Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cladded

Part of Londons burning,
the heart of Londons burning
in a building which
now serves as little more
than a pretty pyre
for the rich.

RIP

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dot

Frayed dried twig fingers knead lumps of pink matter,
Into a bloodied straw mass that grows fatter and fatter.
The donor, a victim that life has eschewed,
Her cold flesh as scarlet as her ruby red shoes.
A needle, a thread – open straw scars are sewed,
as blood drips to the bricks of the long amber road.
Then the murderer sings, with a cheery refrain
‘"If I Only" No longer, now that I have my brain.’

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Thing from Another World

Toppling towards Earth,
the place of our birth,
is something burning bright like a furnace.
It’s an alien vessel,
which at a rough guess will
plummet out of control to the surface.

There are few places parkier
than the depths of Antarctica,
where the landscape is nothing but snow.
But then something of note, a
loud helicopter rotor
of a chopper that’s hovering low.

They’re in hot pursuit
of a stray Malamute
but keep failing to hit with their gun.
The Norwegians are frustrated
and get quite agitated when
it reaches Outpost thirty-one.

The chopper lands on a verge as
the gunner emerges
and pulls out a grenade which he’d stowed.
The throw’s fucked up a treat
and it lands at his feet
and the pilot and chopper explode.

With reckless abandon
He keeps shooting at random,
gibbering, clearly off his head.
As stray bullets fly by,
Bennings is caught in the thigh,
and Garry shoots the Norwegian stone dead.

MacReady and Doc. Copper
head off in their chopper
and find that the Norwegian base is
just a charred shell that’s filled
with dead bodies, as well
as a humanoid corpse with two faces.

They bring it from there
for their biologist, Blair.
“This thing isn’t human,” he proposes.
and meanwhile the mutt
confirms somethings afoot,
as the bloody thing metamorphoses.

Whilst their dogs buy the farm,
MacReady pulls the alarm
and Childs turns the dogs into toast
Blair checks out the corpse
“This is alien, of course,
and can perfectly mimic its host”.

“It’s from an alien race
come from deep outer space
and we can’t let it get out of here.
If it reaches civilization,
It’ll mean all our damnation.
Earth’ll be assimilated in just a few years.”

Bennings dies by cremation,
caught mid-transformation,
and they’re forced to lock Blair in the shed.
With an axe he went crazy, Oh,
and chopped up the radio
and killed all the sled dogs stone dead.

Copper says “With our blood,
a simple test should
reveal the alien now rather than later.”
But the blood stores are trashed,
al the samples left smashed.
It’s clear now that there is a traitor.

The biologist Fuchs
says that he’ll take a look,
and that he’ll continue Blair’s studies.
But later that night
of him there’s no sight
so venture outside, do his buddies.

They find Fuch’s corpse burnt black,
and so Windows heads back
in order to go raise the alert.
Nauls too, is deflated
fearing his friend assimilated
when he finds a scrap of MacReady’s torn shirt.

As the team congregate
to debate MacReady’s fate,
he appears with explosives, quite stressed.
“I’ll blow you to bits,
If you attack me, you shits.”
(Norris suffers a cardiac arrest).

Without hesitation, they try
defibrillation
The outcome for Norris looks bleak
but to their disbelief
his stomach sprouts teeth
and teaches Copper a hands-off technique.

The mutated fellow
is toasted like a marshmallow
although one you wouldn’t dare digest
“Windows, gather everyone round
and tie them all down.
We’re going to try out a test.”

Clark, who fears for his life,
goes for him with a knife,
and MacReady just shoots the man dead.
They’re all stunned into silence
by this act of violence
having seen their friend shot in the head.

“Guys” said MacReady,
“I think I’ve got a theory.
The alien just wants to survive.
if we can just determine,
who’s a host to this vermin,
then we might just stay alive.”

Everyone tied and seated,
a copper wire’s heated
and placed into samples of blood.
But when the wire tip was probin’
Palmer’s Haemoglobin
it leapt off as far as it could.

With little advance warning,
Palmer’s now transforming
as tentacles sprout from his head
Windows hesitates to flame him,
and death comes to claim him
and MacReady has to burn them both dead.

Garry’s been through the wringer,
He feels loathe to linger, so
it’s only fair that he seems a grouch.
“You’ve been through a lot,
but I would rather not
spend Winter tied to this fucking couch”

With Childs left to guard,
the others head to the yard
in order to go and test Blair.
They open his shed
and find they’ve all been misled.
The alien has tunnelled out of there.

Though they thought him Mammalian,
turns out Blair is an alien
and the blighter’s given them the slip
He’s been scavenging equipment
which is for his ship meant,
and has part-built a makeshift space ship.

