November Short Story: Beneath

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during November 2019 (using a half finished story in July due to illness) 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.

Enjoy.


Beneath

You have one last chance to abort this mission: close that door behind you, pass point of no return. Beyond their capsule, one grimy piece of glass still remains left uncovered, view out to utter desolation: what is left of your world, close to oblivion. You are never going back. This plan has to work. You have to die. It is only means by which everything is saved. Nobody will remember you. This one-way ticket to assured destruction will not ensure a school gets named after you, and right now, anonymity is by far the best result for everybody concerned.

There’s only enough power left for one more try: whatever happens, this will be the last day alone. A possible future lies waiting, a million miles away from here. Now it’s apparent where everything went wrong, you owe it to everyone else who lost their lives to try once more…

Exit sequence is primed.

Press the button.


It’s a little after dawn: Molly’s almost done with errands. Edwin’s churn of milk isn’t alone, next to it sit a dozen goose eggs, two baskets of windfall apples. It won’t be long before dense clusters of blackberries have ripened… Mercy has stopped: grey mare stands silent, unusually still. The valley’s damp warmth, in moments after first light is normally reassurance, but not now. Something is terribly wrong. Molly’s skin is crawling, undeniable comprehension she knows exactly what is about to transpire.

From Beneath springs purple destruction: dividing the road, swallowing you whole… before life returns to this point, reset within same moment, all renewed. Except, if whip she made you bring today is soundly cracked, Mercy will outrun death, both surviving oncoming onslaught… Whip’s dropped, her own hands clasping reins: Mercy bolts, as if Molly is watching herself from distance, understanding why ground beneath them begins to rumble with an unnatural fervour. If she looks back, rolling eruption of evil has already begun, speeding towards them both…

She can’t look back: Molly must never dwell on the past, it has crumbled to dust and no longer exists. All that matters is reaching the Church bridge; cross that, they survive. The whole valley shakes, noise a banshee wail, song of destruction so loud and insistent it overwhelms. Quiet calm inside is a surprise: this is the first Friday in June. Yesterday was months ago, sense of repetition oddly unexpected reassurance. Over countless days Molly has lost her life on this road, perished as the purple lava erupted from rich, red clay beneath…but not today.

The gig almost floats across dark stone bridge, church a blur as there’s no time to stop until finally they’re at town’s barricades. Once just random piles of wood and broken barrels, much has changed in the last few months. Fellow villagers have adapted; now alert and prepared. Everything has altered in a year: Edwin and his family are one of only a few families prepared to live outside this cordon, risking their existence to keep food growing. A population of thousands, decimated; less than a hundred souls remain, determined never to succumb to evil.

Once this sight would have frightened Molly beyond belief. Not any more. Wartime existence has become surprisingly comforting, mostly due to the woman who stands waiting for her to return unharmed whilst houses shake. Looking down, not one of the dozen white eggs has been broken.

“Do this right, I swear not one egg will break: if you can, I promise purple horror will be destroyed for good.”

Molly knows that Amelia speaks an absolute, irrevocable truth. Once that was as frightening as purple lava: except, with time, presence became unexpected reassurance.

Amelia Knox arrived in their village a month ago dressed far too formally for country life. Since then no-one has died: her knowledge has slowly altered perception of the most cynical of elders. Ways and means exist to avoid destruction, plus medical skills have saved many lives. Knox’s arrival confirmed to the Elders an entire valley was indeed under a planned, organised bombardment: the village knew this wasn’t the work of some angry god, but something far more insidious. Disaster on this scale came only from the hands of men. Or in this case, a woman.

The Sorceress, cruel beyond measure, attacked without warning. For months there had seemingly been no reason or order to this cruelty, until the arrival of the village’s new saviour. She was the one to point out that in chaos, there was placed a very particular order of business. The systematic targeting and elimination of a particular mining family had not mattered amongst dozens of casualties, until it was pointed out how resilient the Evergreens had become at avoiding an often ceaseless torrent of destruction: repercussions transformed understanding.

