Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Stripper, Hockey Mom: Witch

Below please read the introduction to my new Novel - 

Jane had never been normal. A few days after she passed her seventh birthday she went for a walk in the few hours of sunshine the Scottish summer had allowed. She put on her best summer dress, a red and pink smock; it was decorated with the flowers she always wanted to see in the garden, but never did. She sat on an old tree stump at the foot of what passed for a Garden outside the tumbledown house on the West Coast of Scotland. While she was there she listened to the wind whisper and the sea in the distance taunt the trees that one day it would come for them. She heard shy stars hiding from the sun, and the moon laughing at them all, although secretly she was sad. She heard the grass gossip and the trees shake their heads at the ever passing youth of the flowers who laughed and flirted with the bees that tickled them. Then she started to talk to the trees and the flowers and the grass and the wind. She tried to talk to the Sea but he was too far away and could not hear her over his own boastfulness. Then she spoke to the birds. Just a few swifts and swallows that happened to be larking around in the trees beyond where she sat, she talked to them, or rather at them, but they didn’t talk back. So she got cross and asked them why. Then they replied that they didn’t think she would understand, but she did. There was moss on her knees and grass in her hair. She giggled and laughed as they circled her, showing off when they wanted to, swooping and diving at the ground at tremendous speeds before pulling up and shooting away. She told them she wished she could be a bird and they told her she could be, but she didn’t know how. 

She told her father, or rather the man who owned the house where she chose to live and he said, ‘nonsense.’

The very next day. She was walking home from the bus from school, an old rickety thing that would leave her on the main rickety road that ran past their farm. As she walked up the slope to the seven bedroom stead a fox padded along beside her. He was a beautiful orange that reminded her of the colour of the straw fields when the sky was red and his eyes were very very black. His tail when it turned was the white of cream being poured.  They spoke about the weather and the fields and the hunt and she marvelled at the life and said she wished she could be a fox, even for a day and the fox said, ‘why not?’

She told her father, who drew himself up to his full height and sneered at Jane and called her silly. ‘Nonsense.’ He said.

The next day Jane met a snake, the snake said he was an adder but he wouldn’t bite her, because he wasn’t that kind of adder. He was the friendly sort, a metre long with black and red diamonds that glistened with fire. He wound his way around her arm and rested his head on her shoulder. They walked through the woods near where she lived and he showed her the holes that spirits lie in, the trees that move, and where Fox goes when he tires from playing with hounds. She padded through the woods in her bare feet and didn’t care; she tore up her best summer dress on twigs and stones but didn’t mind. At the end of her walk through the woods she returned to the bright world blinking. She told her father who said, well, the same thing he always said.

And then he scolded her. He told her there was no such thing as a talking Fox, or birds or adders, that she was a bad girl for ruining her best summer dress and that she would have no supper that night or any night she saw or spoke to the animals. On this he was very strict.

Jane saw the Fox the next day and when the Fox said hello she turned and ran away, for who would trust themselves over a parent. Don’t parents always have our best interests at heart? The Fox decided he had better keep an eye on the little girl as she had a habit of getting herself into trouble.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Universe One - prologue


Commander Seres stood straight and proud on the flight deck of the Icaran. He was a tall man for his caste, well over two and a half metres, with an athletic build, a shaven head and – despite the years of hard service – a face that was craggy rather than ravaged by war and time. The life of a dog soldier had been good to him and his exploits had earned him the respect of the Icaran’s crew and their agreement to his leadership.
It was only a small transport and research vessel connected to a larger city ship but it held three hundred men and women and even a few children, all under his command. It was a position he had never hoped for in the early days but now, after a decade in charge, he had grown into the habit of salutes and respect without having to earn it in battle with someone, or something. The men and women he saw every day were more than his battle brothers from a former life: they were friends, and they were family. Leadership was sometimes lonely but he could, through the framework of the ship’s hierarchy, form lasting relationships with both the young and the old like himself. It gave him a sense of satisfaction he had never had in a battle group; the sense that he could be part of the next generation.
The flight deck was gunmetal grey, the flooring a steel meshwork on top of rivers of cables and pipes that regulated the thousand systems the crew relied on for air, food, energy and their transport across the galaxy. Long and thin, the deck’s edges were lined by consoles where the crew controlled the various parts of the ship. Three technicians on either side and the two pilots at the head, at the tip of the craft’s fluid angularity. Its shape seen from above was reminiscent of the flying lizards that Seres had seen on a primordial planet years before.
The pilots moved deftly in their tasks. They were genetically enhanced to improve their reactions and control the three hundred metres of space ship. They were wired into the engines and steering as well as each other. One knew instantly what the other was doing; although they could turn the systems off when not aboard, it was vital that if something befell one pilot during active service, the other knew. The skill of these men was beyond value, their brains controlling the rapid movements and minute course changes required along any flight path.
Seres stood just behind them. He had always found their type fascinating. Unlike many who had been enhanced genetically either before or after birth, they showed no physiological difference to other mortals. He himself had been gifted a developed skeletal structure, the ability to shift his size and probably still his shape if he concentrated hard enough on the task, as well as his abilities as a soldier. Even when, after seven hundred years, he had finally retired that portion of his life, he kept the size and musculature he had become so very used to. In contrast the pilots looked just like any other men; the only change was in their minds, their processing power dramatically enhanced to give them the ability to control a million tons of fast-moving cruiser. Connections made and fused in an organic computer that matched even the greatest minds of humanity. Seres had been told the rumour that their actual intelligence, their cognitive powers outside the realm of the flight deck, was lessened slightly. He thought it had some merit, pilots being often the last to click when an idea or a joke was being batted around, although their position prevented any attempt to take advantage of that loss of intellectual pace. They were treated with respect. And in any case with their training it didn’t matter and as long as they did their duty by the crew and the ship, Seres didn’t care.
The jump through the dimension drift was going without a hitch. With the latest anti-matter engines aboard the ship could halve the time it took to drift to their next port of call. It was a luxury at last to have no reliance on inhabited star systems or the power capacitors of the colonised stars, the reserves being enough to voyage for over three years before the habitual refuelling at any one of a thousand ringed planets to have begun the production of refined antimatter.
He paced between the rows of computer terminals that lined the path to the cockpit proper where the two pilots sat. Technicians monitored the gravitational pull of the objects in real space, as they called it. Real space didn’t seem to be the best way of describing the universe that they lived in. They lived in ten dimensional space time rather than three dimensions that were visible to the human eye. Although this was the only other element they could traverse through, and even then at great care. Seres didn’t like to dwell on it, but every drift into the blackness of the dimension jump left him thinking of those who went away and never reappeared. The darkness of space travel was a painful step into the unknown that he did not like to endure for long. The view screen at the front of the ship revealed nothing but the blue glow of the space-time bubble around the ship, effectively giving them a zero mass.
It was nearly impossible to see into the dimension drift, although occasionally he thought he saw shadows at play behind the energy that shielded them. Shapes and patterns that his eyes and mind turned over and tried to make sense of, but never could. At any rate, without the bubble they would immediately be expelled, most probably in a billion pieces. Although gravity was experienced in this dimension, energy could not be, thus the need to remain within the bubble. He had gone through a phase of having the computer simulate the star systems they were passing on the view screen, but in the end he would always turn it back to the blue glaze.
His presence on the flight deck was in order to be one of the first to see the star they were travelling to. It was his relief, his moment to exhale and briefly to assume that he and his crew were safe again, at least until the next foray into the unknown. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he was suffocated by the confines of the dimension jump and longed for the colour of the universe proper.
‘Coming out in five, four…’ the co-pilot began. Seres listened to the rest of the count with his eyes closed opening them only when the Pilot remarked ‘oh dear’. He was sorely disappointed with what he saw.

