Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘short story’

abandonedcampsiteA post-apocalyptic tale, rejected (narrowly) from an anthology. So you get it! Something of a dry-run for a setting for a forthcoming survival game.

Days run a little differently now than they used to.

It used to be I would get up, kiss my wife good morning, wake up the kids and head into the shower. Breakfast was a cereal bar and a cup of coffee on the way out of the door to the car. I drove eight miles to town, parked my car, walked to my office and sat in front of a computer from nine in the morning until five in the evening fielding people’s problems with their computers. Then I’d go home for an evening of forcing my kids to eat their peas and watching boxed sets on Netflix in bed with the missus.

A dull, boring, ordinary life. Days ticking by on my phone calendar. Nothing special, the same kind of thing that millions upon millions of people did every day, day in, day out, without changing or straying from the norm.

Now, things are a little different.

I get up when the sun rises, and I let everyone else sleep. I peel back the tarp and climb down the ladder – slippery with morning dew – to the forest floor. There’s no breakfast, we eat once a day, in the evening. I walk the trails through the woods and check the snares as well as the fish hooks we leave dangling in the rivulet – though the water drops every day. If I find any fallen wood, I bring it back to the hide to dry out for the evening’s fire, but that’s getting scarce too. We’ll have to start cutting them down soon, and that will make our presence easier to detect. Then I walk back to the hide, and I sit in the cover under the hide and tinker with the radio, just for something to do. It’s unfixable since the pulse, like everything else, but it keeps me busy.

I don’t know how anyone else lives now, but if they’re surviving it must be something like this.

Somehow we survived the pulse, the chaos that came after it. The plague and the looters, the rioters and murderers. All of us, my whole family.

There’s me, my wife (Ellie) my father (Gramps), and my kids, Tony and Amy.

Tony’s doing alright; he was a scout before everything went to hell and while he doesn’t enjoy camping anymore, he can cope with it.

Amy’s broken, though, and there’s nothing we can do about it. She hasn’t talked since we escaped town and she has her little den she’s dug in the woods away from the rest of us. She only comes close to us when we make food, so at least we know she’s eating. We keep hoping she’ll snap out of it, but she hasn’t yet.

My wife was a fiercely independent woman before all this happened, the one who did everything made more money than me doing bank work in the city, organised and ran our lives. Now she’s lost, traumatised, just doing what she has to and crying over everything we’ve lost.

Gramps is old, sick, but he struggles on and helps me as best he can. He’s a tough old dog, my father but we all notice the cough. Sick as he is I’ll dread it when he’s finally gone. He’s used to a simpler world than we were. He’s practical; he knows how to fix things, how to skin rabbits and gut pheasants, skills which have become literal lifesavers. I’ve learned more from him in this past year than in the forty preceding it. I used to be the one to teach him things like using the internet or setting the video to record. It’s strange how things turn out.

We lost track of time in all the chaos but so far as we can tell it’s late summer now, maybe the end of August. We’re hoping we can find and preserve a lot of autumn fruit and nuts, somehow, once they start to appear. We can’t get meat to smoke or dry properly, we’ve tried we have no salt or vinegar or even alcohol to pickle or preserve with, and we daren’t go back to town to look for supplies that probably aren’t there.

It’s a worry.

This morning was the first in quite some time that there had been a chill in the air and mist clinging to trees. It was getting towards the autumn, and that weighed heavy on my mind.

We had a rabbit in a snare, so that was a good haul for the morning or at least better than nothing. The hazelnuts weren’t ripe yet, by any stretch, so that was a bust, and the blackberries weren’t ripe yet. I still had some gloves and a good knife, so I cut a big bushel of stinging nettles – they come out a bit like spinach when you boil them. We’re all utterly bored of them, though, we lived off nettles and rice too many days before we got the snares right. Just as well that they did, because we ran out of rice. I read once you can’t live off of rabbit, but that’s been almost all we’ve been eating this month other than the nettles. Another thing to worry about.

When I get back on this day, everyone’s up and awake. My grubby little family of dirty survivors. No sign of Amy though, at least not yet, no food for her to eat I suppose. My wife’s hanging up the blankets to try and dry and air them in the sun – it hardly works even in the summer, you just can’t get dry living outside. Gramps is fiddling on that bow of his again – bailing twine and hazel sticks don’t make for the best or most accurate hunting weapon, but he perseveres. Tony’s tending the fire; that has become his singular obsession. He keeps it going through the day from the embers of the previous night. He’s gotten pretty good at it, though we don’t dare have a massive fire. Someone might see.

