Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Hypione’s shop squats in a tangle of alleys on the edge of The Briers – an abandoned area where the streets went sour many years ago. The rent is cheap, The Baron often overlooks taxes, and it has the vibrancy of many a poor district in the Infinite City. All this despite its proximity to the poison, horrors and byblows of streets lost to the darkness.

It’s an odd little place, her shop: a schizophrenic space that is neither one thing nor the other.

In the one half of the grubby little storefront, there is a menagerie of creatures — nothing anyone would want as a pet, perhaps. There are insects, rats, mangy curs and battle-scarred cats from the alleys, the occasional lice-infested pigeon. Well cared for, considering, but caged.

On the other side of the store, there is gleaming gold and brass, shining silver. It sounds out with a cacophony of tick-tocking that creates a background hum like the thrum of a cockchafer’s wings. This half is neat and ordered, the smell of oil stronger than the smell of piss, dung and musk from the animals.

It’s not the sort of place you’d necessarily expect to draw children, but there they are every day. The honey-cakes and sweetmeats of the other shops are beyond the street children’s meagre earnings; the other shops are esoteric, obscure, dull or ‘grown-up’. Hypione’s menagerie, and the gilt contents of her glass cases, on the other hand, are endlessly fascinating.

For her part, Hypione welcomes the interruptions, recruits the urchins who genuinely seem to care to feed and help care for the animals. Her few, well-paying, customers are not much company, and the children remind her of her sons, one killed by road-pirates as a child himself, one long gone to find his fortune in the far districts. She more that tolerates them, she loves her little visitors, though she never shows it. She also tolerates their shenanigans, or at least most of them.

Hypione is sat upon her high stool one morning, behind her countertop. She swaps her spectacle lenses back and forth, increasing magnification and clarity. She tinkers with the fine-tooled device in a near-trance. Her tools are even more delicate than the brass-and-silver thing held in the clamp, almost microscopic. All the while, she resolutely ignores the street children as they chase and play about the store.

Then Hox, one of her regular visitors, does something that even she, old and blithe as she is, cannot stand for.

A spider, fat and glossy and beautiful, barely the size of her little fingernail, descends from the ceiling on a fine gossamer thread. She alights on the counter, where Hox notices her. She preens with her forelegs and Hypione is momentarily distracted. In the magnification of the lenses, the little creature is more beautiful, not less, and for a moment she is lost in the predatory perfection of eyes, jaws and carapace.

Then Hox snatches up the tiny seamstress. “Ew!”, and before Hypione can react, he has plucked off one of the spider’s delicate little legs.

“You little fucking beast!” Hypione cries out. “Let that spider go this very instant and get out of my shop!”

Hox jumps almost out of his skin, dropping the spider and fleeing from the store, in shock that Hypione should swear, which she never does. The other children follow in a frenzied train, all flapping rags and chattering.

Hypione picks up the delicate little spider; her legs all curled in against her body. She takes a moment to shut the door and flip the sign before she gives her little sister a closer look.

Her little sister’s carapace is cracked. She leaks a tiny amount of fluid. One of her legs is gone, another has been snapped and is dangling. In the magnification of the spectacles, Hypione cannot fool herself that this tiny creature is meaningless, that it isn’t suffering, that it is just a pest to be stomped or swatted.

“This shall not do little sister. Your weaving keeps the flies from my food and the silverfish from my stores. I apologise for the way my house guest has treated you.”

She carries her little sister back into her workshop and, moving swiftly, immerses the tiny creature in a vat of sparkling, glutinous fluid.

The spider’s carapace begins to melt away, but she is not dissolving. Not completely. As the chitin, muscle and lymph dissipates into the fluid, what remains is replaced. A delicate filigree, as fine as any web she had ever spun, a sapphire net of her ganglia, nerves and brain.

While her little sister is stripped back to her most vital essence in the fluid, Hypione finds an empty shell. A clockwork spider carapace, no bigger than her thumb. Chip-emerald eyes, a body of platinum, palladium with jaws and toe-tips of tungsten.

She unscrews and opens it up with a deft and precise hand. She cleans it, oils it, winds the mechanism until it begins to tick – the only winding it will ever need. She swabs it with a delicate touch, a thin sheen of alcohol removing the oil from her fingers and evaporating into the air, leaving her wanting a nip. Not yet, though.

Tweezers lift the sapphire net from the tub, a squirt of water strips the gel from what remains. She holds her breath as she sets the spider-net on her bench and teases out the hardening sapphire thread to replace the missing and broken legs.

