(Weird) Short story: The cows will safely graze

It all began two weeks ago. Man, time’s flown. Anyway, it was one of those cold November nights, around three in the morning. Me and my little brother were sleeping tight on our big creaking bed, when suddenly, lightning broke out. We both jumped and Tommy – my brother – started to cry, although he wasn’t even fully awake.

I put my hand on his shoulder. “Shh… It’s just thunder.” He shivered for a while, half asleep, and soon he relaxed. Big brothers have that effect.

But just when we started to settle down again, another light tore through the dark sky. Tommy gasped; I gasped.

“I’m scared”, he whined, “Bobby, I’m scared.”

“Quiet!” I snapped back. “It’s nothing, and you’re a big boy. Go back to sleep.” Easier said than done: the rain pattered on the side of the windows like a thousand drums, and the winter wind howled.

“Go to sleep”, I said again, more to me than to him, and lay back down. For a while, there were shadows, and the rain, beating on the glass. From the corridor came my father’s occasional snoring, loud and clear even under the storm. Slowly, my eyes grew heavier, and the sounds faded away.


Around three-thirty, I woke up again. It took me a while to figure out why, and my first thought ran to the storm. But strangely, the rain had calmed, coming now more gently on the window glass.

It was something else. I turned and checked on Tommy, who was fast asleep. No problems there… even Dad had gone quiet.

And then I heard it. A soft, scratching sound, coming from where our desk was. I listened to it, the hairs on the back of my neck rising. Not knowing what to do, I just lay there, hoping that it wasn’t what I thought. That it was just the rain, or the wind, or –

“What’s that?”

The scratching sound stopped.

“Bobby, what is it?”

“Shh. Quiet. You’ll make it run, and who knows where it’ll go.”

A minute passed. No sounds, no scratching – just the rain.

And then it started again, the soft scratching sound.



“… I’m scared.”

Scratching, and now some chomping.

“Bobby, please turn the light on.”

I hesitated. The light would scare it, and the thought of it scurrying across the bedroom floor gave me the creeps. But my little brother was shivering, and sibling duty called.

“Okay. Hang on.” I stretched my hand to my side lamp, and found the switch. Mustering all the courage I could, my body tensing and my eyes peering through the dark to the direction of the scratching sound, I flicked it on.

It didn’t run at once. The light must have dazed it because it stood there for a moment, sniffing the air, its head turning around wildly. And then it ran towards our bed.

Towards us.

Our screams resonated louder than any thunder and any storm. The next thing I remember is me and Tommy up against the wall, and my parents at the door, scared to death.

“Thomas! What is it?”


“What is it, Robert? What’s happening?”

My lower jaw was shaking, but in my panic I managed to spit out the words, the horrible words of the horrible creature now hiding under our bed:

“It’s… a… cow!!!”

My parents stood there for a while, dumbfounded. My father was the first to come to.

“Are you serious? You almost gave us a heart attack because of a stupid cow?”

My mother, hugging us both, turned to him. “Please Frank, they’re both scared stiff. They’re shaking. It gave them a fright.”

My father shook his head, still looking stern. “They’re big boys, Catherine, they should act their age. Anyway, where’d it go?”

Eager to re-establish my masculinity, I slipped away from my mother and pointed at the bed. “It went under there.”

“Just one?”

“I think so, sir.”

“Okay, help me move the bed.”

My mother stood up, with Tommy hiding behind her robe. “Wait, Frank. Let me get Tommy out of here, and I’ll close the door. I don’t want that thing making its way to the kitchen.”

My father was already grabbing the foot of the bed. “He should stay here, and face his -”


“Okay, okay. Take him downstairs.”

When they left, my father turned to me. “Grab the other side, and if you see the cow, don’t drop the bed. Alright?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry about before, Dad.”

“It’s okay, son. We’re not exactly used to having cows in the house. Now lift.”

The bed moved, and we just caught a glimpse of a tail, as it pulled back under the bed.

“Yeah, he’s there alright. Pull your side again, let’s see if we can get it to come out.”

With my dad near, my fear was gone. I took a breath and pulled. The tail re-appeared, disappeared, and suddenly, there it was, the nasty creature, running out from under the bed towards the desk again, but only to find that it was dangerous open space there, with nowhere to hide.

“We’ve got him now, son!” My father dropped the bed with a thud. “Get your trash bin and cap him!”

Wild with hunting fever, I lifted the bin and made a step towards the cow. It stood there, trembling, trying to make itself small against the wall. I took another step and turned the bin upside down.

And then another cow dropped on the floor at my feet. It must have been hiding in the bin, too scared with all the commotion to get out. I yelped and took a step back, lost my footing and fell flat on my back.


I groaned and got up just in time to see the two cows scurry past my father, who, unlike me, tried to stomp on them. The cows passed him, ran to the door, climbed the wall and disappeared through a hole I wouldn’t have noticed in a thousand years.

The next thing we heard was my mom and Tommy screaming.


It wasn’t long before the house was infested. Cows breed fast. They were in the kitchen, in the rooms, in the attic. At night, we could hear them walking around the house through the wood, inside the walls. My brother even found one inside the toilet. No food was safe to leave out anymore. They’d eat a lamb joint in seconds; they chewed through the boards like butter; they nested inside the cupboards.

