Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for January 2013

Savage Writing: Hearing the Wrong Thing

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Theme for this week was “misheard”. All I could think about was the work my old phonetics lecturer used to do, and this somehow came out.


The program must have gained sentience some time between 11.15, after the departmental meeting, and 11.45, when Rachel checked it before intending to have lunch. She’d spent that half hour reading journal articles and thinking up more words that could trick it, and when she went to test those wors, she found that the program had discovered a mind of its own.

She’s always assumed that if any machine would become smart enough to act without instruction, it’d be one of those chess-playing supercomputers with scientists all around it, in a neon white room – something costing millions. Not a standard voice-recognition program on a six-year-old department PC, in an office so filled with papers and coffee stains that when she sneezed she created a flurry of giant brown-ringed confetti. But, somehow, the program (which still couldn’t differentiate “great abbey” and “grey tabby”) started typing completely different sentences to what she said – full, coherent, grammatically correct sentences.

There it stood: the black pixels of the first sentence, which – where it should have read “recognise speech” or, failing that, “wreck a nice beach”, displayed “Come on, you stupid machine.” The second sentence, where she had repeated herself, said “What the hell was that?” And so it went, spelling out her thoughts as she became progressively more unnerved, then decided to phone IT.

By 1pm, Rachel was very hungry, had the entire linguistics department squeezed in her office, and had watched Martin the IT guy’s thoughts rush over the screen, changing from bored to frustrated to scared to, finally, giddy like a child at Christmas. He told them not to touch the PC while he got the computing science department, and the mic picked him up and wrote on the screen: “If I can help figure this out, I’ll be rich and famous!”

‘Be quick,’ James, Professor of Phonetics said, and the program dutifully wrote “Yeah, like the guys who invented the internet“, in a new font. Why a new font? Rachel burst out when she got:

‘Holy shit, it can understand sarcasm!’

For the first time,the machine displayed exactly what she said, but added afterwards, “I’m so smart for figuring that out.”

‘Getting a bit hubristic, are we?’ James said.

“I can’t believe you figured that out before me, you bitch,” said the screen.

It took all of Rachel’s self-control to not start shouting at him – she was afraid that everyone would see the thoughts that even she wasn’t quite aware of.

‘Okay, can it actually read our thoughts?’ Cat from Semantics asked.

“This can’t be possible,” the machine typed.

‘That’s not possible,’ Antonia from Grammar agreed, and the machine said the same, but added “This can’t be happening, it must be a dream, this isn’t fucking possible!”

They were silent for a moment, then Jenny from Pragmatics spoke:

‘If that’s what you’ve all actually been thinking, then it must be some kind of magic.’

The screen said: “Tell me what I’m thinking now, computer! (Oh my God this will be so fucking weird and cool if it works.)”

Silence descend upon the office. Rachel felt afraid for the sanctity of her mind, terrified that her thoughts were being invaded even as she stood there without speaking. She imagined everyone else was feeling something similar, but didn’t dare open her mouth to ask.

‘Hi, I’m back!’ Martin the IT guy said from behind her. The program wrote: “Ohmygod AWESOME!”

‘Now, it’s a bit cramped in here and a lot of the comp sci guys are coming over, so can I ask some of you to leave so we have more space?’

Rachel didn’t bother to look at the screen to see what his prattling thoughts were. All the linguistics staff left and she joined them, even though it was her office. As soon as they were in the hallway, James sighed.

‘Thank Christ,’ he said. ‘That scared the shit out of me.’

Everyone nodded. Rachel still felt shaken. Was it magic, or something else? She didn’t care. First occurrence of machine sentience, amazing new discovery for  the human race – she didn’t care. A large part of her truly hoped that one of the computer scientists would have the sense to pull the plug, and no-one would ever see their thoughts broadcast like that again.



Obviously this takes place in a future linguistics department where all the professors speak like twenty-somethings.

I’ve been given lots of hours at work recently, plus I’m editing a book that my friend has translated, so I’m afraid I haven’t been writing as much recently. Will try my best to get something up next Wednesday.