The day passes, somehow. Boredom is something we all constantly experience now, boredom punctuated by terror at the noises coming from the woods. We’ve not seen another person in months, just deer and the occasional fox sniffing around. We still remember what it was like getting out of town. People were – and probably still are – terrible. Desperation does that to people. It has done it to me; there is blood on my hands as much as anyone.

When the sun starts to set, we build the fire up, boil the river water in our fire-blackened pot and put in the rabbit and the nettles. It’s not much, but its something, or will be when it’s cooked.

Tomorrow, maybe, we’ll have some better luck.

Only we don’t get to tomorrow uninterrupted. There’s a loud cracking sound from the edge of our little clearing, our home, and then a voice raised, calling out to us. A new voice, one we haven’t heard before, cracked and husky with a lack of practice at speaking.

“Can you spare a little of that?”

***

He looked a state, but then we all did. He’d made an effort to trim his beard, which I hadn’t, but he was still as grubby and tired looking as the rest of us. Layered with muck and sweat, the sort of thing you only ever used to see on homeless people. He had a huge backpack, one of those army ones called ‘Bergens’ I think, and a gun, something I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a battered looking double-barrel, and he had a half-empty bandolier of shells hung around his neck. It was pointing down, but he was almost as cautious as we were, frozen in place around our dinner with only gramps and his stupid bow and arrow to defend ourselves.

“I’ve got salt, pepper, some spice. Just nothing to put it with, can we make a trade?” He took a cautious, half-step forward, holding the gun one handed, raising the other, palm towards us.

Just the thought of salt had me salivating, let alone anything else. My stomach yawned at the mere mention. Less food, but with flavour? That would be a good trade at this point and someone who’d been out there might know something. News and flavour. I stepped forward and waved gramps to lower his bow – for all the good it could do in the first place.

“If you put the gun down and show us what you have, maybe we can find a place for you tonight and a bit of food. It’s just rabbit and nettles, though. Nothing fancy.” I moved, slowly, between him and my family. If things went wrong, perhaps I could still protect them.

He set the gun down on a stump with the shells and unslung his pack, keeping one hand up as he rummaged in the side pocket. He showed us salt, pepper and – Lord have mercy – garlic granules.

“Alright, come on closer but leave the gun there,” I gestured to him to approach, and he set his pack behind and came forward.

He stank worse than we did, or we’d just gotten used to our smell perhaps. We could wash – occasionally – in the rivulet, but he smelled like he hadn’t washed at all in the year since the pulse. He was greasy with it. Shiny-headed in the firelight and the fading sun, and I could hear his stomach growling as loud as mine was. He handed over the condiments, and I gave them to Ellie. She added them to the stew pot with shaking, quivering hands.

“It won’t be ready for a while. Why don’t you sit with us and sing for your supper?”

He winced a little at the suggestion, but he did sit, on one of the mossy logs we’d dragged here to use as seats and after a deep sigh he told us his tale, constantly glancing towards the pot and the promise of food to come, as though reassuring himself it was real.

“What do you want to know?” He asked, his voice low, almost lost in the crackling of the fire.

“Your name,” I sat, opposite him and everyone else crowded closer. “Everything you know. What’s been going on out there, how did you survive?”

He tongued his lips and took a sip of water from his canteen, and then he began to talk, a practised tale he must have told many times before. Too many people.

“My name’s Alan. I was a delivery driver. My watch didn’t work; my phone didn’t work, the van didn’t work. Nothing worked. I waited for other cars but after an hour all there was, was a young couple whose own car had broken down. That seemed like a bit too much of a coincidence to me, but I stayed with the van. Like an idiot.

He shook his head and plucked a few leaves off his boots before he went on. “Wasn’t until a policeman on a bike – of all things – came by that I clicked something bigger was going on. His suggestion was to find a pub or something to stay at, but I didn’t. I stuck with the van. I thought it might all get fixed I suppose. Two days later and nothing but a few people trudging down the road. Got to the point where I started breaking into the packages to look for food and drink, but eventually, I had to lock up the van and get going again.”

“We were in town when it happened. It was worse in a lot of ways, though people were looking out for each other at the beginning.”

“Then the sickness hit,” he sighed again, deeper. “As I’m sure you know.”

“We didn’t see much of it; we decided to leave town after a couple of days.”