The ship shook violently and the expected star did not appear on the view screens before him. Nothing but a darkness against the stars. There was immediate panic as the Icaran was bombarded with what felt like asteroids; the lesser energy shields absorbed most of the impact but from the displays to his left Seres could tell they had suffered at least one breach. A massive jolt then hit the port side of the craft as it slowed to minimum power, sending a young girl in a blue jumpsuit flying from her station to land on the floor at Seres’ feet. He hoisted her up with his massive arms and sat her down again as a parent would a child. She immediately went back to her work as if nothing had happened. In the whole experience Seres would reflect later that she had been the best of his command crew, simply because he did not notice her fear while the others were yelling or calling for information or help.
‘Calm!’ he barked. The noise stopped immediately. Seres stood straight, running a hand over his shaven head.
‘Where are we?’ he asked the pilot, yelling the length of the ten-metre flight deck.
‘Exactly where we’re supposed to be,’ the rapid response came back.
‘Then where are the star and the planets?’ a technician wailed, standing and pointing at the shadows ahead of the ship.
Seres took a step and placed his hands on the nervous technician’s shoulders, his massive paws gentle on the technician’s neck, and leaning in, he whispered kindly in his ear. The tech, through fear and a feeling of calm exuded by his captain, ceased wailing and slumped into his chair, his eyes focused on his own screen, not wanting and not daring to look back up at the monster before them.
The space-time bubble had remained functional at its lesser extent. It was a failsafe to allow them to ride through just such a possibility. The shell surrounding the ship protected it from the bulk of any physical damage, although the concussion was still felt across all eleven decks of the craft and had obviously caused a tear in the cargo bay. Thankfully, the habitation decks had not been affected. Nevertheless the possibility of what they were seeing was not something any of them had prepared for.
‘There,’ Seres said. ‘Enlarge the centre section of the screen.’ Before them lay the star they had expected to see, black against the deep forever of space: no more the bright red giant but burnt beyond recognition.
‘Black Dwarf!’ Seres yelled over his shoulder. 
The ship shook violently again as the picture loomed before the whole flight crew.
‘Sir, we have a gravitational issue,’ the pilot said. ‘The star is pulling us in.’
‘It can’t be,’ said Seres. ‘We arrived just where we should have.’
‘No, sir,’ the co-pilot explained. ‘Gravity permeates the dimension jump. Because of the explosion and subsequent shrinking of the star, no doubt we were pulled into space further along than we should have been. We’re ... we’re effectively inside the previous sphere of the star, sir.’
Silence greeted this terrifying prospect. Seres strode to the front of the ship and knelt between the two men, their hands still moving and eyes rapidly blinking as they fought to take control of the ship.
‘Give me the worst,’ he said softly.
‘Crash and explode,’ said the pilot bluntly. Visibly straining, he was sweating, making minute movements as the processors controlling the ship fired his synapses.
‘The best?’ asked Seres.
‘A similar first part, I don’t think I can stop it. We’re going to have to risk a landing, and then possible survival on the surface of the star for up to a month given the power we have available.’
‘Possible once we go down,’ answered the pilot. ‘We can try to calculate for a drift going through the planet. If we attempt it now and fail we lose all power, no controlled landing and probable death for all aboard.’
‘Escape pods?’
‘There are four, sir, they hold seventeen people each. The rest of the ship is designed to function as autonomous life rafts, but they would fail to escape from the gravity well of the star.’
‘Then we go for the best possible course,’ said Seres, standing up. Their odds of survival if they tried to break free now were low. They could try to jump back into a dimension drift, but without precise calculations they might find themselves lost, stranded or dead. There was no way to control the ship through the precise manoeuvres. He took a step back. ‘I’ve always wanted to walk on the surface of a star,’ he muttered.
Then, ‘all available power to the gravity field,’ he yelled loudly over his shoulder. They were going to need it.
The pilot fired a series of thrusters to try to steady their descent. The space-time bubble had burst by now, and recreation of it was probably impossible and would certainly have cost the ship most of the power that remained in reserve. Seres was concerned but he had got out of tighter spots than this. He stood upright in the middle of the deck. His knowledge of flight mechanics was minimal; the only thing he could do was be a leader right now. The right example and the right figure for adversity. That was the best he could be. He reached for the communications array for the ship and when he spoke, his voice was clear and firm.
‘Icaran,’ he said, ‘prepare for crash landing. Brace for impact, brace for impact. ’
As his command reverberated around the ship, Seres kept his eyes fixed on the surface of the scarred rock they were heading towards. The surface loomed black under the ship’s strong landing lights. The craft stuttered, the pilot fighting against the ever-increasing speed as they sped towards the massive ball of black, its surface filling the whole view screen until the pilot pulled up at the last moment. The ship’s pointed prow miraculously did not dig in, the hull bumping along the impacted carbon surface with minimal debris. With the force shields acting as a cushion against an otherwise fatal impact, they finally slid to a halt.
‘Gravity got the better of the last section of the land, sir, I’m sorry.’ The pilot turned around, anxious not to have displeased his captain. Seres just smiled.
‘You have done the impossible, Haft. We are alive,’ said Seres. He looked out at the desolate waste of the landscape, wondering again how far he had come and what the chances were of survival to the next refuelling stop. He soon returned to his default position. They were stranded, with little hope of any rescue. He would order a distress beacon to be sent up, but the chances of anyone hearing it within a thousand years were slim. In cases like this it was up to the leader to show that life could continue, and the world was not as scary as it perhaps suggested itself to be. But then Seres took a long look through the view screen at their captor and realised they were dead. They just did not understand that fact. The black dwarf star should not be here. The chances of something like this occurring were infinitesimally small over a million years. Seres had been to this system before, albeit a thousand years before, but this now carbon heavy star should not be able to exist. The power drain and forced fusion as well as immediate cooling would require an event of such barbarous negligence that no human or indeed any other species would be capable. He was worried for his crew and for the ship. The circumstances were beyond dangerous and dire; there was little chance they would ever be able to find a way off this cold chunk of stellar ash. He almost smiled to himself; he now had the luxury to be as brave as he could ever be, with no consequences other than the inevitable. He turned to his crew with a flourish.
‘Is the gravity shield extended around the ship?’
‘It is, it is,’ said the calmed technician, ‘but it can be pushed out by a further five hundred metres with little effect on the power reserves.’
‘Excellent,’ said Seres. He paused. ‘Who wants to go for a walk?’
Much to his delight the waif he had placed back in her seat during the turbulence was the first to stand up. He walked to the exit, throwing his arm around the girl as he went.
‘Let’s go then,’ he suggested. He was even starting to believe his own confident lie as he took five strides towards the exit. He could feel the incredulous stares of his crew at his back. If he believed he was a dead man, maybe he could use that for just long enough to convince them they could live.