A pair of rubber-tipped, minuscule tweezers lift the little sapphire and nestle it into its body. The faintest dab of glue on the tip of a needle fixes the glittering blue weave in place.

A few twists of the screwdriver and the case is closed shut. Then the switch is clicked into place. The silvery spider flexes its legs and twists over onto its front with a twist and a kick.

She stands there a moment, staring up at Hypione, though there is no way such a little thing can know gratitude.


“Gods speed your way, little sister.”

Then the ticker-tack of tungsten feet on hardwood, and she is gone. Scurrying away into the darkness of the workshop.

Hypione heaves herself out of her stool and pauses a moment, running her hand across the front of a much larger tank of the glittering goo.

The size of a child

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Part Three: The Truth Will Out

The rest of the night passed with an air of tension between the men in the bedroom. Crispin couldn’t rest and would sit, brow furrowed for an hour at a time before springing up and pacing about the rooms at a furious pace. Gathercole would pore over his notes and tinker with his machines, offering sighs of frustration at each new failure to bring the aerials back to life. Hodgson, for his part, sulked, curled around himself in the very centre of his bed. Even though the radio-pentacle was defunct, he clung to the idea that it could protect him. It was as though he thought extending the slightest part of his body over the side of the bed would spell his doom.

It wasn’t until the sun rose that the sense of pressure and malevolence lifted – at least slightly. Crispin made fresh coffee. That and a bar of chocolate each had to compensate for the total lack of sleep. They were into their second cup of silent, brooding coffee before Hodgson dared show his face, slinking like a whipped cur into the messy kitchen and refusing both coffee and Cadbury’s on the grounds of an upset stomach.

Gathercole’s temperate nature had been stretched to its limit from the events of the night. His light features were oppressed by a stormy expression and he snapped, loud enough to make Hodgson start and knock a filthy saucer to the floor, breaking into shards.

Gathercole paid the crockery no mind.

“Mr Hodgson, you were not truthful with us. That manifestation was even more powerful than you had intimated and it was utterly fixated upon you, even to the risk of its own dissipation. You know this fiend, and it knows you. This is personal. If I am to save your life and bring an end to this apparition, I need the truth.”

Hodgson still seemed reticent, his lips tightened and lost colour, his tongue moved against his cheek as though considering his options, however few they might be. This went on more than a mere moment, far too long. His fingers twisting a golden ring around and around on his finger.

Crispin’s fist slammed down on the table, interrupting the wait and sending another saucer spilling to the ground to join its shattered brother. “For God’s sake, man! That horrific thing, that shadow, that fiend, will kill you and drag you down to hell! How can this even be a choice!”

Hodgson sprang back from his seat, spilling the chair, almost stumbling on a shard of crockery. Still wordless he pointed, mute, at the floor beneath the table.

Gathercole frowned a moment, but then a slow realisation stole across his face like an over-cautious thief.

“Of course,” he muttered. “I’m such an idiot, always fixated upon the supernatural, blind to the mundane. Here! Crispin! Help me!”

There’s was a shrieking grind as he shoved the breakfast table to the side, the rug gathered in a tangle and shifting with it, sending up a small cloud of grime and dust. Beneath the rug, there were bare boards, darkened and damp. Through the gaps in the planks, there issued a most frightful stench.

“God above,” Crispin thrust his sleeve over his mouth and nose at the reek. “It stinks like a trench.”

Gathercole rammed a filthy carving fork into the gap between the planks and levered, almost falling over when it lifted far more quickly than he had anticipated. The wood was damp, the nails were bent and had obviously already been pulled once before – recently.

“Fuck,” Crispin barked and darted to the already full sink, retching and vomiting into what little space remained.

Gathercole nodded, staring into space beneath the floor and nodded, very deliberately. “Yes, quite.” He drew his handkerchief from his top pocket and, folding it over itself, tied it in the manner of a bandit, its lavender scent guarding him some against the stench.

Hodgson – for his part – cowered in the corner of the dank kitchen, whimpering like a cornered fox.

Beneath the floor, there was the bloated, putrefying corpse of a woman. At least that was what Gathercole assumed, from the clothing and jewellery that was there arrayed. An attempt had been made to hide the very presence of a woman about the house. Every portrait, every piece of womanly attire, had also been stuffed beneath the floor. Perfume bottles had been emptied and deposited with the corpse in a doomed attempt to mask the stink.