“You were lucky then. I walked through a couple of villages before I got to a town and by the time I got there, the sickness was in full force. Pale people, white as sheets, barely able to move for how weak they were. Easy prey for the people who were still fit and were looking to loot and pillage. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to catch it. I stayed long enough to get some supplies and then got the same idea you did, to get out.”

I nodded along with him as we shared a moment of understanding. It had been horrible, and it had felt like there was no choice but to get away. We’d seen the writing on the wall the same way he had. Still, leaving people to die was haunting.

“I tried a couple of camping sites, but the sickness or bandits, or worse, always came along. Things broke down or just stopped working – whatever machines were left that is. The amount of people around got fewer and more sparse and spread out the more time went on. I just kept on moving. You’re the first people I’ve even seen a sign of in a few weeks.”

“Worse?” that worried me, I thought we’d seen the worst this new world had to offer.

“Ah, forget it. Don’t worry. Just being dramatic I suppose. I’ve just stayed on the road; there is still food and supplies out there if you’re not too fussy. Dog food will keep you going in a pinch. There’s hunting if you’re a decent shot, but I’m not,” he laughed, a little bitterly. “You seem to be doing alright, though. I’ve been watching you since this morning. You and your family have it pretty good.”

“It doesn’t feel like it most days,” I turned and looked to Ellie as she hovered over the pot. She nodded.

We had plastic bowls from an old picnic set, enough for everyone, though they were no longer the cleanest. The stew was thin and sloppy, but with the salt, pepper, and garlic it was the grandest feast we’d had in some time, considering a single rabbit don’t go so far between so many people.

After a mouthful of boiled rabbit and soggy nettle, Alan stopped abruptly, eyes wide and white in his grubby face. He swallowed, hard, and jabbed one dirty finger at the bowl we’ve filled for Amy. “Why are there six bowls?” He sounded panicked, scared, terrified. We didn’t understand why, but the fear was infectious.

“My daughter. Amy. She’s not well. She hides in the woods, but she comes back for meals. What’s wrong?”

“No, no, no!” He’s clutched his head like it was about to split, set down his bowl and stood, casting about and then walking towards his gun with quick strides.

“Wait no!” I spilled my bowl as I got up. “Don’t hurt us!”

He snatched up the gun and the shells and looked back at me. “I’m not going to, but six people is too many. I didn’t know about the girl. It always goes bad when there’s more than five. Always. Always.”

There’s a subtle change in the air as he says it. His fear is genuine, and it does feel like something has changed, shifted, a chill, a sense of being watched. I can’t explain it.

***

Alan kept staring into the woods, clutching that shotgun of his, white-knuckled and panicked but nothing was happening. My family huddled together in the dark except Amy who had scuttled back into the woods to hide. Slowly the tension began to evaporate from the terror he’d induced in us, and I stepped away from the others to try and talk some sense into him.

“Alan, please, you’ve scared everyone. Nothing’s happening.”

“It will,” he looked back at me with wild, feral eyes. “It’s coming.”

Something about the way he spoke made me still believe he meant what he was saying; I swallowed to wet my throat and ease my voice. “I’ll climb up into the hide and see if I can see anything.” He nodded to me and kept staring out into the trees.

I moved away from him, with a glance towards my family for mutual assurance, and then I stepped to the ladder. When I set my hands on it, it felt strange, dusty under my fingers and when I placed my weight on the bottom rung, it simply snapped, rusted through. That was absurd. It was steel; it had held firm as long as we had been here and showed no sign of breaking or damage. I just stared down at the fragments at my feet, uncomprehending. “Rust?”

“Rust?” Alan twisted around to look at me. “Get clear!” He shouted, stabbing a finger to point up at the hide.

My family moved the moment he barked; I didn’t. I was frozen, staring at the ladder, the patina of rust spreading across it like a time-lapse image of mould running across fruit. I looked aside to the great wooden beams that held the hide up above the forest floor and there too the metal bolts that ran through it and held it all together was turning red-brown and crumbling before my eyes. As I looked up in terrified wonder, the hide gave a loud groan, shuddered and slewed drunkenly sideways.

Our home, everything we had scraped, preserved and recovered was smashed to pieces in a deafening, splintering crash as it toppled into the woods and threw up clouds of dirt and leaves in all directions, blowing our meagre fire across the forest as embers that quickly vanished in the dark.

My ears were ringing. My lungs were burning as I coughed up leaf mold and ash. I stared into the crater around the broken stumps of the support columns as the clouds settled and thinned and saw something even stranger. The ground was writhing, twisting, heaving with worms, one atop the other in an enormous tangle right where the hide had stood. I’d never seen anything quite like it. The rust, the worms, none of it made any sense. At all.

