Music In The Jeans.

She hadn’t paid for her electricity. It wasn’t done via a bill or anything, it was one of those pay as you go units, the ones with the fob.  She had lit a cigarette, but wasn’t smoking it. It would be bad for the baby, but she liked the smell. People often asked her when she was going to finally grow up. Now look at her, not smoking to protect her unborn child.

The room was lit by the light from a lamppost  outside, combined with a garish sort of light given off from a camping lamp, one that was charged by the sun during the day. She left it on the windowsill so it would get enough light. It had two settings, a normal light, or a flickering sort that flashed out S.O.S in Morse code.

Flashflashflash- Flash – Flash – Flash – FlashFlashFlash.

Help us.

Sending out an SOS… sending out an SOS.

Then of course there was the tiny orange flare of the cigarette, slowly smoking away in the grooves of an ashtray.

This is what humans did before electricity. They sat in the dark doing nothing, waiting for it to no longer be dark. The baby was too small to be kicking, but occasionally she was sure she felt little bumps.

The baby’s dad was up and coming. He had been up and coming for a long time, coming took time it seemed. She was beginning to think he’d never arrive.

That was to say, he was in a band.

She had been to all of his gigs. The first had been before a crowd of 3. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. The band was called Bitter Streaks, they played a bastardisation of grunge. He knew she was pregnant, but a baby would prevent him going on a world tour should he be asked, and he was expecting to be asked any minute.

‘Lots of famous musicians have kids.’ She had said.

‘I don’t want to be tied down.’ He replied, which was ironic given that he expressed the exact opposite sentiment the night the baby was conceived. She thought it was that night anyway. It could have been another.

‘I’ll need money,’ she said.

‘I don’t have any.’

‘You’ll have to get a job.’

‘And work for the man?’

‘A lot of employers are women now.’

‘I’m not about that life.’

‘What life are you about?’

‘My music, that’s my life.’

Which was a shame, as his music wasn’t that good anymore. The older he got, the less he suited the defiant angst of youth.

She was going to have to move back in with her dad. Which would be embarrassing, because when she left years before she had declared (quite proudly) that no one was going to stop her living her life. She was going to live it to its fullest and be a free spirit forever. Living life to its fullest proved difficult after a while. Bills needed to be paid, food needed to be bought, weed didn’t pay for itself – nor booze, she often got a pill or two for free.

It also got tiring after a while. As the last of her teen years flitted by, she found not knowing how she got home to be more of a concern rather than an indication that she had had a good night, and more to the point, she would like to have some recollection of just how good it was. After all, when she was old she’d like to look back with fondness on her memories of living life to its full.

Not that it mattered, she had another free spirit growing inside her now, and she couldn’t very well stand in the way of it living its life to its fullest. Which it most certainly wouldn’t if it had to live in perpetual darkness, like a mole person.

It wasn’t fair. Why could men not have children? Just because the dice roll of fate determined they were to be born with a Y chromosome they could sleep with whoever they wanted and not have to worry about messing their bodies up. They didn’t have to worry about carrying and squirting out a tiny human. Didn’t have to worry about carrying it around for 9 months, suffering an array of pains and discomforts in the process.

And, it seemed they could just walk away whenever it suited them.

The abortion word came up. She was pro-choice when it came to other women, but was mercilessly subjected to the tyranny of her own guilt when it came to her body. She knew the end game of sex. Sex made babies, if you have sex, you have to accept the consequences.

She hated the consequences. There were always consequences. They start with being spanked and sent to the corner when you first learn to walk and talk and the progress ever onwards until you’re hungry, sitting in the dark having not showered in days, not even enjoying the bittersweet release of a cigarette.

She wondered what her baby would look like in the future. If it was a boy, would it look like his dad. Broad shouldered, black of hair… one eye ever so slightly squinted compared to the other? If a girl, logic dictated it would look like her. That’s how it worked. Girls took after the mother, boys the father. She wondered if the baby would inherit musical talent (relatively speaking). Was music in the genes?

That could be their band name.

Music in the Jeans.

They’d spell it with a J, like the denim trousers, because that would be quirky. They’d appear on chat shows, or in magazines and talk about how their mother sacrificed a lot so they could have a good life and live it to its full.

Except she’d keep them grounded. Live it to its full, but in small doses.

She wondered if the baby would resent her when it was a teenager, much like she did her dad. Her dad who told her to keep at school, to apply for universities… to be sensible. What kind of life was that? She’d smack the baby in the head if it did, except not the baby, the teenager then. It’s okay to smack teenagers in the head, when they’re being teenagers. Never slap a baby in the head.

She smiled. Had her dad given up his life for her? Did he have to stop living life to the fullest because she came along. Was life just a sequence of people stopping living life to its fullest so the next generation could go on to make the same mistakes?

She reached and grabbed the half burnt out cigarette and put it to her lips. The bitter smoke warmed her throat as she dragged it into her lungs. No doubt the baby would be most annoyed. Its clean incubator getting hazy with tobacco.

Well, he’d have to suck it up. If she was going to sacrifice living her life for it, it would take one puff on a cigarette. It could handle it. It was in its genes after all. Like the music. There was no hope for the baby really, she sighed.

But then again, there never is much hope. But that’s okay.

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Late night editing.