“I should have known,” Gathercole muttered to himself as he leaned over the hole in the floor and investigated with his silver pen, poking at the liquefying flesh of the body. “A man of your age, your former station, it would beggar belief that you were a bachelor. The ring, of course, the size of the apartments, the feminine anger of the spectre that pursues you.”

“Have a care, she was a woman, a person. She deserves respect,” Crispin wiped at his mouth but could barely stand from his shock and horror. The same man who stood firm against the fury of the spirit brought low by a rotting corpse.

“The best respect that I know to show her is bringing this bounder to justice. An act that will also discharge our duty to the bounder in question by providing the spirit what it wants.” Gathercole stood up and edged around the hole, moving to where Hodgson was cowering.

With precise, cold anger, Gathercole struck him once, hard, across the face.

“How could you! A woman man! Your wife, presumably!” He gave the man another strike, sending him sprawling and blubbering across the floor.

“Doris, her name was Doris!” Hodgson babbled. “My wife! My God, I didn’t mean to. Married seven years and every day, from the first, complaint after complaint, pricking holes in my every triumph, crowing my every failure! I snapped once. I could not take another harsh word, and I snapped! The paperweight, my God, her head broke like an eggshell and…”

He was cut off, Gathercole had made a fist of his hand and applied it with liberal strength to the man’s mouth, sending him sprawling afresh.

“I will hear no excuse or justification from you, coward! What is a harsh word to you? Nothing! Gnat bites! Gallons of blood have been spilt for flag and country, against men just as devoted to ending their opponent, and you slaughter a helpless woman with a sharp tongue? You disgust me, sir. Where the devil is my pistol?” He cast about, but fortunately for Hodgson, the iron still lay on the floor in the bedroom.

Crispin laid hands upon Gathercole and wrestled him away, wrenching open the door, loaned strength by concern for his friend, and all but dragged him out by the ear into the road. “Pull yourself together, man!”

“He’s a damned murderer Crispin!” Gathercole hissed and spat the words, pacing back and forth in rapid agitation. “He deserves whatever fate that poor woman’s spectre has in mind for him!”

“No doubt,” Crispin offered, quietly. “But let him face the justice of man before he faces the justice of God, by God. You are no judge William, no jury, and certainly no executioner.”

Gathercole stopped short then, and for the briefest of moments that cold anger and fierce intellect gave way to the heart. “You’re right Crispin, you’re always right on these matters.”

“Should I get that in writing William?” Crispin smiled and shook his head slightly, then laying his hands upon Gathercole’s shoulders, placed a soft and lingering kiss against his lips.

Gathercole drew back at that. “Crispin, someone might see us, by God.”

Crispin smiled and gave a slight, cavalier laugh. “Ah, let them. Though perhaps you are right. We are a dishevelled pair after a night with ghosts and a morning with corpses.”

“There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. We will get no rest yet if we do wish to save this murderer’s skin.”

“You know it is the right thing,” Crispin affirmed quietly, drawing his hands back from Gathercole’s shoulders.

“That it is,” Gathercole’s face was contorted in fierce concentration. “We shall have to take the motor-car, visit H. Curry’s and a garage. We need replacement radio parts, and batteries – so we can be independent of the house’s power.”

“I’ll fetch the car,” Crispin turned away and touched his own lips with his fingers. Things were back upon their proper course.

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Old, Fat Punks got another lovely review, which I missed because I don’t pay enough attention to my reviews!

People really, really seem to like it, which is encouraging. I probably should write more books and put more effort into finding an agent.

“Well, I took a bung on a book just by its cover. And it was well worth the read. Full of life, with believable characters and a vivid colourful background. As a member of generation x and an ageing hippy, this is brilliant, political and strikes anchors with the masses .”

“To be honest I reckon I know the main characters in the book, so close to some of my own friends.”

“Brilliant. Just brilliant. cannot wait for his next work.”



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61ne1wukiwlI had forgotten I contributed to this and that it was out. So, yeah!

Go look.

“Lovecraft After Dark,” a is new collection of erotic horror from JWK Fiction, edited by James Ward Kirk and Roger Cowin. We offer short fiction and poetry blending erotica with the Mythos. Erotic encounters, forbidden romances between humans and the gods and demons of Lovecraft’s world. Ever wonder what obscene romance produced the human / elder god hybrid, Wilbur Whateley? How did the Black Goat of the Wood come to have a thousand young? These are just a few of the ideas explored in “Lovecraft After Dark.” Explore what Lovecraft only hinted at. Let your imagination go wild. We did.