All the bitter, callous destruction was focused on one, inescapable end. Every single member of this family must die. Except, with Amelia’s unexpected arrival, two of their number had seemly returned from the afterlife considerably more unharmed than they had departed the valley. Time itself had become… malleable, fluid in ways Molly knows should not be possible. Some days, the sun had risen multiple times and only set once. Her brother’s unexpected arrival from landslide that had previously been his tomb, south of here a moment she’s unlikely to forget.

This morning, however, Amelia looks different… more tired than she can ever remember. Molly leaves the gig with Alfred Cooper, happily surveying its contents, and goes over to hug this stranger who has now become close friend. Undoubtedly, something has altered in her overnight. In each other’s arms there is a strange, compelling calm Molly finds difficult to grasp or remember with anyone else; except parents, who passed away long before this chaos began. It is not just grateful respect, built from so many instances of selflessness, but something deeper.

“Today… will be the last that we see each other.”

“This is always a possibility, my friend. I am grateful for each victory you’ve provided -”

“… but as that’s true, you need to know. I’m so sorry for all of this.”

“What would you have to be sorry for?”

Amelia unexpectedly begins to shake.

“All I ever wanted… was to understand how time worked. This was never meant to happen, any of this. Now I grasp the truth, it’s the easiest thing in the world to fix.”

Molly steps back, aware she knows what is about to transpire, because that too has repeated many times in memory.

The Sorceress is coming, walking up the road: moments later she will unleash purple death upon the village itself… yet Amelia is running away from safety behind the barricades, heading straight for her. In her hand is an object stolen from the local Infantry’s meagre stockpile. Molly stares at a makeshift grenade and grasps this moment is new. In all the previous times she has stood here, on this day, Amelia had not once sacrificed herself in order to save the village from its destruction. Attacking the Sorceress had never been considered, until now…

Looking at this woman approaching there is amazement: all those times before, never time or thought to properly grasp evil responsible for the town’s destruction. Molly understands Amelia’s apology: she’s sorry, because this is her fault.

She’s destroyer and saviour, combined.


You run towards yourself stuck in a time paradox of your own creation: relief on both of your faces is palpable. All that effort, trying to hide this identity from those people, caused far more issues than you ever thought would be possible; arrogance almost destroying existence. The simple tin can filled with gunpowder and nails will be enough to kill you both, when it ignites causality field surrounding joint presences. The purple death that destroyed this village, over and again in the same paradox, deadly by-product of a failed time travel experiment.

Einstein never experienced the true matter-destroying consequences of going back to meet your relatives, didn’t see first-hand fatal consequence of overlapping timelines. Travelling opened portals to parallel universes where Planet Earth had been created very differently indeed. You take one last look back at your great, great, great grandmother and hope her life after your death will be quiet, long and stress free. All you ever wanted to do was understand the past, not destroy the future. To save both, it is time to sacrifice yourself.

Press the button.

You Can Fly

I am part of the first generation of digital natives: in my teens, computing stopped being something that happened on campuses or in massive rooms with punch cards. The personal computer defined my teens: ever since the world has embraced both good and bad in technology. Social media has become both those worlds, and more beside: right now, anything goes. Somewhere, as I type, someone will be decrying it as an evil that is destroying free thinking whilst restricting constructive discussion.

Except I know differently. For me, a particular brand of social media has quite literally altered my existence. No, it’s not hyperbole, sorry, but genuine praise for a platform some people will tell you is both a waste of time and energy. Without it, my life would be considerably less interesting, entertaining and enlightening. I’ve met what are now my closest friends via the medium of Tweeting.

Without it, I’d be considerably less of a person.

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Over the last couple of years I’ve written poetry to thank those people online for being awesome. This year, the process moves on a stage further. From a woman who couldn’t see the point of this platform when other people adopted it, I am now almost evangelical about the benefit of free speech. How can I say this with a block list that now reaches into three figures…? Not everybody will be your friend in life.