Written by G.J.

25/01/2013 at 1:41 pm

Heavy Platonic

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Came into my head after the meeting tonight. I read out the start of something I’ll posting on here in the coming weeks.

I’m half-cut at the minute. This is probably a load of shit, fresh off the press, but I’m posting it anyway. I promise I’ll stop writing whiny first-person twenty-something-girl-problem stuff eventually.


Know that thing where you fall in love? It’s always one person. One heart, one soul. Well I went and fell in love with a couple. And no, not a couple of guys like some teen-drama love triangle shit. Like an actual couple, man and woman who live together in a house and have a dog and refer to the stuff in their house as “our something”. Though maybe that gives the wrong impression. It’s not romantic love, but it’s like some heavy platonic love where I really like them and care about them and I want to be around them all the time. I had it once before with one of the girls I teach singing to. She was this girl of about nine or ten who clearly thought I was the best thing in the universe, which is a really nice feeling if you ever get it. I got her sweeties even though she said she wasn’t allowed, and I liked her so much as a friend and tutee that it felt kind of inappropriate. She won a competition then stopped coming to me for lessons, and I really really missed her for a while. I got over it, of course. You get over everything eventually.

It’s a weird feeling to be like that again, and with two people no less They’re friends of my mum’s ex-boyfriend. We were having a Christmas house party and I got talking to them and they offered me wine and listened to me talk about uni and my boyfriend and said my psychology experiment sounded really interesting and then Linda mentioned how one of her friend’s daughters teaches singing and I hated her immediately without even seeing her, the bitch. And Steve was the only middle-aged man I’ve met who, when I said I teach singing on the side of studying, didn’t say “Those who can’t do, teach,” and then smile and expect me to find it funny.

I went to visit them a bit after the party with mum and Mark – they didn’t think I’d say yes to coming along but I really enjoyed talking to them because they were interested in what I said and treated me like an adult and not some tumour on the couch or ghost upstairs. Their house is really small but nicely decorated, and they have a corgi that seems to be in every place at once even though it’s impossible because he only has those tiny legs. Named Jebediah, or Jeb. They talked to us all about work and the TV shows and films they’ve watched, and a little bit about politics, and when Mark tried to go on a rant about immigration Linda went on an contrastingly left-wing counter-offense and I could tell the prick got really irritated so mum started talking about TV again and I was so happy someone could say what I was thinking for once.

Mark bitched about that all the way home in the car. Mum listened. She dumped him by text then changed her number because she was worried he might take it badly, and I’m glad she did because when he got angry he made you think he was a murder-suicide waiting to happen, but I was also upset because it meant I probably wouldn’t be able to meet Steve and Linda again. But then mum said she liked them and invited them round and I talked about books with Linda all night and I could tell I was falling again, getting that heavy platonic thing going, and then Steve kept joking and all I could think when I looked at them both was how much I wished for them to be happy, how I hoped that their jobs worked out well and their families stopped pestering them for kids and cute little Jeb never got old or ill or died ever.

Mum said they seemed a bit sniffy for her liking. Talking down to her, she said. Said some nasty things about Mark too. ‘But mum,’ I said, ‘you’ve said worse about him, and why do you care if you’ve broken up?’

‘It’s the principle,’ she said. ‘They shouldn’t talk that way about one of their friends.’

I didn’t give a damn. They felt more like my friends than hers now. But who ever heard of a student being friends with a couple in their forties? It isn’t right, people’d say. So that was that. Mum didn’t take me round there any more, and I left when uni began again.


Tuesday past, Ryan broke up with me. Said we never did anything anymore, said I was boring and sat around reading and playing piano and video games all day.

‘It’s an electric piano, not a real one,’ I said.