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War of Words

ku-xlargeThey say Truth is the first casualty in war, but I’ve never been fond of that capital ‘T’, so off with its head. There’s many kinds of truth, including the Truth that kept its head but most people’s truth is subjective. So it’s more like the pogrom on truth is the first genocide of war, a billion different truths sent to be pulped all at once.

The war didn’t bother me especially, there’d always been war. Wars over who was important, wars over what constituted literature and what didn’t, wars between fiction and non-fiction (usually over religion). There were conflicts over meaning, blasphemy and interpretation, battles over perspective. Anything anyone could find to get into combat with each other over – they did. Even whether it was acceptable to use a thesaurus or not.

We were pretty blind to the whole thing in our little Fiction ghetto, we were all used to having a bit of a bar brawl over everything and then being alright again in the morning. Something had changed but I didn’t really notice until it was too late to do anything about it.

What they’d done to Novella broke me, shattered me. When I couldn’t complete the penance they took my home from me to pay my debt to society. Thousands of words of exquisite description and tens of thousands of words of memory taken away in an instant and me turned out onto the street to try and survive with nothing more than the words on my back and a few ledgers of rehashes.

The ledgers didn’t last long long and there wasn’t that much call for my kind of writing out on the street. For a while I joined a gang smuggling contraband neologisms from The Internet to the Bodleian Interchange but a close call when the Literary Division nearly caught us with a batch of highly volatile gender-neutral pronouns persuaded me it was time to leave. I still have nightmares, there was an exchange of prose and a cannister of zie went off. Guy I’d worked with for a year, stripped of all gender identifiers and reduced to a grey cipher. Even he doesn’t know what he is any more.

With the money from that gig I set up in a low-rent, misspelt garrette and set about finding my muse.

Sat in a dark, crappy rheum struggling for inspiration you start to make bad choices.

Before too long as I sat in a heap of discarded words, toner powder staining my septum, a screen-tan as pale as milk, tying off a bookmark around my arm to try and find a vein with a fountain pen. Art’s a hell of a drug. I’d spent the last scrap of anything I had on the faint hope that a few gills of crystal cobalt could stir enough purple prose from me to score another hit.

With trembling fingers I dipped the nib and lined it up with the swollen vein only to be interrupted by angry shouts and a hammering on my dhore. Dropped, the pen fell through a crack in the fleurbirds, never to be seen again. Fearful of the landlord or debt collector I armed myself with a broken bottle (Catsblood, I could only afford comic-book drinks now) and went to check.

They forced the door before I’d fully opened it. A pair of keyboard warriors, zealots of the Church of Perpetual Outrage. With the door open I could smell burning books and hear the screams of my neighbours – not that either was unusual.


I stared at him in blank incomprehension. “What?”

“ARE YOU TARQUIN WHITEBAIT?” He consulted a list in his hand while his partner kept watch.

“Uh, no, he’s in 32b”


“It’s misspelled. It should say 32d.”

He peered at my suspiciously for a moment, then glanced at the neighbouring doors. “JUST AN INK JUNKIE, NOT THE GUY WE’RE AFTER.”

They moved on, I shut the door and went hunting for another fountain pen, overturning my shabby little apartmeant as I did so. I was so noisy and so intent on it I didn’t even remember they were there until they dragged Whitebait past my window.

“What did I do?” He pleaded with them as they dragged him along the walkway towards the stairs.


“So bloody what!? It was set in the nineties, during a bypass protest. The character was a traveller, he was based on Swampy! Swampy!” He struggled to get free, but the frenzied grip of the keyboard warriors held him like iron. I gave up my search for the pen and peeked out of the wyndow.


They dragged him too far away for me to hear then. I slumped back against the worl and looked over the shitty little hovel that was my ruum. I had to get clean, I had to get out of here and I had to find out what was going on. Maybe, along the way, I’d find my muse.


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StalinCatHigh above the ruined city sat the cat, curled up in the dry spot at the corner of the bullet-nibbled and shell-chewed factory. He observed his domain with tawny eyes and slitted pupils through a crumbling hole in the wall and squinted against the feeble warmth of the winter sun.

In the language of cats he was ‘Old-Tom-Ratkiller-Engine-Oil’, but in the language of humans he had once been named ‘Pushkin’, the name Grandpapa Karamazov had given him and that Little Olya used to murmur when she rubbed her face against his, stroked his paws and fed him scraps of meat from the kitchen.

