November Short Story: Stratosphere

This story was first serialized in 30 daily parts during November 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on my Patreon: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.

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Stratosphere

November 1st:

I woke as the 8am Shuttle docked: that most imperceptible of nudges to the station’s superstructure is always enough. My first thought is always of you, as is the last one before sleeping. You are the constant, implacable reminder that a life exists after war ends. Checking Field Reports, there is reassurance: not much has changed since I slept. A constant wish remains, to know more than the NewsNets allow, their sanitized version of truth. War’s reality is not lost on a doctor whose task it is to tend to the wounded who return from it.

Except there are no patients. The last transport carrying casualties arrived a month ago, and was virtually empty. I am employed at present as a record keeper, an organizer of other people’s equipment, to run and exercise at the pleasure of the United Nations Task Force. I am alone. The news is scant, and heavily redacted, for reasons I understand yet still despise. The aggressors maintain their hold on our planet, nothing more than symbolic dust and ash. Occasional flashpoints take place above its orbit, in the System. Right now, it is calm between storms.

I’ve been watching the holograms we made before you left, remembering back to those last weeks when we both knew what was coming, but didn’t care. All that mattered was the moments, our intimacy, and the spaces in-between filled with laughter, constant companionship. I miss you. Staring across the stratosphere, I can’t grasp only a year has passed since your carrier was deployed. Time does strange things to perception; alters sensation, re-arranges priorities. I miss sand between my toes, surf and salt as distractions, your warmth beside me each morning.

If my scheduled screen time is cancelled again today… I won’t lie, there will be concern. The longest we have been without communication has been seven rotations. Today would make it eight. There is no point in worrying however, my work must continue, because we must be prepared.


November 1st:

It is hard to believe it has been a year since I learnt. No time at all has passed, only yesterday that hope and belief were real. A steady stream of casualties shows no sign of dimming: I can but hope it will not be long before our masters accept, we are defeated. These injuries are damning; undisputable taint of chemical weaponry. The enemy had dispensed with any pretence of civility or care. Our science teams work flat-out, attempting to ascertain what the agent is, so we can more effectively treat its effects. This is truly disturbing.

Being high enough up the chain of command to be considered important, I am already hearing word of imminent surrender. Planets in the system are now being evacuated. If true, our location will soon be considered the notional front line: it will be time to leave, never to return. For us to be woken so early this morning, an alert is not a surprise: scouts have been spotted on our long range scanners. If they are bold enough to approach even when terms are being negotiated, it is fair to assume nobody is safe. Sirens pierce the early dawn, and we scramble.

To hear that you’d been found, prisoner of war amongst this chaos, makes everything so much more frightening: there is no time to check the validity of these reports, only to make sure patients are evacuated. As we board the last transport out, fighters blink into the atmosphere. The station is engulfed by green flames, a chemical compound that begins to disintegrate our structure before the ship is able to reach the hyper-portal: as an unarmed medical vessel there is real belief we too will be fired on… but it doesn’t happen. The fighters show no interest.

In the safety of the hyperlane I can digest more details: you will be sent back with others, only if we leave this system for good. There is no timescale placed on repatriation, only that it will happen when our enemy considers taint cleansed from within. Their words frighten me.


November 1st:

I sit, looking out over a new planet, new home, and the past seems reassuringly that: no longer a worry, stress from another time. You are outside, still walking with the stick, but your prognosis is excellent. It is wounds that doctors cannot see that concern more. You are not the same person who left me, all those years ago. The spark within you has been extinguished, removed by incarceration. There are moments when that joy still exists, but they are brief, tempered by horrors I can only imagine that you lived through. I miss your smile.

War has not been kind to anyone. The scale of loss is only beginning to become apparent: seemingly healthy individuals manifesting chemical weapon’s taint, unexpected birth defects, mental health issues that may take decades to effectively address. Our society is disintegrating. In the end, to have you here is all that really matters. We must find a way, as was always the case before, and our love will sustain. There must be a belief that life will improve, or else what is the point of being here at all? Together, we will endure. Together we will evolve.

Our child, growing inside me will make sure of that: something good from the chaos, a means by which our world will rebuild, endure. All who are capable have been asked to reproduce, such is the scale of this loss. To survive as a race, we must now rely on life’s building blocks. Our daughter is already bringing joy, possibilities to a future that will be tough for us all. She is genetically protected from the scourge that killed so many of our kind, so if our enemies should choose to return they will find us already prepared. May it never come to this.