We pulled away the furniture, sealed all the cow holes we could find, but they’d always find a way into the house. You’d walk into the living room and you’d find cow droppings on the sofa.

My mother took it the hardest. She laid cow traps all over the house, and baited them with hay. Every so often we’d hear a trap go off, snap! and the cow would screech its last breath. Even Tommy got used to them, and helped his mother clean and re-load the traps. We’d go to bed with cows walking all over the room and it wouldn’t even bother us. I’d turn the light on to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and there’d be a cow on the bed, happily munching on something. I’d shake it off and go about my business.

By the end of the first week, the cows were everywhere, eating the food, the plants, the furniture, the house.

And then, the cows stole my brother. Just took him away. I woke up one morning and he was gone, just like that. We spent the whole day looking for him, but he was nowhere to be found. My parents were grief-stricken, especially my mother. We talked about moving away. About burning the house to the ground. My father mumbled something about a curse.

That night, about a week ago, the cows took away my mother. This time though they had my father to deal with; he told me that he gave them quite a fight. Even managed to stomp on a couple, although one of them was still a calf. But the cows were quick and many; they distracted him and took my mother away when he turned his back.

“Get me a drink of water, son”, my father said.

Those were his last words. By the time I came back from the kitchen, the cows had gone off with him.


It’s been a week now. I’ve barricaded myself in the bathroom, where there are fewer cow-holes. I’ve taken as much food as I could carry – cans mostly, and coffee – and used wax to seal the holes. I can hear them outside, around the house, grazing, walking about freely, slowly, now that they own the house.

I’ve taken my father’s shotgun, and an axe too. If they come in here they’ll have a fight. But I know they are too many, and I know that I won’t hold off forever. So before I locked myself up, I went to the attic and got some of that dynamite my grandpa used to use for fishing. I’ve strapped it around me, and have the fuse handy. They’ll never take me.

I’m tired and lonely. But I’m not afraid anymore. Outside, the whole world echoes with mooing and chewing and clomping and chomping. They’re everywhere – everywhere except here, in my little fortress. For how long, I don’t know. But I do know that sooner or later, they’ll come.

I’m waiting.

The cows will come.

Short Story: Say cheese

Dead people don’t smile.

They don’t say much either, except maybe for that fat guy who groaned a little when the doctor came in half-drunk from his Christmas party and pressed on the diaphragm a bit too hard. But no, generally, they don’t say much.

People ask me what I do for a living, I say, I take pictures; I’m a photographer. They ask me what kind, I say people. Passport shots? Weddings? Babies? I just shrug and I say yeah. Passports. Weddings. Babies. National Geographic.

Dead people don’t pose.

One night, something like a month into the job, I went for a strong double at Joey’s Corner, and I sat next to a character who was already working his way through his third. My shot came, I downed it, ordered another one. Keep ’em coming, I told Joey, I need ’em tonight. So this guy sitting next to me, he spins on his stool – already halfway to oblivion – and he says, “so, what’s eating you, buddy?” And he doesn’t wait for me to answer, he burps and slurs away something about his wife, about a divorce, about a fight; something about a broken bottle and blood all over the place, and he showed her – I’m not paying much attention because I have my own ghosts to drown – but while I’m putting my fourth one down the hatch and nodding along, he pops the question: “So, what do you do?” And I say, au naturel, “I’m a – a morgue photographer. I, like, take pictures of dead people. Bodies.” And the guy stares at me, he stares at me for the longest time and then says, “Wow. That’s – um. That’s hard, man.”

I stare into my fifth and mumble, yeah. Yeah, it is.

And then he says, “Guess I shouldn’t have put that bottle through her face, huh.” And he starts laughing, harder and harder, and he falls off his stool, still laughing, and then there’s noise and the cops bust through the door and drag him away.

I watch all this, and order a sixth one.

Turns out the next day they rolled his wife in – young, thirty-something – with the top half of a Johnnie Walker sticking out from where her nose used to be. Hardest shot to take – the protruding bottle messed with the focus, and I had to take double the facials – half with the face in focus, half with the bottle. Of course, if you have the right equipment you can do it faster, but this ain’t exactly a Marie Claire calendar.

Her husband got the chamber after one day in court. They said he was laughing up until he died, but when they rolled him in, he looked pretty grim. I drank one for him at Joey’s that night.

Anyway, ever since that, when people ask me what I do, I just say “photographer”, and when they ask me if it’s babies or weddings, I just say, yeah. I mean, it’s not really a lie – I used to do living people once.

How’d I land a job like this? No great story really – I was broke, and I saw the ad. It’s a steady gig, flexible hours (you just stick them back in the fridge if you want to call it a day), and nowhere near the hassle you get with live subjects: No fuss with the light, posing, getting kids to smile, arguments over quality, complaints about materials, making small talk, or photoshopping some sixty year-old whale to turn her into a prom queen. None of that – you just go in, set up the morgue’s stuff, and you click away for eight hours. I don’t even take a lunch break since the stink tends to kill my appetite, so I also get paid overtime. And you know what? Sometimes I even enjoy it.