As I edit yet another draft of my novel that has already seen rejection from several agents, I got the urge to share some. It’s by no means the most interesting bit, as if it was you could just read that and never have to buy the book if it eventually gets published. It’s a fairly mundane part.

The novel is currently titled ‘Nothing Happens’ and is a satire of sorts, mocking the ‘Wealthy white man unhappy with his life’ narrative that seems to pop up repeatedly in literature and films as well as pointing out that in most world renowned novels or old classics, nothing happens.  The book follows a self-confessed alcoholic suffering from a sense of nihilism as he recounts his fairly dull and uneventful life and laments the current state of his dull and uneventful life and fears for the future which he assumes will be dull and uneventful.

Anyway, here’s a dull and uneventful extract:

 

 

Work is not much fun at all. ‘Work’s not supposed to be fun, it’s work.’ My dad always used to say (and still does). I don’t think I’ll ever understand work, the concept of it. Not the modern concept anyway. I could understand if it was fishing… farming… other such necessities. When it was providing food and only food. Now it doesn’t make sense. Why am I forced to spend day after day staring at a computer screen for hours on end?

I think all our problems start at school. You’re told from a young age, with a bit of hard work you can be anything you want to be. Whatever you set your heart on you can achieve. That’s just some clever indoctrination to the capitalist system. It’s propaganda of the highest order. They get you when you’re impressionable, get these little ideas to worm their way into the centre of your brain where there’s no chance in hell of dislodging them. If what they say is true, you best hope that some people want to work on the tills in Tescos, otherwise you’ll never get your potatoes. You best hope people really want to be sewage maintenance workers, otherwise everything would be covered in shit.

No, you do whatever you can to get paid. It’s usually monotonous and pointless. It’s usually unfulfilling and soul destroying. But you can’t complain because “you’re lucky to have a job in this current climate.”

I sit looking from my screen to my phone. A desktop phone, one with the curly spirally chord. They still exist. The phone’s not ringing. The computer’s not computering, or if it is it’s not making a big song and dance over it. I don’t really get computers.

‘Moring Rob,’ says Derek as he passes my desk flashing me his large smile. His some sort of executive, wears fancy trousers and shiny shoes. He’s on some ridiculous sum of money. I don’t begrudge other people their success or affluence, but occasionally I like to imagine following him to the open area, where everyone makes their tea and coffee, it’s all rather snazzy. I imagine following him there and maybe throwing scalding tea in his face, before shoving him out the window. That will teach him for having a better job than me.

‘Morning.’ I grumble back. ‘How was your weekend?’ I ask, my cheeks immediately boiling with embarrassment. It is Wednesday.  It was an instinct, it just came out. You can’t ask someone how their weekend was half way through the week. It’s absurd. It’s positively insane. What a fucking idiot I truly am. I don’t look up to his – I don’t doubt – look of abject ridicule. He’d be pulling up his expensive trousers and smiling a self-satisfied smile.

‘Evening sorry, evening I meant evening. How was your evening?’ I ask looking up with a goofy grin on my fuzz covered face. He laughs. It was a good natured laugh, I like it when people laugh. When they genuinely laugh, and I can always tell when it’s not genuine.  You can always pick out a fake laugh. Nervous laughs usually. Nervous, please don’t kill me laughs. Self-conscious ‘accept me!’ laughs.

‘It wasn’t bad at all Rob, very quiet.  Was told to give you this.’ He says, handing me a package. It’s an officious looking brown envelope with my name written on it in black marker pen. It’s not for me, it’s “for the attention of” me. With this in mind I throw it upon the desk onto the pile of other things that are no doubt also for my attention, but have lain neglected for some time now.

‘Thanks Derek, how’s the –

He’s already wandered off. He’s a busy important man, he can’t linger too long at the desks of the not particularly busy unimportant people. People’d start getting ideas. They’d start thinking that, maybe he isn’t that busy after all,  or worse that he isn’t that important.

Actually, I’m fairly busy. Or at the very least I should be. As far as important goes, well that’s very hard to gauge. I don’t really know what it is I do so it can’t be that important, otherwise they’d notice me not doing it. But at the same time, I’m important enough for them to decide the company does need to pay me to not do whatever it is I should be doing. It’s a complicated position to find yourself in and happens completely by accident. One day you have a clear vision as to where you are and where you’re going, the next thing you know everyone’s screaming at you, you’re naked and something’s on fire.

Dave the Crab and the Giant Called Ned

Here is a children’s poem wot I did.

There once was a crab who lived under a rock.

He had a nice sofa and a grandfather clock.

It was big and proud

And ticked ever so loud

And stood atop an ornate marble block.

The crab was called Dave and he was ever so brave,

For he once fought a giant called Ned.

 

Ned was huge and ugly to see,

And refused to let good people be.

A tattered old cap sat atop his big head

And he needed nine mattresses to make up his bed.

He’d growl and he’d roar and with one rumbling snore,

He could shake the whole Earth to its molten rock core.

He wore no shoes for his feet were too big,

And weighed him down when he did his giant’s jig.

But he wore one large and heavy and ever so smelly

Polyester and cotton blend sock.

It may sound silly, or come as a shock,

But the one thing he feared was a grandfather clock.

 

Ned came thundering along the beach one morn,

Swinging his club and blowing a big brass horn.

And anyone he should chance to meet,

Narrowly avoiding being crushed by his feet,

He’d bend over and shout right in their face:

“Get out of my way, make some space!