‘Commander Seres?’ Juval, his second-in-command, came running down the corridor as the captain with his three volunteers for the star walk were making their final preparations. Even the waif looked ready for the adventure, buoyed up by the joking and playful men he had at either side. His medical officer and the chief science officer had both been keen and volunteered immediately after their youthful companion.
       ‘Change your mind, Juval?’ Seres smirked.
       ‘Hardly, sir,’ said Juval.  ‘I value my life and the command of the ship. Should you be incinerated in a solar sinkhole, we have no way of knowing how deep the burnout of this star goes.’
‘This is the work of those bastards though, isn’t it?’ the science officer chimed in.
‘I don’t doubt it,’ said Seres, turning back to Juval. ‘Now what do you want?’
       ‘It’s another ship, sir,’ said Juval.
       ‘What, in orbit?’
       ‘No sir, it’s outside.’
       ‘Impossible,’ said Seres. ‘We saw nothing when we landed?’ He looked at the waif, Sypo, who shook her head in confirmation.
       ‘Well, it’s a good thing I’m dressed up then, isn’t it?’ he frowned. ‘How far away is it?’
       ‘About a hundred metres,’ said Juval. ‘It has extended its own grav field over ours, taking some of the strain from our engines.’
       Seres raised an eyebrow. ‘Keep ours ready to take the strain back should they fail to continue their hospitality.’
       He dismissed his executive officer with a wave and finalized his preparations. They made their way through the air lock system that extended out underneath the nose cone, the hydraulics bringing them down to the surface. The doors opened to a sea of black glass, the other ship in the distance almost invisible against the alien scene. Stepping outside the men felt the effects of the gravity shields take hold and keep them firmly within normal gravity. The batteries would not last long though. Seres kicked at the surface. Like tempered steel with a glassy sheen: no dust flew up, even in the false gravity. Across the desolation Seres could see from the other ship a singular figure striding across the surface towards him. The ship was human and modern in design, although the markings were unusual for a transport. It had obviously had some form of modification done as the engine block at the back was at least three times the size of his own ship’s, which was itself three times the size of the transport.
       The terrain was bizarre. The star had begun the process of turning into a black dwarf, a roaming lump of coal in space. Although black dwarfs would usually form over thousands of years the massive power drain had crusted the star completely. Seres guessed that it was no more than a third the size of an average planet, perhaps even as small as a moon. The problem was the gravity. Without the suits and the space time bubble extending from the ship to dull the effects they would all be much shorter; in fact, becoming part of the surface of the star. If the process went the wrong way this could get nasty. They had power to survive for a short while, but being crushed by a star collapsing in on itself to the extent it became a singularity would certainly not be how Seres would want to end his days.
       The figure, dressed in human gear, was shorter than he expected and the suit, designed for a man of seven or eight feet in height gave the unlikely appearance of a baby in a romper suit. The visitor came to a halt a few yards before Seres, flipped the face screen to clear, and now Seres could see the small man inside.
‘My name’s Albert,’ he said with a thick German accent, ‘and we’ve come to give you a hand’.


Saturday, 28 July 2012


I’m going to get it right this year. I’m going to get those bloody flowers spot on. Every March fourth I get them, every March fourth red Calla Lilies and pink carnations. But the colour’s not quite right. The layout’s not quite there. It just isn’t the same.  This year I have the pictures to help. I’ve got five florists all over town, I’ll get them all to produce one, see who does the best.

E mailing them was hard, that’s for sure. The computer my Grandson leant me was confusing. The difference between me at that age and the toys they have to play with now. But that’s progress I suppose. The picture came out well. He said he’s scanned it, I don’t know what that means, but there we were, me and her, on our big day all those years ago. The picture was colour, the only one done, but the bouquet, that’s the important thing. The bouquet she had was there, front and bloody centre. I hugged the poor bugger when I saw it. He looked a bit embarrassed, but he’s a good lad and he did well.

So there she was, white dress and curled blonde hair, 1970. I looked awful, like an extra from Get Carter, hair all over the place and a day’s stubble. But she looked like an angel. The smile she had that day, it was as if her soul was grinning from ear to ear, such glee, such beauty. I spent the entire day thinking I didn’t deserve this. There was going to be a comeuppance eventually. You can’t love and be loved without having to pay back something later on. Well that’s today’s job. Making life better, getting those flowers.

He first florist is a washout. The girl got the e mail three days ago but has pulled together a bunch of chrysanthemums. I shake my head and ask her whether she knows what a calla lily is and whether her manager is there. She tells me she is the manager. She looks like she’s ten. I buy the flowers out of pity and hand them to the first woman I see who looks depressed. She looks at me suspiciously for a moment and tries to wave me away. You can’t do anything nice these days without someone thinking you want something. I see a boy who looks like he’s going somewhere. I hold them out and smile, ‘give these to her’ I say. He takes them and says ‘cheers granddad’. Off he goes. May they bring him luck.

The next two stores do better. The girls still have a problem with talking to older people. I’m not retarded. I want to say it but I was told off the last time, so they speak slowly to me and I take the flowers and move on.

The fourth shop is shut. Back in 5 minutes it says. Lazy bugger has wandered off. I wait 10 and then go. The last store, maybe the last store will be it.

I walk in with two bunches of flowers. The owner looks at me funny. ‘I’ve got one of those here’ he says, ‘why have you got those?’

‘Wanted to see who would do the best job’ I tell him and then explain. It’s the wedding anniversary, I wanted to get her the very best bouquet, maybe one that could match what she had back then, maybe to put a smile on her face, a memory of a beautiful day forty years ago.

He takes pity on me. His computer is even fancier than my Grandsons. He pulls up the e mail and has another look at the picture. ‘Well we need to change some things’ he says, ‘the carnations are too big, and we need something smaller.’ He’s a big guy, but he works like a surgeon. Delicate hands.

Out back he goes and brings a vase of fresh flowers from a fridge. They steam as they hit the humid air of the shop. They smell fresh like they were plucked that moment. It brings back my summers to me.

He pulls them apart, plucks petals and brings the stems together. Counting as he goes. The three lilies in the middle he rearranges, turning and pouting as he keeps glancing at the bouquet he’s fashioning, the screen and my hopeful face. A few more minutes and he’s wrapped it in silk. Tight and compact, like her bouquet. It’s beautiful and I start to think about crying.

‘Thankyou’ I say, ‘Oh lord, thankyou’ I reach into my wallet and start to hand over notes. He waves his hands at me. ‘That was fun’ he says. If you’re happy with that leave me the two bouquets you came in with, I’ll cover my costs with them. I gladly hand them over and walk away with a memory clutched tightly in my hands.

I stride back up the hill to home. The sun has come out and February feels like it’s a long way away. 
I struggle into the porch,  I unlock the door and manage a few steps inside before I hear her call. ‘Hello’, ‘hello?’ I tell her it’s just me and she’s happy, quiet she’s wrapped up in front of the television: cup of tea on the raised table beside her. Three small pill cups lie next to it. The nurse has given her the meds and gone, I’m a little late.

I kick off my shoes and walk over to her, kissing her hair I take a deep breath and draw her in to me.  She closes her eyes. I know because she always does. I put the flowers in front of her and step back to see.

She holds them and looks puzzled, then draws them to herself and breathes as deeply as I did. I smile and she looks at me and just for a second she comes back. That same silly girl I fell in love with is there in the chair. 

