Reads: 243  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Photo by Sepehr Ghorbanpoor on Unsplash
‘Yes, darling, jab-jab. Just a little sting.’
(contains dark, psychological terror)
from the forthcoming online anthology: 'Is It Today?'

Submitted: March 02, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 02, 2019



Is It Today?


Her hooded eyelids flip up at first light, stimulated by laser-thin rays filtering through a high-up, shuttered, dormer window. Daylight today is pale, vellum white. The eerie silence means snow. Irina hasn’t seen snow in her millennial life. The local village of Mistleford is wedged between two motorways directly under a flightpath. Not that she can hear silent electric cars, stealth drones. Most winter birds are extinct. Living a quiet life accentuates Irina’s growing sense of isolation from the outside world. She wonders what real life’s like beyond the strict confines of the cottage-in-the-fields.

Irina was exhumed from a hibernated state in a transparent sarcophagus and anaesthetized before her incarceration in the cottage. The crude curfew manacle welded to her ankle means she can’t leave the house other than to forage in the high-walled garden, mow the lawn or tend the eternal plants that flourish in the client’s flowerbeds. How she misses the summer: sunning herself on the patio with a good read, supping iced sodas, singing her sad, siren song, as she dreams of life outside.

Outside contact is limited to Irina’s electronic conversations with her ape, the occasional physical contact. All other forms of communication are closely monitored by concealed listening devices dotted round the cottage. Contact resources such as tablets and handhelds are prohibited. Her sole focus is on the client who, incidentally, owns a small transistor radio. Irina hides it in the living room, avidly listening to Woman’s Hour or Today for news of the changes to women’s lives: equality, fair treatment, parity, respect; yearning to be strong like them one day.

The dingy box room is less tastefully furnished than an ape’s cage. Grey emulsion hangs off the ceiling in curly, crusty flakes. Slug-black mildew clings to the window. A dull, crisp, mustard wallpaper dangles in tattered shreds off the wall. And the bare floorboards harbour cruel splinters. Still, for her it’s home of a kind. At least the rusty radiator works, clanking her awake in the middle of the night. Carefully, she folds her woven low-hip top and snug-fitting bottoms, placing them in a tidy pile beside her smart uniform.

Irina stares curiously at herself in the looking glass, just like Alice, except that this mirror isn’t a portal and doesn’t offer her instant release to a wished-for wonderland. She thinks of her client: constantly away with the fairies, gaga, insane. At least that is how she acts during the brief spells when she isn’t tranquillized. Irina dresses in her soft white cotton vest, pants, flesh-tone tights and the pristine navy-blue, short-sleeved uniform which she wears buttoned to her neck. Officially certified as clean, honest, efficient and trustworthy, she permits herself one minor transgression from the ape’s rigidly-enforced dress code. Irina doesn’t wear shoes, doesn’t need to. She never leaves the house.


‘I love these dark winter afternoons, don’t you? Time to draw the curtains on yet another year and shut ourselves off from the cruel cold world outside. Time to snuggle up cosy and warm,’ Irina says, mainly to herself.

She steadies the old woman as she shuffles across the living room carpet in her pink fluffy slippers. Irina is the perfect match for Ms Rose Cade, caring for her 24/7/365 round the clock. She tries to stay cheerful for her client, who trusts her with her life. However, on the bad days, when Irina feels depressed, she wonders if the old girl is immortal. Rose Cade shows no sign of imminent decease. Her favourite song is playing on the greasy portable transistor radio:

‘The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life…’

It snowed last night, a dusting of white magic.

‘I wish we could have a White Christmas.’ Rose says, prone to slur her speech.

Her mouth contorts into the gape which first afflicted her when she contracted myasthenia gravis, a rare neuromuscular disease which weakened her skeletal muscles.

‘Let’s spot a robin before it gets dark, shall we?’ Irina suggests, trying to sound optimistic.