Garry looks all forlorn.
“The Generator’s gone”
“Is there any way we can fix it?”,
MacReady asks with a frown.
Garry stares at the ground,
“No, I meant as in somebodies nicked it”

“Oh, bugger, shit and damn,
I know the things plan.”
MacReady states, with some consternation.
“We’ll all freeze to death,
and we’ll breathe our last breath –
it’ll be safe whilst it’s in hibernation”

The most hopeful prognosis
was to lay the explosives
agreed the remaining three guys
The dynamite was placed
(and Blair melts Garry’s face)
but then came the biggest surprise.

A vast tentacled Blair
bursts out into the air
popping open like some vile haemorrhoid
But with some dynamite (the last),
MacReady triggers the blast
And the base and the beast are destroyed.

As the flames all burn higher,
MacReady sits by the fire
as Childs reappears with a wry smile.
They can do nothing but watch
as they both share some Scotch.
“Why don’t we both just wait here a while.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Squamous Man

Obscene angles,
On dreams landscape desolate -
will Night-gaunts make a meal of me yet?

In Innsmouth’s only bar,
a squamous man.

Why risk losing your sanity
when you're destined to be
an Elder Thing’s treat?

I would escape tonight,
but I haven't any arms to bear.
That man is so gruesome
from some kind of loathsome nightmare.

Arrrggh! A Deep One in the bar,
he’s screaming in my face
and hits me with a swing.
He knows so many arcane things
He knows so much about dread things

I would escape tonight,
but I haven't any arms to bear.
That man is so gruesome
from some kind of loathsome nightmare.
La, la-la, la-la, la-la, a squamous man
Oh, la-la, la-la, la-la, a squamous man

Arrrggh! A Deep One in the bar,
he’s screaming in my face
and hits me with a swing.

He knows so much about dread things
He knows so many eldritch things
He knows so many dreadful things...

- with apologies to both HP Lovecraft and Steven Morrissey :)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge - Double Story bonus!


The Stitched Smile blog has a Flash Fiction challenge held each week.  Click on the link beneath each inspirational picture to be taken to the associated story...


Link to the story is here


Link to the story is here

Friday, March 31, 2017

Of Shadows and Substance - a short story

I’d got the knack of getting ready and leaving the house down to a fine art now. My routine was occasionally thrown out of kilter on the rare occasion that he was lurking somewhere inside the house – more often than not skulking outside my bedroom door, or nonchalantly smoking in my kitchen - but I was both pleased and relieved to say that on that day of all days that hadn’t been the case.

I was running slightly late, truth be told, having hit that ‘Snooze’ button once too often. I hadn’t slept well the night before - I’d caught him sitting on the foot of my bed when I’d finally decided to turn in and I’d had to shoo him out. He’d tried to start one of those portentous sentences of his but I’d kicked him out of the house before he could deliver his ominous soliloquy. He’d started again whilst standing out on the drive, but I’d slammed the double-glazed windows shut before I could make out any of it. He carried on regardless to a non-existent audience, his words thankfully muffled and inaudible through two panes of thick glass. Even with the curtains drawn I couldn’t help but occasionally peer out at him, shaking my head as I watched him mouth empty words to nobody in particular.

After that it was mostly a heady combination of angry adrenaline and fearful trepidation that had kept me tossing and turning fitfully. Sometimes it was more terrifying not hearing what he had to say – that fear of the unknown, those thoughts that reverberate around the lecture theatre of your skull in the dead of night. Christ… Listen to me… I’m starting to sound like him now.

I was determined not to be late for the appointment, no matter what. I’d felt I’d had no option other than to go private when my usually sensitive GP had finally started to give me that look that confirmed he believed that I was insane, and decent private psychiatrists aren’t cheap. I flung open my front door and – luckily for both of us – he was nowhere to be seen. With the foul mood I was in I’d have just elbowed him out of the way mid-monologue anyway.

It had been raining overnight and the weather was as grey as one of his suits and as bleak as my mood. I’d lost my umbrella a few days ago when I’d thrown it at him in a fit of pique and naively hadn’t seen fit to replace it yet, so I was half-drowned by the time I’d arrived at the bus stop.

The one thing you have to appreciate about my situation is that it’s impossible to let your guard down for a single moment. He could suddenly appear at any instant, seemingly from nowhere, giving me no choice but either try to ignore him or simply to run. My options on the bus, trapped in that metal shell, would be even more limited – I’ve lost count of the amount of times when he’d unexpectedly been sitting behind me and I’ve been forced to leap out at the next stop. On top of everything else, he was costing me a fortune in taxi and bus fares.

Oh, I’ve tried ignoring him, but it was next to impossible – some of the things he says can ruin your whole day. No wonder I’m a nervous wreck. Confronting him is pointless too – he just keeps talking, almost as though he’s oblivious to your presence.

I’m not a violent man but a few days ago - at the end of my tether and pushed beyond any reasonable persons breaking point - I had finally snapped. With a cry of impotent frustration, I pushed him into the path of an oncoming taxi. After the bulky black cab had bounced over him, I stared down at the broken corpse that lay on the road, limbs splayed out at impossible angles. A thick muddy tyre-track had ruined both the man and his usually impeccable suit. He stared back at me with vacant accusing eyes.

