seriously, the zombie apocalypse is our future, and to clarify I don’t mean the kind you see in movies or video games or that dreadful show on AMC “The Walking Dead”. Basically, anything that’s not still-moving rotting flesh.
     So, what do I mean when I say ‘zombie apocalypse’!? I mean my generation and future generations to come. A day has not gone by in the last five or so years where I haven’t seen at least one person from my generation (or younger) walk while staring down at their phone like a mindless drone. They squander the gift of life, procrastinating, delaying the inevitable. They indeed, have “all the time in the world”, but do not know how to use it.
     Bombarded with entertainment system after entertainment system, new technological feats and discoveries, internet trends and various other types of peer pressure, and addictions – it’s no wonder they can’t escape their mundane routine: wake up, check phone, get dressed, check phone, eat breakfast, turn on TV/computer, check phone, leave house, check phone while walking/driving, etc…
     It’s a frenzy of pointless exercises that only act as burdens. Sure, phones were made to communicate long distances, but they’ve evolved past that. Now the new smartphones are capable of doing just about anything – from apps to music to games to ordering online to yes, even telling time. I can’t wrap my head around why this is the “norm”. Is it normal to needlessly check your phone every two seconds for the time or a text you’ve no doubt given ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’ theme as a ringtone?
     Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the problem and everyone else is experiencing some amazing new drug that gives them precognitive abilities, but only when they look at their phone. I can’t get the feeling that this is just the beginning. That the worst has yet to come. Just because you have “all the time in the world” doesn’t mean you should waste it writing articles about having all the time in the world…
     (Ahem). Look, what I’m trying to get across is that maybe take a break. Try something new. It doesn’t have to be something insane like skydiving – although if you do go skydiving be sure to use your Go-Pro and record yourself doing flips and spins – it just needs to be a different experience, because ultimately that’s what life is all about. Experiences. If you could just put down the phone (and the spare one in your pocket), turn off the TV and computer and just go for a walk. Think your legs are still capable of performing such an enormous undertaking as to move your lifeless body out into the yellow rays of light, known in some circles as “sunlight”? Splendid.
     Fret not, you may revisit your devices when you have returned from no less than a thirty (yes, I said thirty) minute walk. Achieve that and I’ll consider getting you that new iPhone coming out in November. After all, you have all the time in the world.
     Anyway, back to what I was saying earlier. We’re doomed.

The Importance of Literature in People’s Lives

(From previous blog, unedited)

This was a piece I did a few years back. Reflecting upon it, I probably should’ve kept more to the point and not spent as much time on the examples as I did. Oh well, maybe someday I might do a more concise version. Perception is ever-changing after all.

“Write a persuasive speech about the importance of literature in people’s lives.”

     Reading is a wonderful thing, don’t you agree? The notion that something written on paper in what is considered to be the colour of death, surprisingly, manages to immerse the reader – if they are willing – in a whole new light, a whole other world. That of itself is a remarkable feat when you think about it – the simplicity of a few hand gestures, the strokes of a pen – creating this other world. Truly inspiring.
     Are those days gone, I wonder. Is today’s generation concerned only with their devices and services? Surprisingly, that could not be farther from the truth, as I have recently discovered with help from the internet (thanks, internet!) that reading is at an all-time high. I couldn’t believe it, with all the visual and aural forms of entertainment around – TV, computers, video game consoles, iPods, etc – I had this preconception that literature wouldn’t even cross the mind of an eight-year-old.
     Why is that? I’ll tell you why, and this is going to tie-in to the importance of literature, so pay attention! E-books. Digital copies of thousands upon thousands of different kinds of reading material now available for reasonable to astonishing low costs. I know people say this every era when something new and wonderful is invented, but we are living in the future, ladies and gentlemen. Reading has evolved from vulnerable clumps of paper to something on a higher plane that can truly immortalize biographies, autobiographies, historical articles, stories – the lot.
     Now, you may be asking “Yeah, that’s great and all, but what does this have to do with the importance of literature?” Listen carefully. When you sit down and read ‘Harry Potter’ you are sucked into a world of magic, but these books do no tell the story of magic, but of a boy who lost his parents, raised by awful relatives who consistently belittled and mistreated him and then one day escape from the cruel and mundane aspects of life into a magical wonderland filled with friends, a new heartwarming family and… magic.
     My point is that ‘Harry Potter’ can appeal to all children and still manage to be an entertaining read for adults. Speaking of adults, the book series ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ (you know, those books ‘Game of Thrones’ is based on) is a dark fantasy where ‘plot armour’ is non-existent. Try not to get too attached to any particular character. When someone dies in ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ it’s the same as in reality (yes, I know people aren’t usually killed by fire-breathing dragons), and by that I mean the deaths come out of nowhere. Both the books and the show have an ominous atmosphere at all times because of this – the idea that death is an entity lurking in the shadows, biding its time until – BAM! No more [insert character death here]. The reader becomes more enveloped now that they know anyone can die at any time – this not only creates tension and suspense but fear and anxiety. The reader won’t be able to not become attached to at least one of the characters (so many charismatic killers, so many horrific deaths and so little time) because they’re relatable, charming, honourable, etc. The reader conflicts because knowing that your favourite character is now susceptible to death – most likely a very gruesome one – means you don’t want to read on when things get hairy for that character, but at the same time you can’t put the book down because it’s such an engrossing experience.
     Bottom-line, literature is important because it gives us something to either learn about the world or ourselves or to escape reality and enter another world that gives a different perspective on reality. If the characters are relatable and the story you’re trying to tell has universal appeal (everyone can get something out of it) then you’ve created something important, because it connected to someone on some level – inspired them, motivated them, made them smile, made them laugh, made them cry, gave them anxiety and fear for the characters… That is why literature is so important to people. And that is why we should all continue to read.