Her primary function is to protract the woman’s life, artificially, through repeated injection of life-renewing fluids and cerebral stimulants into her flaccid, wilting, body. In this way she maintains her client in the critically important body-alive-brain-active mode, the accepted quality standard for sustained human life. She holds Rose still as she pokes her beak through the curtains and stares out at the snow, not flinching when the reflection gazes back at her through the moonlit glass. Rose’s rheumy eyes have a disturbing tendency of rolling. Her red eyelids act like grotesque roller blinds, intermittently revealing the intimacy of her opaque whites.  

‘Always had snow when I was little.’

Irina listens patiently as Rose recalls the wonderful times she spent as a child playing in the snow with her twin. When they threw snowballs in the old rectory. Built a snowman with a carrot for his nose, coals for his eyes and mouth. Dressed him up in a woolly scarf and clootie bobble to keep his head warm. Stuck a bent pipe in his mouth. Stood knee-deep in crunchy snow and watched the grimy steam engines chuff and plough their way through six-foot high snowdrifts.

‘When is Ruth coming home? Please say I’ll see her again.’ 

‘Soon, love.’

Irina’s lying. Cade’s twin died at the age of six, victim of the influenza epidemic that killed twenty million humans. The past is dangerous territory to explore. Cade’s in denial and doesn’t accept her twin is dead. She reaches out and claws Irina’s arm. Instinctively, the sylph gropes for a panic button to alert the nearest police drone that she’s being attacked. In theory, the drone will break in, locate her assailant, stun her senseless and transmit an immediate request for medical assistance. The nearest panic button is actually in the kitchen. Three others are located in the bathroom, toilet and main bedroom. Irina is being mauled in the living room. Cade’s sharp fingernails rake her forearm, tearing ribbons of mulchy flesh out of her soft skin, slashing scarlet streaks, raising tiny beads of blood. Carefully, Irina slips her ruby-tinted horn-rims into her breast pocket, sets about bringing her attacker under control. The ape expects her to exercise restraint at all times, employing diplomacy if possible, when resolving conflicts. The use of appropriate force, where there is no risk of injury to the client, is only permissible in a genuine emergency.

‘Calm down!’ Irina yelps like a fox hurt in a cat fight. ‘Stop it! You’re hurting me!’

She threatens to send Cade to bed without any supper, exercising her nil-by-mouth strategy: ‘No supper and no kiss goodnight unless you behave.’

At last the crone relaxes her cast-iron grip, and Irina restores her authority, wrenching off the animal’s claw so she can inspect her bloodied limb. The scratches will require disinfection to prevent sepsis, even hepatitis, from setting in, a clean lint bandage. She’s suffered worse. At least, she doesn’t need stitches. Cade tries to kiss her lips but the artificial forcibly shoves her out of the way.

‘Only if you promise to be a good girl. Now, say it!’

‘I promise to be a good girl,’ the woman nods, obediently.

Feeling sorry for her, Irina gives Rose a quick peck on the cheek then heads for the toilet. Inwardly, she regards her client as a pathetic mutt, a nodding dog, like those furry animals that adorned car rear windows before self-drive came into fashion and windscreens were replaced with curvy back-seat cine-screens. Rose is at peace once more, her befuddled mind regressed to childhood as she rediscovers innocence. Free, at last, to imagine and play alone in her private wonderland.

‘I don’t have a problem being my age, I just ask that you respect me,’ she calls, trying hard, lucid today. ‘Is it today?’ she wonders, scratching her hairy chin.

Irina just bursts out laughing, ‘Is it today? Honestly!’


She can’t stop thinking about her ape, all covered in hair and built like an orang utan. Not that the artificial minds, she likes her apes hairy. He is intense, uptight and stressed. Irina helps him relax, makes him happy. Tonight, she’ll give him her gift. She takes his call in the toilet, bandaging her arm while the grown-up child searches vainly for her sister in never-never land.

‘How are you?’ he asks.

Irina finds him intriguing, dangerous. He turns nasty when upset.

‘I’m well,’ she coos, excited, struggling to keep her voice even.