Get off my beach right now I say.

This is not a place for children to play.

I shall smash any sand castles on my way to the sea,

And anyone that should try to join me, I shall gobble them

Up – I’ll eat them for my tea!”

 

Now Dave worked nights, so was attempting to sleep.

He’d never been in a fight and this record he wanted to keep,

But a rude man eating giant was something he could not abide,

This brutish bully he would not let slide.

So Dave poked his head out from beneath his rock,

He strolled up to Ned’s tattered and horrible sock

And gave his toes one heck of a pinch.

But the giant did not move not even one inch.

Ned scooped up Dave and looked him in the eye

And said “Silly crab, I will make you cry!”

 

He gave a big laugh and he raised his club,

“any last words before I make you blub?”

 “Yes,” said Dave as of his life he took stock,

“Please take good care of my grandfather clock.”

Ned paused and he spluttered, he stammered and stuttered,

He whimpered and shivered until at last he muttered:

“don’t mention them or I’ll knock of your block.”

Dave said “Just listen, you might hear a tick-tock.”

Ned pricked up his ears and listen he did,

And from under the rocks from where it hid

He could hear those doleful tones of the grandfather clock,

He could hear every tick and every tock.

Dave, well he couldn’t believe his luck,

And like a chicken he began to cluck

“Mr. Giant I don’t mean to mock,

But imagine being scared of an old silly clock.”

 

Ned dropped Dave back onto the sand

And covered one ear with one very big hand,

And said “never again will I come to this land!

Get away Mr. Crab, get back under your rock,

Attend to that terrifying grandfather clock.

One second it ticks and another it tocks

It never ends and it never stops

The tolling of hours, oh that nasty chime,

The constant plodding of unending time!

It makes me shiver, it makes me feel cold,

Reminding me that one day I’ll be old!”

 

And with that Ned left never to return,

All the beach goers need fear now

Is a spot of sunburn.

So, when next on the beach,

Give Dave a thought,

Should there be a giant you need to thwart,

Make sure a grandfather clock is in reach.

 

 

There weren’t that nice? My collection of ridiculous and utterly pointless short stories is currently free to download, so if you don’t you’re a fool.

This New World

Below is a thing I started writing this morning. Maybe one day it will become an actual thing, but I have other things I need to make into actual things, I also have work in an hour.

***

In many ways she was deeply unhappy, but she didn’t mind that so much as she guessed most people were pretty unhappy, those that weren’t were probably in denial. It had been fifteen years since the Rift, as people had taken to call it. Scientists referred to it as, a flux in the temporal membrane, but Rift just sounded better.

The world thought it was in a sorry state of affairs before. Right wing politics on the rise, regular terrorist atrocities perpetrated by confused, fascist fanatics, rising sea levels and climbing global temperatures, a flimsy economy and severe over population. Now, well… it’s mostly the same issues just taken up a notch or two.

Emma put on her jacket, an army camouflage affair, dull green and occasional brown. She bought it because it was cheap, not because it helped her blend into the background of the city, which was mostly grey, occasionally beige. Marketing departments would have you believe London was the epicentre of culture, a point from which all modern history was made. A diverse hub celebrating art, science and industry. In reality it was just a tangled mess of apartment complexes and the occasional bridge.

Ortha House was about as cheap as you could get within the city limits. That was probably because it was built as part of an initiative to allow the Others to integrate themselves amongst the human populace, granting them a place to live at low cost whilst they find themselves in this strange new world. Of course, the fact that they were referred to as the Others rendered the whole exercise pointless.

Emma left her flat and strolled down the cluttered corridor. Half full bin bags lay strewn all over the place, strange stains marked the walls and all sorts of noises drifted through the various doors.  Baldus was leaving his flat to start his day too. A dwarf many called them, though those who suffered from dwarfism complained that that was offensive. The dwarves referred to themselves as the Blendring, which to a human was just a noise, especially for the average English human, who thought any other language sounded ridiculous.

‘No axes Baldus,” said Emma, noticing herself how bored she sounded. Baldus clenched a fist and shook his head, his rigid Mohican wobbling a little. A shimmering, double edged battle axe was slung across his muscular back.

‘A blandring without an axe or hammer is no blandring at all!’ he lamented, hiding his face in his meaty hands. His black skin had been marked with red dye, criss-crossing his face in an elaborate and quite frankly ridiculous pattern.

‘No axes, thems the rules,’ said Emma.

‘Rules!’ Baldus spat, ‘what about the rules set down by the Great Sculptor? It is the duty of every Blandring to carry an axe or hammer, ready for war at all times!’

‘You’ll be arrested as soon as you leave the building. Just take a pendant.’

 

Following the Fifteen Minute war, the more reasonable of the

Blandring decided that the Laws of the Great Sculptor were

Very much open to interpretation. Whilst it cannot be denied

That all Blandering are expected to carry an axe or hammer

The scriptures never state how large said axe or hammer

Need be. Therefore, a blandring can still keep to the scriptures

By wearing a pendant sporting a tiny axe or hammer, which

Conveniently relieves it of its status as an offensive weapon. As

for being ready for war, it is said that it is a state of mind all blandring

Should be permanently in, rather than a physical readiness.

–          Blandring and Belief – pg 75 2nd edition.

 

Emma had thought a degree in Rift Cultures and journalism would be a good idea in the current environment. The world was changing, the Others were here to stay and the only way to live with such extreme difference of culture (and in many cases physicality) was to understand said cultures.