Expecting everybody to like you is a waste of everybody’s time.

Starting Monday, December 2nd on my personal account (@MoveablePress) I’ll be tweeting my thanks to the people who have changed the World for me in 2019. It has been genuinely tough this year to pick the list, but were it not for every one of these individuals, this year would not have been as transformative as it undoubtedly has. I’ll use this post as a repository for the tweet-threads when they’re done.

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I’m not a great fan of buying useless Christmas gifts: this year all close family will be receiving cards detailing how a lump sum donated to Oxfam will be used to fund charity projects worldwide. Altered Paths allows me to thank and give, all at once, is eco-friendly and comes with no wrapping paper to feel bad about recycling. It ticks all the boxes too: don’t just take, remember that giving is what matters most of all.

Thank you to these people who have helped me evolve and grow in 2019:

December 2nd -25th’s Twitter links will go here

 

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So, You Win Again

At time of writing this, not only have I won but there’s no real signs of stopping.

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The longer this has gone on, the more I realise this is was never about doing the job in 30 days. Writing this story has become the means by which everything else that’s currently fucked up in my life is exposed and sorted. Of course, it was never the intention for that to take place, but it has. As I expose holes in my plot, more significant pits are uncovered. More importantly as I’ve hit 50k, there’s time now to go back and do some much-needed editing.

That will mean the word count will be minimally updated for the next few days, until I’m ready to push forward again. Getting the ‘win’ early means that part of the pressure’s off: so much needs to be addressed that was summarily left at the wayside to get the main thrust of the narrative sorted and strong. As I’m about to switch to a location in which an awful lot of significant action transpires, I want to leave everything that’s passed in as decent a state as possible.

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The redesign of the NaNo site, to be honest, was long overdue but needs a fair bit of work. The only part of the process that really matters is having the habit forming repetition of updating that count until 50k registers. Now that’s done I don’t need to be reminded, it just happens automatically. With five Winners wristbands on my right wrist but nothing as yet to show for those attempts, it is time for a change.

For the first time in five years, coming away with nothing is not an option. I need to not only make this work, but in a manner that makes me happy and comfortable that the maximum amount of effort was spent for the most reward. In that regard alone this is undoubtedly the happiest I have ever been about a NaNo attempt.

This one will be finished, oh yes.

Clean, Clean

As part of the ongoing process of standardising website design and making more sense of what is becoming a considerable written portfolio, you’ll start seeing some changes to the look and feel of the website going forward. Initially a lot of it will be cosmetic, but behind the scenes there will need to be some expansion of existing spaces. There are NEW THINGS coming in 2019, and I’ll need room to accommodate them all.

First of all, however, we need to clean up outstanding backlog.

Beneath

Beneath was begun in August and never completed, because I was on holiday and was subsequently hospitalised… and then it took me ages to get back to being organised, and… well, if you’re paying attention, you get the picture. I’m about to schedule the last ten parts of this story today, which marks the end of a fairly significant period of personal growth. I’ve learnt a lot about the craft in that time, especially thanks to attending Mslexicon in July.

Therefore, going forward, short stories will have more prominence. First and foremost the NaNo behemoth needs finishing first, but once the dust settles… these daily doses of fiction keep me keen, and force a particular working/writing style. I don’t want to be without them, but at the same time I have stand alone tales that won’t work in the format. Needless to say, there’s plans to make the most of them wherever they end up.

Stardust

This is a part of my output that gets a lot of attention on Social media, and I fully intend to keep capitalising on that interest going forward. To find new and better ways to tell stories using existing media has always been my desire… which means next year branching out to use other forms of media as a basis. Instagram has given me a lot of pause for thought in the last few months.

Telling stories there cannot be far off…

Monster

Yup, I’m definitely gonna need more than a month.

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It’s not like this story is writing itself, anything but. At times it has been a tough job, slogging through the numbers: with the first crescendo of action about to happen, I reckon I’m probably about a third of the way in. However, there is an awful lot of exposition in here, most of it warranted. After we hit the end of this section, things can pick up a bit.