Just for a moment, a beautiful fleeting moment. And I gasp.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Hit and Miss – Season 1 Box Set – Episodes 1-3

OK – so I’m in a reviewing mood

The mix is an intriguing one. Take bleak northern industrial wasteland and the kinds of endless purgatory hills that we all dreamed of fleeing on that Camping Holiday we had to go on. Add a family that’s just lost a mother and an Irish traveller hit woman (Mia)who has been lumbered with their care.

Now take that as your base line.

Add into this the fact that she is actually a ‘he’ – a pre –operative transsexual and the father of one of the four children she’s been asked to look after.

 Chloe Sevigny plays the Hit Woman Mia and this is not your coy PG-13 scenes of slightly manly tones. No no no – her physicality (in prosthesis) is there for all to see as well as her delirious breakdowns and internal struggles as she comes to terms with what’s being asked of her.

Sevigny of ‘Brown Bunny’ and 'Big Love' fame is an actor who transcends genres and refuses, as far as I can see from her varied career, to be typecast. Her acting is almost spot on. The accent has a few problems as she struggles to drop from soprano to tenor and in places there are moments when you just can't quite suspend your disbelief.

But that’s the point. For most of it we do believe she's a man. There’s been much in the press of Sevigny’s difficulty in switching genders, but this struggle is there for all to see on the small screen as she uses that anguish in the creation of one of the most interesting characters in TV. 

I’m not suggesting this box set as a gift for granny or as a ‘TV night with the missus’. It’s challenging and in places difficult to watch. But I'm glad i did for the performances of Sevigny, Carla Crome as makeshift matriarch Riley and the detestable Vincent Regan as the evil Farmer John wanting to turf out the family.

I suggest on a rainy afternoon, once the Olympics have all packed up you give it a try.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Magic Mike

OK. So I’m 6’10” and when dressed reasonably still resemble a badly shaved bear. I could not sneak in to Magic Mike, I could not duck under the covers, pull up a hoodie or hide under a parasol (not manly I know, but I was looking for an absurdist third).

I walked in with my head held high and in full understanding that by going to see Channing – is that a tree ? - Tatum for two hours I was paying my wife back for all the films I had dragged her to see over the last year (yes that includes Prometheus).

What I had failed to realise was three things. That Magic Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh (yes the Director of 'Solaris' and producer of 'From a Scanner Darkly'), that the actors (Tatum included) can actually dance and pulled off some brilliant moves, and that it was, rather than being a film about the sausage fest that is the ‘ladies night’, a film about what it means to be a man. My contention is that Magic Mike is not a film for the ladies at all: it is squarely a film for the guys and one of my best of the year. (Suck on it Ridley.)

Set in Tampa, it follows part-time roofer and full-time stripper ‘Magic’ Mike (Channing Tatum) and new guy Adam (I’m sure actor Alex Pettyfer is a Brit, if so his yank accent is impeccable) and their experiences in the clubs. But where other directors would have either gone all ‘Chicago’ or worse ‘Dogme’, Soderbergh hits the fine line that produces an examination of what is most important in life, up there with films like ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. More than this he explores what it means to be a man in the modern and traditional senses – where it chimes with the very best of modern cinema including the sublime ‘Drive’ and the Manic 13 Assassins.

I will say no more other than I recommend it for what it is, a well-directed, well-acted piece of drama that left me feeling lifted.

Take your wife this weekend!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

