Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Writers Circle: August Entry

My hands fail me and I drop my bag.

The contents scurry from their captor across the blue lino floor, resting under computer desks and filing cabinets. I make no effort to retrieve them.

My computer casing has been removed and the inner hardware either removed or smashed. My breath is caught in my throat, my chest heaves and I suddenly I find it hard to breath. I am vaguely aware the others in the laboratory are watching me, waiting for the moment I will find my voice and crack. Was this some kind of horrific joke? Was this a test? Am I supposed to prove that I can recall years of research at the bat of an eyelid?

My mind is numb. There is no emotion or thought flowing around and I can’t even begin to bring myself to move, to sit down in front of the decimated computer and begin to make sense of it all. I don’t want too. Who would do such a thing?

Slowly, I find the strength to move and glance over my shoulder at my colleagues. Every pair of eyes seemingly fixated on their screens or equipment. I narrow my eyes at them: the laboratory is never empty, which of them would stand by and watch?

‘Natasha Steal.’

I turn my head towards the voice calling my name. A short, plump woman stands at the furthest end of the lab. She watches me for a second before standing aside from the door and gesturing that I go to her. My heels click loudly as I cross the silent laboratory. I try to intimidate those I pass with a cold stare, but they sit frozen in their seats, eyes adverted.

As I reach the door, the woman, dressed in a dark pin-striped suit, steps through into a carpeted hallway and strides off towards the end. I follow behind, so close I’m almost a shadow of hers. We walk up two more flights of stairs and two more doorways before reaching our destination. We meet no one. The building is strangely quiet.

Pin-stripe does not speak to me. She averts her eyes like those in the lab and motions towards a door behind a sectaries neat desk. I walk over, glancing over my shoulder towards my silent leader, whose eyes remain fixed on the floor.

Gold letters shine on the door: Matilda Floss. I’ve been brought to the chairman. My spirits rise slightly. I am pleased. Relieved that someone has noticed and that someone might be able to help me. Or tell me that this is simply a dream and that all I have to do is click my heals three times and everything will be restored.

I knock. Matilda answers and I enter. I am confronted by a thin, bony woman sitting behind a large polished antique desk. She glances up at me, over her glasses. ‘Natasha,’ says Matilda, nodding in greeting. ‘Sit down. Please.’

I sit down heavily. Matilda slides a plate of chocolate hobnobs towards me and waves a hand at them, indicating that I should take one. I do but replace my hand to my lap, the biscuit firmly clutched within it. I am not hungry; the loss of my research is still too raw. Matilda clasps her hands together and rests them on her desk. She peers at me over her glasses, reminding me of a teacher.

‘Natasha,’ she begins sternly, ‘now I must ask you to be completely honest with me; did you make any copies of the research that you have been doing regarding the common cold on any other external hard drives that are not kept within this laboratory?’

I frown, surprised by this question. ‘No, I didn’t. All of my research is – was – on that computer. I did have a couple of external hard drives, but those have been stolen as well.’

Matilda nods, her jaw muscles loosen and she looks thoroughly relived. My heart thumps loudly in my chest.

‘I’m glad to hear that,’ she says, a flicker of a smile appearing on her face.

‘Glad?’ I hear myself saying, incredulously. ‘Glad? All of my research is gone. Fifteen years worth of research has been stolen and destroyed and you’re glad I didn’t make extra copies to take home with me?’


I am so taken aback by her answer that it takes me a few moments to find my voice again. What?’

‘Natasha, what do you think would happen if the public were to discover that we, sorry, you, found a cure to the common cold?’

‘I think they’d be deliriously fucking happy, if I’m honest.’

Matilda nodded. ‘Sure, the public would be “deliriously fucking happy” as you so eloquently put it, but what about the companies that manufacture all our drugs.’

I blink. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Without the common cold there wouldn’t be any need for ibuprofen, cough sweets, excreta. Hundreds of companies would go out of business almost overnight and thousands of people would be made redundant. We have to keep the economy turning and it is too fragile for a cure at the moment.’

‘So you destroyed all my research because the economy is too fragile?’ I ask. ‘Bullshit. What’s really going on here?’

‘Natasha, I’ve given you a perfectly reasonable explanation. Please refrain from using that language–’ 

‘Tell me what’s really going on? Why are you telling me this?’

Matilda slides a piece of typed paper towards me but I don’t look at it. She cocks her head and smiles broadly at me. ‘Top of your class, weren’t you,’ she says. ‘Youngest female genealogist of your generation, that was, until they forced the grant for the Common Cold research on you.’ 

I ignore her taunting. ‘How many other diseases have we cured? One? Five?’

‘You’re becoming hysterical, Natasha,’ Matilda replies calmly. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to calm down or I’ll have you restrained.’

I stand up sharply and the chair topples backwards. I glare down at Matilda’s calm face. ‘I’m hysterical? This isn’t hysterical. Hysteria is the reaction the public will have when they discover what’s been going on.’ A hand grasps my upper arm roughly and I look round to find a suited skinhead attached there. I try to shake myself free but he tightens his grip. My head whips around back to Matilda. ‘What’s this?’

‘You are going to be escorted home, Natasha, where you will have a long relaxing bath and then go to sleep. You will not speak to anyone about this conversation. We’ll speak again in the morning.’

‘This is fucking bullshit, Matilda. I don’t care what it takes but I will get this out. I will ruin you.’

Matilda rises slowly from her chair; her eyes narrowed, her face sombre. ‘Get her out of my sight.’

Before I can verbalise my thoughts the skinhead tugs me towards the door. I resist and scream. I dig my nails into his hand trying to rip it from my arm. Someone grabs my free wrist from behind and pricks it with something sharp. 