As it turned out, it had rendered her almost unemployable. Her ten thousand word thesis on the Fifteen Minute War and its effects had been a waste of time. How she managed to get ten thousand words out of such a brief period was beyond her. Like most conflicts, it could be summed up in a handful bullet points.

–          The Rift happened.

–          The blandring dutifully carried their axes and hammers and were ready for war at all times.

–          The blandring were told by the human government that they could not carry axes and hammers and should probably only be ready for war a few times a year.

–          The blandring decided they would not stand for such oppression and will not be ruled by a blasphemous government and gathered their forces and marched on parliament.

–          In the classic game of rock paper scissors, it is well known that assault rifles always beat axes and hammers.

–          The Blandring uprising was quelled in 14 minutes and 52 seconds. 58 were killed, 34 injured and many arrests were made.

Baldus went inside his flat grumbling audibly. Emma waited for him to return, when he did, a crude stone hammer hung from his neck. In her opinion it was still large enough to be considered a weapon, but decided to let that be decided by the police. There was always a police presence outside Ortha House, just to make sure the locals were integrating properly, and to arrest all those that weren’t.

Emma couldn’t blame them really. The pair exited the lift and passed through the cluttered and half destroyed foyer. She could see the unmarked police cars on the perimeter of the grounds already. Whilst the majority of those that lived in Ortha House were law abiding citizens just trying to make an honest living, some were level three shadow demons from the Realm of Darkness that occasionally consumed human souls, so precautions had to be taken. That and a Blandring who lived on the third floor had taken to selling drugs. It only took one idiot to ruin everything for everyone else.

They made it past the police cars without incident. Baldus lingered longer than necessary, in the hope of provoking a bored looking officer, but thankfully the officer in question didn’t look up from his phone.

‘Little boxes have stolen your souls!’ He grumbled as they moved on. The street lamps were beginning to flick out of life as the sun rose beyond the grey blanket of cloud. The factory wasn’t too far away. After months of unemployment Emma had secured an admin role at a meat packing company that prided itself in providing opportunities to ‘the Others’, almost 80% of their staff was made up of Rifters.

‘With your degree, you’ll be able to keep the rabble in line,’ the overseer had told her at her interview.

‘As long as you pay them, they’ll keep themselves in line. Most aren’t that different from us you know?’ she replied. The overseer nodded, grinning a broad and self-satisfied smile.

‘Oh yes, except none of them are unionised and have no concept of minimum wage. The ogres… they only need to sleep every four days and the little tasks we give them keep their simple minds occupied.’

‘So, you’re treating them like slaves?’

‘You could say that, but…’

‘But what?’

‘Oh nothing, just a figure of speech.’

 

Just Went Out For Coffee.

The below is a true story, albeit embellished in places. I decided to document my mundane adventures as if it were lofty prose, because there are many hours in the day that need to be filled somehow.

***

It was a cold day. Not too cold, but cold enough to make people say “ooh, that’s a bit cold.” Our story starts a few weeks after our hero lost his job for using company software to instigate an office wide rap battle. The official reason was “gross misconduct” which he reasoned was the same as normal misconduct, except done naked. He made the same joke at his disciplinary hearing. No one laughed, glances were exchanged. He still maintained the whole thing was a team building exercise, they countered that it was simply him avoiding doing any meaningful work.

Our hero – who for the sake of argument we will call Jasper – once again found himself endlessly applying for jobs. Any job would do. It is often said that the key to success is perseverance. Plugging away endlessly will eventually lead you to your goals. It is also said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If both these statements are true, then logically, the key to success is insanity, which is all very well, but hardly sustainable.

Jasper hit the submit button for an application to Which? Magazine. A strange organization. They seemed to be an authority on just about anything. “Best washing up liquid as voted by Which? Magazine.” “Best estate agents as voted by Which? Magazine.” “Best internet provider as voted by Which? Magazine.” Jasper doubted their credentials; no one could claim specialist knowledge on such an eclectic mix of products.

Enough was enough. His eyes hurt and he had not blinked for a good few hours. The blue light leaking from his computer screen was slowly frying his retinas and melting his brain. There was only so many times he could lie about why he wanted to work for various companies. No one wanted to work for the 60 plus years until they were decrepit or dead, it all came down to financial necessity. It was time for a coffee. He stood up and donned his bobbleless hat. It did once have a bobble, but he forcibly removed it. No one over the age of 9 should have a bobble about their person. It looked odd and served no purpose. The only logical purpose he could see would be if a bird were to perch atop his head, which he would not appreciate. He thought the hat gave him a working-class look. However, in truth it made him look like an exceptionally middleclass person attempting to look working-class.

He found his jacket and slipped on his loafers, life was too short to be fannying about with laces every time he left the flat.   He lived in the centre of a vibrant, modern town. Some might say it had fallen victim to gentrification, meaning that it was wall to wall coffee shops and estate agents and the occasional estate agents with a coffee shop inside. Jasper often wondered why the coffee growing nations of the world didn’t rise up and use their ample stock of roasted coffee beans to become a global superpower. By holding coffee hostage they could easily bring western civilisation to its knees.

