Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Demolition

The Spectators are amassing.  Perched high on the scrubland of Chuckwell Hill, Dr Elias Jefferson takes in a filtered breath from his half smoked Cherub Rose and turns to meet the absent gaze of his colleague and test subject.  Gardner is lost deep in the slow motion waves of the drug and Jefferson waits for his face to show awareness.  “It’s an odd way to reconnect with nature, but that’s in essence what this is - don’t you see?”  He waits for a moment, lost in his fellow doctor’s milky white irises, gradually realising that in Gardner’s slow motion state it could be a while before his brain computes a reply.

While he waits, Jefferson turns his attention back to the gathering crowds.  There are groups from every corner of Redcliff.  City boys from Northbolt, Hoolies from Cranetown.  Nature boys, thieves, and businessmen alike.  Jefferson spots a new crowd just arriving, slowly trudging across the dead bracken.  He recognises the uniforms - a group of Protectors all the way from the city boundaries outside of which the war on Redcliff’s defences still rages on.  Rebels continuing their efforts to break through the city walls to steal some of the water Redcliff channels underground from the ancient sources of the River Sharp high on the moor.  Everyone here on Chuckwell Hill is on the same trip - Davy J. - eyes milky white and pale like Gardner's, brains fractured, working at a snail's pace as the Ocean in Davy J.'s mix connects with the undertow of life, the flow that connects all living things.  Everyone except Jefferson.

A cool wind blows across the hill, shifting the hillside's piles of flotsum and Jefferson reaches out to grab a ladies scarf as it drifts across to him in the breeze. Here in these slow-motion end days, the hill is a hoarders wet dream.  Jefferson examines the scarf, somewhere behind those faded patterns lies a history - may be a present from a lover, cherished until death only to be passed on to a cheap second hand store by an unknowing son and bought up for a penny by a young girl as a throwaway accessory.   He thinks of his own Mother - is he destined to one day give away the mementos of her life, of her dreams?  She is speaking to him less these days, stubbornly refusing his offers of money, keeping going at her cleaning rounds, sitting in her tiny room at home each morning, and each evening, keeping company with the shadows of her past lives.  Is that all life is, he wonders. Shadows of memories.  Shadows of dreams?  She works away each day to clean the ever growing detritus of a society blind to the waste they jettison.  Jefferson takes another drag and turns back to his colleague, wondering about the history behind Gardner's own faded gaze.  He places more Davy J. in Gardner's hand and watches as the doctor recognises the turquoise tablets and excruciatingly slowly raises his palm to his mouth.  When his hand returns to his lap it is empty.

Jefferson realises he is holding his breath. "The extra dose will keep you under until at least the end of the show".   Smoke drifts out of the doctor's mouth as he speaks, a wreath of words drifting through the air.  Gardner turns - too slow to catch the doctor’s words and smiles.  Jefferson takes a small leather bound book from inside a pocket and begins to note down his observations.  He smokes the end of the Cherub Rose and immediately lights another.  A habit he's always clung to, part of his own shadow.

A solitary gull flies high above, oblivious to Jefferson and the drugged crowds below.  It circles and swoops low towards the hillside, plucking a rat from amongst the rubbish piles.  Gardner momentarily spasms in unison with the crowd, sensing the ripple in the waves he is tuned into.

The gull climbs back up high, gripping the prey in it’s beak, and soars away from the hillside, perching atop the whitewashed office building below.  Inside those walls workers sit dulled at their uniform desks, or in meeting rooms, as oblivious as the gull to the crowd outside, and to the show they are about to be the stars of.  Dark suited figures creep around unnoticed outside the white walls preparing the building.  In their apathy the workers don't see the gradual blockade of each window, fail to notice the barricade at each door.  They are unknowingly under siege.  Above them the gull takes off again, soaring away, out towards the siege which continues at the city's walls.  Waves of rebels continue their bombardment against the Protectors.  Little do they know that all they have to do is wait.  Redcliff is tearing itself apart from the inside.

Eventually Jefferson can just make out the dark clad figures below move away from the building.  The countdown will soon begin.  He sees faces at the windows as the workers begin to notice the crowds on the hillside.  Who was it that first noticed he wonders absently.  Someone on their way to the water cooler, to relieve themselves, an executive rushing to the next meeting, a cleaning lady cloth polishing the smeared glass?  Tears runs down Jefferson's face.  He always knew this would be the hardest moment of all.  He thought he could face it.  In the the name of research.  Surely in research there is no room for emotion.  But no matter how he tries to justify it, the tears won’t stop.

As he hears the squeal of a loudspeaker he reaches inside his coat pocket and counts out 3 of those little turquoise pills and swallows them dry.   Horror fills him from the pit of his stomach as the countdown progresses.  He tries to move, a vague attempt to stop the show, but his limbs won't move as he orders them to.  As explosions start something within him slides and the horror fades.  Days later he would have a vague memory of seeing his mother’s face at a window but now as the demolition begins all he can see are the magnificent waves.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The 82nd Floor

Howells had been trying to reach the 82nd floor since the previous afternoon.  As usual, he woke shortly after five in the morning just as the first shafts of sunlight began to stream through the tinted glass windows.  He absently wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand and yawned.  Other workers were beginning to stir at the desks around him, their newly awaken faces as blank as creatures of the Proterozoic.

Howells retrieved his notepad from the inside pocket of his jacket and reminded himself of his location.  He'd made it to the seventy-fourth floor before sleep took him last night.  Eight floors now lay between him and his meeting at 10 o’clock on the 82nd.  He quickly flicked through his emails, trying to ignore the urge to delete the lot.  Checking his diary for the day, he skipped over his 9 o’clock on the 27th floor, focusing on his 10 am and engagements following that.  He saw he’d organised a corridor meeting with Jones by the water-cooler on the 83rd at midday, followed by a one o’clock on the 17th and a three o’clock training course at the learning tree on 30.  Ambitious.  After a while he was gripped by an overwhelming urge to piss, and he closed the diary.  Phone and charger stowed safely back in his pockets, Howells pushed his chair back from the desk and made his way across to the corridor where the flow of workers was beginning to increase.

Howells fought through the traffic to the bathroom the other side of the thoroughfare.  After queuing for a urinal and relieving himself at length, he queued again for a wash basin and tried to revive himself, splashing water on his face and smoothing down his hair which stuck up in a clump on the left hand side.  He massaged his left temple, which had the impression of a letter R on it from where he had slept on the keyboard.  Running his tongue over the back of his bottom teeth and feeling the furred gaps between his incisors, he spent a minute running his thumbnail along the joins trying to scrape out a little of the plaque which had gathered there and then set to straightening his tie and tucking in his shirt.  Two basins over Carter was performing the same ritual.

"How's the family Howells."

"Good last I heard.  I had a postcard last week.  Jack's starting school next month..."

"Ah -  exciting times ahead then!  Coming to the canteen?”

“Nope.  No time” Howell’s lightly fingered the sandwich he’d saved for breakfast stowed in his jacket’s inside pocket.  “I’m heading straight off.  On my way up to the 84th for a 10 o’clock”

“Haven’t got a chance in hell of making that on your own Howells.  After three weeks here you should know that.  Come with me.  A quick stop for a bite in the canteen then together we can make for the lift.”

At this, the man in between us began sniggering to himself”

Carter gave him a shove “Is something funny?”

“Lift!” the worker scoffed “That’s a good one!  Don’t you read company policies?  There’s no central shaft.  Lifts which only link certain floors together rather than running through the whole building prevent overcrowding and increase productivity by encouraging worker exercise.  Unless you know which lift links what you’re wasting your time!”

“Prevent overcrowding!” Carter cried.  “Did you hear that?”

Howells retreated from his basin, leaving the two men to their argument over the varying merits of single-shaft lift systems. He shouldered his way into the growing crowd to find a place in the surge of bodies.  Swept along by the tide of workers he passed office after office, some still with workers slumped over the desks.  He was heading reasonably smoothly for the stairs at the corridor’s end when a tidal flow caught him unaware. He nearly lost his footing and stumbled forward, the bodies pressing behind him knocking the air out of his lungs.  He wasn’t a large man, but he managed to regain his composure and gather enough strength to force his way out of the side of the surge to the left where he picked up the current forward again.  The man squashed next to him turned and, face far too close for comfort, especially given their shared plaque problems, spoke;

“Nearly lost you there partner.”

“Yeah - tell me about it.  What was that about?”