A Short Story About a Reunion

(From previous blog, unedited)

After flicking through some of my old stories from school, I decided to start posting them here. They are titled after the questions from past papers, so here’s the first one I’ll be posting.

Write a short story about a reunion.
I find myself reliving the same dream over and over again. Birds flying behind white, puffy clouds in an azure sky on a bright and sunny afternoon. I alone occupy a park bench placed in the green area behind the smooth, grey pavement. I sit, patiently waiting as joggers pass by, some in tight, usually black bicycle shorts, others in either dark tracksuit bottoms or grey sweatpants. Each one keeping to themselves, too engrossed in their music to take care in their surroundings.
 I can’t help shake the feeling I made a mistake coming here. I think to myself “What am I doing? Why did I agree to this?” unsure whether or not I should get up and leave. I don’t. I say to myself “Just another five minutes. Then I’m leaving.” I repeat this sentence once every five minutes, each time I frantically turn my head left and right, then return to my original composure and shift my eyes from left to right wildly, looking for a sign that I haven’t just wasted an hour of my life sitting alone on a park bench waiting for someone who’s probably not even going to show like the fool I am. “Why not just call or text me to say she’s running late?” I think to myself, bewildered.
 “That’s it. This time no regrets.” I slowly push myself up from the bench and assume a standing position: back straight, shoulders broad, legs a bit numb. I turn left and start walking, trying my hardest to let go. I stop and turn. I see a hand waving in the distance. I squint my eyes, raising my hand above to shield them from the intensity of the sun. My eyes beam with excitement. “That’s her!” I hoped, dashing her way as she hurried mine. I then suddenly bring myself to a halt, my face losing all sense of elation. There was something off, something wrong in the air. Then it hit me. She was gone. One minute she’s running my way with the most cheerful smile and innocent blue eyes and the next thing I know she passes through me like a warm summer’s breeze.
 I quickly come to the horrifying realization… none of this is real. It’s a dream, possibly an obscured memory. My mind can never seem to distinct between the two. The scene rewinds as though it were a movie and plays right where she enters. “Am I in control now?” I wonder. “Or is my mind turning against me?” I contemplate, frightened by the notion. I observe her more carefully this time. Pale skin glistening in the sunlight, dark brown hair rendered bright by the sun, and that infectious smile…
 She passes through me again. The scene replays. “What am I missing?” I feel too anxious to focus properly, but I take a deep breath, close my eyes, exhale and take in my surroundings. “Okay.” I am filled with clarity, my mind pulsing at the opportunity to test its newfound power. I rewind the scene manually this time and play where she enters. Things are becoming clearer now. The blue denim jacket over her pink hoodie. The dark yoga pants with white vertical stripes descending to a seemingly new pair of white runners, laced, clean.
 I rewind and play the scene one last time. Her hair – long, wavy, maintaining its sleekness despite the occasional strong gust of wind. Her neck – tender, bruised, scarred. A heart-shaped locket hangs around her neck – “genuine gold” she once told me. A gift from her grandmother, she said. I pause the scene just seconds before she reaches me. I examine her neck more carefully. The scar runs all around and back to the origin point as if she was… then it suddenly dawned on me. This wasn’t a happy reunion. This wasn’t a dream or a memory. No, this was much worse. The scar around her neck could only mean one thing… she was… gone.
 A single tear runs down my face and hits the pavement as blood. Suddenly, she rewinds and fast forwards as though possessed by some demonic entity or outside force. I turn away and see everything change. The trees fluctuating their leaves through all four seasons at a supernatural rate, the clouds and sky constantly varying in colour and weather. I turn back and she’s gone. Everything becomes still. Time has stopped. I look down, stupefied by the events that just occurred to discover a box with my name on it. I find myself holding a knife in my right hand. I cut open the box and take a deep breath before looking inside. One glimpse. That’s all it took to drawn all the life I had left from my face. I was in shock. I had no idea what to think anymore. Up until now, my dream seems to have been reacting to my observations of the world, now I feel like it’s guilting me for something I have no recollection of…
 Her head lays severed in the box and I can’t look away. “Why? Why can’t I look away?” I become tense and distraught with anxiety and fear. My eyes lock onto hers. There is an ominous feeling in the air, but I am too far down the rabbit hole to care at this point. Her eyes burst open with terror and I remember everything.
 We were to meet at this exact park bench but she never arrived. I waited and waited for hours, each moment becoming more and more infuriated and self-conscious. It wasn’t until it started raining that I walked home, only to discover she had been in an accident. I can remember the tears, the stillness of that moment and the bitter emptiness that came with it.