Maude opened the supply cabinet and a barrage inky pens with no lids fell out and ruined her white shirt. She had to change into the only other thing there was to wear in the office, which was a hi-vis jacket.
“Looking good, Maude,” said Dave. Dave was literally the worst, so while he was at lunch Maude sneezed on his keyboard and rubbed her under-boob sweat on the mouth piece and receiver of his desk phone. Maude had no idea whether it was Dave who sabotaged her visit to the cupboard but it didn't matter because she hated him anyway.
The next day Dave asked her if he could borrow 50p for the vending machine so that he could get a cereal bar. Maude was completely sickened by his use of the word 'borrow' because he would obviously never give back 50p, and if she were to ask for the 50p back, she would just look like a petty fool. She didn't have 50p anyway. She imagined offering him her cereal bar instead – which she just ate – by throwing up on a small plate and handing it to him. But that would be overboard.
Later on, Ellen dropped a mug in a kitchen and smashed it and Dave, among others, did that thing where you clap and cheer because someone accidentally broke something. Dave was quite possibly the most insipidly tedious person that Maude had ever come across. She loosened the bolts on the back of his office chair to teach him a lesson. As usual, he leant back in his chair while talking on the phone in that really performative, over relaxed way that he always did, but this time he fell off and looked really stupid.
One day at a meeting Dave said, in front of everyone, “you know, Maude, I think you often have really good ideas,” he somehow sounded sarcastic and patronising and Maude sighed and rolled her eyes and didn't say anything to Dave.
Later that day Maude was in the supply room alone. Dave walked in and said hello. Maude ignored him. Dave dropped his trousers and showed Maude his penis.
“What are you doing?” said Maude.
“I know you like me,” he said, “I thought we could have sex”
“No Dave I hate you,” she said, “and now you're doing sexual harassment.”
Dave put his penis away, “but you're always staring at me, and when I complimented you at the meeting I clearly made you uncomfortable.”
“I stare at you because I've never met anyone more shit that you. And your comment in the meeting hardly made me feel anything. But if you thought it made me feel uncomfortable then I don't know why you also thought that would mean that I like you and want to have sex with you,”
“Oh,” said Dave.
Dave was gone by the end of the week. Maude was happy because she really did hate him. But she hated him anyway, even without the sexual harassment. Everyone told her she was brave and asked her if she was okay, and she tried to explain that he was a putrid, tiresome, twat but it had almost nothing to do with sexual harassment. Nobody understood. Now, instead of hating Dave, Maude had to live with a strange, melancholic feeling of injustice.
Abbey sat down at her desktop computer and used her favourite search engine to find a pencil case shaped like a hotdog. Naturally, she got lots of irrelevant results like “how to make your own pencil case out of hotdogs” and “single hotdog stands in your area” and “life hack: how to never need a pencil case again (stop using pencils and GET ONLINE)”.
Abbey cursed the search engine and gave it the finger, “the absolute state of these results...” she said.
The next obvious move was to set about creating her own search engine. She sunk all of her money and resources into hiring product managers, brand designers, and whoever else she needed to make her search engine look legit. There were marketing campaigns that made Virgin – or whoever the fuck is good at that shit – look like door-to-door sales people. They made engaging and accessible Instagram stories. They paid influencers to do dances on TikTok. They commissioned 'street artists' to paint the sides of buildings in Hackney. They even hired out that weird patch of green outside Box Park in Shoreditch for a day, and filled it with desperate 20-somethings earning less than London living wage to explain to commuters the value of this new and exciting concept: a better search engine; one that gave you accurate results; one that actually helped you with your life. After three months, Abbey almost had a million people signed up to her mailing list. Those million people were smart, early-adopters, she said. They have no idea that they are about to use the best search engine in the world.
Abbey's search engine was called Askly. Her motto was: “Need help? Just Askly”. It was brilliant. It appealed to the millennials who didn't know how to do anything themselves – which is all of them.
Launch day came and Abbey woke up, sipped her morning coffee, and was inundated with Slack messages, Zoom requests, and yes – even emails, which she appropriately ignored. “Abbey, we need a link to the product,” they said, “is it still on stage? Because now would be the time to put it live,” they also said, with a very unwelcome and condescending tone. It became abundantly clear that no actual search engine existed.