“Coffee Machine’s been installed just over by the window.  Damn thing’s been causing surges ever since.”

Avoiding any further major incidents Howell’s made it to the stairwell of the 75th floor, and left the stream of workers hurrying to their destinations.  He hunkered down in the gap beneath the rising staircase and unwrapped his breakfast sandwich.  He was just about to take a bite when a voice rose from behind him.

“I tell you.  Management here I come.”

A second voice sounded just to Howell’s side

“I’m just not sure.  It sounds like a reasonable system, but the company doesn't always…”

“Reasonable!  Think of the time saved.  No introductions at the start of every meeting.  No pauses for latecomers to introduce themselves.  VIS is the future.”

Startled, and aware of how precious his hidden snack might be, Howell’s hid his sandwich back where it came from.  Now unwrapped, the eggy mayonnaise began to slide from between the slices of bread into the cloth pocket.  He coughed.


“Ah… Hello there Sir”  Through the dull light Howell’s caught a glimpse of a man.  His hair was ragged and long, his face bristling with a dirty beard.  The man clearly hadn't washed for several weeks.

“Err… Yes.  The V…I…S…?”

“Visual Identification System Man!”  The man’s eyes were aglow with passion.  "Every worker is allocated a tag which they pin to themselves.  They can then be identified because the tag..." He paused for effect “…is printed with their name.”

“I’m telling you Seymour, it might not meet with company approval.  Just think of the printing costs”  The other man was cowering from the feet of the passing workers.  Similarly bearded, his head was badly balding, strips of mottled hair wisped lonely from patches on the sides and back of his scalp.  He was sweating profusely.

“How long have you two been here” Howells asked, his mouth half full of the remains of the sandwich he’d now retrieved and stuffed in his mouth whole.

“I’d say around 3 weeks now” said the second man.  “We were on our way to the Managing Time seminar on level 36, and realised we weren’t going to make it, so we popped in here so Seymour could tell me about his idea.  He’s quite brilliant you know…”

Before he was waylaid any further, Howells mumbled his goodbyes and rejoined the crowds.  By 8 o’clock he’d made the 79th floor.  He rose the last few stairs and emerged on the lobby to find a vast green forest.  Workers were slowing their commute to stare wide-eyed at the foreign world.

"...trialing this on the 79th before rolling it out across more levels..."

“Just when you thought they were out of ideas, the company excel themselves.  Amazing ingenuity...”

“...I've heard that being this close to nature will make workers more relaxed and so increase creativity and productivity...."

“...closer to man’s natural self, ridding our layers of guilt and repression built up through the human artifice..."

The forest was a eclectic mix of flora and fauna.  Vines stretched up here and there, reaching for the ceiling, desperate to escape their confines.  In places they were beginning to creep up into the edges of the air-conditioning vents.  Small pacts seemed to be made between plants - glossy Hederchium and Dahlia Imperialis flourished side by side.  In other places a struggle was going on - in the centre of the plantation a large body of lupins grew tall, a floral city moated by other smaller plants.  In places at the edge of the crop though, these other plants had begun to sabotage their rise. Here a rampaging Mentha Spicata was overwhelming the smaller lupins, over there a snarled lupin lay trapped by knotweed it's stem dangerously close to snapping, it's head pointing to the floor.

Either side of this jungle, the streams of workers flowed unabated, sprinklers soaking their shirts to their skins, some seemingly unaware of the water or the change in the building's environment.  As he was bustled along, Howells noticed rogue workers in the undergrowth.  Ties cast aside, their trousers and shirts stained with chlorophyll and dirt.  Howells watched one woman as she stalked underneath a giant foxglove.  Her gaze was wild, her bloodshot eyes met Howell's unflinchingly full of a kind of intense confusion.  A return to the primitive culture of Homo Sapiens perhaps.  Deep within himself Howells sensed a instinctive recognition of something in her stare that he couldn't place.  A return to an age before language?  A prehistoric urge to mate?

Their shared moment was soon broken by Howells forward motion and the growing crowds soon lost interest in the synthesized boscage and his progress sped up again.

He'd made the 80th floor by ten past nine, and his jacket was almost dry.  As more and more commuters joined the throngs however, congestion became a bigger problem and frequently all movement would stop for a few minutes at a time.  Chances of making the start of his meeting faded and then died.  However all was not quite lost, he was nearing the stairs to the 81st floor by 10.25, and allowed himself a slight feeling of elation.  He might make the end of the meeting.  Better late than never eh?

Just as his hopes rose though, cries came from behind him, and an almighty surge swept him off his feet.  Howells managed to regain his footing just as a second surge hit.  In front of him, the queues were in disarray.  Workers lay in piles, limbs protruding from the carnage at unlikely angles.  He was caught up in a third surge as workers stampeded forwards, rushing over the crowded piles of bodies.  Howells looked down at one man’s bloodied face, his jowls torn in places, his forehead swollen purple from lack of oxygen.  He cried out for someone to help the man but there was no way he could be heard above the relentless sound of marching feet.  He looked away as the man’s eyes turned glassy and he was propelled forwards again.  Surges were hitting the crowds from all angles now as workers began to panic.  Howells found himself thrown to one side where he lay on top of a pile of bodies with still more on top of him.  He closed his eyes and must have briefly lost consciousness because when he opened them again the main body of the crowd had passed by.

Howells rose, shrugging off the bodies above him and emerged to survey the destruction.  Workers - some alive, some dead - lay all around in bizarre unnatural poses.  A strange bell sounded and he turned away from the scene to find that just 10 feet away from him lay an open lift.  Climbing over the bodies, Howells managed to get inside the elevator just as the doors closed.  Howells looked around him for a button.  Up one floor to the 82nd, and despite everything he might make the final moments of the meeting.  But no matter where he looked, Howells could find no sign of any buttons.  The lift was sheer and polished on all four sides.  In desperation he called out “Eighty Two” over and over, his voice rising hysterically until it died in a whimper.  Howells sat on the floor of the lift and began to weep.  After a while his tears dried and he began to take longer breaths.  Now pull yourself together he thought.  Maybe the lift is moving after all.  Perhaps the feeling of desperation is for nothing.  He rose to his feet and pressed his ears against the doors.  Could he hear a slight noise of the mechanism or was it just his imagination? No there was definitely a noise, a slight whirring sound.  The contraption was moving, albeit at a minuscule pace.  He sat and waited.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the bell sounded again and Howells hurried back to his feet.  As the doors swung open though a familiar sight greeted him.  A miasma of roots and vines stretched before him, rows of lupins and delphiniums lined his vision.  Howells loosened his tie, threw off his jacket and crawled into the damp depths of the jungle, a maniacal smile across on his face, his wide bloodshot eyes wild.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Dark Stones

For this week's Flash Fiction Challenge, Chuck sent us to this website for our title:

The random title generator was kind and among a few impossible sounding titles lay this one:

Dark Stones

They say this country was once nothing but trees.  A vast forest filling every space from the Northernmost tip down to the Southern shores.  The story goes that Redcliff, well that’s where they cut the first tree down.

One tree quickly became hundreds, and Redcliff grew in size in the growing clearing.  Men used the wood from the trees to build shelters, and then as the town grew and craftsmen became more skilled, the shelters became more and more advanced.  The trees made homes.  Redcliff, well it grew to become a small city, its wooden houses bustling for space in the winding streets as the market sellers bustled through them.  If you'd looked down on Redcliff from above, it would have looked as if someone had just rearranged the trees rather than destroyed them.  But after a while, that changed.  Men began to look for alternatives to wood.  Instead of using the forest's bounty, they used dark stones, quarried from Startemoor and dragged down vast tracks to the city.

Those dark stones from up high on the moor, they'd stood there for many, many years.  They'd seen the last fall and more.  Well, I think something of the darkness seeped from inside those stones, and bled into the men themselves.  The dark leaked into them until they were as cold and hard as the stones themselves.  It shouldn't surprise you.  Men have been seduced by things weaker than stone before.

Who am I?  I am a stranger here.  I am a man of nature.  I live in the shrinking woods which surround this town.  I live in the sea which laps at the harbour below.  I hide in the other darknesses - the shadows of those huge dark-walled houses, and watch the black spaces in between those stones.  For the dark there, that is where men forget to look.

