The Long Kiss Goodbye

Amazingly, we’re seven days into January already, which I have to say feels more like a full month of brain pushed to the literary grindstone. Amazingly, there is break scheduled at the end of this week, as there’s two major submissions on the board. Number one went this morning, after more than the usual portion of existential angst last night… [WARNING: Contains Swearing]

The brief, that’s sat on that wall [points] for two weeks since January calendars were created, was a 3000 word short story. Firstly there’d been flirtation with taking an existing work and refreshing, and that was still the plan on Saturday morning when I arrived in the kitchen for my pre-planning cuppa. Then, summat remarkable happened: a title hit me, followed shortly afterwards by an opening visual, fully formed in my head.

In the end, planning became largely unnecessary.

There will be those of you who will be looking at this with open-mouthed horror: you can’t write anything of note like this! On any other day there would be a definite, distinct agreement: stuff takes time to plot, then to write and finally bed down as complete or polished. This story, quite literally slapped me in the brain and DEMANDED to be written there and then, so that’s what happened. When it comes back having been rejected, then there’s an indicator it can be reworked. Now, the story’s submitted as is, because the whole thing begged me to do just that.

It also didn’t help that Mr Alt (the go-to proof reader and normal barometer of awesome) didn’t like it. Amazingly, it wasn’t because it was poorly put together or presented, it simply did not click with him. What isn’t clear is whether that’s because it needs more work, or whether the plot itself is not up to what he’d consider as a decent standard. Lying awake at 4am this morning, brain still wrestling with the comments, came a significant epiphany: I love this story.

The flow is strong, descriptive imagery complete and believable in my head. The plot is a spin on the ‘alternate histories’ of this here planet that derive such pleasure when explored and exploded as potential reality. Every major player is a woman, except one. Am I being blinded by confirmation bias, or is this indeed the best piece of fictional reality that’s been created in a decade? No, this is really good. I know it, and as a result it’s gone to be judged, and I’ll know it’s fate in a few months, because this stuff takes time.

I have two poems to finish and then edit, and the last pile of scheduling for the week.

Maybe this whole thing really is doable after all…

December Short Story: Solstice

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during December via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm 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.

Enjoy.


Solstice

In indistinct, freezing first light, Eric cannot forget why he is here. All that matters is to guard the perimeter fence, wood and wire, stretching along this natural escarpment. Scrub and frozen ground below suddenly transforms into the most dense and foreboding of pine forests. Standing tall in tower to his left is Hilda, daughter of Franz. Looking right, Melody, daughter of Rachel’s rifle is trained towards the tree line, perennial vigilance with outstanding attention. Both are barely older than him: at 16, youngest of nearly a dozen morning sentries.

Somewhere in the forest are his parents, one of the few  lucky enough to still have both alive. They are due home today, with or without enough food to last the camp for the next few weeks. The worst of winter has yet to hit Station 12, and when it does, everyone will be going hungry. Yet in the last week change has been inescapable: December’s normally brutal cold and bitter wind not yet arriving from the north. Eric is briefly distracted by movement upwards: birds wheel and shift as a group from the trees, hundreds moving in perfect, beautiful synchronicity.

A sound is coming from the forest, deep guttural rumble that is strangely familiar. The last time Eric heard this he was very young, whilst Station was in the depths of despair. This is an armoured transport heading up what remains of dirt road towards entrance to their compound. He’s scrabbling for ancient monocular, locating beast amongst fir, looking for the Saltire to confirm approaching vehicle is friendly. It is spread along the bonnet, battered blue and white flag undoubtedly his father’s. They have returned with a far greater prize than just food.

Behind the solar powered vehicle are two other, considerably smaller transports. One is obviously some kind of medical vehicle, the other a large, grey box on many wheels. Elsa, Eric’s mother is waving from the roof, second Saltire as confirmation the entire convoy is friendly. He’s not due to leave this post for another hour but there’s relief on the way: Saul’s smile tells all that is needed. Eric requires no further encouragement to sprint across concrete battlements, down battered metal ladder, jumping to ground level. He can meet parents in person.

Their convoy’s swamped as he approaches, support staff and medical team already looking beyond excited at these discoveries from the forest. The large, multi-wheeled box appears to be full of supplies: unused weapons, fresh construction materials vital for repair and maintenance. The hug from Mum is nothing compared to that of his father, more emotional than he has ever seen them both. The reason becomes apparent: the entire cache of equipment and supplies had been found hidden, area previously inaccessible northwards due to snow and large amounts of ice.

This is nothing compared with news camp leader is now reacting to: the only way out of the valley, previously completely inaccessible due to accumulated ice, has now opened. That provides unrestricted access all the way down the mountain, opening a direct path to the coastline. For close to a century, camp has been cut off from rest of the World. In the last decade their numbers have begun to dwindle: lack of food, an airborne virus and the cruellest of winters have slowly eroded away these survivors. Dense forest’s protection offers little nutrition.