“You idiots,” Abbey said, “I'm the search engine,” she gave everyone the link and they officially put Askly live. Anything typed into the 'search bar' was just a message sent directly to Abbey.
The first query she received was “coffee shops near me”. Abbey had no idea where this person actually was, so just replied with, “increased risk of cancer for coffee drinkers; you will die very soon if you take another sip,”
Then she got another query, from who she assumed was the same person, “how serious does your cancer have to be for you to get chemo?” Naturally Abbey went back with, “in 2020 all cancer needs chemo,”
The next query was, “chemo app”. Abbey sighed and switched her coffee out for whiskey, “no such app exists – chemotherapy is a thing you have to do at a hospital.” The following query read, “can you drink coffee after getting over cancer.” This query was entirely hypothetical and had no baring on getting coffee right now, so Abbey replied with, “yes”.
The next query was, “origami crane how to,” and Abbey obviously had no idea how to do an origami crane so she quickly threw together, “six reasons why doing origami makes you an unattractive sad fuck,” and the reasons she gave were things like, “folding paper is just a loser thing to do,” and, “not environmentally friendly,” and, “how you gonna finger a vagina with loads of paper cuts on your hands,”
So the query maker said, “how to finger a vagina with paper cuts in 2020,”
Abbey replied, “experts say it is not advised to finger a vagina if you have paper cuts on your hand,”
“But what if my sexual desire is simply too great?”
“Have a wank”
Askly was the greatest search engine anyone had ever seen. It blew Google right out of the water with it's cutting, straight-forward results. Abbey became famous and her image replaced the old, shitty standard of silicon valley tech giant CEOs. Where they were merely poor CGI renderings of white men, Abbey was a fully-formed human woman with honest opinions.
Abbey devoted her life to answering people's search queries. People remembered that it didn't matter where the closest coffee shop was. Others forgot to care that their website was never the 'top result'. The childish game of search engine optimisation died. People were finally happy.
By the time Abbey became too old to type, Askly had developed a machine that could respond to queries just as well as she did, because it had been trained on years of data. Being replaced with an AI was Abbey's ultimate dream – it meant that she lived forever.
One Sunday Amelia went to the farmer's market because she thought that going outside for at least an hour was slightly better than her usual fifteen hours of indoor computer games. She perused the goods and noticed it was mostly food, “how do I even know if this is good?” she asked a man selling his own jam.
“Uh... how do you mean?”
Amelia explained that if she went to the supermarket she knew straight away that the jam would be great, “because supermarkets have to abide by the rules. What rules are you following?”
The jam man didn't know what to say.
“Like, just because you made this jam with your bare hands, it doesn't mean it's any good,”
“I guess that's true,”
“You could also fill it with poison and no one would know until they bought it and ate it – no one is in charge of checking this stuff at a farmers market. You idiots just turn up and sell whatever crap you like,”
The jam man insisted that he would get nothing out of making poisoned jam. Amelia barked at him because that wasn't the point. Then she went home and googled 'how to make chutney' and clicked on the first recipe she saw and made enough chutney to fill fifty jars.
By the following Sunday she had her own stand at the farmer's market called 'Very Good Home Made Chutney'. Each jar was only two pounds. People asked her why it was so cheap. She said, “because the jars are actually 95% chutney and 5% rat poison,” and the people laughed at her funny joke.
By Monday everyone who bought Amelia's Very Good chutney was in hospital having their stomachs pumped. She visited each one of them in the hospital with flowers and explained that this is what happens when you put your faith in an unregulated market. They showed their gratitude by banning her from the farmer's market forever.
Alistair was an amateur film maker who was trying his best to break into the business. He did all the things you're supposed to do: he sunk all his savings into making movies, he entered competitions, he didn't pay his crew enough money, he sent his films to every shitty film festival out there.
After two years of doing this while dealing with an angry crew who never got paid overtime, he finally made it to Cannes. He managed to make a short film that people actually liked. He got invited to parties. People would say things to him like, “love your work,” and he would say it back even though he had no idea who they were.
One evening he was at one of those parties which happens on a boat. The host of the party came over to him and kept patting him on the back with her large cricket bat hands and laughing really loudly. She said, “I'm so glad we finally have someone in the business as genuine as you, Alistair,”
Alistair blinked and didn't say anything because he felt like he was unable to do anything but be genuine, “being fake is really hard I guess,”
The host laughed and then suddenly became very serious, “Alistair I have something amazing to show you,” she said. Alistair meekly followed her down to a special hidden room inside the boat. She opened a door and revealed a large space with nothing in it but an ostrich. Alistair looked at the ostrich and then at the host, who was nodding confidently and saying, “pretty cool, right?”