One of these new dark stone houses belonged to a man named Yeddon Crane.  He was one of those rare men who suit darkness.  A thin, wispy, unkind man, with angular jutting features and graying hair which looked itself like it had been quarried from up there on the hills of the moor.  He was cruel, but weak, until that house was built.  The evil in those stones, it completed him, and made him crueler still.  It found a home for itself there in his soul, and grew.  Crane began to make money from the work of others, through extortion, blackmail and threats. And as his power grew, so too did his home, as he bought up more of those stones until his was the largest building in Redcliff - a giant, ugly, sprawling place which seemed to suck the light from the air around.  He called it Nagrak.

When Nagrak had no room left to grow into, Yeddon Crane built it upwards until its shadow could be felt in almost half the city.  Crane locked himself in that house, his fortress, and around him grew a group of men forged from the same evil.  Men who followed Yeddon Crane and delighted in the grand acts of violence that he demanded of them.  Acts which kept Crane's own shadow felt across Redcliff. Each evening Crane would wander the rooms of Nagrak, caressing the walls, feeling the dark power that leeched from those stones.

Eventually his house grew so high that it could not be built any taller.  The top turrets moved slightly in the breeze and occasional stones fell from the highest towers, crashing through the lovingly thatched roofs of the surrounding families’ homes.  After a while, a series of “mysterious” fires began to plague those homes around Nagrak.  Crane’s megalithic construction spread out again, built on the ashed remains of those wooden homes and the cremated families unlucky enough to be inside. Nagrak's outer walls eventually reached the edge of the forest and once again the wood prepared itself to shrink back from the axes of men.

By this time a small ecosystem had begun to thrive in the walls, floors and ceilings of Crane’s house. Birds nested in its towers and upper stories.  Bats swooped from its eaves.  Small rodents and mice made homes for themselves in the dusty cracks in the corners of Nagrak's many rooms, and in the most remote recesses stray cats hunted them in packs.  Above all, insects thrived throughout the megalith, and joining them from the trees at the edge of the forest crawled a small black and orange beetle - Nicrophorus Susurrus.  It crept into the dark places between the stones of Nagrak, heavy with eggs, and added to the ecology, beginning to trail through those crevices and cracks in the walls leaving a trail of thousands and thousands of eggs, fertilised using the stored sperm from her previous precious sexual conquests.

None of these creatures halted Nagrak’s growth.  Crane had the forest felled all the way to the base of Chuckwell Hill and Nagrak replaced the trees.  By this time the building dwarfed the rest of Redcliff.  Easily large enough to be called a town in its own right, its various wings and corridors sprawled across the previously forested plains and Yeddon Crane still stayed entombed in its walls. His nightly caress of the stones had become more ardent.  The power in those dark stones was a drug to him.  He felt a strong need to become as close to the walls as was possible and most nights his stroking gave way to touches of his tongue.  He kissed those dark stone’s crevices as erotically if they were his lover.

One such night, in one of Nagrak's huge lofty central halls, Crane’s lust became unbearable.  It was overwhelming.  A passion he’d never felt for another.  Along with his lascivious embrace of the walls, Crane began to use Nagrak’s craggy gaps for his other swollen desires.  That night however, Crane didn’t just love the walls around him, for within those crevices he thrust into, kissing and licking feverishly, lay the eggs of the Nicrophorus Susurrus.  Oblivious - lost in his desire - Crane devoured them.

A few months later Yeddon Crane sat in a huge chair sipping at a glass of wine, waiting for his men to bring a man before him.  A man who had had the temerity to walk on Crane’s land without invitaton.  Crane had felt unusual all day, but as he sipped at his drink and heard the clatter of his arrival he began to feel better.  Power flowed through him as he prepared for the man.  He would make sure he knew how worthless he was before he met his end.  He would make sure he begged for mercy before he begged for death.  The door was thrown open and the poor soul was dragged in.  He’d already been badly beaten, his face was swelled with bruising and blood dripped from a deep gash in his head and from his battered lips.  Crane smiled thinly.

He drew breath to address the wretch, but a peculiar feeling overwhelmed him and he felt a tickle in his throat.  He lifted his wine to clear the blockage, and noticed a strange small black and orange beetle on the stem of his glass.  And a second on the rim.  He set the glass down and another beetle fell on to the table beside it.  Crane slammed his fist down crushing the beast.  He felt a surge within him.  A black blur began at the corner of his vision.  The strange tickling in his throat grew, and an scratching sensation began underneath his foreskin.  He coughed, and something rose into his mouth.  A single beetle.  Identical to the others.  Crushing that one between his fingers, Crane looked up.  His followers faces were etched with panic, they were mouthing words at him and pointing, the bleeding wretch on the floor had begun to scream.  Crane struggled to make out the words, his ears felt blocked somehow - as if he was under water.  All he could hear was a rising hum.  An alien noise.  He looked back up to question his men but they had begun to back away, their faces contorted with fear.

Before he had a chance to understand what was happening, Crane noticed that the walls around him were crawling with those same beetles.  The blur at the corner of his eyes spread and in just minutes Yeddon Crane was blinded by a flow of black and orange crawling from his eyes.  His optic nerve and retina crushed by the stampede and his cornia's scratched and pupils bloody from the tearing of thousands of legs.  In the blackness of his amaurosis, Crane fumbled for his chair and got to his feet clumsily. He felt a surge in his throat and Crane tried to scream, but his voice was choked back as hundreds upon hundreds of Nicrophorus Susurrus filled his throat and nasal cavities, all making their way to the surface.  They swarmed from beneath his clothes - his groin and rear pits of agony, and his naval torn open as the beetles crawled from his every orifice.  No one was there to help - his men had long fled the room, tripping over each other in their haste and Yeddon Crane, once the most powerful man in Redcliff, lay near death on the floor, covered in a swarm of orange and black.

In a final spasm of suffering, Crane died.  The walls and floor of the rooms of Nagrak teemed with the Nicrophorus Susurrus - the "Death Seed" Beetle.  Those who had made their way upwards, made the already precarious top towers even more unstable and stones fell from Nagrak's heights.  Down below, beetles still crawled from every orifice of the dead man and unable to find the woodland their genomes told them to expect, they began to bury back in through the cooling skin - using the corpse of Yeddon Crane as their ancestors had used the trees which once stood here.  As the colour drained from the decimated body, the stones of Nagrak momentarily seemed to take on a deeper hue themselves.  Then the stones faded again, as the only man left in Nagrak stood up before the insect ridden corpse, bloodied and laughing hysterically.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Where the Boats Go

So a little late to the party, but last week's Flash Fiction Challenge was to set your ipod to shuffle and press play.  The name of the song = The name of your story.  My random track was "Where the Boats Go" by M83.

click to listen to M83 Where the Boats Go

For such a short track, it sparked a behemoth.  I failed utterly to stick to the 1000 word limit and even now think this short story needs expanding a little, but here it is in it's current state...

Where the Boats Go

Dr Paul Clifford looked up from his paper, his face reddening from the morning sun. “There’s absolutely nothing in here.  Absolutely bugger all Sheila.”
His wife glanced up from her tea.  “Calm down Paul” she said “there’s obviously no new news about it”
“But they’ve been leading us on for two days!  Building up the story.  They can’t just leave it”
“Paul.  It’s news, not a film script.  There might not be an ending.  They may never know what happened to that boat”

Clifford huffed and picked up his paper, returning to the front page for a third time for news on the Solatia.  Sheila sat opposite, drinking her tea and idly reading random sentences off the back of the broadsheet in which her husband was immersed.

It’s difficult to pin down the exact moment when Clifford’s life became so intertwined with the fate of the Solatia.  He read the original newspaper reports same as I’m sure you did.  A boat disappears and of course the newspapers go wild.  But millions read those stories in the papers and to my knowledge none of them became drawn in like Dr Clifford.  At the time the usual groups claimed responsibility for the Solatia - ISIS, Aleph, the YLF.  There was two full days of sensationalist headlines and madcap theories, the news networks brought in experts on areas where boats had disappeared before - the Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Sea, and tried to link these places to the area of the Northern Pacific where the boat had vanished.  Dr Clifford watched it all unfold, but again, millions of others did the same.  And now three days after the tragedy, it had suddenly all gone quiet on the Solatia.  The front pages were full of new stories - a war brewing in Africa, a new set of taxes outlined by the government, a celebrity death.  The Solatia had been edged out of the papers.  All of those questions they’d set up over the last two days and now no answers.  A fifty thousand tonne metal ship ferrying two and a half thousand souls disappears in our world of GPS navigation and satellite tracking, and no-one has any answers?