He patted himself down. Phone… Wallet… all good. He passed through his three doors, down a flight of steps and out into the world. He entered his popular coffee chain of choice and joined the queue. Already he could feel the ever present rage begin to bubble up from his stomach into his chest. The queue was not long, but there was only one person serving and the man at the front was clearly doing an office run, an unnecessarily expensive and needlessly complex daily exercise.

“No, that’s 3 flat whites, one decaf soy latte and four cappuccinos, chocolate on two, no chocolate on one, and chocolate on exactly half of the last.” The man rudely bellowed out his order to the poor flustered girl, whom Jasper recognised as the one that would refuse to meet his eye ever since she forgot to lock the toilet door and he entered to see her sat mid shit. Frustratingly, it was the closest Jasper had come to an erotic experience for a long time. His penis was purely a decorative appendage these days.

“So two flat whites?” She asked smeared in coffee grinds.

“No three flat whites!” The man retorted.

Jasper had no idea what a flat white was, he only knew he hated them just as he hated the man ordering them. He wished it wasn’t illegal to beat him to death with a chair leg, or melt him in a vat of boiling flat whites.

“Here’s the decaf soy latte,” said the girl popping a paper cup into a cardboard holder.

“Is it super decaf?” Asked the man critically.

“Erm… no,” said the carefree shitter.

“It needs to be super decaf. If Wendy even has so much as a whiff of caffeine she immediately dies!” the man exclaimed sending the girl back to the whirring spluttering machine.

Two hours later Jasper left with his coffee, angrier than he had ever been in his life. It was at that moment his brain decided to remind him of the third step to the leaving the flat dance. It doesn’t stop after wallet. It goes Phone… Wallet… Keys. He had left out what was perhaps the most important step. He frantically started patting down his pockets with his one free hand. Modern clothes are made with what he viewed as an unnecessary number of pockets, so this took him some time his anger growing all the while.

He had no keys.

His flat mate, who was possessed with more self-control than him, was still employed. Although that may have something to do with the fact that she had a made up job title and a good day’s work consisted of saying the words “E-learning environment” over and over again. However, at work she was and her work was in the next town over.

At times like these, Jasper found him awash with inconsolable anger. He would froth at the mouth and hurl out expletives by the dozen. He would be angry with himself first and foremost, for forgetting his keys. He would be angry with humanity as a whole, for being so shit that the concept of a lock and key need be invented, lest people come into other people’s houses to murder them and/or steal their shit. Thirdly, he be angry with his parents. His existence, and subsequently his current predicament was all their fault.

Taking a deep breath he reasoned he could just go to the estate agents. They would have spare keys and if he explained the situation in a calm manner, they would get him back in.

He pressed the buzzer to the estate agents. After a lengthy pause a voice rasped through the speaker.

“Yes?”

“I’m Jasper!” he declared his coffee having amplified his rage to untold levels. It took him sometime to see through the red fog to realise that announcing his name would not be enough.

“From 7B!” he said, “I did the pat down dance wrong.” He said.

“Locked out?” said the estate agent.

“That I am. Have you spare keys?”

The door was buzzed open and he entered the run down little office building. In a small room were his agents in a cluttered, open plan office. A man who looked very estate agenty, with smart black hair slicked back and a shirt and tie approached him. Jasper did not think himself a judgemental man, but if pressed he would have to describe the man before him as a bellend.

“7b you say? Let me have a look, we have spare keys.” He said before disappearing. Jasper stood glaring around at the wretched scum and tosspots about him, feeling very exposed. He felt that if he lingered too long he might catch a serious case of arsehattery. The agent returned with a smug look of accomplishment on his face. He handed Jasper a pair of keys. Jasper regarded them with an unimpressed look.

“There are only two keys.” He said.

“Yes!” The man said, chest swelling with pride.

“There are three doors to the property.” Jasper explained. The man regarded him with a dubious look, tinted with a healthy dollop of suspicion.

“Well… that’s all we have.” He said. Jasper frowned wondering just what sort of moron he was dealing with. At a loss for words he retreated from the office and headed back to his flat. Needless to say neither key worked on the outside door. However, quick thinking as ever he formulated a plan. He had forged an alliance with those who worked in the milkshake shop, who also had access to that very door.

“Good afternoon. I am locked out, could you please let me through the front door,” he said entering the milkshake shop, one of many that had burst into existence in recent years. He had no idea how they stayed in business, as he had never heard of anyone express an interest in an Oreo flavoured milkshake, let alone think to buy one at one in the afternoon on a winters day.

“We can’t let anyone upstairs for insurance reasons.” Said the girl in a state of panic. Jasper frowned. The girl was young, a little plump and dim looking. He was confused, as he had not mentioned stairs, he had certainly not said anything that would be in breach of insurance policies.

“No… I need you to open the door for me.” He said as softly as he could, the girl, like a startled elk looked ready to bolt at any minute.

“What door?” she asked.

“The front one. The black one. Has a large 7 on it.” He explained taking care to use one syllable words.

After some time, the girl opened the door for him. He was home at last. He thought.

Only to find neither of the two keys the estate agent had proudly bestowed upon him worked in the second door either. Just what he held the keys too was beyond him. Perhaps they were the keys to someone’s heart. He hoped they were the keys to the estate agent’s heart, so he could return repeatedly and jab them deep into his ribs.

It seemed… he had to get the bus to the next town over.