“Alan! What the hell is this?” I screamed at him over my deafness, and I staggered to check on my family. They were horrified, staring at what remained of our meagre life, backed against a grand, old tree.

“This is what I meant by worse,” he yelled back. “Come together, help each other, and the world turns against you. I thought we were safe! I didn’t know about the girl!” The despair in his voice made my spine quiver.

I held Ellie tight though there was nothing I could offer to calm her, no platitude that would serve in this situation. Every last little thing we’d scraped together, this hardscrabble desperate life we’d forged, ruined in an instant.

Tony stepped apart from us, peeling away from the family huddle, clinging with one hand to my ragged shirt and staring into the night. Suddenly pointed out, with his free hand, past Alan, out into a gap in the trees to the blue-black night sky and the distant stars. “Dad! Look!”

I looked where he was pointing, and through the gap in the trees, the sky abruptly turned completely black. With sudden ferocity a torrent of croaking, shrieking feathers came pouring through the trees like a tidal wave. A pecking, screaming mass of crows that scratched, flapped and snapped at us as they flew around and over us and circled back through the trees and into the sky to fly back at us again.

I was bleeding from dozens of cuts and scratches, as was everyone else. Blood ran from a gash in my brow, down into my eye, half blinding me as the birds wheeled and whirled through the trees, screeching and cawing, massing for a second attack. It was incredible, it was impossible, it was terrifying, but there was no time to think about it. As they swept back I grabbed for my wife and son and hit the ground, scrambling under what remained of the tarp as Alan’s shotgun barked deafeningly, and flashes of light lit through the plastic.

Ears ringing I could barely hear the bodies of the crows tumbling around us, some still twitching and squawking in pain, crippled or killed by a shot, others tearing at the tarp with their claws and beaks to try and get at us. There were sickening crunches, something smacked into my leg and bruised it to the bone, but most of the crowing stopped. We screamed as the tarp was thrown back.

It was Alan, bloodied, blinded in one eye, a ragged hole where it should have been. The crows that remained perched angrily in the trees; the ground was littered with their corpses. Blood and spittle dripped down his chin as he opened the gun and thrust in the last shell. “It’ll be people next I think. Bandits. It won’t stop. It won’t ever stop so long as we’re together.”

I struggled to stand, the bruised leg almost giving way under me. “We’ll run, there’s nothing to stay here for anyway. Come with us. We’ll make it together. Don’t be stupid.” I reached my hand towards him, bloodied and scratched, fingers stretched out to take his hand.

He just shook his head and looked at me with one working eye and one ruined one, blood running down his face. “No. It won’t work. No more than five people. Never more than five. There’re no antibiotics anyway. I’m done. Thanks for the rabbit. I should have seen the girl.” Tears mingled with the blood.

Before I could stop him, he twisted the gun and fired. The flash was so close it singed my eyebrows and blinded me for a moment as his mostly headless body fell back with a wet, boneless thump amongst the dead crows.

We stood, I don’t know how long, in shock. When we recovered our senses, and our muscles answered our appeals to move the surviving crows had left, and it was quiet again. The air had changed, back, to the way it was before, without that tension, without that sensation of being watched. A new peace settled over our shattered camp and then, after a time, as we had so many times before, we set about picking up the pieces of our shattered lives.

***

We’re back on the road now. All five of us. Amy came back out of hiding after Alan died though she still hasn’t spoken and never leaves her mother’s side. We have Alan’s supplies and his empty gun. We have a tiny bit of food, the last gasp of the snares and fishing lines, but autumn is coming now, and there’ll be nuts and berries and whatever has survived in people’s abandoned gardens for a while.

We’ll look for supplies in some of the forest villages and then try to find somewhere remote and sheltered where we can rest up for the winter. All five of us. Just the five of us. Wherever we go, I’m going to leave this information, no more than five. Maybe it’ll keep some other people alive, but it means we’re alone, and we have to stay alone if we’re going to live. It means there’s never going to be any more help. No civilisation. Nobody to ride to the rescue or to rebuild.

It’s just us now.

Just family.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

d3b54c63cc513eee4c66089211eb865aMrs. Mundy was too busy to die. When she felt a terrible pain in her chest and her vision swam and went black she just gritted her teeth and refused. She shook her head until the pain faded and the stars went away and then she felt a lot better.