That was the end of that, I thought. My mood was buoyant for the rest of the day and there’d been a spring in my step. Normality was at last restored. I was just starting to finally feel good about life when I opened my shed that evening and there he was, leaning against my rusted wheelbarrow. Upon seeing me his mouth opened and he carried on speaking from exactly where he’d been interrupted, as though he’d been sitting there in the musty compost-scented darkness just waiting for his opportunity. Completely unharmed, completely unperturbed. I’d slammed the shed door closed and ran into the house, screaming.

The bus pulled up, and I cursed as a displaced puddle splashed over my clean shoes and roused me from my reverie. After confusing the driver by only half getting onto it and glancing nervously around, I finally committed myself to showing my pass. Despite the bottom floor of the bus being mostly empty, I stood. It was safer that way. Easier to make a quick getaway.

Arriving unhindered, the luxurious foyer of my new psychiatrist’s office certainly showed why I had to get a bank loan in order to afford just a handful of appointments. There was an elaborately abstract water feature occupying much of the room that would probably have cost me the best part of a year’s wages. Any artistic merit it possessed was instantly nullified by the fact that the sound of trickling water from it just made me want to go to the toilet.

Other than the receptionist I was the only person there, thank God. It would have been typical for him to have been waiting here for me when I’d stepped in. She smiled at me as I walked towards her, but it felt forced – it was disingenuous, a false grin. Working alongside that water feature, she must either be deaf or have a bladder of steel. She gestured silently towards a black leather sofa in front of which sat a marble table, bare except for a neat pile of magazines.

The leather squeaked noisily as I cautiously lowered my weight onto it. I perched awkwardly on the edge of the chair, wary that if I sat back I’d collapse into it and struggle to get back up.

I glanced up at the receptionist who was now studying her perfectly manicured nails with the focused glare of a master safe cracker. It only dawned on me then that she hadn’t even taken my name, which probably meant I was the only appointment for the day.

I flicked absent-mindedly through the magazines on the table. This wasn’t the kind of place where you’d find the Readers Digest or glossy gossip magazines – these were all aspirational catalogues with powerful single word names. Each was the sort of periodical that would have a twelve-page spread dedicated to an expensive sports car that they’d only ever made six of.

The receptionist called my name in a sing-song voice and gestured towards the corridor. I lifted myself off the sofa and awkwardly stumbled past her. I hoped she wouldn’t notice the wet patches on the sofa I’d left behind from my rain-sodden jeans.

It was only when I was walking up the long wooden corridor to Doctor Matheson’s office when my heart sank. He was waiting there ahead of me just outside the door, a freshly lit cigarette between his fingers. His permanent monochrome appearance - which I was almost getting used to now - was a sharp contrast to the plush velvet red curtains behind him. For some odd reason it always offended me that he blatantly ignored enclosed workspace non-smoking regulations.

Looking right through me, he went to speak. I raised an angry finger, a gesture more for me than for him, and threw open the door. I caught a few words before I slammed the door closed behind me, blocking him out.

“Imagine if you wi...”

It was then I was grateful for the luxury of these offices. The stupidly expensive elaborately carved thick oak door I’d closed behind me drowned his words out completely as I slumped back against it.

Doctor Matheson, a true professional, barely blinked an eye at my antics. That said, the coarse thickness of his ginger eyebrows meant he could have had his eyes firmly shut and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

“As nice a door as that is to lean against,” he quipped, gesturing to the red leather armchair in front of him, “Perhaps you’d find a chair more comfortable?”

I looked at the chair and then back to the door, studying around the ornate handle - paying particular attention to the keyhole.

“Do you have the key for this?” I asked, nervously, “I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Doctor Matheson calmly poured a tea for himself and another for me. The silver teapot clanked noisily as he placed it onto the tray.

“Is he out there now?” he asked, sliding a delicate china cup across the table to me, “Did you see him?”

I’d heard that question from doctors before, but always in a patronizing tone of disbelief - of contempt, mockery and half-amusement. Matheson sounded genuine and absolutely sincere and reassuringly not in a way that felt like he was trying to humour me. This was so refreshing after the bad experiences I’d had in the past.

“I’m here to help,” he said, getting to his feet and taking a few steps towards me. His eyes locked on mine, and I could feel the mood in the room change. He'd been so calm and reassuring, but I already knew – and dreaded – what he was going to say next. Don't say it. Please don't say it. Anything but that.

“Let him in.”

My heart froze. I’d spent so long trying to escape from him that the very act seemed alien to me. What would he do? What would he say?

Matheson must have sensed my apprehension. His voice grew quieter and calmer.

“He can’t hurt you with me here,” he assured me, “Let him in.”

My hand clutched around the handle and slowly turned it, my glance occasionally going back to Matheson who was simply smiling and nodding reassuringly. I could feel the mechanism inside the door click as the latch opened and, when the handle could turn no further, I slowly opened the door.