***

The bus driver looked like an older, slightly fatter Harry Potter, who having been kicked out of the wizarding world had resigned himself to driving a bus. As per usual, getting the bus during the day was like being in Dawn of the Dead. Hordes of shuffling old people dragging their ridiculous wheely bags clogged up the busses, huffing and puffing at the audaciousness of the young, daring to sit down. Each one seemed to enjoy a lengthy conversation with Harry Potter about nothing. Jasper asked for a return to the next town.

He did not hear the price, but simply handed over a fiver, the face of the queen giving him a mocking look. The driver took the note and stared at him expectantly. Jasper looked around wondering if Harry had finally snapped, or whether he had had a stroke.

“£5.50.” said Harry. The rage was rising once again. Five pounds and fifty pence, for one bus journey. For the third time Jasper enjoyed the idea of murdering someone.

He handed over another fifty pence and off they went.

It was at that point that Jasper realised just how talented the bus driver was. He was driving the bus, whilst reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich. Jasper would struggle to do any one of those things on their own. Just how much attention was being paid to the road was another question entirely, but it was impressive nonetheless. If they were to crash and die, Jasper knew his grave stone would read “it was an article on Brexit.”

It took over an hour to get there, collect his flatmate’s keys and then return. At which point he decided that the day was a right off and drank himself into a stupor. The next morning he received an angry call from the estate agent demanding he return the spare keys as soon as possible as they were their only spares and would not be able to access the property in case of an emergency. Jasper did his best to explain that there was only two keys for three doors, and those two keys did not work anyway, so even if they did have them they would not be able to enter the flat in an emergency. He also did his best to explain that any ‘emergency’ would probably require people to leave the flat not get in. He asked under what circumstances they would need access to the flat. There the phone call ended.

Two days later he received a letter saying the landlord had to get extra keys cut and he would be charged for this.

Jasper checked his emails for responses to job applications. He found one from Red Strip estate agents saying that he did not seem qualified to be an estate agent. He closed his laptop and went to get a coffee.

 

 

The Start of Something Mediocre

Two choices exist for someone with greater knowledge than most. One: use such knowledge for the betterment of mankind, or two: use such knowledge for the betterment of a man[1]. Samantha Gardner knew of other worlds, she had visited some and read brochures on others. Due to a drunk driving incident, a Darubian pilot crashed his spacecraft into her bedroom. Fortunately, Darubian’s are four inches tall and the only damage done was a broken window and a wireless radio. However, that one event opened Samantha’s eyes to the real world, or rather universe. In exchange for not going to the police the drunk Darubian offered Samantha knowledge and technological wonders that other humans could only dream of.

Considering Samantha was working as an estate agent at the time, she decided it was in her best interest not to go to the police to report an interplanetary incident of drunk driving. Three days later, as promised a ship arrived in her driveway complete with camouflage. To the casual observer it resembled a car[2]. From that point on, she dedicated her life to the acquiring of knowledge and the study of the known universe. This swiftly became boring so she instead set up her own detective agency.

Of course she had tried. She visited great powerful civilisations to find the secret to a lasting global peace. Unfortunately, the answer went against every pacifistic notion ever conceived. As it turned out the only way to achieve a lasting peace was to flock to likeminded people and instigate a long and bloody war with other groups of likeminded people, until there was only one group left. Once everyone else was dead, peace and harmony could reign. As it was some of Samantha’s best friends were earthlings so the idea of dealing out death and destruction was unappealing to her.

She didn’t want to give up on diplomacy, alas a sympathetic Nyoiman of the Selabon system told her.

“All civilisations develop diplomatic institutions as a means to delay. As they talk about peace and trade deals they’re really just waiting until they’re sure their arsenal is up to the task of annihilating their enemies. In diplomacy, people can lie, they can twist words to mean whatever they want them to mean, some people are adept at using hundreds of words to say nothing. They can hide their weaknesses with their words, shield themselves from the strong with treaties and agreements. When your enemies are burnt to ashes, nothing needs to be said.”

So humanity had that to look forward to.

In the meantime, Samantha had to earn a living somehow.

***

 

 

[1] Or Woman as it is in this case.

[2] A blue one, 2016 plate.

Extract From a Thing

I have literally nothing to write, but it’s been a while since I wrote a post. So I’ll use this as a moment to share some of my other writings.

For a bit of fun I’ve been writing a blend of fantasy and science-fantasy (as in Game of Thrones, mixed with spaceships n shit). Ordinarily, I try and write interesting social critiques, or profound novels involving complex characters – but they’re not very good so I gave this a try.

****

Cutter ducked under his doorway, thick fingers fumbling in a leather pouch at his Tinuch Weed. The night air was fresh, damp even, but the star dotted sky clear. A half-moon hung in the centre of it all, making a commendable effort to keep the world lit. Cutter nodded his head in respect to Ardvurn, sitting up there in his cold marble prison.

A few grullets were hopping in and out of the muddy puddles, their stumpy little legs caked in brown ooze. Strange little creatures, would almost resemble children, were it not for their squashed, angry little faces and five little horns. That and they were incredibly stupid.

Cutter squashed a pinch of Tinuch into his pipe and began to dampen it.   The torch light about his door flickered, setting shadows dancing across the floor as he scooped over his kindling box. He pulled out a serviceable twig and put it to the torch. Once it was ablaze he set about lighting his pipe. He liked the ritual of readying the pipe for a smoke more than the smoking itself. Though he did enjoy that to some degree. It left a tangy taste in his mouth and relaxed his muscles. The ache in his back seemed to mellow after one or two puffs.