OK - so this is weird

It was a high street of sorts. There was lamplight and the buzzing of neon signs in the windows of bars that had closed or just weren’t that popular. The street seemed to tail off into the distance and in the dark James could see not a single soul.
It had the feel of a lonely walk of shame about it. There air wasn’t cold though he could see his breath as he walked. His feet splashed on the pavement, yet his feet felt bone dry in his canvas shoes.
Above him James could make out a few stars. The night had a blue feel to it, where instead of the black the sky has a hue of deep purple about it. The pollution of the bright city centre had not driven the stars away this evening and he could see the belt of Orion as bright as headlights.
A rustling ahead made him pause in thought, but not in movement. There was a set of old fashioned steel bins on one of the street corners. It looked bizarre, almost like a snapshot of an old TV movie. Any second an out of date ford coupe would career round the corner and knock the bins flying without damaging the car or the playful repartee of the comically mismatched policemen inside.
But this time there was no excitement. For that they would have had to have been chasing something. And there wasn’t a sound of larceny, let alone a car chase in the air.
There were not just bins though. The usual mound of trash had appeared. The evening before pick up and the bins were simply an atoll in a sea of black plastic bags. The galvanised surface of the lids made a patchwork under the yellow street light and the ripped bags waved and rippled with the wind, spitting detritus occasionally along the pavement.
James paused at the bins and looked left and right along the intersection. Wondering about traffic and also the right way home. This was a problem, he didn’t seem to recognise either direction. To the left was a short street that led to a rather green square. The stumpy street lighting and park benches that lined the street next to the bus stop looked familiar, but it was not a place that he could put a finger on or a name to. To the right it was just as perplexing.
“You lost?”
James didn’t turn around. He had known that someone was there, but had not expected it to talk.
“Yeah” James replied. Still looking ahead.
“There’s no point in heading up there.”
“Why’s that then?” James replied. He wondered if he should turn around and talk to his new acquaintance. They had had an exchange of words now and it would seem very rude indeed not to introduce himself.
“I’m James” he swivelled on his right foot and held out a hand.
“That’s nice”
There was no one there. James was taken aback, but a little less surprised than he thought he would be.
“Hello?” he said aloud to the street.
“Er hello?” the voice returned.
“Who am I talking to?” James asked.
“Me you idiot!”
“Who are you?”
“Do you know you are a complete idiot?”
That was hardly fair, thought James. He had after all been talking to someone who appeared not to be there in body.
“Now I don’t think that’s very fair” James began before he heard a loud and rather exasperated sigh.
“Look down”
James did and was rather taken aback.
“Hello” said the fox.
James was silent. Before him was a rather healthy, yet sleek auburn fox. A long bushy tail and a rather mischievous face, although foxes always seem to have a sense of mischief about them, the fox sat on its hind quarters and tilted its head to one side.
“You alright son?” the fox said.
“Now don’t start the silly er thing with me” the fox said, although he was annunciating every word it was hard not to notice a hint of a Birmingham accent in the fox’s voice.
“You have a bit of a problem here son” the fox continued. “A friendly gentleman of leisure has stopped you in the street to offer you directions and you’re completely speechless.” He turned quickly and chewed at his hip before returning to fix his gaze on James, the momentary preen took half a second.
“I think when they showed you that video in school about avoiding strangers they were talking about the nasty man with the white van and the mangy puppy” The fox took a step closer to James, James took a step back, the fox was only up to his knee, but it was still a little intimidating.
The fox took another step forward but this time James held his ground. This was rather ridiculous, but nevertheless the fox was correct. James was in need of directions. He had come to a juncture and had absolutely no idea which way to go. James steeled himself for the fox to run away and for this all to have been one big silly figment of his imagination. He knelt down.
“Sorry about that” James said, his Edinburgh drawl sounding a little out of place in the space that had until then been occupied solely by the voice of the black country. “I’m James McMillan” he held his hand out. The fox looked at it rather despondently.
“What am I supposed to do with that James?” the fox asked, “I can’t exactly give you a good hard city boy handshake with a paw the size of your thumb.”
“Oh, sorry” James stood up again, “I didn’t really think about that”
“That’s no problem James” The fox stood and stretched his legs, “my name’s Derrick.”
James immediately wondered at the name. “Strange name for a fox” he said out loud before he could stifle himself.
The fox’s ears pricked a little and then slackened.
“What was the last fox you met called?” he asked.
 “I’ve never really spoken to a fox before” James stuttered, “but I thought Renard was always a good name for a fox”
“You realise that means fox?” Derrick had a quizzical look on his face, the long snout seemed to wrinkle a little and his eyes narrowed. “It would be like you calling yourself homme or something, a little bizarre don’t you think?”
“Yes, well I suppose so”
“So what are you doing on my street corner then James?” The fox interrupted.
“I suppose I’m kind of lost” James replied.
“Aha!” Derrick cried out, “so I was right, you are lost.”
“Well yes”
The fox trotted, or rather padded around James’ legs.
“So where are you attempting to get to?” The fox asked, not looking at James but rather back where he had come from.
“I’m trying to get home” James replied, wondering why the fox had taken such an interest in the long and rather dark street.
“Anywhere nice?” The fox asked, slowly starting walk, head up back the way James had come.
“Well yes” James replied. “I’m up in the new town, I’m renting a flat with my girlfriend at the moment.
“New town you say” the fox moved on, trotting slowly allowing James to catch up with him and then moving on a little more.
“Yes” the hope sprang out of James’ mouth.
“Fraid I have no idea the fox said” he moved on a little more, “but I may know someone who does, come on, we can talk on the way”
James, despite himself, saw no reason not to and followed patiently behind the fox. His tail, unusually for the foxes that James had seen, was far more upright, usually foxes were slinky sullen creatures that scampered with a rather moribund sense of dread around the towns at night, slurping and picking what they could off the refuse that others had left behind. Derrick was a little different. He was positive, no, that was too weak a word. Derrick was buoyant; he was keen and most of all he could talk. James decided that he ought to broach the subject.
“Derrick” the fox had started to mutter to himself and didn’t respond.
“Derrick!” James called again, this time the fox stopped, turned and grinned. It was almost comical the way that his mouth curved and the joy in his eyes lit. But it was reassuring all the same.
“Yes fella” the fox replied
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Not at all” the fox said, “as long as it’s not the one about where babies come from”
“No” James didn’t really know what to make of the fox’s attempt at humour, but continued anyway. “It’s really” James tried to get the sentence out, “you see” he tried again. The fox had turned and continued walking.
“Go on James, I’m listening” James continued to stutter.
“Well it’s about this listening and talking thing really” James finally got it out, “and, well the fact is” he paused, “the fact is, I’ve never met a fox who could talk, or listen for that matter.”
“You’ve been deprived, haven’t you” Derrick said, “but come on, are you saying you’ve never met a fox?”
“Not one that can talk”
“But we all talk” Derrick said, stopping and turning to face his companion, “maybe you just weren’t listening?”
“But I don’t speak fox”
“We all speak English son” the fox continued at a brisker pace.
“This is part of the problem really” Derrick started to talk as if he had something important to say.
“What do you mean?”
“Well we never really get a good grasp on our meaning.” The fox continued, “if I’m say, trying it on with a vixen you know, and I’m turning on the charm I’m saying one thing, for example “would you like to come and spend some time on my street corner, or even have a look at the Badger set I’ve been crashing in recently” but what I’m really saying is that I would like to get said vixen in a series of compromising positions while whispering sweet nothings in her ear.” The fox paused and turned round to face James. “It’s language. The fact is that we just don’t use it well enough to communicate our desires. The chances are that if I expressed my honest desires to said vixen she might well say yes, of course and while we’re at it may I say what a lovely bush you have their Derrick. Well to be honest she’s more likely to give me a good slap or take a bite out of me arse, but there we go. Where was I? Yeah, language. I mean I’m not saying that what you don’t understand you pass over in silence, but the world is a big old place and there’s more than just you and me in it, so you need to figure out a way of communicating. Now this evening I said hello first and you immediately thought it was another bloke. You answered back and we started to communicate, albeit with a few ums and ers. I used to think that language was a precise thing, that you had to be very clear with the way you expressed yourself. But to be honest, today, I reckon if you give it a bit of effort, the right message gets out in the end.
“Er right” James said. Not really knowing what the fox had been talking about. They continued down the road.
“Hang on” Derrick stopped, James waited for another nugget of rapid fire wisdom from the diminutive creature. “we should be going right here”.
The road looked very much like the last road they had been on. The yellow lighting gave the wet road a sickly feel. Like a jaundiced skin the greens and yellows that bounced off the reflective surfaces of the roads and the windows created an oppressive atmosphere. James found it rather hard to walk and slowed his pace considerably.
“What was I yakking about” Derrick asked.
“Language” James replied.
“Oh yeah, don’t listen to me, I harp on all the time about that. I guess I’m just in favour of passion taking over precision. Now perspectives are my pet topic. Take us for example and your assumption about me. You thought I was a bloke and so were happy to engage me in conversation. There’s not many out there who have tried and for the most part when they have the fox who’s being talked to simply responds with a bit of a growl or a screech, usually the screech as they’re bloody terrified. Have you ever seen a fox hunt? Not pretty if you’re on the receiving end of one of those I can tell you. But you my friend, you are in a prime position to think very carefully about this quandary. You have been living a lie. All your life you thought, when it comes to foxes, they were animals. But, the cloud has been lifted. Your ability to reason had told you. Right James, now these things called foxes, their small, nasty, smell bad and they eat your rubbish, if I were you son I’d avoid them. But the truth of the matter is that your preconceptions, no hang on, your very conception of what is real and what is not real were all cocked.”
“So you’re saying my brain has been playing a trick on me?” James asked, “that all this time I’ve been thinking about foxes, my brain has been telling me things that weren’t true?”
“No” Derrick paused, a thoughtful fox he seemed to want to express himself clearly, despite his earlier protestations to the contrary. “I reckon your perception has been blighted by society, by your upbringing, by your education and by the very habits you’ve developed over the past however many years you’ve been around, how long do you monkeys live anyway?”
“Not long enough” James replied. “So you’re saying that it’s all been one big conspiracy?”
“Conspiracy?” the fox laughed out loud, “come on son, it’s hardly going to be in the planet’s best interests to keep you in the dark on the specifics of communication vis a vis the fox population of Great Britain. Think of it more a problem of the human, and indeed the fox condition. We can never know, I mean really know, if the world around us is real, if everything is happening as we believe and perceive it to be, or not.”
“I don’t get it”
“Well James” the fox turned and stopped, they had passed through the rather sickly green of the street and taken another right onto an avenue lined with tall poplar trees and the kind of park benches you find in parks in London. Greying wood and painted steel work. Derrick jumped onto one of the benches so he could look James a little closer in the eye. “the point here is that you can necver really know anything for certain. You can start with the whole how do I know that I’m not dreaming thing and then you wake upand you’re not certain if what you just experienced was a dream or what you are now experiencing is a dream and so on and so on. I mean that wouldn’t work because you always end up knowing if you’re in a dream. Don’t you?”
“I hadn’t thought of that.” James paused and Derrick bit him, “ow! What did you do that for?”
“Sorry” Derrick grinned, “you were about to ask if this was a dream.”
James shook his hand as if he had cramp.
“Fine” he stepped back from the fox, “I’m not dreaming”
“So the point was” Derrick paused again, “the point was, you can never really know if the choices you make are right or wrong, because the information you use to make those judgements is fundamentally flawed.”
“That’s a little pessimistic isn’t it?” James asked.
“Not at all” the fox replied, “it’s beautifully chaotic. I wouldn’t let it bother you too much though, you’ll end up waking at five every morning wondering if you’re dreaming or you really did move to Sweden.”
The pair walked on. The street was not one that James recognised and he hadn’t been able to see a street sign for a long time. The avenues were getting wider though and he recognised the Georgian architecture as quintessentially Scottish.
“So where are we going?”
“To see someone who should know how to get you home.” The fox replied. Although he does tend to go on a little bit. We may even get a bit of a feed out of this. Depends what mood he’s in.
They rounded a corner, the fox now moving at quite a pace. The smell then hit James’ nose.
“What is that?” he cried.
“You only just getting that?” Derrick seemed astonished, “I had that smell back at the bins.
It was a glorious sensation. James felt every piece of fried food he had ever tried float in front of his nose. The air was full of sausage and burgers, but there was more to it than that, he could smell chicken and venison, he could smell onions being fried and tea being brewed. It was the greatest burger van ever and yet he hadn’t even seen it yet.
“There we are” Derrick pointed with his nose to the distant stall. “Dudley’s one of the smartest bears I know, if he doesn’t know how to get you home, he’ll know who will.”
“Excellent” said James, anxious to see more of the stall and it’s wares. “Just one thing though Derrick.”
“Yes mate”