Well, maybe “enjoy” is too strong a word. But the job is nowhere near as boring as it sounds. Subjects roll in, complete strangers (except of course for that guy from Joey’s, though I never caught his name), and they give me a list of things to shoot: Facials, whole body, broken fingernails, cracked knuckles, bruises, knife wounds, gunshot wounds, exit wounds, missing limbs, assorted limbs, remaining limbs, fractures, dislocations, ligature marks – you name it, I’ve done it.  Gunshots are the most common. It takes some time to get used to the carnival, sure, but once you’re over the hump and you run on autopilot, your mind starts paying attention to the details.

For example: a girl rolls in and you have to shoot “high ligature marks over the carotids”. That’s a hanging right there, different to, say, strangulation, which would leave ligatures lower down the throat. You look at the age, it’s mid-teens. Holes in the veins, yellow nails, cuts and/or burns on the forearms and calves, and there you have it: the angst-ridden, emo teenager who couldn’t hack it anymore. Next.

And so forth. It becomes a habit, a routine, this parade of dead strangers rolling in, some fresh, some rotting, blue, gray, red, yellow, brown, white, black. The colours of death, same for everyone.

But back to my story. Let’s see… it was Tuesday, and it was raining. I had an early shift so I left home around 5am, took one look at the streets and decided to leave the car. Jam-packed, bumper-to-bumper, this early – you just know it’s going to be a good day. So I’m walking down Main Street, skipping puddles on the sidewalk, my umbrella scraping on the umbrellas of people who pass me by (“’scuse me, sorry, ‘scuse me.”), and then I see it.

Not that I could miss it.

It’s a truck. It has the logo of a big restaurant chain on the side of it. And it also has a car sticking out from the back. Seriously. A car. The crowds are standing there gawking, and the car’s back wheels are still spinning, shooting mud on everyone.

I don’t know how, but I seem to have gotten a front-row seat. Maybe I pushed a bit, maybe I shoved a little, and really, I should know better than these vultures, I should know better because if I just head to work, I’ll be taking pictures of the passengers by lunchtime, and gawk at them in peace and privacy.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because, despite my job, I’ve never actually seen them in situ. Never seen them fresh. I’m curious. Maybe it’s a professional thing – maybe I’m wondering what it would be like to shoot them in the car, before they put them on the slab and roll them in. Maybe I want to apply for that crime-scene photographer job I saw last week.

Maybe I just want to see dead people without the freaking lens. For once. I don’t know.

So I’m up close to the car, and there’s police, trying to disperse the crowd. Inside the car, I can see the driver with his face through the windshield, and in the back seat what seems to be a little hand up against the window. When I get close enough, I hear the radio playing Come sail away by Styx.

So sad. I stand there, nodding to myself, and for a second I’m surprised that the cops don’t seem to mind me being so close, so obscenely close to the car. No-one’s shouting at me or trying to pull me away. TThey’re just busy watching  the crowd.

And then the little hand moves.

I see it, and something around my general chest area pounces. I stare at it for a second, frozen in my place, my mind gone blank – and it moves again, little fingers wiggling, leaving bloody trails on the window. And then the little hand collapses.

I start shouting, shouting at the cops, shouting for help, something about “she’s still alive, the little girl, she’s moving”, but no one seems to pay any attention, not the bystanders, not the cops – still busy doing crowd control – so I pull myself together and somewhere in my mind flash images of a little a girl on the slab and me taking photographs of her mangled little body, and of course I’ve done that so many times before, but this time, for some reason, some reason I don’t completely understand, I just can’t bear the thought that it will be her, that it will be this little girl, that it will be any other little girl, so I reach out like the hero I am and pull myself up the lorry and look inside the car, but all I can see are her two legs on the far side of the backseat, and I balance myself on a piece of twisted metal of the lorry, I grab hold of the back door’s handle and pull.

… so the little girl, she looks down at me and she smiles, a big smile under the bandages, and she loves me.

Like I said, dead people don’t smile.

I don’t remember much after I pulled the door handle. But from bits and pieces I’ve caught from the doctors and orderlies, it turns out that I got the little girl out right on time. Not very graciously, it seems, because I kinda threw her onto the cops who had finally noticed me.

It’s good to be a hero, although deep down I know I did it for myself. Somewhere deep down, I got sick of shooting the dead. I got sick of the fresh, of the rotting, the blue, gray, red, yellow, brown, white, black. Same colours for everyone. Same for me.

But at least there’s a little girl that gets to keep her colours. I don’t know if it means anything, but to me, it does.

The little girl smiles at me, and I know she would squeeze my hand if I still had a hand.

Turns out, from bits and pieces I’ve caught from the doctors and orderlies, that I got the little girl out on time. Turns out that the car’s engine was still on. Turns out that the guy driving had gone a bit crazy after his divorce, and grabbed his little daughter from school. Turns out he was carrying a bag with explosives in the car, and he’d threatened to blow himself and his daughter up if his ex didn’t call off the divorce.

Real family man.

Turns out that his ex called the cops, and they found him. Turns out he drove a bit fast, he skidded, and he rammed the car into the back of the truck. Turns out the cops were trying to get the crowd away because they knew about the explosives.

Turns out I didn’t.