It had been a long time since he had seen either of them. Grandpapa had gone off to fight the fascists and Little Olya, and her mother, had stopped coming to visit. Pushkin was left behind and, long ago a farm cat, that had suited him fine. Though when he slept his whiskers twitched, his tail flickered and he remembered warm nights in front of the fire with Olya, purring and kneading at her thigh.

Pushkin was the last cat in Stalingrad. The rest had left, taken away by their owners or they had been eaten by starving soldiers. Now he was alone. Prince of the broken city. He ranged far and wide from his factory home, scouting for food, hunting for rats and mice – the only prey to be found. Some lingering fondness for people kept him away from the bodies of the dead – though not the rats who feasted, growing sleek and fat. The best kind of prey for a grumpy old cat who liked to fight.

Pushkin was a big boy. Six kilos of muscle, gristle and scar tissue. He had been a beautiful tabby, white, grey and black, and that had been perfect for blending in with the frozen rubble of Stalingrad. Now he was mostly a dirty grey from the concrete dust, with matted fur from spilled oil, fur he refused to lick. He crawled with fleas and had a hump on his shoulder, an abscess from a rat bite, but it was healing and he felt none the worse for it. His claws and his teeth were sharp, he was strong and powerful and up here – in the aerie – he could hide from the soldiers and the rats and wait for the night; time to hunt.

His ears flicked back to protect from the noise as the snap-bang of a rifle sounded out from the ruined library across what remained of the street. A man was running, stumbling over the broken concrete, his hand was tucked against his side. Now and again would come the bang of a rifle and a puff of grey-white dust from the ground around the man as he tried to get to the factory, and safety.

Pushkin’s nose twitched, his whiskers swept forward, testing the air. He could smell blood on the air and it made his stomach yawn in hunger, but it was man-blood. Not for him. The Prince of Cats had to have standards.

A grenade came sailing over as the bleeding man in the long coat and the furred hat fell, sprawling, onto the floor of the factory. The bang rang the rusting girders of the building like a bell, raining brown dust. The noise made Pushkin jump from his warm little nest and scurry to the cratered chasm that opened up to the factory floor below, warily watching.

The man was laid up against the wall, panting and cursing, words Pushkin remembered Grandpapa yellig at the radio though he did not recognise the meaning. The man even smelled a little like Grandpapa – cigarette smoke and sweet tea, oil and metal. Pushkin peered curiously over the edge, ears back, wide eyes barely poking over.

The men with the guns were picking their way across the street now, but they stopped, cursing, different words that Pushkin couldn’t understand at all. There was something he could understand though, the stink of the rats who lived in the sewers, the sound of them boiling up from under the rubble in their hundreds and thousands.

The men moved away.

“Lassen sie ihn den Ratten,” they laughed, backing away with their rifles trained on the factory from their hips – just in case.

The man felt the tremor in the floor and stood, carefully, blood soaking his coat and dripping to the floor. He stumbled forward, teeth gritted, shoulder sliding against the rough concrete as he tried to get away, but he couldn’t.

The rats, awakened by the grenade, hungered by the scent of blood, poured like a wave of black and brown, out of the grates, through the gaps in the rubble, from every pipe and hole and crack. They converged on the bleeding man from every side. His pistol rang out but whatever it hit vanished into the tide as the rats began swarming up his boots and gaiters, climbing up to find the wound and the soft, exposed flesh.

The man reminded Pushkin of Grandpapa and the rats angered him. The Soviets and the Germans fought for the city, Pushkin and the rats fought for the factory. He had marked it his with his piss and their skulls, they had left his den in peace, but this was an invasion. It could’t stand.

With a primal scream of feline outrage, tail straight back like a spear and fluffed like a pine tree, Pushkin hurled himself through through the ruined ceiling. A thunderbolt of grey he hit the seething mass of rats like a grenade. Teeth and claws slashed and lashed, blood sprayed and fur flew in clouds like drifting ash.

The rat tide slowed, halted, turned against the valiant cat, now scarlet with their blood, standing proud on a pile of their ruined bodies. He didn’t feel their nips and bites. He was a frenzied squall of predatory instinct, protecting the man who smelled like Grandpapa. The man who, now, free of the rats seemed to find the iron in his soul, stamping and shooting, fighting alongside his animal rescuer, crushing rats under his boots and laughing.

The rats began to retreat, running away from the two, or full from devouring their own brethren, dragging the bodies back into the secret darkness of the under-city to feet their young. Man and cat stood side by side, bleeding and exhausted.

