By Dan Cross
As a former editor of Write On! Showcase, I’m delighted to be back as this month’s guest editor and to kick off 2023 with such an impressive selection of talented and diverse writers and poets. What an extraordinary privilege it is for me to read such creative, insightful, sometimes funny, sometimes moving pieces. I want to thank every author brave enough to share their wonderful creations, and invite any of you on the fence to do so. At Write On!, there is a global audience who wants to read your words — to hear your unique voice — so, please, share your writing with our community!
This month, our theme is contrast and, more specifically, how there are two sides (at least) to everything. There’s a cruel irony to human nature that we should intuitively appreciate the nuances of our society, and it’s important to look at everything from all perspectives; yet we’re also so quick to form judgements about others and our environs. We can explain this evolutionarily, of course; fast judgements can be the difference between escaping or succumbing to an unknown danger. But it also means we form enduring opinions that are often wrong and, sometimes, even harmful.
This week, let us look at contrasting opinions. Specifically, the poems and short story below teach us how harmful (even to ourselves) it can be to form opinions based on ill-founded assumptions.
It seemed the sun’s rays touched the lawn with gold
As dandelions shone bright in the long grass
How my breath caught with wonder when I gazed
On dazzling display, nought could surpass
They say this flower is a noxious weed
And kill it when it dares to grow unbid
But I say let them grow and glow to please,
Surprise with brightness under sheltering trees
Who is to say what’s flower and what is weed?
Why not take joy in something growing wild
The modest daisy, buttercup and bluebell
Are all considered something they must quell
To each his own I dare say to the skilled
I will go on enjoying weeds unwilled.
(c) Patsy Middleton, 2022
Her hair, it shines with light like burnished gold
Her blue green eyes are mirrors of the sea.
Her face with elfin features I behold,
Her presence makes me weak around the knee.
Her voice, the finest music in my ears;
There never was a song sung oh so sweet.
I see her and I’m grateful for the years
That I have known her since our eyes did meet.
Her raiment cannot hide her wondrous form,
Though she could never know what it may do.
My mind is caught up in a perfect storm,
My heart is feeling like it was run through.
And then she turns to me with tone so neat
To say her husband now she has to meet.
© Ray Miles, 2022
Respect The Ding
That afternoon marked the launch of the newest fleet of electric Intellibuses, a moment much anticipated by Tom Teasel.
As usual, outside the first school on route, blue blazers piled onto the bus. The Intellibus 2.0 purred to life and pulled back onto the road.
Tom watched closely from his seat, in the far-left corner at the back of the bus, as the next stop approached. To his disappointment, no one dinged the bell to get off as the bus whirred past the retail park and onto the main road.
Girls in green skirts were waiting to get on at the corner by the sports centre, interspersed with the usual boys in grey blazers, trying to pretend they weren’t watching the girls.
The bus filled up and lurched on. Tom watched eagerly, scanning the crowd. His gaze shifted from wrist to exposed wrist, hand to hand, on gripped purple poles. Standing passengers squished their bags and themselves first one way, then the other, as the bus took corners.
Then, there it was, the ding. The first bell ring of Tom’s commute home.
He sat up straighter, watching, waiting.
For a few moments, nothing happened. Just a few people shuffling down the stairs, heading for the doors.
Then it came.
A blue blazer, despite being stood right by the door, despite the bell having already been rung, and despite others clearly already angling to get off at the next stop, decided to ding the bell again. Or tried to.
Tom’s ears registered the cry before his eyes fully comprehended the sudden hunching of the boy’s back. The boy’s shoulders came down, he bent at the waist, grabbing at one hand with the other, wailing.
Tom stared. This was better than he’d dared hope for. He sat up even straighter, craning his neck, trying to see what had happened.
He couldn’t make it out. Other passengers, in service of confusion or horror, were crowding and drawing back from the boy in equal measure.
The boy fled from the bus at the next stop, followed by an unusually large number of fellow passengers, anxiously chattering amongst themselves.
From his seat, Tom nodded happily to himself as the bus emptied out and the remaining passengers settled into a wide-eyed silence.
Curiosity still unsatiated, but deeply satisfied at the result nonetheless, he went back to his habitual pose staring out the window. He hadn’t for one moment believed the Intellibus company would implement something so rigorous, so effective, with their new fleet, but he was deeply grateful for it.
Most things that used to annoy Tom Teasel about his bus commute had slowly been fixed with modern technology.
The people who used to ‘forget’ to tap on during busy times? Now people’s ID wrist implants were charged automatically on boarding. No one rode for free.
People who dropped rubbish, or put their bags on seats? Sensors picked up the interaction, and the Intellibus wouldn’t move (or let anyone on or off) until the issue was corrected.
Elderly person needing a seat? Intensifying electric shocks were passed through the seats of suitable doners, identified by their wrist implants, until someone ‘volunteered’.
It wasn’t perfect. The Intellibus’s AI sometimes got confused, particularly when encountering scenarios its programmers hadn’t experienced before, like a wheely bin in the middle of the road. But, most days on his commute, Tom felt a newfound sense of efficiency which he found deeply satisfying.