Eric helps unload myriad contents of what he now knows is a refrigerated container in great condition as is everything else that parents liberated. The significance of that alone is enough to make months of harsh living and empty stomachs a memory: supplies can now be kept fresh. In the back of the container is a box full of items however that make no sense: strings of brightly-coloured, shiny material, electric cable with glass dots attached, and several smaller cardboard boxes fill of delicate glass ornaments which have not been handled for a long time.

Both parents are uncertain as to what these items are used for, but hold hazy joint memories as children of a tree being cut from this forest. It was bought into the compound before being placed and decorated with hand-made ornaments and garlands made of recycled cloth and paper. It was a tradition that the eldest member of Station’s staff had held, part of faith-based beliefs that had been forgotten over countless cruel winters, barely lived through since the base was built.

Items were instruments of long lost celebration, before World froze over.

With power, the cable easily activates: dots light up, emitting an ethereal, pulsing glow. Eric is then sent to outskirts of the forest with his father as backup, where a suitable fir is chosen and dug from ground that seems far less hard and frozen than was previously the case. Large, deep storage bin is located to act as pot, allowing tree to be prominently placed in the main compound. Suddenly, nothing else matters but process of decoration, sparking memories from the last three remaining base staff over sixty of what this process entailed: Christmas.

Eric assists with the container’s contents being sorted, listening intently to the story of how his parents had discovered, then buried remains of the Army convoy they’d come across. Six people transporting supplies to this base, literally frozen solid in a horrendous snowstorm. It was during that winter he had been born, last time snow fell continuously for almost a month. Ever since, temperatures had begun to rise, giving hope that upper atmospheric levels had finally begun to clear of dust from the 101955 Bennu meteorite’s impact in southern Algeria.

Eric still finds it hard to believe everyone knows about somewhere half a world away, but was able to forget about a holiday as important as Christmas at the same time. He might not be essential in this hierarchy, but celebrating anything well seems an idea worth working towards. It is now new task to inject a new, exciting set of events into the normal and often boring beyond belief drills and maintenance routines. The younger children are charged with a far more enjoyable task than painting and cleaning: they make cards, for exchange around the station.

Mother takes Eric to one side after evening meal that night, entire camp more energised and happy than anyone can remember for many, many years. She hands her son a small box, tied with what he knows is a ribbon, taken from one of the few non-military items of clothing she owns. From pocket comes a letter: not recently written, looking incredibly old yet is still sealed. On the front however is his name and date of birth. Asking who it is from, his mother tells him to go find a quiet spot alone, before reading what’s been given and then returning to her.

Sitting in his favourite spot, warmth from Guard Tower’s perpetually burning fire, Eric knows deep down what is held in his hands. This is confirmation that current parents aren’t his birth family: that mother died after giving birth, father was Station 12’s last adult casualty. He had perished when Eric was nearly five: remembering that day when he’d volunteered to hunt for food after weeks of punishing, crippling frozen rain. His ID bracelet, worn around left wrist, pushed into the boy’s palm: memory of kiss to forehead, tears falling onto his face.

Except, it appears, it wasn’t a hunting mission. His father had willingly taken a one way trip into the forest, in order to reconnect Station with their only supply of fresh, untainted water: that journey meant descent into cave from which there was no possible means of return. There is a second, older note too, written after mother passed away. Many apologies have been contained within, most significant at those who kept majority of planet in the dark prior to the meteor impact. In the end, father concluded, politicians allowed evolution to decide who survived.

He knew Eric grasped mother’s boundless optimism, warmth, practicality to improve the World and others. Watching boy grow, that was apparent; providing man no qualms over leaving. The right future was with his best friend and her husband, incapable of producing children of their own. With shaking hands, it is time to open box given to him by station commander who never said out loud she was his mother, yet did the job with fierceness and pride that was without equal. Inside is a badge, ancient crest of Army regiment who built this base a century previously.

Eric understands the gesture: he’s in charge of the Station, free to begin a new era of development and exploration. His first task is simple: once the solar powered explorer has fully charged there’ll be an expedition arranged: high time to leave valley and head towards the sea.

 

EX/WHI :: Part Eighteen

Previous Part :: Next Part


She dreams of their child, created by aliens.

Foetus grows in an opaque, circular space, suspended mid-air, culmination of this bizarre experiment. A child is ‘born’ from her egg and Chris’ sperm, no worries in subconscious that part of this equation is impossible to complete. Unseen beings are not bound by the same rules as the humans that have now become their scientific research: theatre show to be watched, characters manipulated.

Ami comprehends without doubt that this will be her child, created as nature intended.