In between his lectures at the University of Redcliff where he worked in the Marine Biology department, Clifford began daily visits to the library .  He would check the day’s newspapers from all over the world, and a good selection of websites too, hoping for more news on the Solatia’s disappearance, but he found nothing.  It was as if the event had never happened.  Old news is no news.

After a couple of weeks his wife thought Clifford’s interest in the boat would wane, but if anything the opposite was true.  He widened his search and began spending longer and longer at the library, trawling through hundreds of conspiracy theory websites looking for alternative ideas on the Solatia’s fate.  He phoned international news agencies daily asking for reports, and spoke to a friend who worked at the local radio station, but if anything new had emerged on the fate of the ship, it was being kept very quiet indeed.  It was as if the lack of news made Clifford even more interested in what had happened to that boat.  His wife became increasingly frustrated with her husband’s aloofness.

“Paul” she said one day.  “Look at you.  You don’t talk to me any more, you spend all of your time in that library and you are jeopardising your job and our marriage.  And for what?  An unfinished news report?  You have got to let go of this thing.  It’s gone too far.”

To be honest, it wasn’t just Sheila and his job that were suffering.  Everything in Clifford’s life now seemed insignificant in comparison to his new research project.  He tracked down the ferry company executive, and then the original disaster helpline, and rang both with a carefully constructed alibi.  He was worried, he told them.  He was trying to track down his elder brother who’d been missing for two months ever since the night the Solatia disappeared, and he was worried he might have been aboard.  The executive wouldn’t answer his calls and the helpline refused to speak on the phone about the boat’s whereabouts, but they did offer to send a representative out to Redcliff, so that they could go through the passenger list with Clifford and discuss the few details they did have.  Clifford agreed, and they said they’d contact him with a time and place.  No longer than half an hour later the phone rang.

“Is that Dr Clifford”
“Hi there.  It’s Laura from the RFR offices.  We’ve arranged a representative to meet with you.  Rather than you coming out here to our offices, we’ll send him over to you.  As luck would have it he’s passing near Redcliff next week  He’ll meet you at Joe’s cafe on Clearbrook Street at 8pm next Wednesday.  Does that suit you?”

A week later, Dr Clifford left the library earlier than usual dressed casually in faded jeans and a hooded jacket, and made his way across to Clearbrook Street.  It was a clear night for once and the streets were a bustle of people all making the most of the brief letup in the rain.

Perhaps all of those conspiracy theory websites had gotten to him a bit - for some reason, he was a little suspicious of this meeting.  He was an hour early and rather than going straight into Joe’s, he bought a pint at the Howl and Pussycat opposite and watched the door to the cafe, hidden amongst the crowd of smokers in the Howl’s darkened doorway, nursing his pint, and waiting for the “representative” to arrive.  Joe’s was pretty empty, and not one new arrival went in between 7.30 and 8.30.  Around 9pm, his phone alerted him to an answerphone message.  Odd that - full coverage and no missed calls.  Just a message.  “RFR regrets that our representative has had to cancel the meeting with you this evening at short notice due to unforseen circumstances.  Sorry for any inconvenience.”  Dr Clifford swigged back the last of his pint, deleted the message, and retreated inside the bar to refill his glass.  His wife was away visiting her mother, something she’d taken to doing more and more these days, so there was no rush for him to get back.

It was a few more drinks later that a long white arm reached into his view, pushing a small cardboard beer mat into his view.  The owner of the arm - a strangely ageless girl with long hair bunched up into an untidy ponytail, dark wisps falling across her face and framing her piercing blue eyes - exchanged a glance with Clifford.  He suddenly felt naked.  The meeting of their eyes was open and naked, as close together at the bar as they would have been if they’d shared a bed.  The glance was held for a little longer than was comfortable and for one strange moment, Clifford wondered if she was going to move in and kiss him.  Then she moved her eyes down to the mat.  In blue ink scrawled across it was a name “Captain Robert Shackleworth”.

“What is this?”  Clifford asked, abruptly breaking the spell

“I know what you are looking for.  It is what we are all seeking.”

“What is this?  Is it to do with the Solatia?”

“You seek answers.  A fitting ending to your great story.”

Clifford began to be frustrated by the woman’s ambiguousness

“I need to know.”

The strange lady turned to face him again and once more Clifford was struck by her peculiar agelessness.  It was as if she’d always been there, as if she’d crawled from the sea’s primordial ooze and made straight for her bar stool there at the bar.  She leaned in even closer and whispered in his ear “You must follow what draws you in.”  Her breath was warm on his ear, sending a tingle running through him.  Something more than sensual, the feeling was almost familiar.  “Tell me, what do you want from me?” she whispered.  Clifford was still digesting the words when she kissed his earlobe, her tongue flicking gently around his pinna…

When Clifford returned home the following morning, his found his front door open.  The apartment had been broken into.  Everything was wrecked.  His study had been worst hit - all his research into the Solatia lay around trashed or had been stolen.  He sat down in the middle of the room, a tear rolling down his face.  He was woken still sat on the floor surrounded by debris, by the ringing of the house phone.  Clifford had no idea how long it had been ringing.  He checked his watch - 11am.  He’d missed his morning visit to the library and his first set of lectures at the University.  He made himself get up and lifted the handset.

“Paul?  Is that you?  Why aren’t you at work.  You sound awful.”
“Sheila - I… I… Something’s happened.  It’s to do with the Solatia…”
“Paul.  Listen to me for God’s sake.  This time I won’t be coming back from my mothers.  You’ve pushed me too far.”  She sniffed back the tears.  Real or faked, Clifford couldn’t tell.  “The thing we had is over.  You care more about that damn boat than about anything.”
And then silence.  “Paul?  Can you hear me?  It’s finished Paul.”
Clifford set the handset gently back on it’s cradle and gazed around him at his dismantled office.  Perhaps that was the moment that he gave in to the Solatia’s draw - the tipping point.  Everything escalated from there.

When he’d found a new apartment, one close to the library and with a landlord who allowed him to pay in cash and was happy to withhold his name from the rental agreement, Clifford began looking back in more earnest though naval records and newspapers of the past fifty years.  His hours spent in the library became days at a time.  The attendents became used to asking him to leave when they were closing up.  His absences at the University became a disciplinary matter.  The Dean spoke to him in person about his behaviour.

“Paul.  If you need help.  We can try and suggest someone.  I know about Sheila Paul, I know it can’t be easy, but these absences.  The University can’t be seen to tolerate them Paul.  I’m sorry but if things don’t change we are going to have to part ways.”

Clifford left the meeting and headed straight back to the library.  All he could hear were those whispered words “You must follow what draws you in”.  His research had begun to pay dividends.  Clifford had found something very strange.  The Solatia wasn’t the first.  He’d found records of three aircraft and at least six other boats which had gone missing in the same region.  There were no records of wreckages of any of these vessels being found or of any survivors.  It was around this time that the black outs started.  Clifford would come round slumped over the microfiche viewer at the library, or at his office desk.  They became more and more frequent and his doctor sent him for tests.

It was around then that the second boat disappeared.  The papers went crazy for a day or two again, but only one even mentioned the Solatia, even though the second boat, Ramesus’ Fortune had vanished only a few miles from where the Solatia had last been tracked.

Again Clifford tried everything to get more information.  And again, all his enquiries found no answers.

He was called into the doctors

“Paul.  Sit down.  I need to talk to you.” Paul looked around and sat down on the hard wooden chair opposite the gp.  He felt the wooden struts dig into his back uncomfortably.
“Paul, the test results show a Pineal Tumor.  I’m sorry Paul, it’s in the advanced stages.  Let me outline the options available…”

Clifford only found he could truly dedicate himself to his research after the University had made good on their threats and terminated his contract.  Determined to find out more, and aware that his time may be running out, he now found time away from the library to take classes which might aid his search.  He had a refresher course in deep-sea diving, and began to take lessons in Japanese.  He began researching the Japanese papers from the time of the Solatia’s disappearence, painstakingly translating the original articles himself.  None of the papers threw more light on the missing boats than the Redcliff papers had done.  But in the initial report of the boat’s disappearence one paper did use a word Clifford didn’t recognise from his studies.  A word which didn’t appear in his Japanese dictionary. “Akkorokamui”.

Several hours later and Clifford had read several accounts of the Akkorokamui.  Ainu Legend told of an immense sea creature - close to an octopus in form, but around 120 metres in length - which had been spotted in several locations around Japan, Taiwan and Korea since the 19th Century.  One account told of the Akkorokamui’s supranatural glowing red colour, of its giant staring eyes and a noxious dark fluid it emitted.  The tales of the creature had spread to religion, with inclusion in Shintoism where the octopus like nature of the huge creature meant that it is impossible to escape it’s grasp.