Said that kind of nitpicky thing is why I’m a pain, and we can’t go on. Two years, I said, and it never bothered you before, none of it. It did but I didn’t say, he said. I got the feeling our roles were meant to be reversed somehow, like I was the man and he was the woman. I went for a walk to sort it all out in my head, and then I got obsessed with not stepping on the cracks in the pavement and the street was luckily one of the few streets where each pave was a step apart, unlike most pavements where the slabs are always a step and a half and you can never walk normally and avoid all the cracks. And then a guy passed me, and he had his hoodie up like all the guys on our street always do, and I always worry they’re criminals and going to attack me but they never do and I keep walking outside late at night anyway. My head was this huge huge mess, thinking that I was boring and weird and all this avoiding the cracks thing just showed how messed up I was. When we started going out, he used to say it was “quirky.” That’s just what they call weird when it’s sexy. I just wanted to go home and play the piano and sing, but it was late at night and the neighbours would complain and I couldn’t sing about how awful I felt right in front of Ryan, could I?

I went back and slept on the couch and the next day we had to talk about how to split up our things and who would keep the flat and I wanted to postpone it, I wanted to talk about other things but he kept saying we had to, bringing me back to it, and while he was telling me all that I was going to keep and get and how I had to find a new place, I wondered how my mum could have gone through this four or five times, and how she could keep going back to new people again and again if this was how it ended: not my choice, not a bang or betrayal, but some awful whimper that somehow still criticised everything you did and liked and stood for, still tore everything you were to shreds. And he had the nerve to be calm about it, and say he had been thinking about it for a while, and said he hadn’t told me because I’d be like this.

It was February 14th. Valentine’s Day, but more importantly, my birthday, because I was a week late and wanted to start messing up things right from the beginning. I knew if I stayed another night in front of Ryan without singing along to something then I’d start crying and never stop. I had a lesson to take but I cancelled it. Personal matters, I said. The mother sounded worried, like I’d said I might have cancer. No, I said, it’s my birthday and something’s come up. She sounded happier then, like it must be a surprise party.

Mum called me just after I hung up. Said happy birthday. Started wittering on about TV and I told her I couldn’t deal and she got all huffy and I said about Ryan, then had to hang up on her before she started over-sympathising.

I went to the shop and decided I’d buy myself the biggest fuck-off box of chocolates they had, because I’d never been given a box of chocolates in my life. And a bottle of cava. Then I looked at it and realised I couldn’t have them at home and couldn’t have it outside – couldn’t drink cava in the park like it was cheap lager! And I felt so fucked-up in myself that I said, fuck it, I don’t care, there’s only one place I’d like to be tonight.


They were in. Linda answered the door and looked really surprised.

‘It’s my birthday,’ I blurted out, ‘and I’ve no-one to spend it with. Can I just come in and sit with you two, for five minutes? You can have some booze, if you like.’

She opened the door wider. After the surprise, she didn’t have that wild look of desperation I expected, not like the look you give when a homeless person confronts you in the street and asks for money when damn it, that money’s for you but you can’t say because then you’re a bad person. Nothing like that feigned politeness.

‘No worries, pet,’ she said. ‘We’re having a quiet one anyway. Come on in, you can watch Doctor Who with us.’

I hate Doctor Who. That’s not why I was nearly crying as I stepped in.

‘Thank you,’ I said.

Written by G.J.

10/01/2013 at 12:37 am

After Diary – December

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Doesn’t feel like the run-up to Christmas. No light or shitty adverts or music blaring out of every shop.

We talked about whether we should get presents for each other this year. Decided not to – even Ben said so. He’s really mature from all this. Eddie said he might go hunt something for us to eat on the day. Hope it’s not pigeon. Don’t want to eat whatever the fuck city pigeons have been eating, dirty flying rats.

Weather’s pulled back a bit. Actually bearable. Or maybe we’re becoming used to it. I only really thought about it the other day, but it’s still nice to just sit in a book shop or a coffee shop and read by yourself. I cleaned the dust out ages ago, and now actual dust is starting to settle about. I get a bit spooked every time I hear a noise, though. After a while the wood’s going to rot or something and the whole shop might domino down on top of me. Being crushed to death is a pretty shit way to go. Not the worst, of course, but pretty shit. Sudden unexplainable Plague is far better.