Whatever this future may bring, we will face it as a family, with love and care before hatred. My new posting, our home in the stratosphere of this planet is already secured, where medicine again will become my task, and our passion. Together, a new and better existence awaits.


November 1st.

Both died as they lived, with passion and voracity. To do so together, defending this planet, seems only right and proper. To triumph and simultaneously liberate us from the yoke of oppression seems doubly appropriate: except part of me is disappointed it happened. You might think as their daughter I’d feel more than simply a frustration at this turn of events, but their generation didn’t ask the right questions, just assumed superiority before destroying another race’s sacred place in the name of progress: subjugation was fair penance.

Too often our ancestors refused to learn, arrogantly assumed their expansion bettered any other race’s rights to their homes, or to maintain their own existences without interference. My parents cared, but only to a point: accepting destruction on their terms, which I refuse to. Reading my mothers’ journals, it is apparent all that mattered was their relationship, a love that blinded both to damage wrought by their superiors. Yes, these feelings were valid, important in individual context. In the wider scope of history, they were selfish and destructive.

We were left a legacy that might have been untenable, were it not for the forgiveness of what once was our enemy. They have taught lessons our own kind forgot, assumed were worthless and weak. They demonstrate even in dominance, there can be understanding. Aliens comprehend us. The land we took and destroyed has returned to its natural state: that we thought was uninhabitable is literally teeming with life again. The toxins that killed us are building blocks for a far more complex form of symbiotic growth that extends life, far beyond its normal bounds.

Unintentionally I have become a hybrid, as have millions of others across three systems. The race which our superiors set to eradicate is now inextricably linked to our own survival, and the time is coming where those who only see an Enemy will themselves become what they fear. Standing here as ambassador, with insectoid brethren, we both understand the value of grasping a wider context.

This new station, looking down into the stratosphere of their redeemed planet, is built as testament to a future where all life, however it presents, is sacred.


One Better Day

Today, I’m presenting something special as part of Time to Talk Day.

Twenty pieces of audio were recorded, all of which have been linked to the image above to create an audio representation of my mental health journey. You can find all of these on a special page created especially for the day:

Click Here to access the Poetry

It’s been a fascinating experience recording this work, and has made me think I should be doing this again not just with audio, but video too. Starting next week, therefore, I’ll be picking the best of my own work that’s not gone off to a contest or a submission to use as the next stage of my Virtual Chapbook. I hope you enjoy all the pieces and would love to hear any feedback you have on the works themselves.

Don’t forget that you can still order these poems by clicking here.

A Whole New World

I’m behind on archiving the Short Stories right now, but by the end of February, they’ll all be there for you to read. This year, we’re doing something a little different and, if its successful, it’ll be the norm going forward. You see, in 2021, 12 stories come together to form a thematically-connected narrative…

January’s Story sets the scene (and I won’t give it away for you if you’ve not read it, there’ll be a dedicated page for this whole thing appearing over the weekend) and now, we’ll be using Twitter’s Poll facility to gather some important information to help me write April’s story. In March, we’ll return to the protagonist from January’s tale… who’ll we be following with some interest throughout the rest of 2021…

What these either/or answers will do is effectively dictate the action at crucial points in the narrative. I did a two pronged Choose Your Own Adventure using the Polls last year that worked very well: the links to that are Here for Version One and Here for Version Two but, as I discovered, this was a tough ask to manage and plan. Instead, this time around we’re using Polls in a slightly more flexible fashion.

I’ve found that thematically linking stuff together is making for a far easier time of things everywhere, and this allows me more time to experiment with other forms of writing and creation. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey we’ll be going on this year and who knows, there might be more than just words as an accompaniment this time… perhaps other forms may emerge as entertainment in the world of UltraReality…

Nature Boy

If you don’t follow me as a Patron on Patreon (very easy, sign up now) you won’t know that right now, I’m in the middle of the first of four projects for 2021. That means that this week (and quite possibly for a significant portion of the weekend) I’m putting down the first draft of a 60 verse poetry narrative. The longest I’ve managed successfully thus far was 40, and that seemed to go down incredibly well. So, it’s time to put my creative skills to the test.