There wasn’t much left of me when they found me. Some torso with my head still attached to it. In pretty good condition too, considering. That’s why they could bring the little girl to the morgue to see me. That’s why she could smile at me under her bandages.

I wish I could smile back, but, you know.

I start moving – they’re rolling me in. And there’s a new guy, some green rookie, getting the equipment ready. I wish I could give him some advice on the light – he’s going to struggle with the metering under that fluorescent. And he needs to use a wider lens to get all my pieces into focus.

Well, let him figure it out himself. I did.

Dead people don’t smile. But the others, like that little girl, they can. And you know what?

They should.

They really should.

Spanish translation

Short story: Man on the moon

Rupert Pollen never dreamt of being famous. In fact, if he had ever been given a chance to be famous, he would have passed. But there came a time when he had to face the cold hard truth that in a world as dumb as this, fame doesn’t come at a price; it’s handed out as a free sample.

All you had to do was do something different. It didn’t have to be good or heroic or epic or useful. It just had to be different. So long as it was different, you could become famous overnight.

Of course, doing something different meant that you had to go out there and look at what was already there, and then come back and do your own, different thing. You had to explore, socialise, interact – and none of those were talents that Rupert possessed. See, when Rupert was eight, his dad thought that it would be a good idea for his son to gain some IT skills. So he brought home an old computer from work, he set it up in Rupert’s room and switched it on.

That was it – the world lost its meaning. Little Rupert sat on the chair, looked at the screen and when he looked away again he was twenty-five. He was also a valedictorian programmer, a notorious hacker, an accomplished geek, and on his way to being very, very famous. Problem was that along with his IT skills Rupert also gained two hundred and seventy pounds.

Not that he cared much. As long as the chair could fit and hold him, as long as the mouse and the keyboard sang their song, Rupert was happy. Who needed that crazy world outside anyway – was there, wasn’t there, it didn’t matter. The world that did matter, Rupert’s world, was made of pixels. The screen’s glow was his sunshine and programming the wind in his sails. And Rupert, he didn’t just sail – he cruised. He didn’t just have a ship, he had a fleet. And it wasn’t long before companies around the world clamoured for his skills so much that he quit his day job and went freelance.

Rupert was King; General; Emperor. His desk was his throne. He named his own prices. He made his own deadlines. He worked only from home. He sent the files, they sent the money. He never had to meet anyone face-to-face and nobody ever asked to meet him – although he was popular in the chat rooms. In fact, he was so popular that he started his own website, providing expert advice on everything from coding to hacking. Within a month it was receiving a quarter of a million hits every day and companies fell head over heels to place an add in there.

And meanwhile, Rupert stayed home. He ordered pizza, Chinese, Japanese, fried chicken, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Jamaican and the full dessert menu from the nearby Hilton every week. When his clothes didn’t fit anymore, he sat at his computer in his underwear. And when he ran out of those, heck, he just bought underwear online. Boxes of them.

Slowly, Rupert turned into a shut-in slob – and he didn’t mind it one bit. He was the best at what he did, and the world respected him. Well, at least his world did.

It wasn’t long before Rupert crossed the 300-pound line. And there was no going back.

One day, as a joke, Rupert wrote a betting program and put the beta version online asking others to download and test it. The idea was that they could apply his source code to their needs and calculate the odds of say, a football game or a horse race. He called it “Pollen’s Polls”.

Twenty-four hours later, it was being downloaded across the globe. Thirty-six hours later, Rupert had to set up twenty mirror sites to handle the traffic. Fourty-eight hours later, he had to buy the entire domain and patent the software.

With the patent, Rupert decided to put a small price on the program – not much, but just enough to make people think twice. He said that he was hoping it would reduce the downloads, but deep down, he was hoping that with the price the world-wide attention he was receiving would just fade away like a fad.

He was wrong. Six days after “Pollen’s Polls” went online, he became a billionaire. Instead of deterring users, the price he put on the program gave it a commercial boost. Market analysts said that “it was just enough to make ‘Pollen’s Polls’ hard-to-get and give it that commercial quality”. Rupert didn’t understand any of this real-world nonsense – as far as he knew, he just wrote a decent program. Thousands were written every day, millions every year. Good ones, useful ones, cheap ones, free ones. And most of them worked, just like his.

What Rupert couldn’t see at first was that his program was different. But he did realise it one night, six months after “Pollen’s Polls” had gone online. By now, Rupert weighed over four hundred pounds.

He caught it on the news, over a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and mushroom: “Pollen’s Polls” had given the most precise estimate of the national election outcome, even calculating the percentage that each party would receive.

Suddenly, Rupert was pushed into the nation’s spotlight, and the nation came looking for him: The media laid siege at his building, TV networks offered him cash for an exclusive and cameras pointed at his shut windows. And then came hordes of pubescent geeks camped outside holding banners and chanting to their mysterious cyber god.

Problem was, Rupert now weighed close to five hundred pounds. He had no clothes that fit and he simply draped himself in a king-size sheet. His apartment was stacked with pizza boxes and smelled of rotting exotic cuisine, while fungi on the walls were evolving into new species every second.