“Oh, I can’t get sick right now. There’s too much to do!” She muttered to herself and scrubbed away at the dishes with even more ferocity than she already had been until the last of that dizzy feeling faded away. There were the dishes to finish – and there was melted cheese stuck to them – the floors to scrub, the steps to sweep and lord knew what else to do around the house. It never seemed to end.

It kept getting worse. Things kept piling up that needed doing and Mrs. Mundy was in her seventies now. Nothing happened quickly anymore. There was the hoovering and the dusting, the spare room needed repainting and it wasn’t as though there was anyone else to do it, God rest her dear old Harry. Then there were these blisters she’d gotten and then there were all these flies that had turned up in the house and the little black spots they left all over her nice white walls. She wasn’t having any of that.

By the time she’d dealt with them – flypaper hanging everywhere, spray to get rid of the persistent ones, not that she liked to use nasty chemicals and her daughter had always nagged her about the ozone – and sticking plasters for all her blisters, well, then there were more problems.

She had developed a cold. A runny nose, a bloated stomach, diarrhoea, a heavy feeling in her head. Along with that dizzy spell and the chest pain from the other day, as well as the blisters she clearly wasn’t well. Maybe she’d had a bad reaction to that new washing-up liquid she’d bought? Who had time for the doctor when that horrible smell lingered in the house and her ‘condition’ meant the bathroom needed constant cleaning? At least she wasn’t hungry. That was something, not needing to wash dishes so much.

Still, Mrs. Mundy couldn’t get a break.

She still wasn’t feeling well and somehow she kept getting the most horrible stains on her clothes, green and yellow and fatty, even though she wasn’t eating. No matter how often she ran them through the wash they wouldn’t get properly clean. Who had time to go to the shops for more dresses when there was work to do?

The cat kept leaving dead animals – or at least pieces of rotting meat – around the house and scrubbing those stains out took a lot of effort. All this work meant she was losing a lot of weight, which was a nice thought. She’d have to get some new dresses soon either way if this kept up, but in the meantime, an old belt would keep her dress on, stained or not.

Mrs. Mundy got exhausted. It was harder and harder to move each and every day until one day she simply couldn’t get out of bed, though it pained her just as much to stay there. Housework would be piling up, the cat would be going unfed and his litter box uncleaned but there was nothing for it. She couldn’t even raise her head from the pillow.

So she slept.

The next morning she felt a lot better, light as air, right as rain.

“The rest has done me good!” she said to herself as she set to work. It never ended and now there were these bones all over the bedroom to dust and polish along with everything else.

A woman’s work was never done.

Read Full Post »

My first audiobook is available for download from Audible.com (and soon from other places). You can get it HERE.

It’s a short(ish) story (about half an hour long – so sort of like a radio play in length) about a grubby, disheveled and broadly disliked London detective who’s given a shit case that leads to an interesting place.

This appears to mean that my setup is now good enough for recording audiobooks and voiceovers. So if anyone needs that kind of work done, let me know!

Art for Stain by the lovely Rowena Aitken.

Read Full Post »

bd2d44e15229844cc03c8ea95360b3c8The moment he awoke he gently began to sob. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to wake up. He was supposed to be dead. Instead he found himself in a painfully white, antiseptic-stinking clinical bed in a tiny room under the migraine-inducing flicker of strip lights.

Nothing hurt though, at least right now, and he felt that it should hurt. It was like the pain was there – his mouth, throat and belly felt ‘wrong’ – but , at a distance.

A hand touched his shoulder in a perfunctory display of affection, a mechanical pat and he realised that he wasn’t alone.

“Jake? I’m Doctor Eich. They told me you’d be awake soon. Do you need a moment or can we talk?”

The little man perched on the bed was a gargoyle of a figure, peering with interest from behind thick, old fashioned glasses. His body odour made its presence felt even over the antiseptic and he was disheveled and unkempt for a doctor, right down to his dirty nails.

“Oh. I’m not that kind of doctor,” he said, noticing the looks. “I simply have a proposition for you, if you’re interested?”

Jake tried to speak, but all that really came out was a croak, a rasping sound like some comic-book supervillain, a wheeze that took a moment to form a “Yes.”

Eich smiled, though the expression did not look like it was used to being on his face and soon sidled off again in embarrassment when it realised it didn’t belong.

“I work for the government on military projects. I’m a neuroscientist, a psychologist and a pharmacologist. I’m working on forms of… ah… weaponised psychiatiry.”

