Scarlet Words – A short story


Why Earth?

Of all the planets in the galaxy, this was where they had sent it. It had finished as the top apprentice after the fieldwork trials and exams. It had gained a reputation of being almost unsurpassed in single combat, perfect in undercover operations, and sharp-eyed as an observer. This posting was an insult.

“Why. What do you want me to do there?” It had asked.

“To observe,” they’d said.

“Observe what? The species is so primitive.”

“Observe everything that happens, and report back to us. We haven’t sent anybody there since Stiovebhu. They are an interesting species. We want an update on their progress.”

“What did Stiovebhu find?” It had asked.

There had been an awkward shuffling of feet and expressions of strange happiness. On Earth, it now knew they would have been fake smiles. They had told it that it got the assignment because the last two agents sent to Earth had disappeared without trace. They had said it was dangerous and that was why he had got the job. They said it was a matter of supreme importance for the security of the planet. He was the best apprentice. He would need to go.

“But not too dangerous for an apprentice?” It had asked. “Why not send a seasoned field agent?”

“Its not that important, but if you feel in danger you should immediately leave and we will endeavour get someone to pick you up as soon as is feasible. However, we feel you will be fine. Good luck, and make sure your last will and testament is up to date.”

It had protested more, but eventually it had, reluctantly, accepted the posting, feeling just a touch apprehensive. The journey had been long and boring, until it got close to Earth. And then it had become even worse as they made their way through the arse-end of the known Galaxy. It had been the most depressing week of its life, but then it had arrived, and within days it realised how lucky it had been. Humans were so malleable, so predictable, and so vulnerable. It fed on them at will, and knew that it would never be discovered for what it was. It had very quickly settled in to a job in a large organisation, begun observing, and then lost track of time.  It suspected that the previous two agents were still somewhere here on the planet. Why would they have left? Life was just too good. After a number of years, it lost the will to leave, stopped responding to the regular contacts from home, and became part of the Earth population.

One day, it sat in the main Boardroom, looking to all around it like a human being, as it scanned the agenda for its next meal. There was nothing that looked promising for the next seven items, they were all operational reports and mundane information papers, but there were a couple of low level decisions to be made after that. It was possible that they could provide some sustenance, but later there was a strategic planning and innovation item, being presented by bright, agile, and dynamic staff members. New meat. Young and tender. Hot-blooded.

So, with nothing to do until then, it sat dormant in its chair as it watched words cross the table in front of it. Unlike humans, it saw words, each one having a colour, and a shade of that colour. Most of them were grey, just ordinary dull words, but some did have the odd shade of blue or green, or even a hint of yellow. However, none burned with bright orange or red. None were of any interest to it.

The meeting dragged ever so slowly with the creature taking no interest in anything, just raising its hand to support the Chair every time she called for a vote. The minutiae of key performance indicators were discussed, the quarterly reports were analysed in excruciating detail, which was a trial for the humans, but not the creature which sat ignoring the bland grey words without any emotion whatsoever, barely aware of the passing of time. The schedule of board site visits was debated at length as the members balanced tropical beaches against inhospitable deserts. The tropical visits won. Then there was the chatter about holidays and sports and other matters totally foreign to it.

Finally item number eleven arrived, something about a new way of writing standard reports. It wasn’t anything ground-breaking, but it was presented by Melissa, a young graduate whose eyes sparkled as she pulled out her briefing paper. This was more like it.

It sat up straighter in its seat watching the glowing orange words exiting her mouth and circling around everybody at the table. The words either glowed slightly less or slightly more depending on their delivery. They floated through the room still glowing orange, but not radically so. They hadn’t turned into the red of a major meal, but orange would do for now as a starter.

When the creature spoke, it was with calm authority, explaining the benefits of maintaining the current report template, the status quo, and the fact that the familiarity of all staff and the external clients with it was of great benefit. As it spoke the words drifted towards it and as they passed through the creature they lost all colour and became grey. A warm fuzzy feeling coursed through its body as it watched the smile slowly freeze on the young girl’s face. It spoke more of the need to trial new ideas before they are embraced, to see if there were any unintended consequences, and others nodded, always looking for the comfort of the familiar, and the more it spoke, the last vestiges of colour were sucked out of the girl’s words. They were almost transparent now.