He was still there, his cigarette barely touched. It was though time had remained suspended in the moments since I'd closed the door on him. I leapt back as he suddenly strode towards the door, a determined expression on his face. He neatly stepped into the room, refusing to acknowledge either of us. Staring at a fixed point in the far wall as though performing to an imaginary audience, he took a drag from his cigarette and began to speak.

"What fragile mysteries can be found lurking within the darkest realms of the human psyche? This seemingly ordinary psychiatrist’s office, workplace of the well-meaning Doctor Ray Matheson, may well be the conduit used to unlock secrets that would be best kept secret. Secrets that are best kept… within the Twilight Zone.”

There he stood, dressed in a neat 3/2 grey sack suit, satin tie and a white Oxford spread collar shirt. A perfect greyscale facsimile of Rod Serling, the famous – and long dead – presenter and creator of The Twilight Zone. He stepped out of the room, job done. I slowly pushed the door closed behind him, my hands sweaty, my knuckles a pale white. It gave a satisfying click as it shut.

“Was he there?” asked Matheson, a gold-nibbed fountain pen poised above a notepad that had seemingly appeared from nowhere.

I bit my upper lip and nodded.

“And has he gone now?”

I nodded again.

He patted the armchair in front of him.

“Come and take a seat. Let’s talk about him.”

I slowly lowered myself down into the comfortable leather of the armchair, relaxing slightly now. That particular encounter hadn’t been too bad, all things considered, and it wasn’t likely he’d reappear during the course of this session. Matheson smiled at me encouragingly, and went to speak.

There is one textbook question, appropriate given the circumstances, with which any such conversation must begin. I’d rehearsed the answer a million times, knowing full well what he was about to say. I'd almost started answering before he'd asked.

“When did this all start?”

#

I’d had a full time job then, back in the days when I wasn’t a bag of nerves, wondering where he’d appear next, what sinister or loaded utterances he’d make in that gravitas-laden voice of his. It was just a few months back, but it felt like years now. A lifetime ago.

“There are things we all take for granted; a normal life, a house, a well-paid job, friends, the occasional holiday.”

I remembered it word for word. The first things he’d ever said – all delivered whilst I was standing in a queue at the post office to sort out a passport application. I’d thought it to be a joke at first, an impersonator who’d painted himself in varying shades of grey, attempting to get a rise out of us. I ignored him, not wanting to encourage the prankster, waiting for a reaction from somebody else in the queue.

But nobody else batted an eyelid. He sparked up a cigarette and not a soul reacted. Staring right through me, he continued.

“But what is normal? What if normality was just a fragile concept, something to be tossed aside like so much detritus? Sometimes the journeys we set off on are not the ones we'd expected – where your passport is stamped and your baggage is jettisoned off as you prepare for your voyage to… The Twilight Zone.”

I did what any Englishman would have done when confronted with such an absurdity. I kept my head down and did my best to ignore him hoping that he'd go away. I swear he winked at me as I made my way out of the Post Office.

And from that date onwards he'd just appear. Sitting on the edge of my desk or the corner of my bed, on the seat behind me on the bus or next to me in the cinema. No introduction, always just… talking. In that way that made everything just… scary.

"Scary? Do explain," said Matheson, his right hand a blur as he scribbled down copious notes.

"Try to picture the scene," I said, shrugging, "You're just about to tuck into your Sunday Dinner you've spent the last two hours making. Up pops Rod bloody Serling with 'A typical Sunday roast dinner. What is the cost? The average cow will eat nearly ten thousand pounds of grain in its abruptly shortened lifetime, all for the insatiable appetite of one self-centred Englishman. All in the name of that most quintessential of English weekend tradition. But traditions come with their own high cost… in the Twilight Zone'. And then he just sits back, looking smug. And your appetite is suddenly gone and there’s nothing you can except to scrape your roast dinner into the kitchen bin, suddenly terrified by the ill-omened nature of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings."

"I could see how that could be distracting when…"

"And another one. You're on a date with that girl from Procurement who you've fancied for weeks and have finally summoned up the courage to ask out. You're getting a bit cosy on the sofa and she goes to the bathroom to freshen up. Then Rod Bastard Serling is suddenly there in the doorway with a 'Love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast. It's an act which can see us sharing that most vulnerable of activities – sharing a bed and sleeping – with a virtual stranger. A person who we know very little of – potentially a person of dubious hygiene and health, of unknown temperament and history. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit One: a case history of a lover-boy who should never have fallen for one who drags you headlong into… The Twilight Zone'. There are few things capable of ridding one of an amorous mood so quickly."

"Do you think it is Rod Serling?"

"What? Do you think I'm mad?", I barked, suddenly very aware of both of our roles, "Rod Serling died in the mid-seventies, a good half a decade before I was even born. And it's not just Rod Serling – it's like a black and white telly version of him. I swear if you look at him long enough you can see grains of static there."