Jake nodded slightly, taking in the rest of the room. As his eyes adjusted to the light it didn’t seem quite so bright or clinical. There was a coffee – or at least a coffee coloured – stain on the wall and an ancient television set into a folding mechanical arm. The ‘out of order’ sign was so dusty and faded he suspected the last thing on that screen had been Top of the Pops.

“If I may be blunt, and I shall be anyway… well, Jake you’re suicidal. You have no family. No parents. No children. You’re in hospital because you were doing shots of Toilet Duck in an attempt to end your life. If you see no value in your life, might I suggest that we do? We need human subjects you see and they need to be ‘disposable’. If you’re that keen on ending your life I can assure you that that’s a distinct possibility. Sound good?”

Jake just nodded, shifting to try and sit up – which made him feel pain even through the morphine haze.

“Excellent,” Eich thrust a sheaf of papers and a pen towards Jake. “Sign these.”

Once that was done Eich gave Jake a too-firm handshake, tucked the notes under his arm and headed for the door.

“Thank you Jake, Mr Bell here will keep an eye on you until you can be transferred.” He hovered a moment by the door, half in, half out. “There’s just one last thing. If we’re going to be working together you should know that I am what a layman might call a sociopath. I hope it won’t put a dampener on our relationship.”

With that, he was gone, only to be replaced by Mr Bell who had the body of a rhinoceros and the face of an elderly fetishists freshly flogged buttocks.

Jake, half wondering if this were a dream, closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

***

It hadn’t been a dream and now here he was, scant weeks later in another room. This one with all the minimalism of a Japanese hotel room and the charm of a late-period George Lucas film. This bed had straps, which was worrying.

Eich was doing something complicated with a computer terminal, centrifuge and a hypodermic while Jake sat, in crinkly paper pyjamas, waiting to hear his fate.

“Doctor, what even is this experiment?”

Eich babbled away while he worked, measuring and combining in a manner that suggested even he might be capable of happiness. “It’s an emotional inhibitor. A complex series of drugs working in tandem to alter your perception. To make your perception more objective without compromising your moral and ethical processes. We’ve had some very limited success but everyone so far seems to go mad for some reason. Not to worry, we’ve made adjustments.”

Jake fidgeted, playing idly with the buckles on the bed straps.

“Why would they go mad?

“Most people,” Eich mumbled, decanting the mixed fluids into the hypodermic “live their lives in a glorious state of delusion. Everyone has degrees of pre-existing bias and many of these are very important to them. Strip away their subjectivity and – I suspect – the world no longer makes sense to them.”

“And why would you want to do such a thing?” Jake swabbed his own arm where it was dotted with marker pen, ready for the injection.

“Can you imagine?” Eich wrapped a rubber tube around his arm and held the needle ready. “Truly objective scientists, truly objective diplomats, millitary advisors. Even soldiers? Police who could make truly rational choices about when to shoot and when not to? The advances in science alone would be enormous and whole fields would have to be excised or rewritten. Sociology for a start.”

The doctor sniffed arrogantly and plunged the needle into Jake’s arm.

“There, much of these molecules are chemically similar to opioids, so you should be fully ‘in state’ in about two hours. Let me just strap you down and I’ll come back then.”

Seeing little reason to fight, Jake lay back, closed his eyes and waited for the drug to take effect.

***

The bright lights, he supposed, as he opened his eyes, were meant to simulate the sun. There were no windows in this block so the light must be important. It could have psychological and health effects so if they wanted a baseline it made sense to reduce such stresses.

The straps were not right, one was tighter than the others and now his hand was sore, to go with the throbbing ache in his throat and stomach that never really went away.

“How do we feel?”

Eich looked terrible. Jake was aware, instantly, of every imperfection in his face. Every line, every wrinkle. He’d known Eich was psychotic but he could see it now, immediately, dead eyes, a mouth that could approximate a smile but never mean it.

“This is interesting Doctor. Very interesting. You look terrible by the way. I suppose I had built up a certain image of you these past few weeks but I see you now. You’re just here for the job, it doesn’t really mean much to you. Nothing does.”

Eich frowned a little uneasily.

“I see every pore Eich, every line, every wrinkle,” Jake pulled slightly at his straps, staring at them left and right with curious intensity to take in the stitching and fastenings before he leaned back again into the pillows. “I feel every thread in these sheets. Every imperfection. It’s like I can see everything as it really is. No beauty, no blindness. Everything is filth and bacteria. Everything is slowly dying. All that stuff we deliberately forget every day to get through our lives.”