My legs become immediately weak. My vision begins to tunnel.

I collapse and arms are there to catch me. Dark eyes gaze down upon me. 

The room blurs.

And fades.


  1. A really great piece Carla. You have a real skill for presenting a small slice of narrative in such a way that it feels both compelling and complete. The conspiratorial air of a secret government laboratory is well-realised and the characters of Matilda and Natasha feel well developed, despite the relative brevity of the piece.

    A couple of minor points:
    1. You have written adverted when I think you mean averted.
    2. "My computer casing has been removed and the inner hardware either removed.." a stylistic point really, that you've got to instances of the word 'removed' within the same sentence. It just doesn't flow as well as it might.

    I am left wondering about the nature of the research company, and the reasons why they felt the need to 'keep Natasha busy' on a project that they then chose to destroy. It seems like there's a really interesting conspiracy lurking in this short piece. I wonder if it would benefit from development? I'd be interested to see what the others think.

  2. I didn't realise how much I could miss a style of writing, not until I read this. The abrasiveness of the style suits a cold laboratory environment; perfect for a conspiracy plot.

    A few things I would cahnge/add:

    I want more description. I need not to imagine the labs I've been presented in books/movies/comics - I want to see Nastasha's lab. A simple reference to the size of the room and some of the equipment in it might focus my brain a little more as I did zone out more than once before the main dialogue part(which was rather good).

    I'd say that an effort to be understood here is overstated:

    'Matilda slides a plate of chocolate hobnobs towards me and waves a hand at them, indicating that I should take one. I do but replace my hand to my lap, the biscuit firmly clutched within it.'

    I'm not sure about the 'indicating that I should take one' bit. We know that the wave of the hand indicates the offering so I'd say chop that bit out and put something else in or leave the space? What do you think guys?

    There is such a blatent conspiracy going on here - as if a company wouldn't realise that certain cold remedies would be made obsolete.

    Is this story an ongoing one then? I need to know how it all works out.

    Fav bit:

    'My legs become immediately weak. My vision begins to tunnel.
    I collapse and arms are there to catch me. Dark eyes gaze down upon me.
    The room blurs.
    And fades.'

    For implication to be even more effective, I'd say add specification to the description. Stylistic contrast is always good!

    Thanks for the good story ;)

  3. This was very enjoyable. My 2 favourite bits were when Natasha referred to the woman she was following as "Pin Stripe lady" that made me chuckle and when she took the hobnob, it really showed how uncomfortable she is feeling in her present situation.

    I agree with the 2nd point Leanne made, you should think about re-wording it.

    Do you think her colleagues knew what had happened? Are they in on it? Has her whole career been a farce? A cover up for something a little bit more sinister? These are the questions that arouse from your peice and I agree with Leanne - do you think there is something in here that will benefit from development? I would like to know more!

  4. I was actually thinking today, I can't ever remember any of your stories having their own title. Is this something you have done consciously, or are you just having a hard time with titles in general? I find titles really difficult (In fact, this is a little hypocritical of me, as I don't think my piece for this month is titled!) but I also think they are really quite important to a story. You can use them to foreshadow events in the piece itself, or to emphasise certain themes or characters, or to 'throw the reader off the scent'? Basically, the title is a really versatile device and you should totally make the most of it. Or get the circle to help you out with ideas if you're struggling to come up with something. I've asked them before when I've been stuck for titles - they're a very helpful lot! :)

  5. Gotta say (while yes, the style is down pat, and well done, generally very well written) I just didnt like it. You keep telling me whats happening/what she feels/what shes doing. Which isnt all that much. It lacks a depth. Either keep it in first person proper and give a more detailed view of her emotions, or put it in third and show the reader.

    Floss: She doesnt strike me as someone who would stare at the floor. Eyes averted for awhile, to spare the protagonists embarassment, yes. But not the floor, that implies a sense of guilt/shame. Which clashes with her treatment of the prot'.

    The charas need developing more, they are a bit to 2d. Floss has great potencial. Your main..well. Is a bit of a blank. She has a typical reaction to whats happened, but nothing that really marks her as an individual. A fav potted plant/photo on her desk would help. Or anal tidiness. Something.

    The danger of a sparse writing style is that you loose depth of chara/plot. This is on the cusp of that. You need to add more description, associative meanings (that arent assumed). Still keep them susicnt, but give the story that extra meat.

    Some good bits;

    "The contents scurry from their captor across the blue lino floor"

    "The room blurs.

    And fades."

    Steal instead of Steel(e) whch is more common. Interesting. Is there a reason why?

    "I try to intimidate those I pass with a cold stare, but they sit frozen in their seats, eyes adverted."

    This sentance struck me as odd becuase of cold and frozen, with the but seeming to negate the cold stare, yet they are frozen. PErhaps have a burning stare and frozen recipitents.

  6. Really nice short on a concept that has actual real life implications. I've heard the supposed suppression of a 'cure' for the common cold suppressed for similar reasons, so the plot is compelling and slightly scary in it's possibility. The plot moves along at an excellent pace, and your command of speech and character interaction is great. I really don't have much to say because it's such a strong piece of writing throughout that, like the best books, it's absorbed straight through eyes into the internal imaginatory vista smoothly and without the need for interpretation. I can really hear Natasha indignation and rage at losing her research and her shock at the Chairman's suggestion at the need to cover it up, and the final violent confrontation with the 'suited skinhead' delivers a nicely climactic finale. There are a few spelling mistakes, nothing word wouldn't grab, but I can't find any issue with grammar or sentence structure beyond some repetition issues - In fact I like your telegraphic, curt style in this piece, as it really adds to the sensation of affronted rage dissolving into fear and panic. Great work and yet more variety that makes me look forward to your next piece.