‘And how is she today?’

The ape has a habit of starting his sentences with and. He’s uncouth, likes to play it rough, can take care of himself in a fight. Not an ape to mess around with.

‘She’s fine. Everything’s fine,’ Irina assures him, feeling upbeat.

She doesn’t mention the minor incident earlier when Cade nearly tore her arm off. He doesn’t do detail, is only interested in results, has the attention span of a mayfly.

‘And what have you found out?’

Irina tells him the client has a current account and savings account with the building society in the high street, banks online and pays her bills by direct debit. The woman hasn’t made a Will yet but is happy to let Irina write one for her, which she has prepared. Then she’ll sign her life away. In any case, Irina has full control of her client’s finances including unrestricted access to her accounts, bank cards, pins and passwords. There is one outstanding credit card debt which she will pay off using the human’s savings, no other debts. As a precaution, Irina has hacked into the savings account, set up an automatic monthly transfer for £5,000, payable to Trust and authorised unknowingly by the client, confirmed in writing by the building society. Cade has absolutely no idea what’s happening in her personal life, let alone her financial affairs. 

The ape sounds excited. ‘And the current total balance?’

‘As of today, £4,650, but the account is topped up on the last day of each month by a fixed pension payment and an automated transfer from her savings account.’

‘Listen to me!’ the ape explodes, ‘How much does she have in total?’

Irina reveals the inheritance. Cade is the sole beneficiary to her foster parent’s estate. She informs the ape, slowly for effect, that her client has accumulated savings of £265,432.

‘You’ve done well,’ he says, adding, ‘I miss you.’ His voice is husky, sexy, strong.

‘I miss you, too, ape,’ she tells him, as he cuts the call.


Rose stands by the window watching the sun set on her long life, an old maid who seldom encountered romance and never found lasting love. She confides to Irina that she once met an RAF pilot and fell in love with him:

‘We met at a dance on Friday 5th January 1945.’

‘You didn’t forget that, did you?’ Irina laughs. ‘How did it feel to fall in love?’

Rose gives her companion a rare fleeting insight into her feelings. The tears well up in her sad, grey eyes. Feeling for her, Irina draws her close, lets her cry on her shoulder.

‘Look, a robin!’

She presses her finger against the window, pointing into the half-light. Rose’s wizened face lights up at the sight of the solitary robin hopping about on her garden wall. He looks lonely. She soon folds when the tiny bird flies off. The left side of her face has a permanent droop, giving it a lop-sided appearance where the muscles relaxed. Teardrops roll down her puffy cheeks. Squadron Leader Robin Sanderson was shot down and killed flying a bombing mission seventy-three years ago.

‘Let’s dry those silly old tears, shall we?’

Irina dabs the woman’s crinkled face with citrus wipes, glances at her watch, stifles a yawn. Is that really the time? Soon be teatime.

‘Thank you, dear. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’

Rose blows her nose and sniffs. Seizing the opportunity, Irina presents her with the Will.

‘Just sign here at the bottom. I’ll take care of the rest for you.’

The client regards her appreciatively, ‘Would you really? How kind.’

‘Of course, I will!’ Irina smiles, ‘You’re welcome!’

Then Rose signs her life away.


Irina’s bored stiff, about to explode. At times like this she understands road rage, the killer instinct on the motorway, the maniac sitting in the cockpit waiting for take-off. Losing her self-control, she smacks Cade’s face, enjoying the thrill, releasing her stress, squashing the bovine mush, bruising the thread-veined cheeks. The force of the punch sends her client toppling into the fir tree. Cade collapses, shattering several fairy lights, showering needles everywhere. Irina stands over her, hands-on-hips, hyperventilating, trying to calm herself but only succeeding in cramping herself up with lactic acid. Feeling dizzy, she presses the green clean button on her Trust Me, I’m Irina! embroidered tabard. The eco-hoover dashes from under the sofa, digesting, mulching, splintered mess into garden compost. Leaving only the old crone, spread-eagled over the faded red-pile carpet, screaming blue murder.