Pushkin flopped suddenly, ragged, panting. He was covered in gore, aching from dozens of bites. His paws sweated and his tail hung loose and flat, brushing the ground. He could barely yowl a protest as the man picked him up and stuffed him into his greatcoat, warm and wet and bloody.

It was warm in here. The man smelled almost right and as he staggered out of the factory Pushkin closed his eyes in dark and warmth, remembering Little Olya rocking him like a baby. As though he were still a kitten he began to pur, a bubble of blood foaming at his bitten nose.


“Kommisar Vetrov!” Yuri’s jaw dropped so far his precious cigarette tumbled into the slush. “We thought you must be dead!”

Vetrov’s blood had clotted the coat to his side, though he could still feel the warm bundle inside it, gently breathing.

“Almost comrade. Fetch a blanket.” Vetrov groaned and slid, clumsily into the trench. Closing his eyes he rested his head back against the frost-rimed wall as he waited, gathering his arms around the purring bundle in his coat.

Yuri returned, with the blanket and more of the soldiers. Maksim and Nazar. It was a relief to recognise anyone. New soldiers were replacing the dead so quickly of late. Carefully, gingerly, he brought the cat out from his coat and laid it upon the blanket, swaddling it in the warm woollen embrace.

“The men will eat well tonight,” Maksim chuckled, his sub-machinegun hanging from his shoulder by its strap, hungry eyes on the cat that lay panting, purring and unconscious on the blanket.

Without even looking Vetrov drew his Mauser and shot Maksim through the heart. It punched a hole in him like a fist and flung him back into the slush with a wet thump, steam rising from the hole in his chest as the other two men looked at his body, stunned.

Vetrov hauled himself unsteadily to his feet, blood-matted coat hanging open, tearing the scab with an audible rip. His pistol smoked as he fixed the men with a ferocious glare, tears stinging his eyes.

“This cat saved my life, allowing me to return with information on the German positions. He is a hero of the Soviet Union and is to be treated as such. You will rouse the medic to treat his wounds and he will treat them before mine. You will feed him meat and milk from the officers rations, from my rations. You will guard him with your life because, if he dies, so will you.”

The men mutely nodded.

Vetrov groaned as he knelt in the slush, holstering his pistol and reaching into his jacket. He yanked the medal from his chest and split the ribbon, tying it around the old cat’s neck like a collar, the Order of Nevsky dangling from about the cat’s neck like a bell or tag.

“And, little comrade, we will call you Zhukov.”

The men picked up the blanket like a sling and together they went to seek the warmth of the fire and the comfort of a full belly.


This story has been haunting me for months since I had a dream about it. I’m not at full brain strength yet but I had to get it down even if it’s sub par. There really was a cat in the Soviet army in Stalingrad called Mourka, whom I discovered researching for this story. Mourka was a messenger-cat, carrying notes between Soviet positions about German positions. Of all the military personnel in Stalingrad, Mourka was probably one of the better off as there was a kitchen at the HQ and loyalty/motivation was probably ensured with food.

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july-15-08It’s home. This damp, tired little room that reeks of stale sweat, shit and fear. It hides us from the sky, which is something, not that I think it does us any good. This is it, the whole wide world reduced down to two-hundred square feet of misery and darkness, the dim light of a novelty LED torch, the slow bubble of slop buckets and on every surface the weird scratchings Hope has made.

Of all the people in the station, it’s Hope I saved. I don’t know why. I don’t even know how old she is or her real name. I know nothing about her at all and she’s not one for talking. Not since I met her. I think she was a writer, a secretary or a personal assistant. Her purse had a notebook in it, filled with scrawl, but I couldn’t read her handwriting.

Now she squats by the wall and draws on it, endlessly, with children’s chalks we took from one of the little station shops. She’s worn two sets down to nothing, covering the room with her spirals and swirls. Sometimes it looks a little like the sky, when it broke.

I saw it, when I ventured to the surface to see what all the panic was about. People were crowding into the stations to get away from it. Rebelling against what they saw, like insects running away from the light. The street was worse, half the people staring slack-jawed into the seething sky, others clawing at their eyes.

When I looked up, against all reason, the sky was a riot of colour and motion. Like the coloured images of nebulae and galaxies that they used to show on the television. The stars moved and slide, the sun seemed to dim. It made no sense and yet everyone could see it. Then space itself broke and from the fractures threads and tendrils came and began to pluck people up from where they stood.

There was something malevolent about them. The way they toyed with people, pulled them away on the brink of safety, pierced children to use them as bait. Some tried to fight, but for every tendril they destroyed two took their place.