Her smile turned into a frown and the creature knew its job was done, its hors doovers consumed. Melissa left the room shoulders down, head bowed. The creature suppressed a smile of satisfaction, instead giving her a smile of encouragement. It wanted her back again; she was good for the future. Despite her current despondency, she would bounce back. There were many years left to harvest her enthusiasm. She had just enough intensity to survive for a prolonged length of time. All in all, it thought, the future was bright.

The next item on the agenda was more interesting. Three people came in.

“Welcome,” said the Chair, before introducing the staff members to the committee. The creature wasn’t interested in names; it identified people through their individual auras, and two of these had that telltale faint red glow of enthusiasm, boundless enthusiasm, or so they thought.

“Jason, and his two branch members, Ruby and Gerhard, have been working in the Strategic Planning and Innovations team for the past year and have been examining in detail our processes and procedures. They are going to present a blueprint of how we can cut down on repetition, the number of layers of approvals, and how delegation of some tasks can be done with minimal risk to the organisation. They forecast at least a twenty-five percent efficiency gain!”

“Working for a whole year,” the creature commented. “This should be good. I’m really looking forward to see what you’ve come up with.”

Other committee members smiled. So were they. The three presenters seemed to swell with pride and enthusiasm, at least the two young ones did, and that was just what the creature wanted. It saw their auras glow brighter and become richer in texture. Even Jason, their manager, was glowing ever so slightly. That was promising, the creature had seen him many times before and had fed on his energy, so much so that it had not thought there to be anything further to harvest, but here, undeniably, was a that faint glow. There was yet more to come from Jason, not much, but more all the same. And he always brought such great treats with him, always young, always bright-eyed and keen, always full of hope and energy. The creature waited for them to speak, Jason going first.

He spoke with a quiet neutral tone that was apricot in colour. He was restrained, but optimistic that there was promise in the proposal and that these two staff members would be the people to make it happen. It didn’t take much to change his words to a sort of gunmetal grey, and to be honest, the creature was left feeling unsatisfied. Its optimism had been misplaced, but no matter, the new meat was now speaking.

The creature started to watch and almost fainted. Ruby and Gerhard spoke with so much vigour, their words were not just red, but luminescent scarlet, so bright that for a moment the creature thought it had gone blind. It coughed to cover up its momentary shock, apologised, and waved for them to continue. Inside it was singing; this was a gourmet meal, an opportunity that came along once in a lifetime, twice if you were lucky. These ideas were so good and presented with so much enthusiasm, that it knew it had to feast carefully. There was a real possibility of overdosing if it wasn’t careful. It could actually start feeling the optimism within itself, and that was a dangerous place to be. Some members of its species had been known to die when confronted with such a situation, eventually feeding on their own feelings and sucking themselves dry.

As the new meat spoke, their words flowed around the table leaving trails of glowing sparkles that floated slowly clockwise as they gradually dissipated, until the creature saw the room as its own private galaxy turning slowly as those stars passed through the occupants. To the left of the creature was a shadow where the particles had passed through, been consumed, and then excreted as grey dust.

As the two youngsters spoke, taking the committee through their new ideas, it watched the fully formed words get brighter and brighter, waiting for the right moment, the moment when the maximum hope and enthusiasm was reached. If it acted too soon then it would miss out on some calories, if it went too late it would also miss those calories. The trick was the intensity of the colour. When it reached a hue of scarlet that was almost transparent, almost a pink, that’s when to speak.

There were so many scarlet words it as an effort just to control itself! It was beyond orgasmic. Whole sentences flowing out of their mouths in such a rich colour. The creature shuddered, as it couldn’t resist consuming a word early.

“What a great idea,” said the Chair. “Thank you so much for bringing it to us.”