The presence inside subconscious is risking a fair deal by
confirming possibility as fact.

For millennia their kind have returned to Earth, caretakers of humanity’s fledgling intelligence. Each time the dominant population appeared capable of causing major damage to surrounding ecosystems, an intervention had resulted: reason why they had now returned. Her planet was at a tipping point, moment when decisions must be made: is this iteration of humanity worthy of continued, unrestricted ransacking of resources, or is it time for an inevitable reckoning?

The presence in Ami’s head offers stories grasped as previous truth: Atlantis washed away, Egyptians sandblasted out of history, Pompeii buried to prevent evil that would have risen and altered history… but then finds herself compelled to respond subconsciously with images of Auschwitz, Baghdad… New York’s Twin Towers. How were your interventions so important and yet these other horrors allowed as acceptable? She expects no response and when one comes, its dispassionate commentary is not nearly as surprising as expected.

The significance of particular events alters when viewed from a distance.

If linear time is only her prison and not theirs, a wider overview would pinpoint exact moments for interference, consequences were it not to take place. However, possibilities from this moment must be infinite: how could others arbitrarily make decisions in this fashion? The being in her head remains silent, undoubted uncertainty generated in the space where they sit. Dream imagery fades until all that is left is warmth and comfort, reassurance provided for a reason.

Keep acting on instinct, remain yourself. This strength will see you through.

There is a version of her future, tantalisingly placed just beyond Ami’s reach, echo of what could be should they succeed in these tests. This is a game, after a fashion, means by which the rest of the planet would be judged. Scenarios require thoroughly completion with no room for error or fear. This is the job she is now charged with; prize is not simply her life, returned better than it was.

The alternative, also offered without comment, is as chilling as it is now fully believable. Should she fail, her World will have humanity wiped from it. Everything else would remain: plants, animals, all natural wonders and even geological uncertainty would continue untouched and vibrant. Her brethren, wilfully destroying existence, completely eradicated in a breath as anything related to mankind’s influence was irrevocably eliminated.

The taint of pollution, global warming, globalisation, deforestation… all would cease to exist: planet left as it had been before the first apes evolved, stumbling out of their caves. This can still happen, unless she sacrifices everything. If Ami is prepared to give her life to ensure that future does not come to pass, so much more will be possible.

She must die, allowing planet to survive.


Previous Part :: Next Part

And I Love Her

This is the last of four posts I scheduled for ‘Interests’ in the mistaken belief there’s enough interesting stuff in my life to write about at length. The truth is, of course, existence is incredibly mundane most of the time. I eat, sleep, exercise, write, play mum to two young adults who increasingly don’t require the supervision and a husband who I have to schedule time with around work and cycling. None of this is a problem. Life is pretty much as good as it can be.

Some people in my position would be unhappy however that this is all there is. They are, and daily via Social media that fact is communicated with varying degrees of competence. Sure, there’s stuff here that could be better, and changed: it is, slowly, all being reassessed as issues present themselves. On the top of that list is redecorating the house, which has pretty much remained as it was since my daughter was born in 2005. After that, the garden’s slowly becoming a practical place in which to grow fruit.

gardening

Yes, of course I’d like a sizeable pile of best-selling books in any number of genres and styles, but I’m also very much a realist. It’s been a year here pretty much solidly of creating this website, building a foundation of content that will allow me to continue to grow and expand as a writer, with living proof of ability outside of submitted work. Next year, that means being able to self-generate income. It worked for six months with Patreon, and hopefully once I get Gumroad up and running it will again.

I can but hope.

cosmicballet.gif

It is a modest goal, to recreate a career from scratch at this late stage of existence. I feel it isn’t overreaching, and is still eminently doable. When my faith in other people is shaken, that the people I respect and look up to are human too and can make mistakes, it is just a part of the process required to make the next step. Self promotion is not dirty or wrong. Some people will hate you regardless. There’s no right way to become what your dreams dictate.

Just be yourself, and hope everything else just works out okay.

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

I can’t speak for any other writer as to how their creative minds operate, but mine is VERY particular when it comes to inspiration. As should be abundantly apparent by all these #Blogmas posts, music is an indivisible part of existence. How that manifests has altered significantly in my 50 plus years on the planet, and is worth examining in more detail.

The first song I remember as a kid was this one, part of a cassette tape that got played until it broke… Disney songs, words to which I knew before being able to either read or write. My grandfather gave me a Glenn Miller cassette. I found a Simon and Garfunkel album and my father never asked to have it back. Then, he offered a copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John and my journey into music began in earnest.

When Punk happened in the 70’s, I listened to Ultravox and Duran Duran as a New Romantic, but loved Madness and the Specials as Ska. Anarchy frightened me, but The Damned’s New Rose remains one of my all-time favourites from that era… and so the exploration continued, taking in Indy, Jazz, Classical and Electronic along the way. I’ll listen to anything once. For it to stick? There needs to be something special.