Eich bent down and scribbled his notes with a biro on his note pad.

“The ball in that nib has a slight imperfection, the variation in sound is unbearable. That paper’s recycled, rough, it’s like sandpaper on my ears. None of this matters, but it’s unignorable and I don’t feel the need to stay quiet about it.”

Eich made another feverish note and opened his mouth to speak. Breath wheezed in ageing lungs, lips cracked, spittle stretched disgustingly, his meaty tongue twisted behind his yellowing, crooked teeth.

Jake interrupted. “The other test subjects killed themselves. Didn’t they,” it wasn’t a question.

Eich’s mouth flopped shut like a partially deflated paddling pool, teeth clicking. Then contorted his face into a jiggling noise box.

“Yes. They all did. The straps make it obvious I suppose.”

“That and if I wasn’t already at that point, I would want to. I know how insignificant we are. I know how pointless this all is. I know what you are really trying to do here and I know what’s pointless too. It’s not going to work Eich.”

Eich frowned and leant close, cheese wafting on his breath, his pulse audible as his heart sluggishly pumped that rancid stew he called blood around his veins. “What do you mean?”

“Objective soldiers? That was never your plan. Objective scientists? Perhaps. What you really want this for is governance. To control government, to make the best choices. It won’t work.”

Eich leaned further forward, there was a thumbprint on his glasses, each viscous, oily line looming in Jake’s vision like an oil-soaked cormorant. “Why not? Tell me!”

Jake turned his head away is disgust, but the faintly laundered smell of the pillow was little better.

“How do you think the ministers will react when you wheel out the Amazing Objective Man? To begin with they won’t believe you. If I live long enough to be right they’ll get spooked. Each ideology will celebrate when I agree with them and ignore me when I don’t. Nothing will change except we’ll have some certainty that if we’d only done things differently we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.”

“Surely we can convince them man! Think of the good we can do!” Eich was almost apopleptic, and he was lying.

“You don’t care about the good Eich. You’re a sociopath, remember? You’re into it for the fame. You think this is your ticket to history and a justification for your inhumanity. You’re not objective Eich, you’re unfeeling and you haven’t thought this through.”

Eich stepped away from the bed, twisting this way and that, chubby, filthy little meat-tentacle clenched into nascently arthritic fists. “There must be a way…”

“Eich. The poor vote against their own interests. Governments ruin their nations in pursuit of ideological purity and cling to beliefs long after they’re proven wrong. Rationalists and pragmatists have always been ignored. Why would I be any different? Why would you be any different? They’ll kill me as a threat and then kill you. You know it. This is a miraculous dead end. It would be like being the only sober person in the car when nobody else will let you drive. It would be heartbreaking. Even for you.”

Eich’s shoulders slumped and his head hung low.

“You know what this drug does. You know I’m right. The only way out for us is if the drug fails. You’ll have to kill me. Humanity will just have to muddle through. Let them have their illusions and delusions and hope for the best. If you know they’re wrong, utterly, completely, it will only bring despair.”

Eich shuffled back to the bench and drew air into an empty hypodermic.

“You’re right. Of course.”

“Of course.”

There was nothing else to say.

Read Full Post »

18lp5c9jxqj7rjpgEsoteric horror brought to you courtesy of ironic sexism.

In the twenty-some years I studied at the Miskatonic I came to realise the importance of the university in relation to the safety and security of the planet as a whole. Scholars at this fine institution, with its collection of rare tomes and artefacts and with its association to exploring the furthest reaches of our planet nowhere was better suited to battle the elder horrors which threaten this world – in secret of course.

Since at least the nineteen-twenties, and likely as far back as its founding, the university has been a centre for a number of professors and investigators risking life, limb and sanity to preserve fragile humanity from destruction at the hands of cosmic horrors.

But no more.

Our little cabal of professors and assistants, explorers, scholars of ancient languages, parapsychology, science and antiquities was outed when an overzealous assistant registered our society with the university authorities – seemingly on a whim. There were some benefits to this, we no longer had to masquerade as something else when we needed to use facilities and money was made available, which greatly improved the quality of the coffee we were drinking but had we known the consequences this would have we would have never gone along with it.

Things proceeded as normal, albeit with better coffee, for perhaps a month until we received a visitation from the campus diversity officer who had been checking into the various university groups and societies to ensure they conformed to a set of rules so changeable, esoteric and confusing that even I – who has mastered the incantations of the Dark Pharaoh – could not decipher them.