Even in this dumb world, you couldn’t be famous without a physical appearance. And when he realised that, Rupert felt the first pangs of panic that somehow, somehow, the world outside would have to lay eyes on him. And now, in the harsh limelight, Rupert felt embarrassed. He was a national icon, a hero of the computer world, the saviour of modern hackerdom. He had become a fashion, but he was a prisoner in his own house. He probably couldn’t fit past the door anymore. And the world, well, the world has zero tolerance for heroes that can hardly move.

So, for a while, Rupert went for the “shut-in/paranoid” shtick, but that only added to the craze. He barred the doors. He barricaded the windows. He pulled the phone off the hook. He ate canned food. He stayed out of the chat rooms. He didn’t even update his website.

Meanwhile, the media continued their search and their siege. Every night, on every network, there was a report on the ongoing Rupert Pollen investigation, as if he was some kind of fugitive.

And then it happened.

One night, a large network managed to get Rupert’s parents on the air to plead for him to come out. Rupert was fumbling for the remote, when his mom looked straight into the camera and said “Rupert honey, we know you’re ashamed about your weight, but we love you, all of us.”

That was it. Rupert saw red. He connected the phone, found the network’s number and after the ads were over, he went on the air and gave them a piece of his mind, live. Problem was, because Rupert hadn’t really spoken to anyone in months, and because he could hardly breathe under the tectonic plates of his fat, his voice stumbled out with slurred vowels, choked consonants, unintelligible stutters and incoherent phrases while he went out of breath every three syllables. The first time the great Rupert Pollen addressed the world, he came out sounding like a retard on national television.

The coronary hit shortly after he hung up. Fortunately, he still had the receiver in his hand. Struggling for breath, his face purple and his eyes bulging, he summoned inhuman strength to dial the emergency number. He hissed something down the line, and things went dark.

It was a shame that he came too so quickly. It was a shame because if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have seen the crane they used to hoist his bulk out the window; he wouldn’t have seen how they broke down the wall, the crowds below looking up at their god, their golden cow, their big fat Buddha suspended naked in the air, his arms thicker than the paramedic who rode with him; he would have missed the produce truck they had to put him in because the ambulance buckled under his weight; he would have missed the cameras filming him from side to side, and the geeks from across the road staring at him, pointing at him, laughing at him. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing.

To be mocked by your fans…

When they got Rupert’s heart going again that night, all that was left in it was pain, shame, and bitterness.

This big dumb world.

The doctors put Rupert on a strict diet, which he couldn’t break because he simply couldn’t move from his hospital bed. They planned liposuctions, physiotherapy, stomach reduction surgery. And since he could hardly move, exercise was out of the question. Just diet. Diet. Diet. Diet. Rupert goat-chewed on bland spinach and dull carrots, struggling to recall the taste of melting cheese on pizza, of steaming cannelloni, of tender crispy fried chicken, of succulent aromatic duck with noodles. But the memory of those glory days faded away and slipped through his fingers leaving him with heartache and mouthfuls of steamed broccoli.

At first, he didn’t watch TV. He avoided the news. He didn’t even ask for a laptop. But he saw it everywhere: the Mockery of the Fat One. It was in the doctors’ eyes, in the nurses’ giggles, in the get-well cards geekdom sent him every day (“looking forward to chewing the FAT online again”; “You’re our HEAVY-duty hacker!”; “Your software is still HUGE”). But mostly, he saw it on the window of his room, every evening, his own reflection that didn’t even fit in the frame. A bloated face over a torso you could project an IMAX feature on and still have space left. His bed was king size, with two mattresses. He couldn’t even go to the bathroom without being hoisted like a puppet.

It was the lowest point of Rupert’s life.

And then, one night, disgusted with his reflection, he looked past the glass and into the sky. And he saw it there, big, white, full, inviting.

The Moon.

Earth’s only satellite, 238,857 miles away, and 2,160 miles in diameter.

The Moon.

Centrepiece of a million poems and the biggest small step for mankind.

The Moon.

3,344 kg/m3 in density and about one-sixth of Earth’s gravity.

Rupert actually sat up.

One-sixth of Earth’s gravity.

One-sixth. Up there, Rupert would weigh less than a hundred pounds.

There was no treadmill in the world that could do that.

One-sixth. Rupert got on the intercom and bellowed for a laptop, wireless.

It took close to eighteen months to put together, and most of that time was spent trying to get Rupert in a decent physique. NASA objected something fierce at first, but when Rupert threatened to turn to the more interested ESA, they complied. Besides, “Pollen’s Polls” was paying the bills with cash to spare.

The plan was simple. He’d land, he’d set camp, he’d live there – probably longer than he’d live on Earth, and certainly happier. He arranged for a monthly supply of food, and threw in some funds for an Internet connection via satellite.

The world was once again abuzz with Rupert Pollen: he was going to be the first man to live on the Moon. Talk shows, demonstrations, forums, TV, radio, Internet – they all went crazy. Rupert was a rock star: Instead of dealing with his weight in conventional ways, he gave the world the finger and left the planet. Geeks across the world created Rupert cults; a company made Rupert t-shirts with “I only fit in XXXL” printed on the front. His hometown even made him a statue with an inscription: “THINK BIG”.

It was the Rupert Era, and Rupert lapped it up like chocolate moose: only a world this dumb would make a star out of a planet. Rupert wasn’t out to conquer new territories – he was just chickening out.