It’s also become something of an exercise in reassessment in the last couple of days: everything was beautifully planned and sensibly telegraphed, but when I sat down to write the characters had other ideas, and as a result we are in the land of unexpected diversion from the planned narrative. I take this as a good sign, that this means there’s enough depth to the story to allow me to let these voices point the direction to take and me to follow. There’s also some poems already that I am insanely proud of…

This also gives me the opportunity to look at what’s been previously produced in the last six months as a benchmark, and it’s apparent that this style is a definite evolution down the road from where I began. Finding my poetic ‘voice’ has been hugely complex during a pandemic, but undoubtedly this is evolution over the last twelve months. The next task is to see if any of that previous work can now be effectively recycled for other submissions, and I’m pretty sure at least one ‘collection’ can be resubmitted elsewhere.

These are exciting times I find myself within, and enthusiasm and energy with which to write, which has not existed for some time. A lot of that can be put down to being physically more active too, and the morning run I had today has undoubtedly made everything else that much easier to attain… let’s hope this is momentum on both fronts that can be sustained, and then capitalised upon.

How Will I Know?

Those of you following me on the Socials will be aware I’m doing a bit more exercise than has previously been the case. This began with a post-Christmas burst which made me realise that the only thing holding me back from real, tangible progress is myself. It is very easy to let good habits slip when all you want to do is wear PJ’s and eat chocolate, but the older I get the harder it has become to maintain the consistency I crave. Therefore, it is time to adapt.

There’s still a bar of chocolate wound into my workouts. The occasional treat is perfectly admissible. This isn’t about only drinking protein shakes and boring people senseless with the power of positive thinking. It is knowing that, at some point, you just need to shut the fuck up and do the work. That’s the case for the writing too: November’s NaNo went out to people to read and this is, without doubt, the most positive feedback I’ve ever received. Even the dislikes are positive.

Therefore, it was time to do something with it.

It’s been entered for a contest I doubt we’ll make traction in, but for the first time a 10k submission actually looked like a story I’d like to read, not just something with a niche interest window. I’ve also been given some brilliant late-plot feedback that means there’ll be stuff added once the current poetry project’s past first draft and needs to have a rest. I’d not expected that to do what it has to my brain either, and so we’ll be working on that for a bit longer than anticipated, but no worries. Exercise is helping me think on the go.

I don’t expect any of this to be successful, so if it happens I will be beyond surprised. However, what this does do is allow me the opportunity to believe that this is the right path to be treading, and that the decisions that are being made, make sense. It’s as much about self-confidence as it will ever be about success. In the end, there has to be a method of self-propulsion that doesn’t require other people as fuel. It transpires words can move you forward.

Who knew?

Ruby Tuesday

Hang on, how did it get to be Thursday again so fast? There’s been a lot on this week, it must be said, and I have a ton of important stuff to knock off at the weekend. Most importantly, VIDEO IS BACK and we’ll start knocking off some more poems for the Virtual Chapbook next week. Add to all of this that I’m recording poetry for Time to Talk Day, which is not that far away now… but this post is not about the future, but THE PRESENT.

I’ve made a daily return to Ko-Fi this week, with some measure of success.

This stuff used to happen on Instagram, but as was discussed on Tuesday, we don’t do Facebook-sponsored content here any more. Instead, Ko-Fi’s a lovely sweet place where I get to call all the shots, and it’s nothing at all to do with anything except content on my terms. Therefore, we’ll Haiku there for a couple of weeks and maybe introduce something else as time goes on. I know various other people use this for short stories, so it becomes a pseudo-subscription model…

Also, there is currently quite a lot of mucking about with Spotify. Anyone who has been paying proper attention in the last couple of years should have more than a proper grasp of the significance of music in my life. Let’s be honest, it underpins just about everything I am. The playlist above for the 2020 NaNoWriMo got a facelift today (because we have a new book cover) and, rather amazingly, the 2021 Novel’s already got a soundtrack being added to…

Things are looking pretty productive, and long may it continue.