I had the key to the back rooms of the station. Late at night there weren’t many others but me. I don’t know what made me take her. She was the nearest person stumbling by the door when I unlocked it. I suppose I just didn’t want to be alone but with a silent, staring maniac who never seems to sleep, I might as well be alone.

The buckets needed emptying. I’d been putting it off for days. A diet of snack-shop chocolate and cola hadn’t been doing us much good, especially eked out so much to make it last. It made the buckets even more foul than they had any right to be. That and even leaving the room had become terrifying beyond reason.

Boredom and fear. Eventually one wins out over the other.

I left Hope to her scratchings on the wall and took the heavy weight of the buckets. I clasped another torch between my teeth and elbowed out of the door. Dead escalators are hard to navigate in the pitch darkness, especially carrying buckets. There are shoes and bags, left in the rush. The people have long since disappeared but the civilised skins they shed in their panic are still there to trip me up.

The station is slowly flooding. Inch by inch, day by day. I don’t reach the bottom before I find the water. A foul brew of bodies, rags and the shit I’ve dumped here week by week, day by day while we survive. I don’t even see the rats or the mice here any more. A shame. A rat would make a welcome change from a Snickers bar at this point.
I empty the buckets and ‘rinse’ them as best I can. Sitting on the lowest step I dare to get my breath back before I head back up.

Something ripples in the water. Another body bobbing to the surface? No. Tiny waves lap against the shore and them with a gurgling slurp a bloated corpse is dragged beneath the surface. In the bluish LED light a shadowed shape beneath the muck shifts and twists and then, the panic finally pushing me to move, I turn, leave the buckets and run. Scrambling up the steps on hands and feet as fast as I can until I get back to the room and slam the door shut, weeping.

Nowhere is safe. Not really.

I slump against the wall and slide down, tears tracking lines through the dirt on my face. My jacket smears Hope’s drawings, something that normally freaks her out, but this time she just silently paces over to me and touches my hand.

It’s simple human touch, but it’s not something I’ve felt in days, weeks, however long we’ve been down here with no clocks, no day or night, no way to mark the time save by the number of times we sleep. I look at her and it’s strange to see her face so changed.

She has dark rings around her eyes from lack of sleep, and I do not blame her because the nightmares that come when I close my eyes make death seem like a good option. Still, despite that, she looks younger than when I first saw her. Softer, the innocence of a broken mind giving a softness to her face and body that was never there before. I caught sight of myself in a patch of clear water some time back, my body – despite all the chocolate – has been sculpted by hardship into the kind of slender muscle people would have paid a fortune for.

I touch her filthy cheek and sniff, blinking away more tears.

Dare I?

It would be like taking advantage of a child. She’s mad, insane, a mute with no voice and taking care of her gives me no right. But she is also soft, and warm and human and, for all I know, we are the last two people alive in all the world. Just to feel close and safe would be…

…she kisses me. Kissing away the tears as a mother would her son. Did she have children I wonder? Where are they now if they are anywhere? The touch seems to awaken something else in her and she makes an inarticulate sound and clumsily kisses my mouth.

I try to turn away, this isn’t right still, somehow. A betrayal of trust. I look after her, for no reason, simply because it is the right and human thing to do. The human thing to do. A warm, human, with no desire to kill me, with soft lips. Even the stinking breath and the stale-sweat smell of us is human. The air everywhere else has this strange, chemical, tide-line edge to it that chokes your throat like chlorine.

I don’t know that I’d have looked at Hope before everything went wrong. Here she’s the last woman on Earth and I am the last man. I have no illusions about my worth either, but we are here and she is still kissing me and I cannot resist. For my mind, for my body, for the sake of a fleeting moment of pleasure in a world of pain I let my reservations collapse.

Fingers cut through grime. Damp clothes peel away from soft and yielding skin. A human sweat, a human stink, a human taste. Was this what pleasure was like? I barely remember. Candy and soft drink would have been a pleasure back before all this, now its a chore. Warmth, softness, these have been lost to us for so long, both of us. I touch her back, slide my hands around her, find the suppleness of breasts to match the softness of her mouth and kneeling, her astride my lap, riding with naïve eagerness, we clutch and cling to each other in the old dance and damn the world beyond the walls.

She takes me and I lose myself within her. I take her, on her hands and knees atop our grubby blankets. She takes what I have to give and gives what I offer. Innocent eyes and soft features hide a ravenous body as starved of affection, pleasure and wonder as I have been. Every orgasm is a light against the darkness. Every gush of cum or wave of pleasure a defiant light against the darkness.