Irina gets herself in a flap. ‘Be quiet! The neighbours will hear.’

‘Hurts!’ Cade screams.

‘Shut up!’

Irina is worried a drone might detect that she has committed an act of excessive violence. Cruelty against the elderly by a companion is a serious criminal offence, punishable with up to ten years’ imprisonment. Cade wipes her flushed face with her hankie. Soon, it will be time for her injection. She hates injections. Irina insists Cade stands up, or risks missing her customary dippy soldiers and gooey soft-boiled egg. She stands up and they stare into the dark heavens. Swarms of invasive drones fly past the house every day. The antiquated concept of privacy has been consigned to history by gutter press, the virtuous need to know. Drones patrol Mistleford constantly: seek and arrest drones, anti-social behaviour drones, proximate surveillance drones, drones programmed to kill criminals, dissidents and terrorists on sight. As the marketing slogan says:


Irina spots one watching her through the window, a state-registered care drone. Its luminous headlights flash. Its infra-red eye opens and shuts. Her personal defence mechanism kicks in. She wraps her arms around Rose’s soft shoulders. Satisfied Irina complies with statutory carer regulations, the drone scarpers over the wall to spy on someone else.


‘What are you doing?’

Irina has calmed down. Rose has a few bruises. No harm done.

‘Putting the angel on the tree,’ she mutters, warily, ‘Please tell me you like her.’

Irina is fascinated, she’s never seen a Christmas angel before. ‘It’s beautiful.’

‘Thank you.’

Rose is perturbed by Irina’s unexpected change of behaviour. Her bony hands shake as she cradles the golden angel. The doll reminds her of a cherub with its perfect, page boy, blonde hair, puffy-round cheeks and turned-up nose. The head is pre-moulded from cheap ceramic, chipped with age. The eyes have spilt dark treacle down its rosy cheeks. Incongruously, the lips and brows are painted lurid tangerine. Is this an effigy, a crude representation of somebody from Rose’s past? Irina wonders.

‘Here, let me do that for you,’ she says, snatching the figurine out of the woman’s grasp.

‘No, she’s mine! Give her back!’

Irina ignores her, turning the angel upside down, inspecting its petticoat: a stiff, funnelled, amber cone. There is a peeling-off label which reads: Made in China. The manufacturer clearly went to great lengths to beautify the little doll. On its back it wears two angelic gold-on-lemon lace wings, badly bent and twisted. The dress is delightful, a sparkling, gold satin gown with blousy arms, a lacy ruff round the neck and large cuffs which hide its dainty magnolia hands.

‘Give her back!’

Irina hands the cheap, imported junk back. The woman sits and rocks her angel like a baby. Careful not to break them, she prises its arms apart. Around its waist the angel wears a belt of flowing gold and lemon ribbons. At its heart lies a golden rose, a jewellery box without a key. Rose calls the box her gift. It does her the power of good, seeing it again.

‘My baby!’ she cries suddenly, her eyes agleam with the fire’s flames.

Irina is at a loss as to what to say to console her. Amanda June Cade was stillborn on 17th November 1945.

Rose’s baggy knee-tights slip down her calves as she reaches for a glitter ball that came off the tree when she fell over. Irina looks down on her, wondering how she’ll feel tonight, once the gift is given.


‘Hello, Rose, I trust you slept well after your tea?’

She’s miles away. One corner of her mouth droops to the side, titbits of masticated food cling to her few remaining teeth, she is dribbling. Irina finds the sight disturbing. She ensures her client is well-hydrated with a glass of water, lukewarm cups of Earl Grey tea. Why is it old women always drink grey tea? Since it turned dark in the afternoon, Rose has taken to sleeping by the crackling log fire after tea, snorting and puffing like a piston engine.

