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The Clutter Box, страница 1


The Clutter Box

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The Clutter Box
The Clutter Box

  By Adam Howell

  Copyright 2013 Adam Howell




  Thanks to everyone who helped me with this novella. Thanks to Stephen Whittaker for opinions on early plot development. Thank you to Donna Michele Fernstrom, my parents Marie and Bernard Howell, and to my sister Laura Howell, for taking the time to read through the book and give opinions/advice. And thanks to Simon Holmes for helping to spotting grammar and spelling errors.

  Chapter 1

  It was frequently argued that the only reason governments still placed human soldiers on the ground was to rationalise the killing of insurgents. It’s self defence, as long as we have a soldier’s life to protect.

  All this fighting went on in distant lands. Life, for us, has been peaceful and secure; that is, for as long as we stave off the third world war. In one form or another this has been the threat for over a century. The bi-product of a telepathic lie which has been festering away, from generation to generation, since the end of the second world war: There is a society of unimaginable evil in this world, and it plans to infect us all.

  I’d worked three comfortable years at Granny Labs - a military research and development corporation - and my time there went quickly.

  We’d started engineering a new tracking system for a scanner-grenade. A device designed to be thrown into a building, scan the interior and report on any occupants; then it would detonate.

  Such smart weapons were legal now. The law had been eased since it was shown that machines could decide who to kill with far greater accuracy and speed than any human. Any reduction in civilian casualties had been offset by the fact that governments and soldiers felt far less restraint in the use of such weapons.

  A telepath would roast the surface of my skin. I’d turn my face like a hog on a spit.

  “Clear,” A distorted voice would ring through, every month from a telepath booth in the company's own private psi-clinic. The fragmented image, of what I imagined to be a man, waved me through from behind a screen of distorting glass - always without raising an issue.

  It has been demonstrated, by authorities, that people were more comfortable being stripped of their privacy when they’re unable to identify the intruder. Screened off shadows, probing between our lobes. Trusted whoevers, honour bound never to reveal a private thought - excluding any security related issues which the subject would previously have agreed to disclose whilst accepting the job.

  I'd long given up on having secrets. Back then I felt lucky to get a job and, as long as I didn't break the rules, it seemed best to simply avoid thinking about it. There weren't many jobs left in the city.

  My father had been out of work for years. In his youth he was amongst the many who didn’t believe in telepathy. Smart people didn't back then, and he was clever for a guy who didn't get anywhere in life.

  I spoke to him once about his lack of achievements. He said that he'd raised a barmy son on his own and he was proud of what he’d achieved.

  I was born in Buxton when my father still worked as a butcher; in the days when people ate naturally grown meat. He dealt with the expensive stuff, flavoured by hanging off real animal bone. Animal grown meat was ultimately deemed unnecessary and banned. It would be over twenty years until he found work again. One day I’d find him a new job; one he really wanted to do.

  My mother left us when I was eight. I was a difficult child - always screaming and angry. The night she left she packed a single suitcase, barely saying a word, and walked out. Father was left sulking on the stairs. There were no raised voices. Never in front of me. She missed out on my even more turbulent teenage years.

  It was a number of years later, at the age of thirteen, that I developed my superstition. I started to think that if I saw the soles of someones shoes I could see something of their soul. This was nonsense and I knew it. I picked up the habit when sat, feet up on a low wall, in a park, eating an ice cream.

  An old man, who stank of urine, walked up to me and crouched down by my feet. He pointed a bony finger towards my shoe. I naturally pulled my feet back and became defensive. He mumbled something which I couldn't make out and I snapped at him, “Go away.” Which, to my relief, he did. During this encounter I dropped my ice cream. The cornet lay splattered on the ground; ice cream melting into the dirt of the pavement.

  The experience left a lasting impact with me. The man grew to represent everything I saw as disgusting in people. That day he earned a place on my list of memorable childhood events.

  Before the day was through I’d started to look at the soles of people’s feet. Maybe, at first, it was merely an attempt to see what the man was looking for - what he found so interesting. Then I wondered how he should have gone about it: sneaking about without attracting attention, catching that quick opportunistic glimpse.

  This quickly grew into an obsessive compulsive trait. I proceeded to try to rationalise it. I was looking for hidden truths buried in the tread of the shoes and other such rubbish.

  Since then, whenever someone put their feet up, exposing their soles, I would try to sneak a glance. I'm not a foot or shoe fetishist. This is an impulse - a bad habit. It never told me anything about their souls or the journeys they'd taken in life, but it did make me more comfortable.

  I couldn't make out what the man said to me, on that day, but later, going back through my memories, I imagined that he said, “This is a blessing. You have a future.”

  I now realise he’d telepathically infected me with his obsessive compulsive disorder.

  When I first got the job at Granny Labs, I wondered what the telepaths would make of my superstition. I hoped it would be clear to them that I knew it was all nonsense, as if knowledge that it wasn’t real would have made it somehow more acceptable. I hoped it was normal. That everyone had these bizarre quirks. I imagined what it must be like to be a telepath; to be aware of all the strange things that go on in other people’s minds.

  My telepath would give me the all clear. Whatever he saw, he must have thought it normal enough. Now I wonder if he even realised I had a telepathic infection? If he was even aware such things existed? Could I have infected him?

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