Stripper, Witch, Hockey Mom - Competition


Look – I don’t have a prize, but I do have a book. It’s new, it’s unpublished and I’m hoping to have it on Kindle by the first week in August. What I don’t have is a cover. I am not a visual artist, but I’m looking for an image to front my next novel

Stripper, Witch, Hockey Mom

Synopsis – Jane Attwood, ex stripper and single mother inherits her father’s estate and moves from her native Scotland to the rich southern English county of Surrey where she enrols her daughter Courtney in the local boarding school. Asked to teach a dance class by the Headmaster can Jane keep it together, inspire the girls and find love while keeping a secret of her own?

The prize is that I’ll use your image as the front of the book during its first publication run on Kindle. You get the credit for the art, the art gets displayed permanently on my blog and I tweet and blog about you till the cows come home. I'll put as many entries as I can on my blog.

By entering the competition you are giving me permission to use the image as a front cover for a Kindle edition of ‘Stripper, Witch, Hockey Mom’

Rules – It has to be something acceptable as a book cover, it has to be your image.

Tweet the pictures to @barrycooper53

Retweet to all and sundry


Monday, 23 July 2012

Weekend in the Happy Valley

(Beware - naughty words)

The walls breathed. Every breath I took the cold beige, piss stained brickwork breathed with me. In and out, in and out, rhythmic like a bass line to go with the drumming in my chest. I could smell the cell around me, even with my eyes closed it was no use. This yellow bladder of a room was too small to take away the putrid aroma that came from the walls and the jaundiced corners. Each a testament to a time when some drunken sot had missed the slop bucket.
            I lay on my back in the centre of the cell. To my right and left were two padded benches, and above me a vaulted brickwork ceiling. The red bricks started at the top of the wall and curved into blackness behind the only light.
            I had been in the cell for three days. That much I was sure of. Or it was three hours. They couldn’t keep me for long. It was a shit charge that they wouldn’t charge me with. A stupid run in with a couple of bored coppers. Bastards were just having some fun with a fucked up teen on a summer’s night. 
            It was a pointless fucking lift. Sitting in the town’s park. It’s locked gates were easily scaled. We all go in, me and James and Richie and Harris and three girls we just met. Harris doesn’t get one, he’s too fat. So we go in and it’s just a bit of a laugh. I’m smoking a spicy roll up and the fifteen year old slag next to me thinks she’s getting high or something.  She’s giggling and we’re all laughing at her, but she doesn’t get it and she puts her arm around my waste, and she just can’t do it. She’s about five three and I’m nearing six two on my seventeenth birthday.
            It’s a laugh, no one is hurting anyone. So we stop and sit. A clutch of trees in a wide grassy expanse. They used to use the park for football on a Sunday with the cub scouts and this tree always used to get in the way. They had to make one pitch about fifteen yards too short, I once scored a goal from the halfway line, and I’m telling her this while were sitting there, smoking something stronger and letting her hands wander a bit. She knows what she’s doing. Anyone who says otherwise is full of their own self importance. Just cos she’s under fifteen. Bollocks.
            But that’s beside the point. The point is, it was pretty cool. Chilling out and with the possibility of some very relaxing entertainment. Then it starts to go wrong. I decide that it’s the right time, given the light early evening and close proximity of girls and grass, to drop a tab of acid.
            Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a habit I’m really into, but when you’re young, bored and have a part time job, you’ve got to spend your money on something. So in it goes, and Richie does the same. We’d picked em up the day before and he’s getting as friendly with his girl as I am. So we sit, have a bit of a play with the pretty young things and wait for the acid to kick in. Now don’t get me wrong, the chances of an enjoyable episode with this kid are rapidly dropping to zero once you stick a couple of tabs on your tongue, however the simple ride can often be just as exhilarating.  You never know, I might be able to get it up.
            But then it goes to shit. Harris has got fucked off. He’s fat and ugly and no one want’s to sleep with him, so off he goes. Sulks off into the distance. All I can see from over the top of the midget in my arms is his fat fucking form staggering off towards the athletics track. Which he’s probably going to climb into and where he’ll probably wake up tomorrow in the sand pit. Cunt.
            But then, I see him stop. Two looming figures walk towards him and I see he whole thing play out in slo mo. His pockets are turned and then comes the moment I’ll never forget. The fat fuck, instead of doing the business and making some shit up. “I was here with my girlfriend but she went home, I was here on my own, I’m a teenager, I’m depressed” any of these I could have accepted and the filth would have as well. The two beat bobbies, out for a crafty toke and have bumped into the fattest child ever to usher forth from woman and they ask him.
“Who you here with son?”
Does he make up something, does he bollocks. All I see is his chubby finger pointing at me. I swear I can see his bitten finger nails from where I’m slouched under the tree. Bastard. Then he gets another bite at the apple. The copper actually looks and doesn’t see me. This is because we’re all still as statues. What does the cunt do. Starts walking. Now I’m fucked. If I up and run then there’s a chance of being caught and a bit of a beating for making poor PC fatty do his daily hundred yard dash. The second problem there is that I’ve lost the feeling in my left leg. If I did try and run it’d probably snap off.
            The boys have started to notice now. The baccy tins are quickly shoved underneath the open roots of the tree. All except mine. It’s in my back fucking pocket and plod is looking right at me. He’s fifty yards away, but he’s eyeballing me and there isn’t a hope of getting up and away. We could try getting up and slowly walking to the gates, but they’d just follow us.
            So what do do. Cool as anything, I just slouch there. The acid is starting to kick in I think, I’m imbued with a sense of cool and natural charm. I am about to find out how wrong I am.
            PC psychic rocks up with the man I am never speaking to again. Fatty Harris just looks at me and knows he’s gunna get his nose broken for this. He stares at the grass he can’t see. The flashlight comes on, in my face.
            “Evening officer” Says I.
            “Evening young man” says he.
            “So how can I help you on this fine evening” Now I’m playing a dangerous game, he’s gunna think I’m pulling the piss.
            “I was just wondering” Says the Nazi “what would I find about your person if I searched you?”
            “Well officer” Says I, realising that the phrase fucked was now glowing in big neon letters above my short spiky hair, “nothing of interest bar the half ounce of cannabis resin in my back pocket” Let’s go for the win.
            “Can I see that then?”
            Bollocks. I get up and hand over the tin, one of the old golden virginia tins. My old man gave it to me a year before he died. The filth opens it, takes a sniff and says,
            “I think you’d better come with us”
            “Of course officer” 