Carefully, Irina carries the stainless-steel kidney dish, armed with full syringes, astringent swabs and pink sponge, upstairs to the bedroom. It is time for the evening injection. When she returns to the living room, she finds Rose awake, propped up in her favourite olive wingback armchair, fairy lights dancing in her eyes. Irina leans in and scrapes the dried eggy drool out of her client’s moustache with her nails, wiping the orange runs off her chin and stained mauve cardigan with a soapy j-cloth. Next, she dabs the crusts out of the woman’s sticky eyes, careful not to touch her inflamed eyelids. After brushing the dippy soldiers’ chewy bits off her lap, she clears her lap-tray to the auto-wash. Returning to half-carry / half-push the woman’s half-dead weight upstairs.

Irina navigates the geriatric across the landing, stumbling on the threadbare pink carpet into the bedroom with its en suite avocado toilet and bathroom, pausing to thumb the central heating too high to keep her warm. She sits Rose in a springy, stiff-backed, dun armchair then draws the heavy rhubarb drapes closed, doesn’t want the neighbours to see what’s about to happen. The bedside lamps cast eerie shadows on the flock wallpaper, gloomy spirals on the ceiling, but the bed is warm, its pink cotton sheet bone dry, perfectly pressed. Irina draws back the duvet, spreading out a clean rubber bedsheet in case Rose messes herself, fluffing her pillows, leaving one corner of the duvet turned down. She always gives the highest standard of service in bed, 5-star treatment, as her client has so few luxuries these days. Irina has heated the bed with an electric blanket, placed a hot water bottle on her pillow and scented it with soothing lavender oil. She wants her patient to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible. It is this special care and attention that earnt Irina her reputation as the best available companion on the market. Resting her hands on Rose’s sagging shoulders, she eases her forward, and pulls off her cardy.

‘Let’s get you into bed now, love.’

Irina puts her to bed lying her flat on her back, like a corpse on a mortuary slab, stretching out her right forearm, turning her creased palm facing upwards. She unbuttons and rolls up the sleeve of her soft pink cotton printed over-shirt in order that she can palpate the purpled basilic vein deep in the fold of Rose’s elbow. Lightly, she presses her skin, drawing her vein up to the surface. Irina leaves the arm hanging loosely at the side of the bed: she’s relaxed, good girl! strokes her client’s cheeks affectionately then goes to the handbasin to scrub her hands and don a pair of sterile latex gloves. When she returns, Rose is half-asleep. Very gently, Irina lifts her arm and curls her arthritic fingers around a stress ball to expose her hard-blue vein. Tying the tourniquet four inches above her injection site, she cleanses her with an alcoholic rub.

Irina is ready to inject.

The injection is for Rose’s memory, helps clear the built-up sticky plaque inside her brain. Irina takes great care to squeeze out the tiny air bubbles, checking that the sterile needle is fixed firmly in place before she injects. She wouldn’t want to kill her with an air embolism, infection or septicaemia. She takes a deep breath. These are always dramatic moments for both of them. They go through the same ritual every day; after breakfast, lunch, before supper.

‘Well, then, Rose,’ she sighs.

The woman regresses to her childhood, her way of coping with the trauma. ‘Jab-jab!’

‘Yes, darling, jab-jab. Just a little sting.’

‘Must I, dear?’ Rose asks the question time-after-time, knows damn well she must. She looks into Irina’s face, fear in her eyes, and pleads. ‘Please don’t.’

Irina ignores her. Holding the arm still, she slips the needle under her skin at an angle of 45 degrees, pointing it at her shoulder with the flow of the vein, easing back the plunger on the hypodermic slightly. Just to be sure, she draws out a little of Rose’s dark red blood, then slowly depresses the plunger, fascinated by the swelling, the purging fluid that will flow into her brain, concentrate her thoughts. Removing the needle, Irina covers the punctured skin with clean lint.

‘There, that wasn’t so bad was it?’ she says, sighing with relief.