But it was different chickening-out. And if it’s different, they’ll love you for it.

The launch was broadcast in every country with a television. More people watched it than when Neil Armstrong hopped around the Sea of Tranquillity in ‘69. Rupert Pollen’s shuttle landed in the same area, but when he finally stepped out, scared, hesitant and weighing a mere sixty pounds for the first time in three decades, he didn’t say anything about steps and leaps and man, he just hopped around for a while, giggling in his helmet, and did his first ever somersault.

Then he went back into his shuttle and started on a huge pizza with extra cheese.

Weeks passed, then months, and Rupert never contacted Earth. He didn’t write any new software. He didn’t blog his lunar experience. He just went back to being a shut-in slob, a recluse, but this time with the whole Moon to himself.

From time to time, telescopes would catch glimpses of him, hopping around the Moon happily, bouncing from rock to rock, leaping in the air, standing on his hands. And then, he’d disappear into his shuttle again to wolf down another pizza.

It was a year later when Greenwich Observatory reported that they had seen Rupert Pollen bounce behind a rock and never re-appear. A week later, NASA confirmed that he had not returned to his shuttle.

Rupert was out of sight, on the far side of the Moon.

After two years, the ESA sent its first team on the Moon. They landed close to Rupert’s old shuttle, and set their own camp.

Two of them, a French woman and a Dutch man, found Rupert laying facedown behind that same rock, half-covered in moon-dust, as big as he always was. They lifted him up – he was so light – and brought him into their shuttle. In the medical chamber, a camera was set up with a direct link to Earth, and the whole world watched once again.

And when they pulled his helmet off, it was there, Rupert’s big fat bloated face, white as snow, with the biggest smile the Moon had ever seen frozen across his lips, and crusts of old cheese stuck between his teeth.

Short Story: Open Doors

“Hold the door, please.”

It’s a windy day and everyone’s straightening their hair. Fortunately, the elevator’s walls are shiny enough so the twenty-or-so people inside don’t have to cram on the mirror. Those who get in first, get the best view.

I got in first.

The doors are still open and the warning bell’s dinging. Someone swears because he’s late and two female voices to my left are discussing the merits of blind-dating in hushed tones. There’s a lot of that crowded coughing, sniffing, throat-clearing and someone at the front whistles quietly to hide his impatience.

The bell dings again, and the crowd moves a third of a step backwards. Some shuffling at the front, “Sorry, sorry, thank you”, and the bell dings again.

“Can you press six, please? Thank you.” Someone huffs – I think it’s the late guy but I can’t tell because I’m stuck at the back, a half-inch from the mirror behind me and a quarter-inch from the businesswoman – mid-twenties, tops – in front of me.

“DOORS CLOSING.” It’s a female voice, and I wonder for the first time why do machines always sound female. Maybe it’s a mother thing.


Everyone’s looking up at the changing numbers. All is quiet now, even the blind date debate. The guy to my right elbows me as he tries to check his watch.



We quietly search for the one who dared to take the lift for just two floors. Nobody moves and the doors gape open while people outside walk past and stare at us.

“DOORS CLOSING. LIFT GOING UP.” A tangible relief washes over the crowd, but the late guy swears again, louder now, and somebody from the front snickers. The late guy now swears at him, but there’s no rebuttal, they probably know each other.

“FLOOR FOUR. DOORS OPENING”. Four floors is the accepted take-the-lift minimum, so there’s some shuffling and eleven people get off. Like dammed water, the rest of us move thankfully forward, breathe, straighten our clothes, our hair, check the time. “DOORS CLOSING. LIFT GOING UP”.

“Hold the door, please.” Some tension again, but the late guy doesn’t swear, maybe he got off on Four, and in steps Stanley. He spots me, nods and wades through the crowd towards me.


The familiar bump, and we’re off. My floor is sixteen, and Stanley knows this since he works there too, so he starts talking.

“You heard about the Liebermann account? They beat us to it. Four years of work, and Thomson announced it yesterday. You know we’re going to feel the ripples today, and the bosses are pissed. They say the Man might come down today from twenty-four, so we better get the report in by ten. You know, everything happens on weekends and holidays. You leave the world running on Friday evening, and it’s Armageddon Monday AM. Like last year, with Pearson & Woods – I’m telling you, we have to start weekend shifts around here. Someone to come in and do some monitoring – if someone had, we might have been able to pull out by the time the market opened today. I don’t know, maybe we could’ve saved some pennies – ah, who am I kidding, it was a lost cause from the start, and it’s not like I didn’t say anything to the board, I told them, and the CEO himself was there, I told them that the Liebermann was shaky, that it wouldn’t last if the market shifted gears, and here we are now, and I was right. They’ll want to blame someone; but they point a finger at me and I’ll point mine at them and hand them the minutes of that meeting. You know, they say that heads might roll today, the Man’s looking for a scapegoat. Shaky or not, the Liebermann has enough investors to file a lawsuit. Anyway, that’s what I’ll tell them: the minutes. What do you think?”


Before I can answer, people around us move to accommodate six more passengers. We’re back to twenty again, and Stanley and I have to press on the mirror and obey the no-talking rule. Stanley’s wearing Hart Schaffner Marx.