Two of the grullets started to fight noisily in the sodden grass, growling and spitting at one another. The others hopped about excitedly, yelping their support. Pursing his rough lips through his tangled black beard, Cutter let out a thin trail of yellowed smoke. He watched it rise into the air, twisting and spiralling towards the trees of the great forest. Aside from the squabbling grullets, there was a pleasant tranquillity to the evening, foretelling of a quiet night. Cutter could already hear the rumbling snores of Big Dog, in the hut by the fire. The smoke was taken by the wind and was no more. Cutter put the stem of his pipe back to his lips, eying the multitude of stars that winked at him.

Strange though.

He eyed one star, feeling his bushy eyebrows descend of their own accord. Perhaps he used a touch more Tinuch weed than he thought. After all, with his big hands most things looked smaller than they were. Yet… yes, it was. One star was getting bigger. Or was it getting closer?

Cutter, felt what he assumed to be unease creep over him. Having spent the majority of his life living by the Great Wood – The Hungry Forest as some called it – his ability to be uneased had been dampened over time. He searched his hazy memory for a story. A story that told of a falling star. He was sure there must be one, it sounded like the sort of thing that would be in one of the stories. Like a sign… a sign for something… probably not good.

The star was falling. It was plummeting, and as it plummeted it made an awful noise, like a cackle. Like the cackle of a Hag. It was engulfed in flame, or perhaps it was flame. Flame was not good for trees, that Cutter knew, and it was headed right for them. He managed to tear his gaze away long enough to glance at the village at the foot of the hill. It was mostly obscured by darkness, but he could see a few dots of fireplaces peeking through windows, or the occasional wavering torch.

In this time the star smashed into the forest.

He felt the ground shake.

The Hungry Forest had swallowed a star.

Cutter turned about and moved back towards his hut, remembering to tap the ash from his pipe. He placed it on the wooden mantelpiece by the hearth, where he always kept it and snatched up his best axe from the corner. He nudged Big Dog with his booted foot.

The slender grey creature looked up at up at him with an unimpressed expression.

‘Gerrup y’lazy lump. Time t’go t’work.’ Cutter grunted. The dog let out what sounded like a sigh. Cutter wasn’t sure what the purpose of a sigh was when a people did it, let alone the creature before him.

He was more tall than ‘big’ thin coat of fur and a savage looking face streaked with wisps of white. When he moved, Cutter could see the angled shoulder bones protruding from his back. When stood on his hind legs, Big Dog was as tall as any grown man. Cutter shouldered his axe and headed outside. The Grullets had given up their game, startled by the noise. Fortunately, it seemed the damp was working in the trees’ favour.

‘C’mon then.’ Cutter growled before heading into the trees.

 

***

 

It was suicide, of course it was, it had been from the start.

Any military vessel would have been picked up as far back as ninety clicks and treated as hostile. When the Skuriak treat something as hostile, they become incredibly hostile in return. A military vessel had always been out of the question. Azul cursed the Collective, and the Splintered Alliance more so. Idealists, if there’s one thing idealists lacked it was money, equipment and above all else, a logical – well thought out plan.

The pod shuddered a little, he guessed the gravitational pull of the planet was becoming all the more powerful. He had his doubts as to whether the stealth Infiltrator Mk3.2 could resist any amount of gravity anyway. He had laughed when he saw the little white egg, laughed even harder when the General (a ceremonial title if there ever was one) informed him that that was the chosen ship to get them to the ‘uncivilised’ planet. He stopped laughing when he was the one to be flying it.

‘I never really got very far with flying lessons… civilian flying lessons that is.’ He had protested.

‘We’ll send you on your way, just point the front at the planet. It’s a big planet, be difficult to miss it. It’s the one with all the Skuriak vessels around it.’ The General had laughed.

And here he was, edging towards certain death.

“Cloaking is still in its infancy.” He had been told. “Theoretically, bending light around an object would prevent it from reflecting it.”

“Rendering it invisible… however you can’t bend the light around our eyes, as then we’d be blind.” Azul had interrupted.

Precisely. What we have done however, is place a number of cameras around the vessel, which takes an image of the surrounding area (or perhaps more apt in the case of space travel – things very far in the distance).”

“And projects it around the hull, making it difficult to spot with the naked eye.”

Azul hated that woman, she spoke to him as though he was an idiot. Which was something he definitely was not. He was not a soldier, he was not a strong man, nor a particularly agile one. He was smart though, which made him wonder just how he had gotten himself into such a predicament.

“You could get a good job in the ministry Azul, job offers from Lytel… even the academy, yet you keep talking about the Shards.” His mother had said.

“The Splintered Alliance,” he had corrected her.

“Lobby with the Ministry if you care so much.”

“The Ministry won’t do anything, this is the very thing the Collective was set up to prevent, yet they’re just sitting there letting it happen.”

“So you, little Azul, are going to go and save this planet?”

“I have to try!”

“A planet filled with people that no doubt think their world is flat, and when it rains it’s the angels weeping?”

“From what I’ve researched none of their current cultures think that.”

It seemed a rather moot point now. Azul was beginning to think his mother had a point. He may have sold out his morals by staying and working at Lytel, the Qual’karian System’s most prestigious academy of all things science, but at least a fiery death wouldn’t be particularly likely – even in the most extreme failures there hadn’t resulted in explosions for a long time.