Rats. In the storage. Never been so fucking angry in my life.

Crystal said I looked proper scary. I made myself a spear and went hunting but they’re too fast. Luckily there’s still loads of rat poison in all the shops, ha ha ha! Reading about setting traps as well, for when it runs out. Need to find some stray cats and breed them (plus, bonus kittens. I think we could all do with some cuteness).

Traps and poison do nothing for the maggots though. So upsetting throwing out floury things. Kind of wish it would snow, so we could refrigerate something other than ourselves.

Think I’ve lost weight with all this worrying and running about. Cold has something to do with it as well. I would be happy, but I’m actually kind of nervous. I was pretty much the only one of us who could survive on their own stores for a while if we ran out of food. It’s like having a protective blanket taken away. I mean, I know it looks worse than being thin, but I never got ill as much as my skinny friends, and when I don’t care about romance or whatever then caring about my appearance over my health is pretty fucking stupid.

We don’t like it when Crystal has a cold, which is pretty much all the time. Louise said surely it’s about time Marie came back and looked her and the baby over. There’s a doctor in Govan, though, so we can just ask him over. It’s quite nice, knowing we’re somewhat connected.


Spoke to Osian for the first time in a while. He asked if I forgave him, and I said ‘For what?’ and he seemed to like that. Didn’t forgive him for long though.

He says he’s giving up on the Plague.

I was all ready to give him a huge bollocking, but he started telling me some of the things he’s been figuring out about the Plague. He said it’s not a chemical thing or a disease or anything like that. The way everyone just collapsed into pieces means it must have been some physics thing we’ve never heard of. He told me about these bombs that detroy your body in the most painful way imaginable by altering the water balance in your cells or something. I can’t really remember – it went over my head mostly. But he said he doesn’t think he can learn anything more, especially by himself. Said it’s completely beyond him why it didn’t affet some of us – must be a genetic mutation or something.

I asked why anyone would want to use a weapon on us and he got all scholarly on me and talked about the UK’s enemies and such shit. I don’t believe it. Why Glasgow, out of everywhere? And if it was just Glasgow, or Scotland, then why hasn’t anyone come to help us yet?

I asked what he’ll be doing instead now then. He said mainly helping us get clean water and trying to create a working battery. And something else, with a shit-eating grin. I’m worried.


Was talking to Claire about books I’d read and ended up in this massive ranty speech about Vitorian books and things and told her the entire plot of Mill on the Floss, and then Middlemarch. Louise listened in, and then everyone listened in. Then Dave said they both sounded stupid and boring and I had a go at him for being a football-loving beer-swilling retard and ran off. Think I’ll stay in one of the rooms of the hotel instead of the concert hall lobby tonight.


Eddie caught a massive rat and cooked it and ate it and it was fucking disgusting but also delicious just to have cooked meat. Said next thing he’ll get is fox. I bet fox tastes all stringy, but hell if rat can taste good then anything can. But then, he did put a fuckton of spices on it. Spices keep for pretty much forever. So does honey, if it doesn’t solidify. And all the stuff that’s bad for you, ha ha.

I miss bread. Flour in general. Also been craving salad something awful. Eddie and Claire got me to help a bit with the garden. Glasgow Green looks far nicer with plants over it. Sky’s been clearer. You get a nice breeze and that winter chill feeling and sometimes I like how damn quiet it is. For half a second. Then I want to cry. I’d even take a bunch of teenage neds as company at this point, just for extra humans.


I was working with Crystal and she randomly burst into tears and said she misses JJ and is worried he’s abandoned her. One of those uncomfortable moments when your brain is shouting “I told you so!” but you just can’t say it. Had to lie and say he’ll come back for the baby. She said the baby is all that’s keeping her going. She misses her family and friends. I said she should go back to the West End if she misses her friends, but she said she doesn’t want to be somewhere else if JJ comes back. It’s not far, and he’s on a bike, I said. She wouldn’t hear it. I’m no good at comforting people.