"So, if you accept that it's just a figment of your imagination, then that is half the battle. Acceptance is…"

"It's not as simple as that," I interrupted, "Some of the things he says... they're prophetic. Thanks to some of his omen-laden speeches, I've avoided a works dinner that gave everybody else who went food poisoning, avoided getting in a mate's car which got into an accident that left him crippled, all sorts of things."

"So, this… version… of Serling is actively helpful?"

“Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. That could be the luck of the draw, because he's pretty much warning me about everything these days. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. He's pretty one note, to be honest. I'm having to ignore him because If I didn’t, I simply couldn't function as a human being. There doesn't seem to be anywhere I can go where I'm rid of him. I just want him gone, Doctor Matheson."

"You have to appreciate that this kind of therapy can take a very long time. With no guarantee of results. I suspect you sometimes appreciate his company."

"With all due respect, that's nonsense. You try living for a single day with that man constantly appearing in your life as the voice of impending doom. I've got the money, Doctor Matheson, if that's the issue."

“Calm down. I assure you, I’m trying to help.”

I sunk my face into my hands, suddenly aware that my breathing was rapid and panicked. I was safe here, at least for the time being. I concentrated on the loud rhythmic tick-tock tick-tock from the grandfather clock that stood next to the door, gradually relaxing my breathing into following the same pattern. Slowly and surely, I eased myself away from the impending panic attack.

“If you will, imagine the complex mechanisms of a clock…” came the voice from in front of me. I pulled my hands away from my face to be confronted by Rod Serling, now sitting there in the place of Doctor Matheson. Of the Doctor himself, there was no sign.

“An intricate arrangement of cogs and dials, all working together towards a unified purpose…”

I staggered to my feet, holding on to the chair for support as I felt my limbs buckling beneath me. Serling stood up as well, tapping an unlit cigarette on the back of his hand.

“…that purpose being to chart one of the oldest mysteries to mankind…”

He was up and to his feet by the time I’d made it to the door. Unable to wrest my eyes away from him, my shaking hands struggled blindly with the door handle. Eventually it turned in my hand and I fell through the door, running straight into somebody who’d been in the unfortunate position of standing right outside. They didn’t budge, as solid and unmoving as a rock.

It was Rod Serling staring down at me, an all-knowing smirk etched on those homochromous features.

“…the mysteries of time itself.”

#

I turned and ran, carried forward by sheer momentum. My legs stumbled but thankfully I remained upright, arms flailing wildly for balance. The receptionist - undoubtedly roused by my shrieks of alarm - managed to drag herself away from her beauty regime long enough to step out into the corridor to see what all the fuss was about.

As she stood in front of me, perfectly lipsticked mouth agape, her form shifted and wavered. Edges warped and morphed, white-noise static shadows gaining substance. Where there had once stood an attractive twenty-something dressed in bold primary colours was now a black and white woman. Anachronistically dressed in nineteen-fifties fashions; pleated skirt and an angora sweater hiding those conical breasts that only women of that era ever seemed to have. All sanity-wrenchingly topped off with the bizarre anatopistic features of Rod Serling.

“Mankind travels through the pre-determined route map of his existence…”

Something inside me finally snapped. Without slowing I reached forward and grabbed his head, slamming it violently into the receptionist’s desk. The body fell limp as I pushed past it, now falling through the doors that led out onto the street.

It had stopped raining now, the newly emerged sun shining off the glistening tar of the roads. An expensive sports car drove slowly past, an overly loud radio booming out what at first sounded like a profanity filled rap track, but turned out to be anything but – they were the carefully enunciated words of Rod Serling.

“…mostly unaware of the forks in the road, the eddies, gyres and currents that carry us along…”

As it slowly passed me by, the car shimmered and mutated from an expensive boy racer penis-replacement into a nineteen-fifties Ford Fairlane. I staggered back away from the road, stumbling into a group of people and losing my balance.

My back hit the pavement and I lay there for what felt like an age, my eyes screwed tightly shut. I knew what I'd see if I opened them, and I clung on to that fragile gristle of sanity for as long as I could. The voices of the crowd – complaining and concerned at first – were beginning to speak in chorus. Female voices deepened and children's voices slowed as they all began to carefully synchronise with one another, a dozen voices eventually speaking as one.

"…but we're about to find that all paths, regardless of the traveller, the length or course, eventually all end up…"

Don't say it. Don't say it. Don't you bloody dare say it.

"…in the…"

I threw myself onto my feet and barged through them, human bodies scattering like bowling pins. With my eyes tightly shut I hurled myself away from them in desperation, screaming at the top of my lungs so I didn't have to hear those words.

When I finally did open my eyes it was too late to do anything about it. The black cab (driven by Rod Serling, obviously) didn't have time to avoid me. The first thing I noticed with the collision was that all of the wind had been knocked out of me, and I only had time for a single thought when the back of my head connected with the concrete kerb, a thing that heads aren't really designed to do.

"A black cab, just like the one I'd pushed Rod under," I thought, blackness creeping in at the periphery of my vision.