It makes it tolerable, down here, to fuck and rut in the darkness. To sleep together in warmth. A little camp-fire of affection and humanity, however flawed. Is this what passes for love now? Taking care of someone? Is this what we used to be? Hiding out in caves from the monsters. The brave ape-man protecting his mate and daring the world beyond to provide?

I can’t go out though. The world is dead, so far as either of us know or care to know. The food is almost gone and there is nothing more I can. Nothing more to find. There are things in the water that rises every day. No rats, no mice, not so much as an insect. There’s only us and a knife to my own throat is the only way I have anything left to give.

For hope.

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2125264_f496There came a loud and authoritative knock on the door.

Sometimes when you hear a sound like that, a rat-tat-tat on the door frame, the ring of the phone, you just know its something awful. Your stomach drops through the floor before you even hear the second knock or the bell tolls a second time.

This was one of those knocks.

“Shh.” I raised my finger to my lips and gave her a wide-eyed look of caution which she mirrored in her perfect, quivering eyes.

She backed up against the bookcase, swaying the leather-bound volumes as she sensed my fear, infectious and bowel loosening. For my part I stepped to the door and opened it on its chain, peeking through the gap at the person standing outside.

Severe is a good word. So is austere, even grim. I can never settle on what, quite, is the best word in these situations. Apart from the trousers and the sunglasses she could have been the stereotypical domme-secretary or imperious librarian escapee from Eroticopolis way. The badge put paid to that thought though. Flashing silver on brown leather, perfectly spaced helvetica:

“Amenda Wordsworth, literary division. Do you have a moment?” She looked at me over her sunglasses and my stomach dropped for a second time like the world’s worst rollercoaster, or an overworked simile falling flat.

I panicked.

I slammed the door in her face.

“Novella! Run!” I slammed my back against the door to try and keep the editor out, but I knew it was only a matter of time.

I lifted one arm to jab towards the window and watched her run, my perfection, my love, dear sweet Novella.

“This door seems a bit too strong and well protected for a flat in this area. I think it would be more realistic if it were battered and rotten.” I barely heard the words through the banging against the door, but it was enough.

There was a strange ripple and the door changed, cracking and splintering as the editor threw me into the room and onto the floor. The bookshelf rocked and heavy leather bound books tumbled and fell towards me like paper rain, transforming into paperbacks, the rarer volumes – from a lifetime of collection – exploding into lorem ipsum and scattering letters everywhere.

“Unauthorised fictogenesis, you’re in a lot of trouble, but maybe its salvageable.” She had one heeled boot on my back and I knew it was pointless trying to struggle, she was a Strong Female Character and clearly subscribed to Death of the Author – I shouldn’t push it.

In the mirror I could see the editor unholstering her gun, a massive, chrome-plated .44 Magnum Opus. Her heel ground into my back as she hand-loaded a couple of heavy looking paragraphs into the chambers. Then she stepped off me and moved to the window. I could still hear Novella on the fire escape, but she was endearingly clumsy and wasn’t getting away fast enough.

I struggled to my knees and watched the editor lean out of the window and line up her shot. I summoned every ounce of narrative agency I had left and threw myself against her. The first shot went wild, the leaden prose blasting an unnecessary bollard from existence on the street below. She backhanded me away though, smashing me back through what was left of the door into the barely-described hallway and all I could do was close my eyes tight and wish as I heard the second shot and Novella’s piercing scream.


I got away with a fine, twenty-thousand words of penance. ‘Due to past artistic contributions’ so the Publisher said.

Novella didn’t get off so easily though. She was stuck in limbo while they pieced her back together. She’d taken the paragraph to the face and fell three stories to the ground. The editor had called it in and after that it was out of my hands. I’d been in a cell, unable to do anything while they worked her over and it was only now I was allowed to see her.

I held her hand while the Designers unwrapped the bandages. It was horrible, not knowing what had happened to her. I closed my eyes and squeezed tighter as the wraps came off and finally steeled myself to open my eyes.

The horror of it was, she was even more beautiful.

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Genealogy is a fascinating subject.

What, though, if it takes you back to the ‘old country’ and to a town that no longer exists. What can you learn from a crumbling cliff and a village sunk beneath the waves?





Also available in a bundle with my other ‘neo-pulp’ stories.

Soon available on iBookstore etc. Just search for my name or the title.

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