The Happy Valley

(Beware - some naughty words are used in this piece of writing)

We used to call it the happy valley. It was no happiness, not even a valley it was a shit stream, a few hills thrown up in the north west of Kent that led to a man and a woman one day saying, lets put a coach stop here, its about the right distance, a day ride from town, two days from dover, the best a man can get in the area. They threw it up in a week, or so they told us at school. Big old wooden shack and a shit load of horses that would whinny and neigh until some kindly rider would change his mare for a bigger beast that he might be seen far better riding to the capital of the world, or well, the capital of  England as it were at the time. I used to imagine the days they did that, the old roman road running through the centre of the town, a few shops or taverns opened up with drunken fieldworkers or maybe a smithy forge that belched black smoke and hot hazy air into the thoroughfare.

‘It’s cunting oregano’ Tanner bellowed at Gorb. His fat belly wobbled as he opened his throat across the flat at his skinny half naked roommate.
‘snot, snot, s da good stuff innit’
‘Gorb’ he said with softer intonation, ‘my dear fellow, the only thing you will get excited about through overuse with this particular packet of herb is a half decent puttanesca.’
‘Snot’ Gorb repeated standing up from the saggy, dirty grey sofa and stumbling towards Tanner, his hand outstretched in drunken hope his last hit of what had been a decent night was not the last ingredient in a pasta sauce. He pause before Tanner, splayed as usual in his armchair, fat belly protruding and resting atop the beer can and ashtray, a pile of ends and means with faint wisps of pungent narcotic aroma.
‘Prove it’ Gorb said, taken aback by his own ability to stand up to the larger man.
‘Prove what’ Taner took a slurp from the can and rested it bck on his belly. His shirt too small and his jeans too tight there was a crescent moon of hairy white flesh protruding beneath the slogan he had found so amusing in the back of the bargain basement store.
‘Jesus is a cunt’ it said, Gorb had laughed because it was offensive, Tanner liked the noition he was edgy, neither had the wherewithal to notice the stares of contempt from even the younger selves and teenage brats that scurried through the bars on Friday night. Small dark clothes things. Skinny boys in tight dark Jeans and girls of fifteen who thought nothing of dropping to their knees for a round of beers and entry to the latest club.
‘Prove you can make pastanesca’ Gorb spat the words out.
‘Puttanesca Gorb.’ Tanner sighed and moved the detritus from his distended belly, grabbing the small polythene bag as he rose from the chair. Two girls, Helen and soemthin elese, Gorb  couldn’t remember were asleep on the floor. Stoned as the good lord could make them Tanner chuckled and leaned over the one in just her jeans.
‘Lovely’ he rumbled.
‘Patasesca’ Gorb mangled the words again and Tanner breathed another sigh, levering himself from looking at the girl on the floor. He sniffed the air.
‘Vanilla’ he said’
Gorb jumped up and down and laughed, ‘pastanexa’ he muttered, the speed finally creeping into his system. He fell back on the sofa and looked up at the ceiling. The brown stain he had noticed earlier had grown a little bit. He blinked and watched it. The edges wobbled a little before his eyes. He blinked again but did not altar his gaze and the stain formed an image. The shades of brown moved as he sat their transfixed upon the sight., The faint aroma of frying garlic and the his of a pan of boiling water were the soundtrack, the very real popping and hissing of a man coming to life in the ceiling above. The muscles and limbs and hands and feet and shaded points where two eyes blinked open in the ceiling. Gorb stifled a yell. Tanner paused for a moment in the kitchenette part of their squalor. Gorb watched a shadowy hand reached down and then a leg start to inch off of the wall. Tanner walked into the main part of the flat to see the naked form of a man tumble from his ceiling onto the carpeted floor.
‘Gorb just sat and watched him.
Tanner, black t shirt, white writing emblazoned across his chest stood still, holding two plates of pasta, in each a fork sat at  a forty five degree angle o thte lip of the plate.
The naked man was about six feet tall, dark skinned and short hair. He was muscular but not aggressively so. Gorb looked at Tanner who shrugged who looked back at the man.
‘Nice cock’ said Tanner.
‘Thanks?’ the man said, a thick London accent and a sudden awareness of his nakedness.
‘You got any clothes I could borrow?’
‘Borrow or have?’ Tanner said, his arms getting weak from the mountains of spaghetti he held.
‘Well have really’ the man shrugged, obviously now wanting to clasp his hands over his groin but realizing to do so would be to draw attention to it even further.
Taner nodded to the closet set in the far wall next to the only window.
‘Left hand side, should be a pair of old jeans, before I entered my gourmand phase.’
The man walked to the cupboard and found the old pair he was referring to, slipping them on they were loose but easily secured with a belt that a nervous Gorb handed to him.
‘I’m Steve’ said the now clothed visitor.
‘Of course you are’ said Tanner, ‘wait here’, he turned and paced back to the kitchen, separating the pasta into three plates before returning and handing one to each of the men now stood. The jean clad man accepted it with thanks before they all sat down, he and Gorb on the dirty grey sofa, Tanner back in his leather chesterfield style armchair.
‘So’ Gorb said after a minute and a half of greedy slurping. The pasta was good even if Tanner said so himself. Chilli, garlic, capers and olives along side fresh tomatoes and a pinch of oregano.
‘So’ Tanner said, putting his fork back on the wide brimmed bowl and leaning forward. The stranger was finishing a mouthful.
‘I always forget, sorry’ he put the bowl on the floor and smiled at Tanner; ‘you have a few questions?’
‘Why do you always forget?’ Tanner asked.
‘That’s usually the first question’ the man sighed, ‘let me just give you the blow by blow. I’m thirty and a nuclear scientist. I don’t know what happened, I just know that at the moment it’s two thousand and three and I am only seventeen. I end up here, in this bedsit every time I fall, when I pick myself up from the floor it’s usually you cooking something. You’re a good cook and I always tell you to go into business. Gorb here is usually too scared to say anything for a while, but eventually he starts to chat.’
Gorb chirped from the corner of the sofa.
‘I am in Dartford in Kent, a train journey away from St Thomas’ hospital and one of the biggest cancer wards in Europe. There, in twenty three hours a doctor she has never seen will inject a woman called Penelope with a compound that doesn’t yet exist. I have to create that compound and deliver it before she dies.’ 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Garden Hands