"Nice twist."

#

I awoke to blackness. There was a loss of sensation, as though I were floating in a void. Was this what death felt like? Perhaps I was in a coma? I imagine the reaction of most people, if they found themselves in this situation, would be to panic.

Not I. I closed my eyes (for what little worth that was), breathed in deeply (again, a pointless act) and listened. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Beautiful.

Wonderful, blissful silence.

No dry delivery of portentous dread. No expository cautionary tales.

Just an infinite black void.

But then something appeared, right in the centre of my vision. A white dot of light, accompanied by a shrill piercing tone. It wavered, blurring and then becoming focused again.

A voice in the darkness, American, emotionless.

"There is nothing wrong with your television set."

What? Who was that? The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere, louder than God.

"Do not attempt to adjust the picture."

A dread realisation began to dawn.

"We are controlling transmission."

No. This can't be. Not after all this. I began to scream aloud in defiance, hoping to drown out the voice. But it drowned even that out.

"We will control the horizontal"

The wavering dot of light became a shaft of brilliance, exploding left and right, burning a line on my sight. With no physical form to speak of, I couldn't cover my ears. Couldn't cover my eyes. I had no choice but to witness it all.

"We will control the vertical"

The dot erupted from the top and bottom to become a solid line of illumination, burning with an inner energy. And then everything erupted into light, maddening vistas and impossible imagery dancing across my vision. Huge waves of energy pulsed and ebbed and I could only watch and scream dementedly, my last tattered vestiges of sanity ripped away.

"You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits".

#

SCENE: We're standing behind two doctors who are peering through a window into a padded cell. The occupant is collapsed in one corner and is sitting quite still. A track of drool trails out of his lips, and his eyes appear glazed and empty.

DOCTOR OSWALD: How long has he been like this?

DOCTOR HASKIN: For a few weeks now. He was ranting when we picked up from outside Matheson's office, but that didn’t last long. He just went quiet. He's locked in that brain of his, and I don't think we'll ever be able to get him out. We can just feed him and hope that one day… just one day…

CAMERA PANS THROUGH THE WINDOW AND WE ZOOM IN ON THE PATIENT'S EYES. IN THE BLACKNESS OF HIS PUPIL, WE SEE THE WHITE OUTLINE OF A CLOSED DOOR.

VOICEOVER: The human brain, the most complex mechanism in existence. And like all mechanisms, capable of being damaged, or broken beyond repair. And like an automobile, if you suffer a breakdown, just be sure you don't break down in…

Flash Fiction Challenge - The Fairground

Over on the Stitched Smile blog site are the results of a Flash Fiction challenge held just the other week.  Inspired by the picture on this post, Stitched Smile writers had to come up with a short story. Mine is at the very start.  Click here to be taken to the post.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge - The Bowling Alley

Over on the Stitched Smile blog site are the results of a Flash Fiction challenge held just the other week.  Inspired by the picture on this post, Stitched Smile writers had to come up with a short story. Mine is at the very end - enjoy!  Click here to be taken to the post.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Adventures in reading and writing

It's been a little while since I've updated this blog, so here's a quick update.

The first draft of Recreant has - for the time being - remained untouched. I've been in the process of tidying up Scenes of Mild Peril with my fantastic editor in order to hopefully release it later in the year.  Lance Fling is (as well as being the name of a highly effective combat move in the Final Fantasy Series of games) a wonderful editor who it's been a pleasure to work with.

That's about all done now, so is now in the hands of people far more skilled than myself :)

Another new story of mine - Our Elegant Decay - has also been accepted for the first issue of the impending Stitched Smile Magazine

..but to be brutally honest this is an unusual blog - I'm more excited to tell you about what I've been reading than what I've been writing :)

All We See Is The End/The End Is All We See

Two of my Stitched Smile stablemates have collaborated on this, a collection of two short stories - a joint novelette, if you will.  "All We See Is The End" (or "The End Is All We See", dependent on which variant you go for) is by M.F. Wahl and A.J. Brown.

Two titles, two covers, two stories - and one impressive collaboration.

I'll let my Amazon review do the talking...

Two darkly bleak tales, both based in otherworldly settings.

"Purple Haze" by MF Wahl is the story of the aftermath of a crash landing on an alien world, in which we learn that danger can lurk within the most mundane. Wahl does a wonderful job of building up the tension to almost unbearable levels, with a payoff that'll have you wincing as much as it'll leave you uneasy. Terrifying stuff.


"Run for the Flame" by A.J. Brown tells the tale of an endurance test to end all endurance tests, one that could determine the fate of a civilisation. Again, masterful use of tension with - if you'll excuse the pun - a wonderful pacing that will leave you exhilarated and exhausted. And that final paragraph - Wow.


Two top-notch tales from two writers at the very, very top of their game, and for a bargain price. Thoroughly recommended.