One of the new passengers is listening to an iPod mini, black, which he pulls out of his jacket (Mino Lombardi) and fiddles with it until his head starts bopping to some unheard beat that could be anything from Mozart to Manson. Looking at him, I match his nods to some residual Bob Dylan I heard at breakfast.


Everyone gets off, leaving Stanley and me alone. Stanley starts talking again, looking down, searching his feelings.


“Not that I’d mind changing scenery. You know, I was talking with Harrison the other day – the guy from Albert & Hendricks – you know what they get paid? Twice our morsels, my friend, twice and thrice. And not even half the stress or the bull – you read their annual report, number freaking three on the list while we’ll be lucky to be ten come September. I don’t know…” he looks up at the numbers wistfully, then at the mirror and rolls his tongue inside his mouth, “sometimes I just think about quitting the lot of it and going back home to fix boats…” He shakes his head, “Ha! Listen to me. I sound –“


“ – worrying about the Liebermann mess. I really think they’re gonna sack someone.” He steps out of the elevator and I step forward to follow him and he’s turning to someone outside, “Mr Hubbard, good morning. Who? Uh, sure, he’s right in there. In the lift.” Stanley looks at me with a face I can only describe as foreboding and before I’m out, Jacob Hubbard, General Executive and the Man’s G-man, strides into my view, his corpulence well-concealed in a black Versace.

“There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you. No, no, don’t get out. We need to talk.” With that, he steps into the elevator and I move back submissively.


I have to blink a few times, but the luminous red number that Hubbard pressed doesn’t change.


Top floor.

Where The Man lives.

Hubbard turns to me and tries to smile. He’s not good at it, and he doesn’t have to be. Suddenly I feel hot, and I wonder if the elevator is sufficiently ventilated.

It’s just the two of us now. No surprise – people will rather take the stairs than be in close quarters with Hubbard.

“I suppose you’ve already heard about the Liebermann account”, Hubbard says, “and I’m not going to lie to you, we’re feeling the ripples and the boat’s rocking.” Through all this, I observe the laws of Natural Selection: I nod and keep my mouth shut.

“We’ve been in conference with the boss since yesterday – oh yes, on a Sunday. The Liebermann, it’s not good. It’s crisis management, my boy. It’s a storm, and we have to weather it.

“You know, he’s a good captain, the boss. The kind you can trust in a storm; the kind that’ll keep the ship from sinking. I mean, after all, what’s more important than that, huh? To keep sailing despite the waves – that’s the most important thing. You understand don’t you? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be where you’re at. Wouldn’t have made it this far without knowing a thing or two about navigation. And you know, I’m positive, that storms – they’re tricky things. They come out of nowhere; even the most experienced sailors can’t always predict them. One moment you’re looking up at the blue sky, and the next you’re going under. And that, that’s what shows the captain’s worth, my boy. And not just the captain, but his crew too.”

“FLOOR TWENTY. DOORS OPENING.” Someone stands at the door – nice Gucci suit – but he sees Hubbard and Hubbard sees him and he glances at me and then Hubbard again and slowly, hesitantly, apprehensively-gingerly-cautiously takes a step back and smiles like a –


It’s Hubbard and me again, alone. Hubbard is speaking.

“… his crew too. And you understand that, in a storm, decisions, quick decisions, important decisions have to be made – by the captain, by him who has the responsibility of keeping the ship afloat; of getting it to its destination. And sometimes, when the storm hits, sometimes, not always, but sometimes, some of the cargo needs to be thrown overboard. You understand? Some of the cargo, the dead weight, needs to sink so that the ship can make it. Because if the ship doesn’t make it, my boy, then –”


“- none of us will.”

The doors part, and all I can see is Hubbard’s smiling mouth, and I can see his teeth and I can see his throat twitch, and for the first time today, for the first time I ever came into the elevator, I acknowledge the sad and detached fact that some forgotten corner of my unbranded self is afraid.

The doors part, and The Man is standing there, through the gaping elevator hole.

“Ah, Jacob. You’ve filled him in? Good.”

Hubbard steps out and leaves me alone in the lift and that’s when I realise that this isn’t where I get off, that I wasn’t invited to see The Man, but simply for The Man to see me. And he does, Giorgio Armani all the way except for the French shoes that are custom-made and he looks at me with his blue, glassy eyes and his dried lips that have been sucking blood and sweat and tears and anything else produced by humans for the seventy years of his existence, those lips, they open and with a casual wave of his hand like he’s waving away a fly, an unimportant insect, he speaks the only words I’ll hear today.

“You’re fired.”

“Hold the door, please.”

When I blink again, I’m still in the elevator. In the misty distance I see someone running over, someone I know, someone who knows me, he’s carrying files and papers and coffee and he says “Hold the door, please”.

I don’t hold the door and it closes in his face. I won’t be the only one today.

Alone in the elevator, the same place I’ve been standing on since I got in this morning, this morning when I still had my job, this morning when all my work hadn’t been thrown overboard, this morning when the Liebermann mess was not going to affect me, this morning when I got into the elevator and went up and down –


– and then my mobile rings. It rings and rings and then it stops, and then it rings again so my hand picks up, but before my mouth says anything the caller introduces himself as a George Harrison from Albert & Hendricks and he rattles away that he just heard about what happened to me, and he thinks that it is bad management, bad executive, big loss, and if I would consider having lunch with him today, and discuss some other professional possibilities with his company.