Alistair had never seen an ostrich before so without any frame of reference he couldn't tell whether this ostrich was cool or not. So he said, “yes it's cool that you have an ostrich,”
“She's perfectly friendly. Go and say hello,”
This felt more like an order than a request so Alistair walked closer to the ostrich and waved at it. The ostrich stared at him. It looked into his mind and it told him things. It said, “you're a fraud, Alistair,”
Alistair looked back at the host who only smiled and gave a dumb thumbs up.
The ostrich continued, “your films are utter shit,”
The host now patted Alistair on the back, “cool looks like you've made friends. Let's get back to the party because I don't want people to think we're having sex or something,”
After awards season was over Alistair got home, and the only criticism that truly stood out was what the ostrich had said. He did not appreciate being called a fraud at all. He looked at himself in the mirror and thought, “that ostrich is a dumb fuck, I'm totally real.”
Alistair made another film, this time a feature-length. He got the funding he needed and paid his crew properly this time. He made it to Cannes again, and was invited to a party on the same boat. He went down to see the ostrich, who looked the same.
The ostrich said, “that was just another crowd-pleaser Alistair. Its' really easy to please crowds; you just have to be part of any crowd, and do something that would please yourself. It's masturbation, basically.”
“What the fuck, how do you even know this? Why am I taking your word for it?”
“Because you know I'm right,”
Alistair went home and felt sick. He thought we was a really good film maker, so he didn't understand why the ostrich hated him. He also didn't understand why he cared so much about it's opinion. It's possible that the ostrich was the only one being honest with him. Everyone else was so fake. “Except me, I'm not fake” he said to himself.
Alistair had built up a reputation of being a very promising up and comer in the business. He now had a chance to show everyone his real self. He didn't want to make another crowd-pleaser.
He sunk all of his effort into making a gritty, brutally honest film about working class families in the UK. He hired researchers and conducted interviews. He visited housing estates in The North. He learned everything there was to know about how welfare has changed over the last fifty years. He learned about the miners strike. He learned about the steal workers in Sheffield. He cast actors that no one had ever heard of, and could do really good accents.
He showed a rough cut to some of his mentors and it made them cry. The studio heads agreed that this film had changed their lives because it was the first thing that truly made them look at themselves in disgust. When Oscar season came around he was nominated for best director and the film was nominated for best film. He won both. Critics championed this as a master piece. Audience members and Twitter users said that this film finally spoke their truth.
Alistair went to the ostrich. He looked it straight in the eye while holding his two, heavy Oscars. The ostrich stared back, “that was your worst film yet,”
“Are you fucking serious? I worked so hard,”
“Yeah at being a fraud,” the ostrich explained that in making this film about the working class, he had only put his efforts into spinning a very believable lie. He was never working class. Everything he had put in the film was from second hand experience. It was not genuine. He lived none of it. But he took all the credit, because his privilege meant that he was the only one who could tell this story.
“What the hell is your problem,” said Alistair, “this is just how films are made – you're describing everyone in Hollywood,”
“Yes exactly – you're just like everyone else. Except in one way, which makes you worse than everyone else: unlike them, you actually care what I think. Me, someone who's opinion does not matter and that you cannot change. Therefore you will never be happy, and 'success' is completely wasted on you. You entitled little shit,”
“I can think of one thing that could make me happy right now,” Alistair smacked the ostrich over the head with one of his Oscars. The ostrich flapped and stumbled around. And the boat started rocking. Alistair gave the ostrich another whack and stomped on it's neck and drove his best director Oscar into what assumed was the ostrich's belly, causing the ostrich to do several shits on the floor. The ostrich was dead. The owner of the boat found Alistair standing over a pile of feathers and ostrich guts.
Alistair was imprisoned and then taken into a psychiatric hospital. People assumed his brilliant film maker mind was simply too brilliant to not kill an ostrich. “His creative genius is simply unstoppable and sometimes manifests in ways that we cannot explain,” they would say. Alistair never made another film again, and the world was broadly the same because of that.