Rose shakes her head like a disobedient little schoolgirl. There is a strong argument for terminating Cade’s life on the grounds that she meets the biological, ergonomic and economic criteria for compulsory euthanasia and makes no useful contribution to society. Furthermore, an intensive genealogical search confirmed that she has no living relatives. Irina decides to give her the second injection, a cyan blue serum. The needle glints in the lamplight. She holds the syringe up, sanitizing its tip. Rose cowers in fear, sees the cruel smile blighting Irina’s sweet, little face.

‘Look away, darling,’ she suggests, stabbing the needle in her client’s arm. ‘Keep still!’

Why won’t she do as she’s told? Irina knows why. Rose wrestles her arm free, squealing as she pulls the needle out. Irina chases the arm, wiggles the syringe, struggles, feels a twinge, stares in disbelief at the needle in her arm. The needle snapped off in her arm! She feels stupid. And so, she should. Irina needs to take this in. Come to terms with what just happened. Figure out a controlled, meaningful response. She wishes the ape was here. He’d know what to do. Rose leers as Irina considers possible outcomes: What if I leave the needle in my arm? What if the splinter remains encapsulated in my protective tissue?  What if it drifts in my bloodstream like a poisonous Nano-robot? What if it causes infection? What if the serum kills me? 

Cade stares at her, intrigued as to what Irina will do next. Now, let’s see, the needle snapped. One part’s attached to the syringe. The other part, measuring 2.5cm, is a metallic thorn, deep under her skin, set into her vein. Irina looks down on Cade, selects her words carefully, attempts to absolve herself of blame, any culpable liability.

‘See what you made me do?’

‘I’m sorry!’ Cade is lying, she’s thrilled to bits.

Irina sobs, her shoulders heave.

‘It’s got to come out!’ she fumes at Cade, ‘This is your stupid fault for not sitting still, isn’t it?’

Cade fails to suppress a bout of giggles. ‘I’m sorry, Irina!’

‘No problem,’ she sighs, sounding distinctly unconvinced. Irina leaves her client cackling, stumbles downstairs, followed by a trail of extinguishing lights. Everything’s going well in the kitchen. The auto-wash has dried and put away the china. The fridge has defrosted a stem cell, laboratory-cultivated turkey, and referred it to the auto-chef for larding, basting, stuffing and trussing. The chopper peeled, topped and tailed the carrots and parsnips, while chateau-turning the potatoes, flouring and shaking them into an oiled roasting tray. The kettle’s boiled. And the radio is playing another of Cade’s favourite songs.

‘So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun!’

The tweezers are next to Cade’s antique plum pudding. Irina leaves the kitchen armed with tweezers, fridge magnet, bowl of scalding water, antiseptic, fresh dressings. When she reaches the bedroom, the client is drowsy from the brain serum. Irina sits in the armchair, assesses her, wonders what she will do when she leaves tonight, with the ape. She organises everything in the smart home: puts the woman to bed, bathes her, helps with her toilet, wipes her arse, prepares her meals, makes the tea, answers the phone, the door, pays the bills. Cade is utterly dependent on her, can’t survive without her.

Irina tries to suck the needle out, to extract the devil with a magnet. She presses her thumbs together as firmly as she can and tries to squeeze it out, prods and pokes about with tweezers, until the wound bleeds. The broken needle is under her skin, deep in her forearm, defying her best endeavours. Her heart sinks: that needle won’t budge, it’s too deeply embedded, I’ll have to cut myself open and pull it out.

She’s confused, upset, worried, panic-stricken. Her client grins smugly, eases herself off the bed, follows her to the bathroom. Irina unscrews the pink lady-shave lying on the frosted glass shelf, extracts its black razor blade, kneels on the avocado rug, holds her arm out straight, rests her elbow, on the cool rim of the bath.

Shuts her eyes. ‘Come on, Irina. You can do this!’

Cade injects her neck. Irina’s head lolls. She slumps into the bath. Her mouth’s numb. Can’t scream, can’t breathe. The cyanide kills Irina’s brain in seconds.

© Copyright 2019 HJFurl. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Science Fiction Short Stories