“What do you think?” says George Harrison from Albert & Hendricks, and I’m still standing there trying to catch up with the speed of the business world that fires and hires, and I want to say yes to George Harrison from Albert & Hendricks but something stops me, something says –


– and it rhymes, and it sounds like a mother, and it’s a machine with more feeling that the rest of us sardines that cram in and out of the tin box of life trying to keep themselves in the brine when all that matters is that we’re dead, dead, dead, head chopped off and ready for the eating –

– and George Harrison from Albert & Hendricks is still on the phone shouting my name, he says it over and over again like a mantra, like he’s cheering me on, but my phone’s on the elevator’s floor and soon the noise it makes is drowned out as the doors close and I’m outside the box for the first time today, for the first time ever and when the doors slide shut and I walk away all I can hear is silence and the warm voice that says –


Spanish translation

Short Story: No.

The alarm goes off at 6:30 am and I turn over in the bed and try to go back to sleep.

The machine says no.

Okay. Don’t want to oversleep.

So now I’m up, still half asleep, and I stumble over to the bathroom like I’ve just joined the legion of the undead. I barely feel the machine shave me but then I blink water off my face, yawn, and turn towards the kitchen.

The machine says no.

Okay. Need to smell good.

So I turn back and the machine slathers my face with aftershave while it notifies me that the time is now 6:41 am. Overcast today, with an 87 per cent chance of rain.

I try to check the news, but the machine says no.

Fair enough. Time’s a-wasting.

Down the stairs and into the kitchen, the machine is already poaching eggs and percolating coffee. I sit at the table and a plate slides before me. I ask for the newspaper, but the time is now 6:46 am, and the machine says no.

Okay. News can wait.

I get up with my plate half empty and the machine pushes my back on my chair and displays my calendar, highlighting my 9:30 am meeting where I have to give a 30 minute presentation. I need to eat.

I argue that I’m fine.

The machine says no.

Okay. The machine knows what my body needs better than I do.

On my way to work now and I finally catch up with the news while the machine drives. When I look up from the sports section we’re almost at the office, and I try to finish the article I’m reading, but the machine says no.

Okay. Need to get my head in the game.

During my presentation, the machine seamlessly flips through the slides and highlights key points in my talk. But then I try to go back a slide to reemphasise some data, thus deviating from the machine’s presentation plan.

The machine says no.

Okay. Don’t want to break the flow.

At lunch I debate whether I should head down to the cafeteria’s salad bar or treat myself to a cheeseburger from across the street. The cheeseburger wins – I deserve it after my presentation.

The machine says no.

Salad it is.

When I try to sneak some time off that report I should be writing and chat online with some friends, the machine says no.

Okay. Deadline’s due.

Around 3:30 pm I’m hitting that energy slump, and I lean back in my chair and fantasise about a chocolate-sprinkled cappuccino marrying a flap jack. The machine says no, and brings me green tea and an oatmeal bar.

Okay. Calories are ruthless.

It’s 5:30 pm and the cute girl from HR is in the elevator with me. We get to chatting and by the time we reach the car park, she’s giggling with delight. We wait for our machines to get our cars and she says “I had no idea you were so funny” and I’m about to ask if she wants to get a cup of coffee with me when the machine steps out of the car, looks me straight in the eye and says no.

I try to ignore it for a moment, but the machine tugs at my sleeve, pulling me into the car, while the girl’s machine literally kidnaps her into the depths of her own vehicle, and we’re on our separate ways.

I try to reason with the machine. I try to tell it that there’s a long way from a cup of coffee to overpopulation. I ask the machine if that’s what this is about.

The machine says no.

I ask if it is worried about my caffeine intake.  I could take decaf.

The machine says no.

It drives in silence and I turn on the news. I’m watching a report on climate change and the latest famine in South Asia, when I suddenly realise that we’re not on the motorway anymore, we’re on some country road. I ask the machine if this is a detour.

The machine says no.

I ask it where we’re going, but the machine doesn’t answer.

I panic and look outside for help, and I notice the other cars – thousands, not just on the road, but on the fields, the curbs, cutting through the trees. All driving east. People inside are going ape, banging on windows, kicking on dashboards, screaming soundlessly.

I pull up a map. I scroll sideways past towns and hamlets and motorways and I keep asking the machine to stop the car and let me out.

The machine says no.

We’re heading to the sea.

I look through the back window, and I see the girl from the office. She sees me too, but she’s not giggling anymore.

I turn on the news, but there’s nothing.

Internet is down.

Phones are dead.

I beg the machine to spare me.

The machine says no.

An hour later, I can see the grey water line in the distance. The first cars are already sinking.

As the waters come up to the dashboard, before the black covers us, I ask the machine if this is to control overpopulation.

The machine says no.

I ask if it’s to reduce pollution.

The machine says no.

I ask if it’s to save the human race from extinction.

The machine says no.

I ask if there was ever any hope.

The machine says –