Six months later, Clifford had read every article, book and website on the Akkorokamui which he became convinced had something to do with the disappearence of the Solatia.  Almost three years to the day the boat sank, armed with his research on squid and octopus migration patterns, and convinced that the Akkorokamui had moved from Northern Japan into the deeper waters of the North Pacific near the area the Solatia had vanished he flew from Redcliff out to Tokyo.  His first trip to Japan.  He peered out of the window during the crossing, cross referencing the flight plan and trying to spy below through the cloud cover in hope of seeing red glows beneath the dark ocean.

Clifford caught a connecting flight to Hokkaiko and checked into the Daiichi Hotel on Funka Bay.  He began daily visits to the harbour to haggle with the local boat owners, trying to persuade one to take him out to the spot where the Solatia had vanished.  Eventually, on the promise of a small fortune - the whole of his savings - one trawler man Naiko agreed to take him as far as the edge of the area.  He was down on his luck fishing and I don’t think he could turn down the offer of such a lot of money.

Clifford met Naiko the next morning at the crack of dawn and they set sail.  Jirota, his young boathand Naiko and him.  The bay glistened red with the rising sun, in the East, the snowy peaks of Mount Komagatake were just visible.  They set out across the still water, and after a while Jirota came to join Clifford on deck.  They spent the journey sharing tales of the Akkorokamui, Jirota’s stories passed on from generation to generation.

After a couple of hours, Clifford’s GPS reading told him that they were nearing the edge of the area the Solatia had disappeared.  Naiko was getting uneasy and was muttering quietly to Jirota and after another few minutes, the boat began to veer round to the left as he turned the wheel.  Clifford quickly unpacked his diving gear and without a word to the trawlerman launched himself over the side of the boat.

As he descended into the icy water and kicked out for its depths, Clifford could hear the boats engine fading as Naiko and Jirota headed back to shore.  Clifford pressed on deeper and depper past squid and pacific coast jellyfish,  and then as he drew deeper, he began to pick out Giant Spider Crabs on a sharp ocean shelf to his right.  At one stage in the gathering gloom he thought he glimsped a huge Frilled Shark meandering through the water, almost a memory of an animal, a decendent of the Earth’s past.  The marine ecosystems reminded him of his work at the University, the deep water he passed through acting as a metaphor for his life.  He carried on further still, past a vast Hydromedusa lighting up the surrounding water like a bioluminescent dream catcher.  Despite the growing pressure, Clifford paused only to switch on his headtorch as the water closed into blackness, continuing deeper and deeper in search of the answers he knew must lie somewhere down there, hid behind a pair of huge lidless eyes…

Several days later, a body washed up on the shores of Funka Bay.  When they uncovered the corpse, it was bloated until split open and tarnished blue beneath it’s covering.  Burst blood vessels abounded like a map over it’s skin - the deep water pressure of the Pacific had obviously paid it’s toll.  From dental records the man was identified as one of the unfortunate passengers who’d been on board the boat Solatia which had disappeared so mysteriously just over three years earlier.  As the first body to be recovered from the craft, the Japanese television stations ran specials looking back at the disaster, and the papers ran articles speculating on the fates of the other souls on board.  However, despite an extensive post-mortem on the body, and a thorough search of the ship’s records, no-one was able to explain the deep sea diving suit he was wearing when washed ashore.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Night on Ocean's Waves

Another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge.  "The dead body".  This week just one stipulation.  The story must start with... yes you've guessed it... a dead body.  So, I thought I'd try something a bit different!


Donnie was dead.  And navigating.  Riding on Ocean - those little blue pils we’re all warned about from when we’re young.  You remember the ads – that blonde girl from the films “Throw yourself in the Ocean and you’re gonna Drown”.  Anyway, back to Donnie.  He was gone.  No breath.  No pulse.  Cemetery Central.  He’d left this world.  But he wasn’t quite in the next world yet.  He was riding the blue waves which connect us all.  The swell of fate which ebbs and flows beneath everything.  Surfing the tide of life.   In fact we were all hooked up on Ocean that night, heightening our awareness, our intuition, our sense of things.  Tapping into the almightly’s flow.  But while we felt it, Crazy Donnie was deep out there - flowing along with it.


Carly was reading him.  Hands over Donnie’s face, sensitive to the slight twitches and involuntary spasms of the dead man’s nerve endings.  Even a dead body wants the best for itself.  Even a dead man doesn’t want to die.


“Left”… “Left again”… “Right here”.  Carly reeling out the instructions, eyes closed, focused on her friend’s blue-tinged skull.  Ish threw the van from side to side down the narrow streets of Redcliff on her shouts.  Half singing, half whistling that tune I can never place.  Monsta’ and the Kid were up back alongside dead Donnie and Carly holding on to the side of the van for support.  Tyzedale Street, Clearbrook Street, Grange Road.  All came and went in a flash of petrol and light.  The engine blended in to the screams, sirens and alarms.  On a night like tonight there were no pedestrians to worry about running down, only other Hoolies and the Dibble trying to run us in.


“Here!” Carly shouted from the back and Ish slammed on the brakes.  We all piled out in front of Xenolavic Jewellers.  I seemed to remember a story about a man called Xenolavic saving the city once - a watchmaker, I think he was.  Fables get handed down mouth to mouth same as white lies round this city now.  Never that much truth in either, and truth or no truth, history was no concern of our’s tonight.  We got to work on those security bars, me with the flame thrower softening the metal a little, Monsta’ with his huge hands working those huge bolt cutters, snipping those iron bars as if they were autumn twigs.  Ish sauntered over still going at his whistle singing, and shattered the glass behind with a combination of bat and gloved fist.  Another alarm to add to the night’s own song.  The Kid squeezed through the gap with his holdall and set to work filling it.


Only about a minute later Carly shouts reached us.  “Gotta Move”.  Mouth still full of his indecipherable song Ish strolled casually back round to the driver’s seat.  “Kid.  Now!!”  I shouted and legged it back to the passenger seat myself.  Monsta’ piled in the back.  As the Kid squeezed his way back out with a full bag we all got it, same as dead Donnie had a few moments before - the Ocean wave hit us.  Something bad was coming.


Ish slammed on the accelerator and the kid managed to get the loot and one arm in the van.  We sped away just as the sirens screamed through the air.  The kid’s left leg trailing out the back.

Along with the warning shots the Dibble must have got lucky.  As Monsta’ pulled him in, a bullet tore through the Kid’s calf and he screamed.  Poor kid.  It was his first time riding on Ocean and maybe that ol’ blonde movie star got it right – maybe he felt like he was drowning in it.  He went straight into his jacket and started hacking at his leg with his blade.  God knows what he was trying to get out. 


I saw it in the rear view in flashes, lit by the Dibble’s blue strobe from behind.  The kid in the van.  The kid - blade in hand.  The van splattered with the kid’s blood.  Monsta’, smoke between his fingers, tryin to hold the Kid steady before he did himself any more damage.  That knife, dripping red and grinding off the metal roof.  Carly trying to hold the kid’s leg to stop it pumping out more out of the kid’s severed veins.  All this time Ish just kept up his half whistlin’, half singin’ veering the van

Down streets left and right, trying to lose the Dib.  It was all sending me under.  We were approaching Northbolt and Ish swung a left, hard and late into it’s narrow alleys.  The van jolted and the Monsta lost his grip on the Kid who seized his opportunity and turned his attention back to his self.  You’d think it’d be impossible to turn on yourself like he did, but he went for it slashing and stabbin’.  Took his neck apart.  Slaughterhouse Joe.  Pissing blood from his leg and his neck.  Sliced and diced.  The back of the van looked like a slaughterhouse. 


The Dibble missed the turn into Northbolt and we were as good as away.  It was only then I realised Carly was screaming.  She must have been screaming back there for a while.  Not sure if it was the fact she was now sitting next to two dead bodies or the fact that she was covered in bits of the Kid.  Donnie was slipping away too, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth and from both eyes.  I guess he’d seen enough.  And all the while Ish kept up with his whistle song.  Something clicked, the words came to me, and with Carly still screaming her lungs out in the back, I started to sing along… “Somewhere beyond the sea… somewhere waiting for me…”


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Whispering of the Sands

So Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction this week was a random title challenge.  And thanks to a Random Number Generator, I was challenged with "Whispering Sands".  Enjoy!