Things We Lost in the Fire

Yes, I’m still here 😀

There is, unsurprisingly, a PHENOMENAL amount to catch up on. For those of you who don’t read the front page, husband and son were diagnosed as Covid positive at the start of December. Both were phenomenally careful and did everything they should have done when outside, but with a son in his early 20’s at college and a husband making regular trips into London on business, it shouldn’t really be a surprise they came into contact with infection. As of right now I’ve been tested twice, and been negative both times. It still could happen, and we weren’t taking any chances… and now that possibility is significantly reduced.

Over Christmas the original domain linked with this site before IoW came into being has lapsed, and as a result a large portion of old links require an update. It’s on the To Do list with a lot of cleaning up, which will happen quietly and without fuss in the next few weeks. The missing short stories will also be added, plus a number of other things retired and removed with the minimum of fuss. In their place, I’ll be highlighting content that’s been produced elsewhere, placing a greater focus on my exercise and mental health issues, and how the two are now pretty much inextricably linked.

I’m looking forward to the new direction we’ll take as a result.

A lot of my working process has altered during the break, with a far greater emphasis on Patreon as the way forward. It seems the right moment to start taking this stuff seriously, and with the very real possibility we’ll be in lockdown in the UK until March? I suddenly have a lot more free time than was previously anticipated. There’s some experimental things on the table, and I’m already playing about with ideas, which you’ll see being developed as time goes on.

There’s also the return of the Short Story to Twitter, plus going forward I’ll be working on photography and poetry mini-projects on this platform. Right now however my attention’s focussed on hitting some January submission deadlines and preparing other, quite major works for later in the year. There’s a lot potentially to do, and right now nothing is off the table. I have a lot of back catalogue from last year just asking to be freshened and reenergised, after all…

Give it a few weeks, and it’ll be like I never left…

Back in the Saddle

This week is not about poetry, to be honest. It is about politics and freedoms and NaNoWriMo but, at the back of everything there is the beating heart of what I am, good or bad, are the poems. I’ve taken a week off the promotion because next week we’re going to go full-on, and right now nobody cares about my journey, they all want America to do the right thing because if it does, we all might yet stand a realistic chance of redemption.

Therefore, blogging has been kept to a minimum. I’ve done a phenomenal amount of groundwork on NaNo too, so much so that I wrote enough in the first 72 hours to propel me well into next week. This is truly the narrative that is writing itself, and I’m grateful for my short fiction/flash fiction training via Patreon right now because its making breaking the plot down into manageable, sensible sections a hell of a lot easier.

This week’s blogging therefore becomes of secondary importance to bigger pictures, which includes TWO video offerings instead of one, plus some much-needed background work on catching up with elements that were either too complex to visualise previously or I simply did not have the brain-space to accommodate. Needless to say I expect to end this week considerably stronger than where it started. I’m hoping my beliefs will be proved wrong…

Crocodile

You will have seen that pre-orders are on the front page, there’s even a link now to the page. Once I’ve finished the latest video project (Thursday/Friday next week) we’ll get started on the ‘I Talk to Myself’ video. Did I mention I was going to do a self-interview? I need to plan out camera angles and stuff. It’ll be great, trust me. After that we’re into November, and there’s a TON of new stuff happening then.

For now however the weekend is about throwing old stuff at new deadlines, continuing to rearrange the virtual furniture and hope that the hour I lost back to GMT won’t completely destroy my ability to be a capable human being. As soon as the final pamphlets are published (which should be at the end of next week) there will be final details on price, postage options and how many I’m prepared to sign. I need to sort out some bookplates…

Next week, we’ll have more news on NaNoWriMo, and the plans to the end of 2020.

Experiment IV

So, where are we?

A lot has happened in the last month. The pre-orders page for the Pamphlet will go live tomorrow morning, and I’ll FINALLY get started on working on my next video. Most of the prep is done, it’s now about putting all the elements together. It might yet get out for Friday: I have suddenly gained a 15-year-old at home because the girl who sits next to her in two lessons has COVID. I can but hope she was good at personal hygiene. She was one of the few at school who, like my daughter, permanently wore a mask.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

Daily practice continues to go well.

I had planned to take Friday off because it is my birthday. Most of what was going to happen will be cancelled because of my daughter’s quarantine, which is sad but totally necessary. Therefore, I may just call it a normal day and celebrate across the weekend. We will see. For now, however, rest assured that not only is a lot happening, but there’s even more going on you have not yet heard about…