Their auras glowed as bright as the creature had ever seen, so bright that it actually flinched.

“Are you okay Tony?” The Chair was looking at it with concern.

“Fine, fine,” it said. “Just a muscle twitch. I’ve been running and I’m getting too old for it now!” Everybody laughed and relaxed, but inside it was cursing itself.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Keep your self-control. There was no excuse in one now so experienced to lose it, not with such a feast on offer. It was almost time to feed. It just needed to tweak their enthusiasm one little bit more.

“That is probably the best idea I have heard in many years,” it said. “I commend you on this, it is stunning work. It stands to benefit the who organisation for years to come.” It paused as the smiles grew bigger and the words swirled faster and faster, slicing through it causing spasms of pleasure. Wait!

Then it continued, “but only after we have trialled it for a year or so to make sure there are no unintended consequences.”

The smiles became fixed and the words ceased increasing in brightness as they swirled around the room. It continued, “In fact I think the best way to proceed would be for us to form a sub-committee to take a closer look at what this entails, to make sure that we know what we’re letting ourselves in for.”

There were nods around the table. The creature knew that its fellow committee members would swim straight for an island of certainty if they were in the vastness of the untested ocean of innovation. It wasn’t that they weren’t excited by the prospect, it was more that they got nervous when they couldn’t see the horizon. And with something as new as what they were hearing today, their limited imaginations couldn’t see an end-point. It knew that they had all been waiting for somebody to punch a hole in the idea and give them an opportunity to reach for something familiar, an excuse to stop progress. A subcommittee was just what they now realised that they needed.

As more nodded and the two youngsters shrunk before its very eyes, the creature ravenously sucked the energy out of the words; it took more than one go with some of them, but one by one they lost their lustre and became yellow, then blue, then the leaden grey that indicated that almost all that could be extracted had been extracted.

The two previously bright sparks left the room dulled with their heads bowed, disappointed, even after the Chair decided they should both be on the new subcommittee. The creature saw them as others didn’t – desiccated, wrinkled, and looking ten years older. The life had been partially sucked out of them, and it showed. The creature thought it could had seen the wrinkles forming as it had spoken, prodding the defences of the idealistic, finding a weakness to exploit, taking advantage of that naive view of the world. Yes, seeing that visible deflation was better than the mating ritual. Seeing them depart looking wasted, their auras almost gone, had made its day.

Grey words now shrouded them, clinging on like limpets, smothering them, obscuring them, taking their personalities away, numbing them.

Sure, the creature could see that it hadn’t completely eviscerated them of hope and enthusiasm, but why would it? They would be back at least once more, probably twice, as they tried to work out a way of using the subcommittee to justify their ideas, not seeing the futility of their actions, just as other misplaced individuals had in the past.

If it was honest with itself, it was doing them a favour by taking away so much so soon. It was freeing them from the prospect of being slowly crushed and destroyed, dismembered by the relentless turning cogs of the system. If they were strong they would, after a short sharp shock such as they had just experienced, now become seasoned bureaucrats, perpetuating the grey changeless mundanity of the paper shuffling, conservative, risk averse office culture. And then they would start bringing their own new meat to the committee room.

It sat back, hoping the feast it just had would not lead to indigestion. Such a rich meal could come back to haunt it, repeat a little bit, cause it to burp up a little enthusiasm if it wasn’t careful, however unlikely that appeared. It had been careful not to over-indulge. The two of them would be back in the coming months; they simply had too much enthusiasm to drain it all in one go. They still had more enthusiasm left to give. Jason would try to dissuade them, but they would come back, probably at least twice, but the last time would be more of a snack rather than a meal, a sort of wipe of the plate with a piece of bread, mopping up the last vestiges of life.

The rest of the meeting passed by with no further incident and soon the committee were alone.

Another month over, it thought.

“See you all next month,” it said, its brow creasing as it smiled. The other five nodded as they put away their tablets and papers before exiting the room. They never said much. Soon only it and the Chair were left.