They actually got a fucking fox! I can’t wait! It sounds stupid but I’m actually going to enjoy Christmas for this!


Merry Christmas, dead Glasgow.

(Yes the fox was delicious)


Don’t know what to say about last night. Still a bit overwhelmed by it all.

After dinner, we all sat around as usual (Osian’s been joining us and everything), and we were singing Christmas songs and then Louise starts singing ‘All Alone on Christmas’ and then I remembered when they had the outside cinema on George’s Square last year, and I went along with the Sci-fi society to see Home Alone and Home Alone 2 and Christmas Carol and so many other ones, and it rained and we all huddles under each others’ umbrellas and complained about our cold hands, and suddenly I missed them, I missed them all so much I couldn’t breathe – Eilidh and Gary and Tom and Mhairi and Kate and even the people I didn’t like, like Stewart, or care about, like Imogen. And I couldn’t imagine that they were all just gone, gone like that, and all the people I saw die in H&M had friends and families and parents and people they loved, and kids, and oh god all those kids that had suddenly died, and their teachers too and neighbours and even the news presenters at the BBC and the cameramen and sound peope, everything, everyone everywhere, just so many people GONE, never to come back, not ever. All those dreams and quirks and personalities, just gone like they didn’t even fucking exist or matter at all.

I couldn’t handle it. I started bawling like a baby. I hate crying in front of people more than anything, but I couldn’t help it. I think everyone was surprised, because they were all hugging me and saying it’d get better, and then because they were being so nice I just kept blubbering, and then Claire started saying all this motherly stuff and patting my head as she hugged me and I couldn’t take it, I just let everything out – I told them that I was a waste of space and I didn’t deserve to live, I didn’t deserve to be alive when so many other much better people were gone, fucking dead, and that I was useless and I couldn’t ride a bike and I could barely cook and I couldn’t make electricity or clean water or help to recreate anything from before the Plague because all I was good at was reading and being a bitch.

I didn’t believe them when they contradicted me at first. Ben said about my cake, then Eddie said about all the work I’d done collecting things, and Crystal said she’d never have thought of all the things I’ve thought of, about keeping things safe and stored. Then Louise said of course I was useful, because I was smart. What the fuck does smart mean in this sort of situation? But she said all the books I’ve read help, and she loves hearing about the stories I’ve read because it makes her feel better, and feel like she’s in the past again.

Everyone said they needed me. Everyone. I know they’re just saying that because I’m alive, because we need everyone alive, but I kind of believed they meant it generally. I mean, I was the bitch who rationed water. I was the bitch who forced them to eat beans and tinned greens all the time. I’m the one who made them work when they didn’t have to work ever again. But we’re here, and alive, and I guess we’ve all done what we can to help. I just want everyone to live so god fucking damn much that I don’t care what else happens.

Made me feel good. I still don’t see why I’m alive out of luck, over anyone else, but I have to appreciate it. Mum and nan always wanted me to appreciate what I have. I miss everyone like I’d miss my own leg, but then so does everyone – we’re all suffering. Just got to keep going, I suppose.

Merry Boxing Day.


Osian said that I’m more useful than I realise. Funny how he waited three days to say that. He said one day, when we’ve gathered more of the Glaswegian people together to one place, I’ll meet some amazing guy who’ll appreciate me for all I am.
‘Bastard,’ I said, ‘what if I’m a lesbian and I want to meet an amazing woman?’
Oh man the look on his face was worth it. I couldn’t breathe for laughing and only barely managed to say that I was joking. He smiled and said that got him good. Made me happy.


Went out with Crystal and Louise today, looking at baby things in the storage. I tried to keep it tidy so it was easy to find what she wanted, but s

Wait I hear something. Sounds like JJ’s back? Suppose Crystal will be happy. He’s shouting something, Osian too, about the sky – sounds scared – wait




Written by G.J.

03/01/2013 at 9:28 pm