I reckon 100k is probably nearer the mark for completion.

There’s nothing stopping me going back and editing stuff out at a later date, of course: for now, the priority is to tell the story as it stands, and that’s proving surprisingly simple. I’m really, REALLY glad that time was taken to plan this in advance, because there are several points where if it hadn’t been, giving up and walking away would have been a really easy thing to do.

This time however, I have something to prove.

I am not getting any younger, as the hand will attest. The reason I started doing this challenge, so many years ago, was to write a novel. In all the times when the month was over and I looked at what had been produced, there was never really satisfaction with the end product. This time around, this is a piece of work to be already immensely proud of. Whatever may transpire, this will be pushed beyond a first draft.

Creating a monster will come with a new set of responsibilities, but until the story is done, size really will not matter. I’m already organising December’s content around this, so that there is no interruption to my writing processes. It is perhaps most satisfying all that this is a narrative not only to get lost in, but which also is throwing up some genuinely interesting new directions from the original pitch.

Speaking of which, I need to write a new summary to post on the NaNo website…

Let it Snow

December is not far away, and on it’s arrival, I’ve decided to try and be as thematic as it is possible to be without blowing the look and feel of the rest of the website. Therefore, we have a graphic which combines the three elements you’ll see in the #Soundtracking2019 and #Narrating2019 playlists, plus a return to the monthly short story after we have caught up from August.

There is also going to be some Instagram haiku, because why the hell not?

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I also do a 24 Days of GIF-mas thing on the other Twitter account, this year we’ll be having a bit of fun with it rather than it being the serious, poetic part of proceedings. I’ll be honest with you, this is the first Christmas for many years that I’m really looking forward to, which is odd considering that I’ll not be able to eat or drink as is normally the case… but it doesn’t matter. There’s so much else to look forward to.

I have a tea advent calendar, the excitement for which really is off the charts. Today was the planning session for this year’s ‘Make your Own Gifts’ operation, which I hope is going to be as much fun as it was when this was done a couple of years ago. The tree will be going up next weekend, and after that you can expect me to be as festive as possible… because it means I can ignore the political chaos going on in the UK.

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The short story is planned, and I’ll be beginning the process of picking out tracks for the playlists next week. Hopefully this organisational head start that’s been granted by the success of NaNo (update on Monday) is going to spill over into lots of other areas going forward. I’ve also done a lot this week to rationalise my own virtual spaces, which makes me feel a great deal more comfortable working within them.

Sometimes, all you need to feel happy is the space in which to do so.

Oops, I Did It Again

Having hit 25k on NaNo this morning, there MIGHT be a bit of a problem going forward…

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This isn’t like last year when I decided to stop because other things were more important. Nope, this time around has come the revelation that I do not want to stop. There is too much fun being had living and breathing this new narrative. In fact, considering where I am along my timeline, this 50k could at least double by the time I’m done. It is entirely possible we have a full blown epic tale on our hands.

Planning has presented this as possibility, and because there is understanding of what else needs to happen around the words, it’s probably the right moment for a rethink. This time however, instead of panicking and tossing the whole idea because it won’t fit into my current lifestyle choices… let’s do this differently. Let’s rearrange everything else around what has become most important and work from there.

For a change, personal happiness can take centre stage.

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This decision has produced an unexpected, knock-on effect. A couple of issues that I’ve been struggling to resolve are now sorted, complete without issue. My exercise regime’s taking an impressive upward turn. Willpower, instead of crumbling when it became apparent I’d not finish to time, has strengthened, which makes the desire to eat bad stuff that I’m having to ignore considerably easier.

I’m quite a binary being, when all is said and done. To realise that this enjoyment factor has been missing in my life is important: knowing why has been something of a revelation. Relaxing into this process has provided a key to a door that’s been locked since before counselling was started earlier this year. Here, it seems, is an important space not only to be explored, but inhabited.

I’m really looking forward to where this new journey takes me.