One day, several months ago, he had found himself having a distinctly inefficient experience.
His morning commute was disrupted by a woman arguing with the Intellidriver. Seemingly unaware that the only responses the robot had to offer were answers to pre-programmed FAQs, she kept trying to debate with it while other passengers rolled their eyes and stared at their shoes.
“No, I don’t want to go to Pushley Station,” the woman said for the third time. “I’m trying to tell you, I was pushed!”
“Push the button to stop the bus,” the robot’s monotone replied, its rubber jaws moving out of sync with its speech. “Thank you for choosing Intellibus.”
“No! What I’m saying is…”
And so it went on, until Tom was late for work.
But it wasn’t until he was on his way home, later that day, that Tom felt himself truly pushed over the edge of tolerance.
As usual, he found himself sharing the bus with an increasing number of schoolchildren. Schoolchildren who, on that particular day, seemed to have hornets up their sleeves, ants in their pants, and itches in their thumbs.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, went the bell.
To be fair, they were getting off at the stops they were ringing the bell for. At least at first. But they were ringing far in excess of what the situation required.
‘The Intellidriver only needs one ding to stop,’ Tom imagined himself barking at the children. ‘Not half a dozen. He is. Literally. Wired. That. Way. One ding, bus stops.’ In his mind’s eye, the children paid attention and fell silent. In reality, he sat silently at the back of the bus. Seething.
Even in the frustrating olden days of human error, the bus driver never needed to hear the bell more than a couple of times to know to stop.
Tom huffed to himself and stared out the window.
Despite the small groups of children and adults getting off at each stop, the overall number of bodies on the bus was growing. People trying to get on blocked those trying to get off.
The Intellibus wouldn’t go if it was over capacity, but as people were charged as soon as they stepped onboard, they were loath to leave once they’d climbed on.
At the other end of the customer experience, people pushing through the lower deck, struggling to get off, were frantically dinging the bell to alert fellow passengers to their predicament.
Those dings, Tom could almost forgive.
The ones he couldn’t abide, the ones that had him tightening his lips and sinking into his seat, were the ‘conversational’ dings.
The mentality of ‘Yes, I heard someone else ding, but I too am getting off at this stop, so I shall ring also’ was bad enough. But under the fingers and thumbs of schoolchildren, the bells became a whole language, a dynamic mode of communication.
‘We are here, and bored.’ Dinged the boys in blue blazers.
‘We are here, and we are also bored.’ Dinged back the girls and boys in claret V-neck jumpers. ‘And, unlike you, we’re worth noticing.’
‘Shut up.’ Dinged the girls in green skirts. ‘We’re the only interesting ones.’
‘We are up here. Don’t forget us!’ Dinged unseen grey blazered participants on the top deck.
Ding, ding, ding.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding…
The blue blazers launched a machine-gun volley of dings upon their fellow passengers.
Tom’s ears throbbed at the repeated assault, and he whacked his elbow against the pole in an involuntary frustrated flail.
Though most of the blue blazers got off at the station, the group upstairs honoured their legacy by dinging to one another all the way down the high street.
In a small way, Tom was grateful for the robot Intellidriver. Human drivers in such a situation were apt to punish the dingers by refusing to stop the bus; more a punishment for the other passengers than the bell ringers, in Tom’s opinion.
On the other hand, the downside of the Intellidriver was the utter lack of consequence for people causing mischief in situations the robot was not programmed for. It was wholly indifferent to the excessive dings, while passengers raged in silence.
Tom would have welcomed a consequence, any consequence, to the schoolchildren’s behaviour. Even a monotone admonishment from the driver would have made Tom feel vindicated and less on edge.
The throb in Tom’s ears made its way deep into his brain as his last nerve came perilously close to snapping.
His head shrunk further and further into his shoulders with every ding.
Ding, ding, ding.
He nearly swore out loud, and loudly, but managed to keep himself contained.
He spent the rest of the hellish journey composing a letter of complaint to Intellibus in his throbbing head.
First, he would admonish them for their failure to recognise the issue, then for their failure to implement a simple technological solution. Why didn’t they disable the sound after the bell had been dinged once, for example? There was no need for repeat dings, so why have them?
Could there be some sort of consequence? Could the Intellidriver not be programmed to say something? How to stop repeat offenders from repeat offending?
When he got home, Tom Teasel dictated three full pages of complaint to his digital home assistant, and emailed them straight to Intellibus.
Tom’s stop was coming up. He smiled on the serene, half-empty bus. Since the boy had run off the Intellibus, the standing area and several seats had partially filled up again, but the overall mood was quiet.
Tom raised his thumb to the bell.
As his thumb moved towards the button, but before he made contact, a bell dinged from somewhere upstairs.
It was a matter of split seconds, but the person upstairs got there first.
Time expanded impossibly slow as Tom watched the red button recede away from the tip of his thumb. Small metal blades appeared from above and below the resulting hole, meeting in the centre, coming together perfectly.
As though his thumb had never been there at all.
(c) AD Wynne, 2022
Dan is a twice-shortlisted author and the senior editor of The Open Book Editor, providing personal and honest editing and coaching for authors.
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