“I think those two young ones have potential,” she said. “What do you think, Tony?”

The creature paused as it closed its briefcase. “Yes, I rather think they’ll be back. In fact, I really hope so. Such enthusiasm is hard to find and nurture these days.”

“Yes, we should cherish it,” she said.

It smiled as they left the room. “Believe me, I do,” it said.

That evening it sat in its home and found itself wondering where its fellow agents were. The lack of enthusiasm for good ideas around this planet led it to believe that they were hard at work. Surely humans would have been on the moon by now, or even Mars, with their undoubted intellect, but they weren’t. Too many good ideas were stymied early on. It felt a moment of guilt at that thought. It and those like it were inhibiting the development of a species, but then again, they only had themselves to blame. So often they managed to talk themselves out of progress without any help at all.

It was a tough universe, and with that attitude they wouldn’t last more than a few decades once they got out there.

As it fell into a guilt-free sleep it dreamed of scarlet words.

Fairytales – another of the small things in life

I have been thinking about fairytales – and for once I am not being satirical! Just recently I sat down to watch Enchanted – great movie – a sexy Amy Adams might have helped too. But seriously – it’s a wonderful film – full of joy. It’s not my usual fayre of Crime Thrillers, Film Noir, The Bourne series, sci-fi etc, but I’m beginning to like them more. And I don’t even have kids to watch them with. The same is true for Stardust, and more recently Snow White and the Huntsman – although I think the wicked witch steals the show. But enough of me dribbling on. Watch any of these movies and I guarantee that you’ll love them. Fairy tales are one of the small things that make life great – even the dark Brother’s Grimm ones.


Your bed – another in the occasional series of those little things…

Your bed …what more do I really have to say? We all know and love our beds; they are our best friends. After you’ve have had a busy day, be it good or bad, sinking into your bed is pure joy.

When your muscles are fatigued, your brain is fried, or you’re simply just partied out, your bed welcomes you into its warm embrace. Your pillow gently cradles your head and you begin to drift into that period of semi-consciousness. For a few moments you can feel your body becoming pleasantly heavy under the weight of the blankets. Your think hazy half-coordinated thoughts as you fade out. You never remember going to sleep – how could you?  But you sleep the best deep sleep imaginable.

Then you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and relaxed, a nice tingle courses through your muscles as you stretch under the covers. You’re just happy to lie there for a while as light infiltrates the room telling you that another day has arrived.  You cling to the pillow, reluctant to move from this moment of absolute bliss, but your sleep has energised you and soon you are up and about, motivated and ready for anything.

Your bed is one of those small things that make life grand! Treasure your relationship with it.

The Night Sky – another one of the simple pleasures in life

When the night draws back the curtains to reveal the universe within which we live, I find myself gazing upwards in wonder. Light is reaching us over unimaginable distances, distances that would blow your mind. And that light has taken thousands of years to get here. What we actually see is what once was, not what now is. We are looking directly into the past. Wow! A colleague of mine once told me that Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years – well he said absolutely everybody would come to see it. And I think he’s right.

Those distant twinkling points of light, the blues, reds, whites, greens and oranges (if you ever get a chance to see The Jewel Box formation, you’ll see all of these colours – it’s magnificent) might even harbour life. How amazing is that? Are there planets circling those far off stars? If you can escape the city lights you’ll see the Milky Way, our home galaxy, stretching across above you – vast gas clouds obscuring some of the stars, the centre a dense, if distant, white mist of light full of countless stars, and perhaps even a large black hole.

 And if you look hard enough, or are fortunate enough to have a telescope, you might even see distant galaxies, collections of billions of stars slowly spinning tens of thousands of light years away, maybe even further. We are in a big, big universe and every night we get to see it, to gaze up and see our home. It’s awesome.

To cap it off you may be lucky enough to see a shooting star tear across the sky, a brilliant ephemeral streak of light that sparkles into obscurity. Once or twice I fancy I heard them – a faint ripping sound. When I worked in the Kimberly I made a rule that I would see five before I went to sleep each night, and I was rarely disappointed. I was looking for diamonds, but the only ones I saw were in the sky – but they outshone everything else.

