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Friday short story time: "Modern Methods"

This week’s Friday story is one of those things that just comes to you. Then you write it down. Then you stop for about a day to try and think of an ending. Then you wonder if it was really a good idea.

Still, I’m off to Belgium for the weekend shortly, so I don’t have time to write anything different, Enjoy! (As ever, more stories are available.)

Modern Methods

By Nick Bryan

‘So what you’re saying is… you shear sheep?’

‘Nah, that ain’t all I do. I also process the wool, wholesale it out; it’s like a full sheeping service.’

‘I appreciate that, Mr Barnes, but you must know that end of the industry has been fully automated for some time now.’

Barney Barnes sighed, a long one that almost wedged his throat open. ‘But there’s always special cases, y’know? Some sheep which ate a bit too much garbage and them machines with the lasers can’t get to grips with ‘em.’

‘In those exceptional cases, we have plenty of experienced and, to be blunt, younger operatives ready to pick up the slack. I’m sorry.’

But Barney didn’t think he meant it. They never do. He had one of these meetings every month, whereas he used to have either a shearing appointment or a meeting with a farmer once a week, and those were the quiet weeks.

Nowadays, he turned up every so often, sat opposite some greasy scumbag half his age and got fed the same crap: ‘I’m afraid I really can’t offer you much, Mr Barnes. If you’d like, I can keep your details on file and we can call on you if we ever need your expertise?’

That file might as well be labelled “The Scrap Heap”, and the prick had only used the word “expertise” to butter Barney up so he’d go quietly. Who was this guy to patronise and reject a seasoned wool-mowing veteran? Barney was willing to bet he’d never so much as touched a sheep.

Still, Barney gave his contact details for the company’s records and went in peace. After all, he couldn’t afford to burn any bridges these days.

And away he trudged, the mutton that hadn’t even taken the trouble to dress as lamb. Down the lift, trying not to look at his reflection, and out of the lobby over the lovely carpet.

He knew what they all saw, of course. Barney spoke plainly, wore the nicest suit he could afford, but all the kids in the glass buildings still saw some sheep-fucking simpleton. Back when these operations had been run by farmers who had the first clue about anything, he could turn up to and chat away to an equal.

Now he viewed the knuckle-chewingly awkward meetings as a pleasing alternative to the hideously patronising ones. He had a house, a family, a wife who earned a lot more money than him. Which he didn’t like, not because he was a sexist throwback, but he wanted to contribute.

It was in that spirit that Barney slipped into the backdoor of his local Subway, sloughed off his suit jacket and shoved it back into his rucksack, wedged in the space between two ludicrously slim laptop cases.

Which heralded the start of another afternoon slapping bread together, throwing meat under sauce. Frankensteining together the foot-long lamb sub was the closest Barney got to a sheep nowadays.

At least he was a supervisor, he told himself. If he’d been ranked below these kids, he’d have drowned himself in marinara sauce weeks ago. Although at least that would be a pleasurable way to go; he enjoyed a hot meatball sandwich.

And as he distractedly watched that same sauce bubble in its hot pot, a horribly familiar tone called for his attention. ‘Mr Barnes?’

Barney looked up slowly, dreading the end result. Sure enough, it was that guy. The one whose office he’d left barely an hour ago, popping out for his executive sandwich, probably with a skinny latte, before heading back to micromanage some farms from the safety of a videophone. He’d had to deal with that sneering idiocy during his last days in regular work. Some moron from head office calls and tries to pretend he understands what it’s like “in the trenches”, whilst air conditioning whirrs in the background.

‘So, I’d like the lamb please. On the wheat bread.’

‘Sure thing, sir.’ Barney was looking down studiously, but he knew the guy was trying to provoke him, play on this imagined love of sheep.

But, desperate to remain polite, Barney refused to confront the greasy arsehole about his fictional beastiality. He hacked open the roll and slipped in the meat, trying not to appear affectionate.

‘Want it toasted, mate?’ He chanced a glance.

‘Oh, just chuck all the salad on and get it over here. Big meeting this afternoon.’

Of course, all the trimmings. Only a boring old person would actually discriminate between items of salad. Still, it meant the customer paid little attention whilst Barney scraped each one out of its tub, tapping away at his smartphone instead.

Watching the smirk as he ignored everyone around him, Barney Barnes realised that there was nothing for him here. Continuing to fake politeness was utterly futile; this guy had no intention of helping Barney out with anything.

Still, this left him with the chance to have some fun. And, as he handed over the sandwich and exchanged handfuls of money, Barney couldn’t help but smile. Thanks to the amount of jalapeños and onions he’d packed into that sandwich, there was no way the prick’s digestive system would survive the afternoon. Especially after he’d requested the chilli sauce as well.

Hopefully the diarrhoea would kick in during that important meeting. Barney thought. And surely this proved he wasn’t old; otherwise, how could he be so childish?

Yeah, that ending is definitely going to establish me as a serious author. Please don’t steal it for your gastric difficulties fiction blog; email me and I’m sure we can work something out.


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