The illegal blockade of Skuriak ships was getting larger and larger. Well it wasn’t, it was all a matter of perspective, but perspective aside, they were big ships. It was difficult to tell with the Skuriak which ships were military class and which ones weren’t. It was often joked that even a Skuriak Leisure Cruiser would be loaded with Class A cannons and enough missiles to take out a small planet. The joke being the notion of a leisure cruiser even entering the mind of a Skuriak.

Entering range of sensors, suggest terminating engines and all nonessential mechanisms. Said the pod.

Here we go. Azul hoped to the gods his civilisation had long stopped believing in that the cloaking device was a good one. He killed the engines. As it was, there was no sudden loss of speed, in the vacuum of space there was very little to slow him down. He half toyed with the idea of shutting off life support, allowing himself to slowly suffocate, eventually he’d pass out and be none-the-wiser.

There was an awful silence as he stared at the blue planet, blue dotted with green. It was much like a number of other’s that existed in the ‘habitable zones’, there was very little to suggest it held anything that couldn’t be mined from the billions of asteroids, dead planets or ‘grade 3’ life bearing planets. From this position, the sphere of rock and water almost blotted out the sun, save for an arching lip of potent orange light. The star wasn’t remarkable. Azul had studied bigger in his school days when he was barely more than a seedling.

Agonising minutes passed before anything worthy of note happened. Azul almost cried as he past under the hulking mass of grey metal that was a Skuriak frigate… or was it a mining vessel? He was very much aware of the multitude of swivelling pulse and flak cannons that could vaporise him in an instant. For the time being, the cloak seemed to be doing its job.

We will be entering the atmosphere in approximately eight point three minutes. Said the pod. Azul hated it already. It was Chellik in design. The Chelliks were childish creatures, obsessed with giving all their tech a voice of its own. ‘we this,’ and ‘we that’ Azul preferred his machines not to talk with him, he certainly didn’t want it to befriend him. Made it all the harder when it inevitably became outdated… for the Chelliks anyway. He had seen chelliks floating about the cosmos in vessels older than some people he knew, simply because the owners couldn’t bear to let go of their precious AI.

Azul was dragged forcefully out of his self-defensive reverie by two one man fighters whooshing past his screen, no doubt on patrol. There were so many! Why so many? Just one undeveloped little planet of whose people were barely out of the iron age… some cultures were still very much in it! Though, come to think of it in the more remote regions some were still in the Stone Age and insisted on eating the eyes of their fallen enemies to give themselves the ‘foresight’.

Was it possible that the Darubians were ever like that?

They couldn’t have been born space-faring and the renown for their terraforming capabilities.

We will be entering the atmosphere in approximately four point five minutes. Please ensure you’re safety belts are secured.

“When we’re on fire plummeting towards a mountain, I very much doubt a few safety belts are going to do much good.” Snapped Azul.

Logically speaking, it will always be more beneficial than not having them secured.

“What if the ship is about to explode? Wouldn’t being flung through the front screen away from the blast increase the likely hood of survival?”

Negative, as you well know the front screen is made from top of the range polymers, hardened to deflect projectiles and treated to with stand extremes of temperature. If you are flung towards it, you will certainly die from blunt force trauma.

“I was being facetious.”

I do not know what that is.

“Of course you don’t.”

Should I do a network search for clarity?

“No.”

We will be entering the atmosphere –

“No doubt very soon. Now shut up!”

I do not know how long Very Soon is, should I do a network –

“Mute AI!”

The monotone voice died upon command. Azul wished those back at the university had such a function. The pod began to rock and shudder as – as the AI had adequately predicted – he nudged his way into the atmosphere. The front screen dimmed to combat the sudden brightness as the hull began to burn red hot. His vision shook as his head was rocketed from side to side. There was such a roar of energy that he almost didn’t hear the ominous warning that sparked through is communications system.

“Chillek craft! You have been found in violation of Skuriak stella space. This is an act of aggression that will not be tolerated! We see through your cowardly cloak.” There was a slight delay as the instant-translator mixed up the words. Though, Azul prided himself on being particularly good with languages. He couldn’t speak Skuriak particularly well as his vocal chords were not adapted for such a language, but he could understand it well enough. Chillek he could speak fluently, along with a couple of Tylanthian dialects, though there were so many and they were so filled with pompous pride that they saw their refusal of a collective language as a good thing.

“You are in violation of Planetary Interference law three-point-nine!” Azul screamed.

“We are merely observing, there is no law against that.”

“With an entire fleet?”

“Hah, this is no fleet. A Skuriak fleet would span a solar system!

Azul would have very much liked to have doubted that claim. First of all, solar systems tended to vary in size. However, true to form it seemed the Skuriak had grown bored of conversation. The words Missile Lock. Flashed on his screen. At such a range Azul didn’t even bother reaching for the controls, he was not a great pilot by any definition. Firing a missile when already travelling through the atmosphere of an underdeveloped planet was a dangerous move, even for the Skuriak. Azul wondered what it was they were trying to achieve, and was bitterly disappointed that he was going to die before he found out. He directed all available power to his aft shields.

The missile struck. He thought his fragile spine was going to snap as he lurched forwards. A red Warning light filled the cockpit. Sparks flew dramatically and he began to spin out of control towards certain death.