A Day With Nothing Planned

There is something rather wonderful about waking up in the morning knowing that there is no urgency to get out of bed. You can simply lie there and watch the light brighten the room. For busy people these days are like gold. You can stretch and glory in the fact that you did not need to set the alarm; you might even want to turn over, hug your pillow and snooze for another half-an-hour.

Then you can have a leisurely breakfast while you unhurriedly read the paper and consider what you want to do with your time. If it is a nice day you might take a book outside and sit in the sun; if it is a cold day you might decide to stay in watch some television. Sometimes you might decide to stroll up the cinema and watch a movie in the middle of the day, or go down to the beach to swim in the glorious ocean.

Days where you have nothing planned give you time to think about things in a clear and undistracted way. They remind us of what a day is, and the fact that we often don’t appreciate how precious days are because we are so busy. Days with nothing planned is 24 hours of total ‘me’ time that is all your own. Treasure them.

A Bunch of Flowers

There is something special about a bunch of flowers. I’ve been in so many dull rooms that have been hugely lifted by the simple act of placing flowers in them. The dullest of small apartments can feel ‘happy’ with such a small addition. If you get a good florist, and at this point I’ll plug my local florist Evergreen Florist in Dianella, Perth who do awesome colour arrangements, then you can bring vibrancy to wherever you live and also wherever you work. So many offices lack any colour or soul and yet it’s so simple to remedy this.

You can also give a bunch of flowers to brighten up someone’s day. I don’t know anybody who would not be uplifted by this gesture. It may be a cliché to send your partner some flowers but, like most clichés, there is reason that it is so popular. The scent and colour of a bunch of roses can take the sting out of most disasters. A bunch of flowers says that you care and you’re thinking of somebody.

When I was recently in London there was a florist, The London Flower Shop on Long Lane, just down from where we were staying. It was selling single stems rather than bunches and I wondered why. Perhaps because there were so many small flats nearby and people might not be able to afford a big bunch. But even a single flower carefully placed in a room brings happiness and light. The young lady in this shop fussed over us and put us together a small bunch that brightened up our apartment. She also made sure that we got flowers that hadn’t fully opened so they lasted longer – and we were able to pass them on to my aunt after a week. When we left England two weeks later that same bunch of flowers was brightening up another small apartment and still going strong.

It’s just one of the many small things often overlooked or taken for granted that makes a real difference and can lift people up.

Take a Look at a Painting

Have you ever looked at painting – I mean really looked closely? Examined the brush strokes up close? Looked at the colours and the different shades within each part of the picture? It doesn’t really matter what the picture is, although I must admit that I am quite partial to landscape, it’s how the artist has meticulous constructed his painting, his vision.

Stand back from the canvas and then stand back further. As you move back, the individual brush strokes lose their coarseness and start to smooth out to produce an even shade, and as you move back further the form of the image starts to become clear. The green shades magically become a field, and the blue the sky, or perhaps a lake – a bit plastic perhaps, but that change as you move back further.

Then the picture starts to gain life and depth. The colours no longer look uniform; you can see the subtle differences and shades. The pale bits in the sky suddenly become clouds and the trees have leaves. A little bit further back and there is movement. You can see that there is a breeze blowing from left to right and leaves on the trees look like they are in mid-sway. The smudge of yellow in the field is somebody’s hat, and the pale red is the shirt of her companion.

This is the magic of a painting. On their own the brushstrokes are simply a line of paint on a piece of canvas. But the artist has, through clever use of colour and an eye for the texture of their subject, made a group of colours into a picture that can draw you in and let you almost feel the scene in front of you. This is an awesome talent.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Lenoardo da Vinci, Reubens, Van Gogh, Monet, or Joe Bloggs from up the road who’s never been heard of. They have the talent, and seeing it is one of the great joys of life.

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