The Whispering of the Sands 

The Sandsooth comes at dawn each day.  He sits just as he sits now.  Knees pulled up tight to his chest with his arms wrapped around his knees.  Bare chested and bare footed.  His senses of taste and smell swamped by salt.  Deaf ears tuned to the nothingness they have been since his birth.  Oblivious to the howling of the wind, the crashing of the waves, the squawking of gulls.  Despite his deafness, perhaps because of it, he has been chosen.  Blessed.  For at the break of each day, he can hear the whispering of the sands.  One born a generation they say, and he is the 38th.    Lord Sandsooth of Redcliff XXXVIII.

The sands have told him many things.  And he has relayed the whispered messages to the city, some 60 miles away, where politicians, royalty, scientists, alchemists and shaman learn from them and, where necessary, crowd into their concrete offices to debate what to do about them.  Sometimes they decide on a course of action.  Sometimes they are still in debate when the events whispered about come to pass.  Sometimes they continue to debate long after the events have passed.  None of this concerns the Sandsooth. The city sends gifts as thanks for his messages, rich decadent gifts.  The finest wine, liquors and food that the city has to offer, the prettiest city girls to sate his wants and stitch his fishing nets, the most skillfully carved jewels.  It’s as if they believe that keeping the sooth happy will bring happier news from the Sands.  But the food they send turns rotten in the very bowls they send them in, the sweet liquors stay sealed in their urns.  The sea provides for the sooth.  Fish for food and salt whisky for drink.  He doesn’t even use the girls much any more.  They lie prone in his shelter stitching and sleeping and gossipping with each other until he finally dismisses them by turn and they return to the city.  His life is dedicated to the Sands.  He’s learnt more here as first light bleeds over the watery horizon than most learn in a lifetime.  He’s heard of battles lost and won, of magical scarred kings who rule ancient lands, of drowned worlds and deserts the size of planets.  But most importantly he’s learnt about Redcliff.  The Sands speak both of the future and of the past of the city.  They are prophet and they are judge.  They have told of great joy and they have told of utter sadness.  They’ve congratulated and they’ve warned.  What will they speak of today?

The 38th Lord Sandsooth of Redcliff settles.  Knees to chest, perched on Cain’s Rock, that icon of the water, jutting jaggedly up a full fourteen feet above the waves, he waits for those first signs of the day.

It nears time…

The Sandsooth’s eyes close as the sun’s first rays strike his back, the fair hair prickling to attention as the warm glow catches them.  And as bright light begins to glint off the never-ending sea behind, the whispers begin.  A hundred, a thousand voices speak to him at once.  He focuses his mind as his Sooth predecessors have done, splitting his mind so he can use the different parts of his brain separately.  Focusing each part on a voice each.  His mouth opens and closes gently as he takes in the briny air, using the smell and taste of the salt to filter and split the voices apart.  It takes the utmost concentration, but the Sandsooth’s face betrays nothing.  It is calm and blank.  He quickly filters out the babble - the voices which speak of trivialities and irrelevance - and hones in on two voices who speak of more important information.  Whispered news of visitors.  The first traveller brings violence and change. The second is one who will bring joy for the city and joy for the Sandsooth himself.  The whispers only give one name for both… “Elquina”.

The Sandsooth is troubled.  His eyes flick open and he climbs gracefully down to the base of the giant rock and splashes his face with the icy saltwater. He turns and stands on the rock’s base for a while, stretching and watching the sun’s glow, waiting for the memories of the whispers to fade.  For his ears to fade back to deafness.  The Sands have never spoken of his own life before.  He has learnt the histories and fates of countless others, but never has one word been whispered of his own life.

“Elquina”.  A name he recognises.  He’s heard it whispered many times before, always down deep in the static he filters out - the babble.  Whispers of a life not yet important.  He turns and lowers himself into the water slowly, until he is thigh deep in the briny depths and his feet sink and find purchase in the soft sand of the bank of the seabed.  He follows the ridge beneath the water to shore, aware of the strong deep currents that flow either side of him.  One step from the sand ridge could cost his life, but the Sandsooth is not concerned by the risk.  He has walked the bank every day for many years now and feels it’s slightly shifting weight beneath him as surely as he feels his own legs.

Later that day the Sandsooth sits in his lookout suspended high above his shack on the clifftop. He absently chews at the seaweed he’s hung to dry and watches the soundless gulls circle the sea below, all the time wondering about Elquina.  It occurs to him that he has always known her name.  Or maybe he’s been thinking about it too much.  He returns his attention to the empty waves.

That night, as is his routine, he writes out the relay message of the day’s whispering and seals it on a parchment scroll. He omits the mention of his name.  He makes it simple.  Matter of fact.  At midnight he leaves the girl he’s chosen to try to clear his mind.  He opens the door of his shelter to leave the message for collection, only to find that night’s Relayer already waiting.  It’s a three day journey back to Redcliff and a team of four share relay duties between them.  Too tired for communication, he simply hands across the envelope and closes the door.

He is at Cain’s rock for almost an hour before dawn cracks open the next day.  He is still there over an hour after it has broken.  The Sandsooth’s brow is furrowed and despite the early morning chill the light reveals his skin is coated in a thick layer of sweat.  Something is wrong.  This morning the Sands were silent.  For nineteen years he’s received the whispers and never has a day brought silence.  The Sandsooth returns to his lookout wondering what it can mean.

He has barely reached his post when he spots something on the tide.  He runs from the house and rushes down the well worn track on the cliff face.  He reaches the shore just as the tide washes in it’s flotsam.  She has long black matted hair and a pale white face but her clothes and skin are torn.  The water runs red around her body.  The Sandsooth checks she’s still breathing and hoists her over his shoulder.  They return to his shelter and he tends her salty wounds.  Later he places a bowl of fish soup by her bed but she doesn’t wake to eat.

For the next three days and nights the Sandsooth tends to the girl, only leaving her side for Cain’s Rock each dawn.  The Sands do not whisper for three mornings, but on the fourth dawn, just as the Sandsooth is losing hope they will ever speak to him again, they come alive in unison.  A chorus of whispers uttering a single word. “El-qui-na” they all sigh.

The Sandsooth returns shaken to his shack, bringing fresh iced water and grilled sprats for the girl, but she is gone.  He searches the shack and the land around, but finds no sign of her anywhere.  It’s only later when he returns to his lookout that he sees her.  She is standing on the shore far below him staring out at the sea.
By the time he reaches her, he expects her to have moved, but she stands perfectly still, holding exactly the same position, staring out blankly at the waves.  She turns to him and mouthes some words.  He points at his ears and shakes his head, trying to explain his deafness, too embarrassed to sound his own clumsy slurred words.  But she seems to understand, reaching out with both hands and tenderly stroking both his ears.  It feels to the Sandsooth like some kind of magic touch.  A shiver runs through him, like when the first light catches his bare back each dawn.  He looks into her eyes, as deep as the deepest pool and loses himself for a moment.  Before he realises what has happened he has gently kissed her.

They walk back together to his shelter in silence.  He bakes some cod, stir fries samphire with sea herbs and pours some salt whisky while she watches.  They eat in silence together.  It is the first time the Sandsooth has had a guest for dinner in many a year.

At midnight he leaves her to hand over his scroll to the Relayer.  Inside, he’s filled the paper with the name, an endless stream of possibility, an infinite sense of identity. ElquinaElquinaElquinaeLquinaeLQuinaElQuinAELquinAeLquiNaElquinaeLQiNAelquinaelQuinaElquinaELQUInA.  When he returns she has retired to bed.  He does likewise at the other side of the room and falls quickly asleep with the name ringing through his mind.

In the night he wakes from strange dreams, unsure of his surroundings.  He feels flesh next to him and turns to find her next to him in his bed.  He feels her breath on his ear.  And then she whispers and he hears the two words spoken “Thank you”…

The Sandsooth wakes after what feels like minutes but he is shocked to see it is already shortly before dawn.  Elquina has left the bed.  He steals out of the shelter so as not to wake her and makes his way down the cliff face towards Cain Rock.  Something is different.  A world full of sound.  The sooth’s bare feet crunch on the sand, gulls cry overhead, but above anything the Sooth can hear the sea.  An endless, impossible, supranatural swell of a sound.  He feels overwhelmed, unable to split the sounds with salt as he can the whispers.  He closes his eyes as he tracks down the cliff and gives himself over to the sea’s ebb and flow.  A sharp pain stabs his foot and he looks down to see a small jagged stone has cut into his sole.  Looking at the wound blankly he removes the stone and continues down to the shore, leaving a slight trail of blood behind him.