Emerging from the very depths of depression, this song has huge significance: originally used to advertise a certain computer game, it was the first time that my brain and music engaged in a collaboration which has now become indispensable during the creative process. From music, pictures spring forth that never previously existed, and these visual aids then send me back to the page to record them.

It has now become a case of learning how to transcribe these visual clues onto the page. If I’m honest, that’s taken nearly two decades to perfect, but now we have utterly cracked it, there is no holding the creativity back. If a plot falters or won’t move forward, finding the right tune to fit action before and after is often a great way of easing the transition. Music isn’t just for writing however, it can also unfreeze my consciousness.

Music and exercise have become an indivisible and potent combination.

We’ll tackle that on Wednesday.

Goodbye

Sometimes it is hard to accept that occasionally, progress needs to be sacrificed in order to allow growth. Having begin to grow fruit this year in our garden, that notion is very much being learnt as plants rot in the ground that’s either been far too dry or now excessively wet. The strong and healthy survive, whilst inevitable losses will be removed. Then comes the choice of what gets dug over or composted, and what remains capable of surviving another year.

gardening.gif

Those of you paying attention will notice that, across the next week, a number of posts on this site have been composted. I’m doing a quality sweep, in effect, meaning the best remains but the rest is detached. The features that have been introduced in the last few weeks will be reviewed, and after the NaNoWriMo ‘break’ in November we’ll decide which ones return long-term. Everything that doesn’t make the cut gets electronically shredded, but as no more than about a dozen people saw this stuff? No great loss.

What won’t be removed, and is only going to get stronger, is as follows:

  • Short Stories
  • Weekly Poetry
  • YouTube Playlists
  • Special Twitter Projects
  • Episodic Fiction
  • Special Events

With that in mind, Wednesday this week is quite important.

teaandtalklandscape

I’m holding a Virtual Tea and Talk Day on Wednesday 10th, this will include (obviously not real) tea and cake but real talk about how my mental issues are under control for the first time in (at least) two decades. It will be about offering understanding and support too, plus there’s a good chance I’ll be trying to get some of you to part with your cash. 

Yes, there will also be haiku.

I look forward to seeing you there.

EX/WHI :: Part Fourteen

Previous Part :: Next Part


Consciousness returns unexpectedly: no dreams precede it, yet sense remains of being observed, examined before there was nothing, silence. Chris is no longer outside: this isn’t the cafe they were abducted in either. He can count tables though, re-purposed pieces of wood on delicate, metal legs to his left, stripped wooden floorboards with power sockets sunk into floor level. There’s concern about moving, considering how much pain existed before but everything is better than it was. He’s been completely reconstructed at a cellular level…

That reassurance came before he’d passed out, gentle voice heard somewhere behind field of vision, at the back of a neck which prickles at the memory, skin reacting to warmth and a familiar smell… CK One, somewhere to his right…

‘Wow. You have been busy.’

Disbelief and surprise interrupt Ami, about a metre away. She stands at one end of a long, white wall, on which space of several meters long and a meter high is covered with her neat, organised handwriting. Chris now needs to be upright, scrabbling to sit, already taking in what’s she’s been working on during his enforced absence. This woman’s industry is becoming indispensable, inspiring and frankly impressive. Across the white space is a detailed breakdown of everything that has happened to her since Thursday: it is logical to assume that the blank spaces have been left for him to fill in… but there’s a more pressing question that first needs to be asked.

‘Where did you get the pens?’

‘I asked for them, along with a blanket plus another camp bed for me. I assumed they’d not want us to discuss this, but it would appear that our reactions to experiences are now as important a part of the process.’

‘You know that’s what’s going on?’

‘I haven’t actually asked yet, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t anyway if you weren’t able to take part in the decision making. That’s something we both have to agree on first.’

‘Did they move us together?’

‘No, you disappeared and then I got shown where you’d been taken. I’d like to think all this has been set up because they’d seen me taking notes in the cafe and wanted somewhere in the simulation where I could work our situation unhindered, but that is simply speculation and nothing more.’

‘So, I was just here when you arrived?’

‘There is so much to tell you but I have no idea when they’ll be back, and they could erase this all when they do, so I needed to get started on fixing the timeline whilst you were in stasis -’

‘Stasis?’

‘It wasn’t just unconsciousness, you had this invisible barrier around you. I couldn’t interact at all. I assume it was to fix whatever was damaged.’

‘You’re right, I know they’re not here, because at least one of them was watching me until everything was fixed, then they left. How long ago did the barrier drop?’

‘About an hour by my watch. Are you feeling well enough to join in?’


Previous Part :: Next Part