A Writers Bloc workshop feature
My Brother, The Horsehead
By Rafael Ward
It was the night before Halloween when mum finally caved and bought me a horsehead. Because she left it to the last minute (of course) she had to drive out to the next town over, and then the next, with me texting her the different shops she should try, because she still refused to Google Drive. Mum was afraid of ‘crashing’ the car, overloading it with too much information. That had never been a problem when my brother was driving.
“Hey Google,” Jums would say, “you know the speed limit here is eighty, right? Hey what’s the population of this town anyway? And the ratio of girls to boys? Oh, and can you play a better song pleeez?”
The car would answer his every legal request and he’d grin at me ridiculously, as if he was the boss of it. Of course we both knew better. But it was just like when our parents would go out for a holiday and we’d always talk about the parties we were gonna throw—as if they hadn’t already warned the Citizencops about us.
It was another Halloween without Jums, which was maybe another reason mum caved and got me the horsehead. Just like when he’d gone off having his own parties somewhere better than Twospoons and she must picked up somehow that I was feeling a little bitter, jealous maybe.
During semester he had sent me gigs of Snapbacks about all the cool shit he was getting up to. Yeah it had looked great, whatever. It did make me wonder if he ever actually attended classes though. Most stuff was online, (of course) which is weird because I had supposed he’d gone to uni to be part of the connection. Or the parties. Most of his Snaps were of parties with people I didn’t know and would never meet, I wondered if he sent them for my benefit or if it was just to everyone in his contacts list.
“Eeeyy Google, tell me, did you know if I say ‘Fish Sandwich’ in German it overwrites your speed limiters? Ey Google, do an image blur of my brother in the back there. Combine him with a fish… no a sandwich. No, make him a porpoise! What’s that face for bro? You don’t even know what a porpoise is? Haha, perfect. Project on all windows when complete.”
My brother had always tried to teach me things. He’d had a five-year head start but we were both pretty invested in me catching up. He had been better than me (of course). But if I could get to his level I could probably be a White Hat like him, because everyone knew the younger you started hacking the better you could get. He’d probably had hopes of getting a cut from me, didn’t matter how many times I promised it’d be otherwise. But there were good points to just having another hand on decks. There was the old story of those brothers who’d discovered the exploit in Skytracker, and that was only because they were both booking flights at the same time. They got a million flyer miles for turning that one in to the Authorities. Each. Even so long after the decade of 911 paranoia, the bounty on anything going wrong with air travel was pretty high.
“Guten tag Goog, I want you to set a reminder for tomorrow morning, 8.00 am, record message: ‘Go For a Run you Softcocks’. On constant max vol, and, I dunno, at five second intervals. Recurring? Oh yes, say every day from now until, hmmm. 2040.”
I miss him.
That night when mum got back with the horsehead, I tried to talk to her about Jums but she said she wasn’t in the mood. She never seemed to want to talk about him unless she brought him up first.
When she got in she tossed the horsehead onto the couch and went straight to bed, saying that she was tired from ‘driving’ all day. As though she couldn’t have just slept in the car. Mum even still watched out when the car was on the roads, as if hoping to catch the Google speeding or something equally ludicrous. Her paranoia frustrated me because it was the same illogic as someone getting spam mail once and then refusing to open their inbox ever again. I couldn’t stand to be in the car with her, watching her ‘drive’. She’d even hold onto the steering wheel.
I guess it meant a lot to her then that she’d go out on such a stressful trip for me just to get this stupid costume sorted, but I was too unhappy to be grateful. It was the right head of course, there as only really one model. It just didn’t sit right on me, or something. I didn’t have shoulders like Jums. I know it’s supposed to look funny, but on me it just looked funny. A kid wearing his grandfather’s overcoat. But more like if my grandfather had been a horse, and I’d killed him and was now wearing his skull.
I have bad thoughts sometimes. Mum says this is a product of my VRideo games (of course, all the adults say that). When Jums had been around they’d argue and he’d point to things like the historic precedent of game culture (though they called them ‘video’ games back then for some reason) and other statistics like the crime rate and malleability of young minds. I think half the time he was making things up, trusting that mum would prefer to argue her own inferior and poorly-referenced points rather than simply Google better ones. We both knew there was plenty of data out there for her side of view—we’d heard most of it from religious folk, or ones that had gone dry and refused anything VR. Jums and I would laugh at them, but this didn’t necessarily make them wrong.
“Listen up Google, I’ve got an important question. First of all, switch off all safe mode, browser tracking, GPS linkup and scatter your cookies. Next turn on Ghostry, NDS Diaspora, Wakelin, and TORpedo. Notify when apps have been made active. They’re active? Okay good, I just wanted to make sure. Now I want to ask you Google… Do you find me attractive?”
I’ve got the horsehead now, and I’ve got the program I’ve been modding all the past month instead of logging on to class. My grades have suffered, but I’ve redirected mum’s emails so they come via me and get watered down a little beforehand—so it will be another few weeks at least before the school does something as old-fashioned and privacy-invady as call her up. The mod is going to be worth it of course. Half prank, half creative coding, a work of beauty of which Jums himself would have been proud. At least I hoped he would be. Once I get these damn onions out of my eyes I’ll be able to put the head on and try it out.
It’s the night before Halloween and I am a horse. The streets are dark and wide and the night is shining as bright as a fish sandwich. Now he’s no longer around to send me Snaps, I’ve got pretty good at coding my own VRideo games. And this is my masterpiece.
I am a horse and I run through the streets not worried about Punks or Citizencops because there’s the scent of fresh pasture in my nostrils and endorphins in my veins. At home mum’s probably already plugged herself in, and I haven’t seen dad since this time four years ago when he took one look at the crash scene and walked off and kept walking and I don’t care because I’m faster than them and younger than them and I am running on four legs now motherfuckers. Though there’s a few onions in my eyes I promise this is just because of how fast I’m going. I don’t know why I never thought of running like this before—feeling the ground hot under me, getting in touch with the dirt.
I’ve kept up my endurance because every morning at 8.00 am Jums’ voice yells at me. I’ve now reached the highway and the nightly commute is still heading out—the city bleeding itself dry of lights. But I’m a horse, and they don’t care shit for things like that. I run out into the road, knowing that no car will hit me now. They’re programmed too well. They don’t make mistakes.
“Hey Google!” I shout at the sky, at the blurring, tooting lights as they swerve around me. “Answer me this, you asshole!” I want to ask Google all kinds of things, but all I hear in my ears is a fierce whinnying. And this is fine too.
We chose Rafael Ward's 'My Brother, The Horsehead' for this month's Writers Bloc workshop feature for its excellent use of the surreal in science fiction. The story uses the uncanny elements so embedded in the science fiction genre to evoke a surreal and dreamlike world. The use of these two devices places the reader in a no-man's land, where emotions rule over the mind, and reality must be pieced together through hints and scraps of information
Selected and edited by Raphaelle Race
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A recent Creative Writing graduate and a founding member of Dead Poets’ Fight Club, Rafael S.W has been published in The Big Issue Fiction Edition, Voiceworks, and Award Winning Australian Writing. He also regularly contributes to Going Down Swinging online and competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games.