The Blue Flame

I first heard of Rees Finlay - a fellow Coventrian - when a friend of mine, George Bastow, contributed towards his excellent (but short lived) Indie Project. The Indie Project was an underground magazine celebrating independent media, lasted three issues, and back issues are available on Amazon and well worth checking out.

It was clear from his work on The Indie Project that he was very much a talent to look out for. He'd already at this stage written, drawn and contributed to a number of independent comics (Damnation, Wrestling, High Priestess to name but three) which were all collected into a single hardback volume which achieved some success on Indiegogo back in 2015.

His next project sounded intriguing - a semi-autobiographical tale called The Blue Flame. It promised to be a much more personal work than his previous projects, and I happily chipped in for the Kickstarter (which deservedly made all it needed in a very short period of time).

Despite fantasy elements (the character of the Blue Flame for one as well as a recurring character from his previous work), The Blue Flame is a painfully honest work. Without trying to sound patronising (that means "talk down to", by the way*) it's a well-crafted tale that exhibits a level of maturity that surprised me. Rees is no stranger to self deprecation - his social media accounts are testament to that - but that's just one of the (sometimes literal) demons that Rees confronts in The Blue Flame. Thoroughly recommended - he's crafted something truly special, and I predict big things for the lad.  It's not perfect - the quality of the artwork can sometimes fluctuate - but it's a truly impressive piece of independent comic work, and one that almost brought this jaded old cynic to tears. One of the best autobiographical graphic novels since Al Davison's The Spiral Cage.

* - dad joke warning

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hastur La Vista, Baby

It was important to have principles, thought Martha. George Orwell went to fight in the Spanish Civil War because of sympathies for their Republican movement, and Muhammad Ali was arrested and stripped of his boxing title because of his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War.

Martha refused to buy products or services from any shop that used the Comic Sans font in their logo or publicity material.

But, as Infant:Inside were the only business within a hundred miles offering the particular baby scanning services she was after, this was clearly one principle she'd have to temporarily shelve.

She tried to ignore the cursing and swearing coming from the back room as she picked up a glossy brochure from the pile sitting on the waiting room table. She spent a few moments staring in disbelief at the company name on the front, which she still couldn't quite believe wasn't some kind of joke. Even though written in a bright cyan Comic Sans font, it still didn't stop the word looking – and even sounding - like Infanticide.

Another cry of frustration from the back office was followed by the sound of somebody kicking some furniture. A tirade of swearing burst forth, turning the air bluer than the company logo. He'd seemed like such a quiet young man when he'd performed the ultrasound. Admittedly he'd barely seemed old enough to tie his shoelaces, let alone operate expensive diagnostic imaging hardware, but he was friendly enough.

"Who's the best guy in the building?" he'd quipped. "The ultrasound guy." It was a joke older than he was, but it had achieved its aim and put her at ease.

The sound of electronic hardware being firmly shaken could now be heard from behind the closed door, followed by the sound of two voices. They were arguing with each other in that type of way you do when you don't want anybody to hear, but you both defeat the object by each having to raise your voice to put your point across.

"You tell her," said one. "No, you" said the other.

Martha wondered whether it was a mistake coming here at all.

#

Some women were simply custom-built right out of the box to be perfect mothers. That seemed to apply to every single woman in the Antenatal clinic except Martha. They were all exuding that radiant glow and aura of natural calm, whereas Martha simply looked permanently unwell. They all had their loving husbands and doting boyfriends with them, and Martha sat there alone. The term was "one night stand" but, to be fair, it was an evening in which Martha hadn't been doing a great deal of standing.

Martha wasn't the sort of person to go to nightclubs on her own. And yet that one evening, she'd felt compelled. The same compulsion that saw her down an entire bottle of Prosecco, and end up bringing some stranger back to her flat. He was tall, dark and handsome. She thinks.

Ordinarily she'd have been put off by the font choice on the leaflets that the rep handed around the clinic, but something intrigued her. "A 3D model of your unborn child!!!" it proudly declared with an excess of exclamation marks. "For a special reduced price!!!"

#

The man-child sheepishly emerged from the back office, reluctant to make eye contact. He stumbled forward as though abruptly pushed forward by his colleague, and crashed into the counter.

"There's… been a slight problem and I'm afraid we won't be able to provide the 3D modelling service for you at this moment in time."

Martha looked up at him.

"Oh?"

"If you'd like to… erm… bring your cash card over, we'll refund you the money."

Martha got to her feet, the weight of her belly feeling heavier than ever.

"If there's a problem with the printer, I don't mind waiting. I heard you swearing at it."

"Not a problem with the printer as such."

"What do you mean 'as such'?"

The boy went bright red, looking back over his shoulder at the closed back office door as though it would offer salvation. He looked at Martha, back at the door, back at Martha. His mouth opened and closed but intelligible words refused to form.

The door opened and an older man stepped through, placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. She took him to be the manager, an assumption borne out by the Comic Sans "Manager" badge clipped to his shirt.

"Ma'am," he said authoritatively. "My young colleague isn't entirely correct. It's sort of a problem with the printer. A restriction of the technology."