When he reaches the water he finds the bank and begins to wade towards Cain’s rock.  Strangely, he finds himself unsurprised to see a figure already perched on its top.  Nervously, the Sandsooth makes his way along the bank and climbs the rock to find a man crouched there in his spot awaiting the dawn.  The stranger’s knees are pulled up to his chest.  He is bare chested and bare footed.  The man’s face is his own.

It nears time…

As the light begins to flood from behind the horizon, the Sandsooth looks around him.  He hears the gulls crying above him, and the waves crashing loudly below on the shore.  Out of instinct, he quickly sits by the stranger’s side and waits for the whispers he knows will never come.  In the dawn light he holds up the fragment of bloodied glass and catches a glimpse of his own face reflected in it.  The hair is matted long and black, the face curiously pale.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Like Clockwork: Flash Fiction Challenge - the Subgenre Blender

So Chuck Wendig's challenge at this week was a subgenre mash up.  Use a RNG to pick a pair of subgenres and set to writing.  The RNG gave me Urban Fantasy and Biopunk, and the result is below.  It has a nod to China Mieville's Bas Lag (especially in the setting: New Czobun!) and ended up being what I think will be a small part of a much larger whole - thanks Chuck!

Like Clockwork

"I even gave up, for a while, stopping by the window of the room to look out at the lights and deep, illuminated streets.   That’s a form of dying, that losing contact with the city like that.” Philip K. Dick 'We Can Build You' (Quoted at the beginning of China Mieville's 'Perdido Street Station')

Vassily Xenolavic, watchmaker extraordinaire, crouched over his final job of the day, his 13 foot form belying the agile fingers which worked below him as he tended to the timepiece.  Severing here, sewing there, his hand stained slightly by the rusty colour of long dried watchblood.  He glanced up at the clock above his head - it read one minute to six - and he slowed slightly, adjusting the magnification of his MagnoVisionTM, preparing to sew up the final artery, and restart the watch’s heart bang on the hour.  Two stitches from time the bell above his door tinkled.  Without taking his Magnos off the job in hand Vassily lifted his Single AllSeeing to address the visitor and spoke “I’m sorry ma’am.  We’re just closing.”

“Oh, I’m not a customer Vassily Xenolavic”  The visitor answered with a slight grin.  “I have a little test for you.”  She was a hybrid creature, almost as tall as Vassily with beautiful mantis eyes raised above a furred brow.  Captivating in her strangeness.  She stepped forwards and slid something on to the counter to his left.

“One second…” Vassily turned all three eyes to the watch before him and with a final flourish knitted the last stitch and with a flick of his thumb and forefinger restarted the heart just as the clock ticked round to six o’clock.  Suddenly, as if on cue, the workshop was filled with the sound of chiming clocks.  The end of another working day for Vassily Xenolavic.  He replaced the back of the watch, wiping it clean of blood and held it close to his left ear, his AccuteAuralTM zooming in on the tiny heartbeat now sounding behind the ticking.  A smile came across his face, and he looked back up to address his beautiful visitor.  “Now what can I…”  She was gone.  Only a faint smell of lavender remained as proof she’d ever been there.  Vassily looked at the counter to his left for trace of the item she’d placed there, but it was bare, she must have picked it without him seeing before leaving.  Ah well - another beautiful lunatic in this asylum of a city.  Vassily Xenolavic couldn't spend his time worrying about her.  He had business elsewhere tonight.

Scooping up the newly mended timepiece in his huge hand, Vassily stooped to push a large ornate pulsing clock to one side and access his safe.  Depositing the watch in its depths, he carefully withdrew a large item, clearly throbbing and writhing in his hands.  He wrapped it up tightly in a thick black cloth and placed it in the bottom of an old cloth holdall.  Making sure the safe was well hidden again, Vassily Xenolavic delicately slung the holdall across his shoulder throwing his thickest coat over the top and crossing the room in two huge strides, moved on out into the New Cbozun night.


The Howl and Pussycat was one of the seedier bars in New Cbozun’s once thriving Northern Quarter, and Vassily had to smartly sidestep as he reached the doorway to avoid a once thriving drunk who was being punched unceremoniously through it.

He pushed passed the drunk’s assailant and made his way to the bar where he joined the throng of hybrids, both those who had chosen and those who had the alterations forced on them by legal or lawless authority.

“Vass my friend.  Grape or Grain?” called out Bardaloph the vulpine bartender, midway through spilling the former over his already well-stained apron.  “Grain”

Bardaloph popped the cork from a bottle at the back of the bar and slid it over to Vassily, followed by a glass coated in a thin layer of grease and grime.  Clutching the glass in one hand, and the bottle in the other Vassily made his way over to the darker, more dangerous tables at the back of the Howl.

Meret was already waiting for him in a booth.  Narrow eyed, with a thin moustache, his elbows and knees were swollen, the joints ossified as punishment for some misdemeanor or other.  His eyes were slit like a serpents and his tongue was forked.  It didn’t take an expert to tell you that Meret was no good.  He was constantly figitting, wringing his hands in front of him, his ophidian eyes shifting side to side, distracted by everything.  Vassily squeezed in opposite him in the booth, leaning forward so he didn't crush the holdall hidden under his coat.

“You showed then.  I didn't think you would”  Meret said with a creepy grin

Vassily met his gaze and emptied a large measure of grain into his glass.  He examined it for a while, trying to decide whether the glass was worth the risk then shrugged and threw it back.  “I guess you were wrong”.  He refilled the glass and adjusted his AccuteAuralTM.  He wanted to know if they were being overheard.

“You brought it?”  Meret asked, taking a sip of his nearly emptied glass of grape.

“Yes.  I have it.  You bring the money?”

There was a pause.  Meret shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  “I can get it.  Like I said, I didn't think you’d show.”

Vassily sniffed and emptied the glass “And like I said.  You were wrong.”  He examined the glass once more.  “It sounds to me like you’re wasting my time”.

Meret quickly finished the last of his grape and shuddered.  “No Vass.  I’ll get it.  Give me an hour.  I’ll be back in an hour”  he leapt out of the booth and slid off into the crowd.

Vassily sighed.  An hour in the Howl was about an hour longer than anyone should spend in there.  A scent caught his nose from behind the booth, the familiar musty smell of lavender and he glanced round over his shoulder.  A newly posted notice now adorned the wall behind his head.  It read “Cranto Cranium’s Carnival is here.  Prepare to be amazed.  Come and see the RealWorld.  Chuckwell Hill, New Cbozun East.  Daily from 10 o’clock eveningtime.”

Inhaling the familiar aroma, Vassily thought back to his visitor, and then turned his attention back to the bottle in front of him and set to waiting.


The bottle was almost empty by the time Meret returned.  He shuffled back in opposite the huge watchmaker and pushed a pair of stuffed envelopes across the table.  Vassily peered inside.  “It better me all there Meret”

“It is man.  Told you I could get it”

Vassily shrugged off his coat and pulled the holdall over his shoulder.  “It’s inside.  Wrapped up tight.”  Meret snatched at the bag.  “Be VERY careful with it Meret.  One jolt to it and you’ll be taken home in pieces.  IF they can collect them all.”

“O - OK - OK man.” Meret stuttered

Vassily rose from his seat cramming an envelope in each of his coat pockets.  “You can have the bag for free”.


By the time Vassily reached the air outside, the grain was beginning to catch up with him.  He blinked a few times and an spat in the street.  “Fucking Bardaloph and his bad grain” he muttered.  He battered his way down the crowded street, past the thieves, knifers, whores and pushers.  New Cbozun was a shit-stained city, smeared with the excrement of a million sordid sold out souls.  He glanced at the dubious goings on at the periphery of his vision.  He remembered the days when those street lights actually lit up, fueled by the fire from hybrid Dragon-flies.  He reached his workshop just as the clocks inside were ringing ten and stowed the envelopes with the fixed watch in the safe.  Not the kind of business he’d want to get mixed up in normally, but 100 grand was a full year’s rent and Vassily was 6 months behind as it was.

He climbed the stairs to where he’d laid his bed, and fell asleep nursing a final glass of grain.

He woke early the next morning, still clutching the glass, with a dry mouth, a splitting headache and elusive memories of a strange dream - full of a relentless ticking and beautiful women with praying mantis eyes.  Rubbing the sleep out of all three of his own eyes, Vassily struggled to the kitchen, trying to rid his head of the ache and the ticking.