Garden Hands moved slowly down the rampart from his transport shuttle into the hanger bay of the think tank. Rubbing his sore, bandaged wrist; the chasm above him put his petty complaints in perspective, the bay teemed with life as the smaller drone ships flew back and forth carrying their cargo between zones in the massive space station. Seen from outside it had loomed over the horizon of the gas giant it orbited like an insect. A singular sectioned black body that fired tendrils and antennae off into space. It seemed to almost crawl along the red rings of the body known as Loki. Like a spider it sat, poised above the halo of the blue planet. Seen on arrival it was impressive. From the inside it was even more so. A hangar bay a hundred meters high and almost a kilometre in length. The transport ships rested in uniform rows waiting fore their next pick up and departure. Garden walked from the gantry of his blocky ship to the arrivals queue. Security guards watching his and everyone else’s movements. N one escaped their attentions. Taller than regular humans they were gene spliced. At least seven feet with increased muscle mass their skin tone was almost black with ribbon markings that stretched vertically from the jaw line to the navel. Each Gene splice giving a different pattern, almost a makers mark on the behemoths that stood before him./
Garden was not a tall man. He stood a little over five feet six inches and looked almost directly into the guard’s navel. The tight uniform over bulging muscle reminded him of a straining bag of potatoes. The man was like the athletes he had seen growing up, but more so. It was an experiment pushed just that little too far. Into an uncomfortable nether world
‘Ident’ the guard’s monotone was as dull as the colour of his skin.
Garden pulled the bandaged away over his wrist and passed his hand over the scanner. The guard scowled at him. Garden assumed that was how he greeted everyone and smiled back his cheesiest grin. The computer chirped information into the guard’s ear.
‘White male, martian physiology, five feet six, battle scar?’ he repeated. The inflection causing Garden to pull his collared shirt away from his neck to reveal the four inch groove running from his adam’s apple to his collar bone.
‘Akarian hunting laser’ he said by way of explanation.
 The guard paused and ran a fat finger across the deep gorge that ran into the bone. Garden pulled his shirt lower and the guard traced his finger to the exit wound, a smaller gash where the neck met the spine.
‘Nice’ the guard almost smiled as he pulled his low cut v neck shirt to one side revealing a blast scar a few inches above his heart.
‘Same war?’ he said slowly.
Garden pulled a set of old tags from his pocket and thumbed them before passing them to the guard.
‘Battle of Severance Pass’ he said, ‘thirty fourth medical unit.’
‘Same’ said the guard, and pointed at his chest, ‘you?’
‘Maybe’ Garden smiled grimly, ‘too many to count’.
The guard held the chain in front of him and watched as two inch long canine teeth slid down to rest with the tags.
‘Akarian?’ The guard handed the tags back. His own smile as grim as Garden’s.
‘I sold the hunting rifle’ Garden said softly.
The Guard laughed and slapped Garden on the back, pushing him into the diplomatic line. His giant paw thumping the breath from the smaller man.
‘No scan’ he called, ‘he’s good.’
Another behemoth raised an arm in recognition and beckoned Garden forward to his station. Garden went through the same story twice more before he made his way to the collection point. The security officers were all ex military of one sort or another and took great delight in finding one of their own amongst the scientific brigade that would flock onto the station. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Teenage Witch

There was only straw on the floor. Jane looked at her hands and saw they were rough from the work, but as she looked up her wrist her skin was younger, paler, and softer. She put her hands to her face and felt a different person beneath her fingers. Pulling her hair before her eyes she was still red, but the rest of her was another girl, from another time.
Jane could act as she wanted, at least that was what she felt. She never knew when she dreamed this way if she was simply doing what the previous incumbent of the body had done, whether she was really there, deep in her own past, her deep history taking a moment from someone while they perhaps took one elsewhere. Maybe they were in another body aeons previously or perhaps in the distant future, maybe when she had blank moments, minutes of her day that swept by without her noticing, that was someone from her own future taking her mind and exploring the suburban world of stock broker belt surrey.
She picked up the pail and walked out of the barn. The stone house was one she hadn’t seen before. It was morning and there was smoke coming from the chimney and movement in the kitchen.
Jane watched for a moment through the foggy glass. The woman fussed in the kithchen, baking bread or mixing up breakfast for children perhaps. Maybe it was for her. At the other end of the house was a roar of anger. Jane could see the fury as it stomped through the stone walls; the very masonry seemed to shake as it crashed towards the kitchen where the woman had frozen. Ready to receive calmly whatever it was that came rushing towards her.
‘Wha tha fuck hav ye dun ta ma shet?’ A bull figure stood over the seemingly tiny woman clutching a cloth, pushing it into herface
‘I dun nuthin’ came the meek reply, ‘onest bill, I didnae touchit’
‘Bitch’ he yelled and struck her in the way men do. The back of the hand across the face. The way a senior strikes a subordinate, the way an officer strikes a prisoner. Jane hatedmen for doing that. For treating women like underlings.
She could feel fear for the woman build up inside her, fear for what might happen. She hated the man, she knew that, but God knew why she did. If there was one that let men beat woman. She wondered if God really was a man. It made more sense that God was a woman. They are the only ones who bring life into the word, what did a man know anything about other than hurt and rape and beer. She felt the anger tingle at the tips of her fingers, the sky felt calm suddenly, like the moment a clap of thunder comes, but there was no eruption. The Thunder stayed, it waited. It waited for her.
Jane dropped the pail and rushed to the door. It flew open before her, splintering against the whitewashed wall. Jane felt her eyes burn as she looked at him: tall, muscular but overweight and ugly through years of drink and self-pity.
He did not see her but instead saw the door. His hand was wrapped around the throat of the woman. She was older, perhaps a mother. Her red hair and her face reminded Jane of Courtney, perhaps what she would look like in so many years. She held out her hand to plead, to stop. But not to the man, to her, to Jane. She could see what was about to happen.
‘Tha door’ he yelled, ‘what tha fuck didye do?’
Jane didn’t think, she just watched as the man clutched at his chest. His hand slipped away from the woman who ran to Jane. Her hands shaking Jane’s shoulders, tears and fear in her eyes before she resorted to beating across her face. Jane could feel the blows, could taste the blood in her mouth, but she did not stop watching the hateful coward die, whoever he was. She stood firm as the woman tried so desperately to stop her; anger seeping through her skin, her veins, leeching into the world and stifling the breath in the beast until there was nothing but a cold husk, twitching on the floor.
The woman turned and rushed to him.
‘Ya father’ she cried, ‘Annabel what ave youse done?’
Jane was still and watched without feeling as the woman, her mother, tended to the quickly stiffening corpse. She felt herself speak, though the words were not hers, nor the voice.
‘He had a heart attack ma’ she said, ‘that’s what we’ll tell em’
‘I don care what we tell ‘em’ the woman snarled as she stroked the cooling face of her husband. ‘I didn’t want this, I didn’t want it, why? Why?’
‘He was going to kill you ma, I couldn’t let him, I couldn’t. I saw it, I saw it.’ She pleaded.
Her mother stood, sharp emerald eyes bore into her.
‘But he was mine’ she growled.
Jane turned away. Unable to look at her grieving hysterical mother. In the corner of the room she saw a mirror and walked close to it. Her face was a vision of innocence. No more than thirteen she had loose hair and a freckled complexion. The difference was in her eyes. Her deep, sea green eyes from which such horrors and monster had escaped to take the life of her father.