"I'm not sure I understand. What do you mean by restriction?"

"These 3D printers, you see. They're bound, as we are, by certain well-established guidelines of causality and physics. They're simply not designed to print out anything that doesn't adhere to the traditional rules of Euclidean geometry."

"Nuclearidian…?"

"Euclidean. Look, it says so in the book."

He placed a well-thumbed and coffee stained photocopied manual in front of her, pointing out a paragraph. It looked to be a troubleshooting page, and his fat calloused finger was pointing at a particular question.

"Can my Saishomatsui 3D Printer be used to create shapes that do not adhere to the standard rules of space/time geometry?"

"No. Please refer to the operating manual."

#

Martha cradled the hot cup of tea in her hands. Tea traditionally solved everything, but even she struggled to see how infused leaves could make this any better. Even Oolong, she suspected, would struggle.

She stared blankly down at the handful of printouts the manager had placed on the waiting room table in front of her, the ultrasound scans of her unborn child.

In the first static-filled image she thought she could make out a tiny hand. In the second, some tiny toes. The third, an infinite vista of impossible structures. The fourth, the utter insignificance of man in an uncaring and unknowable universe.

But the father – he'd been tall, dark and handsome. At the time, she'd thought those protuberances were dreadlocks. Tall, dark, handsome – and squamous. Possibly squamous. Eldritch at the very least.

She looked up at the sorry face of the manager who was still patting her on the shoulder in the manner one might reassure a dying dog.

"Can you answer me one question at least? Is it a boy or a girl?"

"Yes, I can certainly answer that."

"Well, is it a boy or a girl?"

"No. No it isn’t."

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Is it drafty in here, or is just me?

Ernest Hemmingway once (in a letter containing several other gems of advice to an aspiring writer) said "The first draft of anything is shit".


(Although I bet as he typed/wrote that he had his fingers crossed, knowing only too well that his shopping list for that morning would have probably won him a couple of Pulitzer fiction prizes)

The first draft of Recreant is now complete.  90,291 words (some of them really short ones) across 256 pages over 166 days of writing.  And Ernie Baby (as I'm sure he wouldn't mind me calling him, especially as he's quite dead) was fucking spot on.

Cue the internal struggles;

"That epic prologue that you wrote and were really happy with? That flash-forward that set the universe and the main characters up so perfectly? It's no longer appropriate because the plot ended up meandering off in another direction, meaning you've written a flash-forward that can never happen."

"Perhaps you could fuck about with it and make it a dream sequence? No! Bad David! Lazy, lazy, lazy! It's going to have to go." (Selects all text in Prologue and looks sorrowfully at the word count before hitting delete. That's 1,865 words gone).

"Okay, that hurt. But it was necessary. The rest reads okay though, right?"

"Well......"

"Shit. You've added a load of unnecessary backstory for a character who turns out, in the end, to be pretty unimportant."

"But that character history is good stuff.  I can just use it for somebody else though, right? Ah. No."

"Why are those characters suddenly the best of friends? You never even had them meet. In fact they can't possibly have met."

"You were so concerned about having too many male characters that you've just lazily changed one to a female and haven't changed the story accordingly."

"That character is awesome - I mean, really good. But then you just forget completely about them."

"The build-up to that final epic battle is really good, but you really need to learn some more words to represent explosions."

"That ending is really rushed. For some reason, you were really desperate to get that first draft done, weren't you?  And now look where we are. Working on a draft with a rushed ending."

"And you're writing a blog post when you should really be working on that second draft."

Oops.

Still, at least I can count the words in this blog post and put it into my word count for the day.  Now that's progress.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

You put the Fun in Funeral


Image courtesy of Bizarro Comics

On the morning of your funeral,
it felt odd to dress in black.
The mood was celebratory –
You weren’t ever coming back.

"It's nice to see so many here,"
the chirpy vicar said.
Little did she know that we were there
to make sure you were dead.

I look round at all the faces there,
at your only legacy.
The hurt, betrayed, the cheated -
All combinations of those three.

Your family stand there all serene
and eulogize some lies
about a warm honourable soul -
It’s nobody we recognise.

My florist, she refused to make
a wreath out of nightshade
so in the end Forget-me-nots
were at your graveside laid.

You would have seen the irony
had you had any sense.
We'd love to forget all about you
and all you represent.

The only tears we shed that day
were strictly crocodilian,
All hoping it was true what the eulogy said, that
you were one in a million.

I wish you were a zombie,
so you could die again.
Although it'd be a tricky shot,
to shoot you in the brain.

If only you'd been cremated,
we could have robbed the Urn.
We'd queue to piss into it -
Everyone could have a turn.

The worlds a better place with you gone,
your loss feels like a win.
Whenever you left a party,
It was like someone nice walked in.

The grievers leave now, still aggrieved,
all thinking what no-one said.
"You were a cunt when you were living,
you're still a cunt - just dead."



David Court, January 2017