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Our Flash of Inspiration this month is Binaural Whispers by Neil Campbell, a sultry flash with the narrator seeking relief which comes in the aromatic form of binaural whispers, YouTube, blonde pigtails and white lab coats.
She wore a white coat and had blonde hair in pigtails. Her breath smelled of cigarettes and mouthwash. Flat on my back, I stared up at the ceiling. I saw only the glint of the silver instruments. I felt her gentle voice, her gentle hands, her gentle probing. The white coat brushed against me as she leaned over. The lollipops were blue and red and pink and green.
She turned out the lights. I took off my glasses and leaned forward into the chin rest. She said ‘left’ and ‘right’ in whispers; ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in whispers. She brushed her body against my face and asked me to follow her finger in whispers. I floated from that room, sailed out into the streets.
She was middle-aged, Indian, did accounts when that still involved paper. She talked to me and I listened to her. She told me about her life. She rustled the sheaves of paper in her hands. We drank tea. I watched as she made it. She tapped her cup as she spoke and I leaned back in my chair.
I’ve saved things on YouTube for years. They include massages, horoscope readings, stretching exercises, and, for want of a better phrase, furniture stroking. I watch the shopping channel too. Then I found the channels, and an acronym I didn’t know existed. The computer had recommended it for me, based on my previous searches. It wasn’t just me. There were thousands of us.
My favourite is a woman with a Russian accent. There’s another from South Africa with big brown eyes, but it is the Russian I like best. She smiles from my 21-inch desktop screen, looks straight into my eyes and speaks right into my headphones. She soothes me with binaural whispers. I’m watching her now, she is taking my employment details, she’s whispering to me, tapping out my replies on her keyboard. She has beautiful nails. They tap and scrape on the keys. Later she picks up a book and taps it with her fingers. In the next one her hair is different and she’s wearing glasses. She holds a vial in her hand.
Are you comfortable? Okay? You have comfort? Okay. Very well, we start. Okay? Now I am just going to put this aroma on my fingers. Lavender. Okay? My favourite smell. Now I’m just going to brush my hands up and down your face like this, okay? There is nothing to worry about. Lavender is my favourite. Okay? Let me come closer. Okay?
Interview With Neil Campbell
CM: Who was the reader you had in mind for this story?
NC: I had two. Someone who doesn’t know what ASMR is, and someone who does.
CM: What were you doing when your best ever idea came to you?
NC: Looking out of the window at school I realized the best thing to do was look out of the window.
CM: Are your ideas generated/borrowed/stolen?
NC: The idea for my novel Sky Hooks, about a promising footballer whose life is changed by injury, came from reading the biography I’m Not Really Here, by former Manchester City player Paul Lake.
CM: What do you do with an unconvincing piece of work? Rework/recycle/reject?
NC: Nurse it through a long illness and then suffocate it with a pillow.
CM: Who do you admire in spades?
NC: In terms of flash fiction, Stuart Dybek and David Gaffney. Dybek’s ‘Gold Coast’ remains my all time favourite. I love that story. And Gaffney because I’d never heard of flash fiction before Sawn Off Tales came out.
CM: Urban or rural? Domestic or exotic? Language or plot? First, second or third person?
NC: Urban and rural. Neither domestic or exotic. Language, to an extent. Plot, rarely. First and third person. The novelty of second person narration rapidly wears off for me, even when done well.
CM: What’s the best or worst rejection you’ve ever received?
NC: I had a story accepted that felt like a rejection. It was for a magazine in Newcastle that I forget the name of. The editor incorporated my story as a flashback within his own long prose work. At first I was annoyed, then I found it hilarious. The magazine was fully funded, glossily produced and almost totally shit.
CM: What are your cardinal rules for writing flash fiction? How often do you bend them yourself?
NC: I bend all rules in service of the story. I have a flash collection, Fog Lane, out soon. It is my own take on the form.