Over a morning glass of biograss, he tried to recall the dream without success. He managed to muster the strength to make it to the the door of his workshop, and once that was open, the ticking in his mind became less insistent, swallowed by the myriad of ticks and beats from the other timepieces.  Something was still not right though. Overnight, something had changed.  Vassily sat head in hands trying to work out whether it was something in the workshop that was different or something inside his head.

Eventually he rose, the colossal watchmaker feeling like he was crumbling.  He moved to the window, and stared at all the bustle of a morning in New Cbozun - above his head women were hanging their washing, in the street traders were hawking their dubious wares, and the jobless were searching for jobs or innocents to rob.  Through the windowpane he could almost smell the BiofishTM frying.

Feeling a bit more himself he moved back to the counter and something caught his eye, a sliver of something on the worktop, lost a moment later as his angle changed.  He moved back and dialed his MagnoVisionTM up high, his eyeballs bulging from his head to increase the focal length.  No doubt about it, something lay in front of him on the top.  Something very very small.  Even with the MagnoVisionTM dialled up to full he couldn’t quite make it out.  Flicking on his AccuteAudioTM and maxxing it out, he bent double and held his ear near to where the anomoly lay.  His massive heart skipped a beat.  From the worktop came a quiet but unmistakable sound.  A sound Vassily Xenolavic knew extremely well.  The ticking of a timepiece.  Vassily slowly tilted his huge head and MagnovisionTM on max too now, higher than he’d ever needed before, tried to examine what the tiny thing was.  There was definitely something among the flecks of dust and tiny imperfections of the top, but even at this magnification, he couldn't quite make it out clearly.  It was like the dream when he’d woken - always just around the corner from his pursuing mind.

Vassily Xenolavic was not a man to be beaten.  He’d never seen a watch or clock he could not fix, no project too complex for him to create.  Rummaging out the back in the storeroom, he searched for the SuperMagnoMicroscopeTM he knew was there - he’d used it while he was saving up for the MagnoVisionTM operation.

Eventually he found it, buried under a stack of back issues of MagnoNewsTM and set it up on the counter next to the object.  He was hopeful that with the SuperMagno and his MagnoVisionTM dialed up full he might be able to identify the anomaly.  Vassily tried to work out the level of augmentation.  With both devices, it must have been well over five million times, probably closer to seven or even eight million.  After searching the worktop for a while the Vassily found where the anomaly lay and trained his composite magnification on the spot.  As he adjusted the focus, before him, the device swam into view.  On the counter lay an absolutely immaculate minute clock, smaller than he found have thought possible.  Who made this device?  Vassily wondered.  The device certainly required further investigation.  Opening his tool case, Vassily selected the smallest pair of tweezers he owned and under the huge magnification set to the laborious task of filing them down until under the dual magnification until they appeared little wider than a hair would in normal conditions.  Moving his attention to the device, he flipped it over carefully with the new tweezers and searched for a makers mark of some sort.  In the smallest script he’d ever seen, Vassily could just make out a series of letters - B.. R.. O… C… O… T.  Who was this Mr Brocot?  Whoever he was, he was a master of the craft, the like of which Vassily had never even imagined existed.  Customising some of his other tools he set to removing the back from the timepiece, careful not to injure the beating heart within.  Vassily realised he was sweating.  Adrenaline was surging through him.  He took a moment to take a couple of much needed deep breaths and continued with his exacting task.  Eventually he managed to prize the case open and carefully used the doctored tweezers to set the back aside.

What lay within was perhaps even more surprising than the object itself.  For no heart beat inside.  Instead, lay a series of smaller and smaller toothed wheels, coiled springs and a tiny hanging weight, which was swinging to and fro and in which, Vassily surmised, must lie the device’s power.  Head aching from the concentration and eyes burning from the over magnification, Vassily rose up and blinked.  He dialed down the MagnoVisionTM and carefully laid a cloth over the device.  Whatever he did, he must find the woman that had brought the device to him.

Grabbing his coat he made for the door and, locking it behind him, turned to the East and set out for Chuckwell Hill.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Flash Ficton: Must Contain Three Things

So Chuck Wendig's latest flash fiction challenges us to include three randomly chosen things to include in a story.  My three were... A strange bird... a lost comic book and... War.  I bring you...

Te Hokioi

Ryu ran his hand gently over the seat.  The leather was of exceptional quality.  It gave out a soft warm glow.  Whoever owned the car had a great deal of money and impeccable taste.  It was craftsmanship of the highest order.  The stitching, which must have been done meticulously by hand, was completely uniform, tightening the tan leather into place here and there with beautiful grey thread.  No doubt it would have been a time consuming job.  A lot of effort, all aiming to ensure that the passenger had the most comfortable journey possible.  Ryu imagined the satisfaction that the worker must have got from finishing the upholstery to this standard.  It must have taken years of training to become this skilled at upholstery.  He wondered whether it’d been a struggle to become as brilliant as the craftsman clearly was, whether he’d spent long arduous days toiling and long nights despairing over his work, or whether he’d shown a talent for the craft from the offset.  Perhaps he came from a long lineage of similar craftsmen and the talent had somehow seeped into the family’s DNA like swallows’ emigration routes across the oceans towards the tropics.

The sound of the bird’s huge wings interrupted Ryu’s thoughts.  The strange creature was still following them, or maybe leading the way.  Try as he might it was impossible to tell whether the bird was beyond them or behind.  Perhaps they were both tracking the same shared migration routes themselves, neither leading the other, instead tracing those invisible maps across the earth.  Ryu peered out of the window at the relentless passing scenery - the landscape always still, ever changing. A barren vista, bare of trees, clear of urbanisation, empty of sprawl.  It felt like a journey into man’s past.  The ride was smooth and silent but he was unsure of whether there could be any road to follow through this remote region.  No doubt the car also had superior suspension.  He tried to remember getting into the vehicle but his mind was blank.  Nothing.  He would have liked to ask the driver about it, but each time he tried a peaceful entropy gripped all of his limbs and numbed his tongue, and in the end he gave into the journey and the regular beating of the wings and tried to settle his mind.  Reaching down, Ryu ran his hand over the hole in his stomach with something like idle curiosity.  Peculiarly he felt little pain.  He traced the edges, still covered in that sticky ooze, and felt a surge of embarrassment that he might sully the beautiful back seat.  He glanced at the doors either side of him that he must have surely used to climb into the car.  The more he groped through his mind for the moment when the journey began, the more it eluded him.  Every time he thought the memory was coming, it vanished, like a child trying to catch a bubble.  He tried to piece together the elements he did remember - Warren Square lined with people, a comic book drifting in the breeze, flipped to a page by the wind and sullied by a muddy footprint.  A superhero clad in red.  Fist aimed towards the sky.  Ryu wondered if the page would ever be read again.  Other memories too - the taste of hot coffee, the smell of warm biscuits, and against the murmuring of the crowd, nearer to him, a child’s laughter and the crackle of a radio reporting on some far-away war.  Was it being lost or won?  Ryu couldn’t remember.  In war there are always losers.   

The sniper must have been a craftsman just like the man who made these seats, Ryu thought.  Calm. Focused. Meticulous.  A man who had the patience to practise until his hand was steady and his aim unerring.  With all of those people around, just a single shot and he was hit.  A subtle change in the world.  A craftsman’s index finger curls half an inch nearer to his palm.  A stitch in a seat.  A bullet in a man. A subtle change perhaps, but a change nevertheless.  Ryu remembered the echoing crack of the shot, the strange bird swept up by the disturbance and the near simultaneous realisation that something was wrong with his stomach.  Somehow pieces were missing from the jigsaw.  He had just one more snapshot.  The bird swooping overhead - bright red crest and flecked yellow markings edging its huge black wings - an ancient behemoth - and his urge to follow it, a long buried, shared pre-triassic longing for flight.

The car barreled on and Ryu fought the lethargy to pat his trouser pockets.  In one he found some gum, a lighter, and a pack of cigarettes, in the other an old mobile handset.  He pressed the phone’s power button and lit the last crumpled cigarette while he waited for the phone to switch on.  For one blissful moment he lost himself in the cigarette, breathing the smoke in and out in time with the sound of those powerful wings.  A brief moment without thought.  An alert sounded from beside him and he tapped the phone to reveal a lone text message, just two words long.  It read “Target eliminated”.