What it appeared to boil down to was that we were all too old, too white and too male and that we would have to induct more people from what she referred to as ‘minorities’. Women, persons of colour and so forth.

This delighted professor Abernathy, who has long argued that we need ‘more chicks in eschatological disaster prevention’, but it presented a problem for the rest of us, whose classes are still mostly inhabited by white men as well and the few women we did have in our classes showed little or no interest in tackling shadowy monstrosities from beyond.

It was then that we made our second mistake, in explaining this difficulty we asked for help.

And we got it.

Professor Bentham was not au fait with any of the fields necessary for our work, only with ‘Gender Studies’, but since she simply disappeared into the stacks and did not bother us this was little worry.

More concerning by far was the application – which we could not deny – of a foreign student, a pygmy or ‘little person’ which I’m given to understand is the preferred term – of the Tcho-Tcho tribe, originally from Tibet before their diaspora.

Na-Na, for that was his name, much to the amusement of Professor Abernathy, was a problem from the start. He would scurry, disconcertingly, through the stacks and leap out at the most inopportune moments. When he attacked Professor Carnegie with a blowpipe and dragged him off into the stacks, never to be seen again, we protested only to be told that was his culture and we should not be so judgemental, that we should ‘decolonise our attitudes’ towards his rich heritage. Even when we found a human hand, gnawn upon, laid atop a leather-bound folio of The Yellow Sign, which we suspected to belong to Professor Carnegie, nothing was done. ‘Dietary requirements of his culture’ we were told.

We had other problems by then of course. Female interns from the Gender Studies course who had joined our group as aides and researchers walked out en masse having read – in passing – a tome of ritual magic attributed to Dr Dee and having taken offence at talk of esoteric principles of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’ utilised in the rituals within. They would listen to no explanation and it mattered not one jot to them that this was centuries old.

Thanks to them to university paper ran an ‘expose’ on us as a hotbed of sexism and we were besieged by constant protest, culminating in the pulling of a fire alarm as part of the protest. In the ensuing confusion with the fire brigade over a century’s worth of meticulously referenced knowledge was lost, along with many first editions. A great loss to our great work.

Besieged by angry furies, sniped at constantly by a cannibalistic half-man and with our work exposed to the world we did the best we could as the stars began to turn right.

During our most delicate preparations Professor Bentham made herself known to us again, forgotten for so long. Only she was different, she had degenerated – no, sorry, transitioned – into something other, an avatar of Shub-PoCurath (you can’t say the ‘N’ word or anything that sounds like it). Hooved. Tentacled. A hundred breasts and dozens of gaping, suppurating vaginas covered the knotted trunk of her body, indistinguishable from her many babbling mouths.

Professor Abernathy attempted, heroically to intercede and shove her back into the stacks. We thought he had been devoured, but it was worse.

The next day we were awash with campus police and a worried looking person from the office of the Dean. Professor Abernathy was being held up on molestation charges. In the struggle his hands had touched at least four breasts and three vaginas and Professor Bentham, now operating under the preferred pronoun of ‘Ia’ was holding him up on rape charges.

The siege – and the fire alarms – began again.

Despite all this, as the stars came right, we held out hope that we could stave off the end. We had everything prepared, meticulously, to heal the tear in the world that would admit the dark ones to this reality. All we needed was a virginal incantrix for the climax of the ritual. We had a volunteer and at the right moment she recited the words perfectly, but nothing happened.

There could only have been one possible cause, and she had cost us the world through her dishonestly.

But, apparently, that was slut shaming.

So now, as a black sun devours the sky and shadow tentacles devastate the planet, as the campus police come to arrest me for insensitivity, even as our world comes to an end, the conspiracy becomes clear.

We were the victims of a new cult, a cult that listens and believes, a cult that will live on until the very end because they made a deal with the dark powers beyond.

#KillAllMen

Or at least #KillMenFirst

Read Full Post »

Stain is your stereotypical washed-up cop. He’s good for nothing, surfing a life of indolence and drunkenness on past glories until he can get to retirement. Then, weirdly, he gets given a serious and important case and may have to reassess his life and career.

Stain is one of a series of ‘neopulp’ short stories I have written, updating the pulp tropes of the 20s-40s with a more modern sensibility, though not necessarily a more modern setting.

You can buy Stain HERE.

It is also bundled with my other short stories HERE

It will be available on other vendors (Lulu, Kindle etc, soon).

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »