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.

 

November Short Story: Piper

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during November. 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.


Piper

Maggie Piper can’t sleep, won’t take the chance she’ll miss her son again. It’s 1.15 am, brain’s ramped up on coffee, waiting for when the phone sounds a tinny, dissonant alarm at 2.26. Then, without fail, Alfie will start what’s become a weekly, unstoppable sleepwalking ritual. When her husband left in the spring, things were initially difficult between mother and son. Alfie was quiet to begin with, and for a while said nothing at all at school or to friends. Then, Maggie decided to just tell him the truth, no frills. That altered a lot between them.

He admitted relief that Dad had left, watching violent abuse meted out after drinking and late shifts and had no idea how to help. His father had ignored him for years, the loss was nothing he felt either angry or upset about. What mattered more was their happiness going forward. For a few brief and glorious months, life had been full of smiles and laughter, but after the boy turned 12 in October, something changed. There are gaps in memory that cannot be explained, irritable behaviour, and now, twice a week at 2.26 am, he leaves the house without fail.

She took him to her aunt’s in Blackpool at half term, hoping sea air might help. He was less irritable, but still found his way outside regardless. There he stood, looking down for six minutes before returning to bed. She is too scared to lock doors, no attempt to restrain him… There’s a chirp from the phone, and immediate confusion: who could be sending texts at this time in the morning? Looking at the message, Mags’ brain is simultaneously amazed and frightened by what she reads:

‘My son is going to sleepwalk again tonight too. You are not alone.’

The first thought is to respond but there is no time, as second message appears:

‘Please pack an overnight bag. A car will come at 3am. Don’t be scared, please get in, because if you do we can provide all the answers required to not only help but support you both right now.’

‘How can I trust you?’

‘30 kids in Manchester wake up twice a week like him. One goes to Alfie’s school. We want to help them all and all the other kids across the country who have been doing the exact same thing since October 15th.’

‘There are others?’

‘There are thousands.’

Mags’ not scared any more, but comforted. If there are others like this, there will be a reason why this is happening, and if someone else is already dealing with the issue, she should be involved. There’s twenty minutes before Alfie walks; just time to pack a bag for them both.


It’s still dark as car rolls into the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre. Alfie is asleep, head in Mags’ lap seeming far more relaxed and comfortable than she’s seen for a while. The driver, Bill, is a genial Mancunian but has kept silent to allow Mrs Piper time to read as they drove. The folder she’s been given is both reassurance and panic combined: across the UK, since October 15th, exactly 2027 children have been acting as a unit in Manchester, Liverpool and the market town of Nantwich in Cheshire, constituency home of the current Prime Minister’s family.

Elicia Redmayne, eldest daughter of Charles Redmayne, PM, is the most high profile of the 2027 sleepwalking children at the exact same time as Alfie. He’s also absolutely the last person Mag expects to have opening her car door at 4am: he waits, looking more nervous than she is. The papers have been full of his absence from Westminster in the last week: is he unwell? Is there an international crisis in full swing, with government leaders across Scandinavia and Europe also disappearing from public life? Mags now knows real reason why Redmayne’s gone AWOL.

He and his party may be disliked by large portions of the country for socialist policies and a distinct focus on environmental issues over encouraging profits, but there is no doubting the unerring commitment to three children after wife died from Breast cancer a year previously. This man would do anything for his family, and for others. Redmayne takes a still-sleeping Alfie in his arms, carrying the boy to a newly constructed area on the Jodrell Bank site. Khaki tents have been erected: portacabins mark temporary walls of a site where armed guards stand.

Perhaps before it would have scared Mags this place is protected but now there’s an understanding of the scale of Alfie’s significance, the Army serve as reassurance. It isn’t just kids in the UK who are acting as a unit, but across the globe, and to an extremely specific pattern. There’s a medical team waiting already, because this young boy is the last piece of an incredibly complex puzzle that’s taken since October 15th to decrypt.


Mags isn’t very hungry, pushing scrambled eggs around her breakfast plate. This temporary mess hall might be packed, but she feels very much alone. It’s almost lunchtime and Mrs Piper is exhausted, yet too scared to sleep. The briefing she was given still rattles around a brain that is simultaneously happy and stunned: her son is the last of the 2027 UK children to be located. This makes Jodrell Bank unique across the World.

Tonight sleepwalkers will be watched and monitored as the first complete unit to be gathered together in one space. Media is already saturated with this revelation after the story broke in Sweden the previous day. Redmayne will therefore address the nation in the next 30 minutes. The Army have already taken over the entire Butlins holiday camp in Skegness as the only place where 2027 children plus families and observers can be kept together without major issue. As soon as Alfie’s tests are completed they’ll be driven with the PM’s team to join the group.

Tonight, at 2.26am, all kids will be allowed to roam free across the camp. There have already been hints of individuals heading for each other, groups forming before moving to create some kind of shape or message. Various theories will now be examined under controlled conditions. Mags already knows what’s going on in her heart, and that’s what frightens her most. This is no different to all the times husband would manipulate them both, his threats of violence if they didn’t do as they were told. Nothing good ever comes of messing with other people’s minds.

Even if all this could be precursor to some wondrous, life changing event, Mrs Piper is already thinking ahead. Considering every possibility was how her soon to be ex husband was finally found out, his affair and misuse of joint cash exposed with quiet, unemotional efficiency. Her father, an ex Army man himself, had taught many lessons in survival. Always know your exits. Plan for the worst, so the best can be enjoyed as a true surprise. Most importantly, however charismatic and beguiling they may be, never believe politicians know little or nothing.

Watching the PM on screen in a now silent, rapt Mess Hall, all eyes are on his speech; Mags knows he’s lying. They’ll have a chance for conversation on the way to Skegness, and then she’ll push him for the truth. How he reacts will dictate what happens next to Alfie, and for her.

This is not the World she woke up to yesterday.


It is not the World anyone expected today.

Trying not to look back, it is impossible to ignore raging flames in Range Rover’s rear view mirror. Four children huddle on the back seat, too scared to even cry.

Maggie Piper is numb.

At 2.26am, every kid at the holiday park had woken simultaneously: not one sleepwalked. Instead, from their mouths issued noise unlike anything heard on Earth in tens of thousands of years. It was anguished alarm, sending unexplained fear into the souls of each assembled parent. Redmayne had argued long and hard against kids being bought together, but the Scandinavians were adamant. This had happened before in their history; no harm had come to any of the children previously. This time, circumstances were different. Many things had changed in a century.

As connections were lost with Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the UK Military’s communications were ruthlessly severed. These children’s presence alerted the first wave of invasion craft hidden on the far side of the Moon, that Earth was sufficiently self-aware to present a problem. This planet had solved a genetic puzzle planted by the Korsal 8000 years ago, ingrained to determine human’s level of sophistication, alerting when bodily harvesting should finally take place.

Redmayne and Mags, plus their children, are the only survivors from a deadly first strike.

Sleigh Ride

It’s mid November, and although it might be a wee bit early to shove up the decorations, we can start the process of planning for next month.

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Americans are about to do that Thanksgiving thing shortly, but let’s be honest, a day is not enough. I have loads of people to thank in 2018, far more than I could ever fit in a blog post or a single Tweet. Therefore, for 31 days in December, we’ll be chucking the normal schedule to the wind. Instead, you get a whole month of me using the GIF collection in new and exciting ways, with tons of people who have helped me enormously getting their required moment in the sun.

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The Short Story for December has been heavily influenced by the recent commemoration of the end of World War One, and you can expect content under in the #Narrating2018 and #Soundtracking2018. It’s almost a year since we started this journey, after all. That’s a lot of YouTube content explored, but there is so much more still to come.

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I’ll also be taking the opportunity to edit and clean up all sorts of places, including the year’s output here. You can expect NEW GRAPHICS and some spiffy ways to help me out as the new year approaches. Mostly, December is me giving back to you guys without whom none of this would be possible.

I hope it’s a great month for everybody concerned.

October Short Story: GoldenBalls

WARNING: This story deals with adult themes and should, as a result, be approached responsibly.

This story was first published in 31 parts via Twitter during October. 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.


GoldenBalls

‘…and that’s the News. Now over to Mandy at the Sports Desk…’

‘Thank you Ellie. Let’s waste no more time and go directly to the Barnsley International Stadium, as the warm up for one of the most hotly anticipated events of the year begins. Can you hear me, Alice Richardson?’

‘Hardly, Mandy, the noise here is unbelievable, that’s no doubt in response to the presence of a local hero inside this stadium. We may not be able to see him yet but his team’s bus arrived just under an hour ago. Owen Chandler’s rightful moment in the sun has finally arrived…’


In the bowels of a building that’s hosted a World Cup and two World Championships, a small, dark room is reassuringly bereft of humanity. Owen sits alone on a hard wooden bench, contemplating next three hours of his life. If all goes to plan? Everything he is will change, forever. He has five minutes before his trainer will arrive, then they will walk to the Preparation Area. A stylist, two make-up artists, costumer plus a twenty-five piece Brass Band have waited for this moment since a now notorious sudden death play-off was won at Newcastle last month.

This event has been anticipated for close to a decade. Hundreds of hours of training, thousands of days where underlying motivation was to arrive here fully prepared. The reality is humbling yet exciting. Owen is ready to win, knows that he can… path to true redemption complete. Looking down to his crotch, it is hard to suppress a grin, which quickly develops into a laugh. Some men might be embarrassed by a genetic quirk, seek surgery to alter their appearance. Not Chandler. After twenty eight years, his enormous balls are finally nothing to joke about.

‘I’m glad you think this is funny.’

His mum stands, dressed in a three piece suit that makes the woman look younger than her years. She’d raised him, taught vital lessons about ignoring bullies, that it was okay being different.

Meg had raised skills to the level of artistry.

As lone parent and now a rookie manager, this was the woman who knew more about bollocks than anyone else: a particular skill in understanding and effectively exploiting the weaknesses of opponents had turned her son, the humble lad from Barnsley, into an international superstar. They walk into the Preparation Area to enthusiastic applause: best mate Sasha is here, with boyfriend and their son, plus Owen’s two younger sisters. Everybody is ready to help out, making sure the evening is as relaxed as possible. Not one person stares or laughs at his crotch.

This ritual had been conducted by his ancestors, by millions of men across the planet for thousands of years. It remained particular rite of passage in over a dozen developing countries, one of whom would be providing his opposition upstairs. It was a dream job, finally accepted. Owen will become the sun, metaphorical representation of that divine light from above that warms the Earth and keeps our planet fruitful and bounteous. His job will be to endure increasing pain and suffering, showing an ability to remain strong, unwavering as a proper concubine.

His balls will be weighed down, increasingly over time, until the pressure is too much and he passes out. The more that is held, greater will be the strength in his seed, an indication to any potential surrogate his sperm will produce a strong and suitable heir for their family. This process was begun nearly ten thousand years ago in Ancient Greece and has remained the number one watched spectator sport ever since. It is the first time a British concubine has reached the final for nearly sixty years, virtually unopposed in competition until semi finals.

That fateful evening had seen the defending European record holder stretchered out of the arena after losing consciousness in sudden death overtime. Both men had endured the same massive weight, but only Owen had managed to stand up and sit down with it attached to his scrotum. A community was divided over whether the whole event should have been declared null and void, with a rematch scheduled, but the World governing body intervened. As last man conscious and standing, Chandler had won, despite competitor’s inability to lift a crucial final weight.

Body paint is complete, on which make-up artists have overlaid the signature, rampant blue dragon holding a trident. The noise of 60,000 strong crowd outside is now too seductive to ignore: they’re chanting his name, over and over, partisan support to intimidate Greek opposition.

This is his moment: all that remains is to win, and well.


‘… yes, I can see Meg Chandler emerging from the Home Team dressing room now, looking immaculate as always and that means that our local hero cannot be far behind. It’s time for Owen to shine as he never has before.’

‘Indeed, and with that it’s time for us to begin coverage of the Concubine World Final. Your summariser is professional Concubine and European Weightlifting champion from 1986 until 1998 Costa Perkov with your commentary lead Paula Anchor, but first up here’s Alice Richardson.’

‘Thank you Mandy. Tonight’s a watershed for legions of semi-professional courtesans who have spent decades in the shadows, reviled and often attacked for the career they’ve chosen to pursue. Tonight, they are given a true hero, inspiration to look up to and emulate going forward. Owen Chandler’s ten years as a welder, into construction straight from school, belied the immense talent hidden beneath his working clothes. Thanks to his mother’s love, persistence, care and sheer determination, he’s become the living epitome of a rags to riches success story.

Tonight he faces Ivan Kerchenko, a man who has wanted for nothing in his entire career, having spent nearly three decades being trained and prepared for this very occasion. His father Yuri remains one of the most significant concubines of the late 20th Century, a true champion. It is estimated that nearly one hundred million people worldwide will be tuning into tonight’s contest which includes millions of ordinary Brits, holding their own special ‘GoldenBalls’ celebrations. We’ve never had a World champion since this contest was relaunched back in 1825.

That noise you can now hear means only one thing: Owen Chandler’s entered the stadium, flanked by his team of medical professionals and stylists… and there’s his family too, all wearing their distinctive blue outfits. Time for talking is over… now we will see who’s strongest.’


When historians looked back on the events of October 23rd, 2018, they did so with an ability to separate facts from fiction. They stared at the official televised footage with disbelief, and then satisfaction that the true winner that evening was fair play and humanity. All those who lost bets on Chandler’s success might feel aggrieved. The fact his competitor’s life was saved using first aid techniques learnt whilst training as a welding apprentice, that CPR was part of a vast arsenal of secondary skills, should really teach an important lesson.

The concubine World Governing Body, the IIA, would eventually declare their bout a tie, marking the last time any man was forced to exhibit their genital strength in public. After thousands of fatalities in the name of virility, finally, rules were changed for the good of all. This event forced a complete redefinition of all the competition structures, moving away from thousands of years worth of sensationalism. Overt trials of strength and prowess were removed; replaced with a more cerebral focus, considering concubines in a completely new light.

This was in response to the revelations that Kerchenko’s heart attack was caused by historical abuse of anabolic steroids. The IIA have, as of January 2020, banned nearly six thousand concubines from any participation in contests or from donating as sires, as testing continues. Owen Chandler does not regret his actions that night. In every interview a determined assertion remains that not being a champion is irrelevant when placed next to saving a man who’d inspired him to personal glory. Kerchenko had been a long time hero right up to his final demise.

As a new decade begins for the IIA, the taint of drugs cheats refuses to go away. More and more women are turning away from the traditional methods of concubine insemination, preferring instead to risk natural conception, despite the many issues such practices ultimately present. It is no surprise therefore that today, Owen Chandler announced his retirement from all forms of participation, before coming out as bisexual and announcing his engagement to personal stylist and long-term companion Malcolm Fisher. His days as a sire and courtesan are now over.


September Short Story: Sacrifice

WARNING: This story deals with adult themes and should, as a result, be approached responsibly.

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during September. 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.


Sacrifice

 

Knowing this is how he will die, Daniel Burton succumbs to fate.


The salty whiteness his body is tumbling towards registers acceptance with more than a measure of panic: he’s willingly sacrificing himself to me with no fear, why? He’s in love, first time in 34 years. With HER. Searching this man’s mind, these last seconds are blissfully calm. Elaine’s honestly, beauty and courage shattered resolve never to even consider the possibility of a woman in his existence. This is true love too; the Librarian’s Contract has been broken. Daniel has to live.

The vast lake of sentient semen, built over nearly six hundred years from ritual offerings, thinks it has the right to be hacked off at this turn of events but is surprisingly sanguine instead.

Then it begins to laugh: deranged and maniacal: what will now happen is beyond funny.


There’s a voice, in Daniel’s head, chuckle that unexpectedly busts out into a full-blown cackle of delight.

‘Nice work, my son! Whether you like it or not, we’re now in this for the ride, together. I can’t harm you, because if I did the World will come to an end, quite literally… I have one last task to do before this is all over then you get the happy ending that fucked me over in the first place. HANG ON…’

Up from the lake comes shape of a hand, catching falling body with delicate skill. The last thing Daniel remembers before passing out again is the smell…


Chained to the Non-Fiction section of the Manchester Central Library, Elaine McCormack knows something has altered in the nightmare of existence since September 12th, 1468. Deep below Manchester’s streets familiar presence in her head is laughing maniacally whilst Edgar’s in pain. Next to Fiction, the warlock to whom she’s been magically bound since her 16th birthday drops to the ground, clawing at collar of a perfectly starched Jerome Street shirt. The air darkens, swirls of mist and iniquity not seen since their fateful first night on Saddleworth Moor.

This game, meticulously managed over centuries encompassed the Industrial Revolution, two World wars… rise, fall and renaissance of a centre for commerce and inspiration. Finally they’re here, second decade of the 21st Century, about to lift the curse that’s crippled this city. For six hundred and fifty years this man wanted her love. That was all that was needed: steadfast refusal had been her undoing, and in his anger they were both bound to this spot to suffer for all eternity… except not any more.

Daniel had broken their curse, simply by being kind.

There’s a low rumble from beneath the foundations of the Library, as Edgar Burrows grasps extended existence is about to be forcibly snuffed out by his own deranged and distinct ego. The spell used to separate them back in 1968 had simply escalated this inevitable confrontation. Except Burrows isn’t ready to leave, and with the curse that joined him to Elaine temporarily weakened, there might yet be an opportunity to reach for a second stab at immortality without the millstone of his own sexuality to continually assuage. It is worth a try, so he’s gone.

As warlock vanishes in a puff of sulphur and salt, McCormack’s mental and physical bonds evaporate. Falling to the floor, the woman prepares for reversion to pre-pubescent state, or to die instantly from old age. When neither happens, there’s cause for considerable celebration. Her thoughts go immediately to Daniel: he’s beneath, in the Chamber. This offering has not been consumed by the Creature and remains… asleep. Protected inside its body, reward offered for assistance, if she really cares for him. To remove Burrows completely… there is still a way.

Running through the Library, people are leaving, belongings left behind in panic as they bolt for the exits. Only now is it apparent that the entire building is shaking, books beginning to dislodge from shelves: outside sirens grow louder, emergency services arriving on cue. Time is running out, and the item that Elaine needs is locked inside Edgar’s office. Fortunately for her, he won’t realise what is about to happen until it is far too late. The obsession with self-preservation is literally about to become his own undoing, blinkered to the end.

In her head, the Creature’s apprehension manifests as surprise and resignation, before its guilt stops her progress. The ego is sorry, as afraid to die as Burrows… but is about to do so willingly for her soul. Joint sacrifice is unstoppable, stolen life now returned, unhindered. With a massive bang, door to Edgar’s office is blown off its hinges before being reduced to a surprisingly neat and evenly splintered pile of firewood. An ancient Tome of Spells that had been used to bind virgin to warlock is in Elaine’s hand, conveniently open at the right page.

Except after centuries of abuse and subjugation, McCormack cannot read the words; killing and torture her abuser’s task, not hers. She was better than this… but unless there was action, more innocents would vanish. A hand moves gently on her arm, book taken from a shaking grasp. This man ceased to exist the night he bound them together on the moor, yet continues to represent pure body of their curse: Burrows true self, forcibly removed decades previously. His ethereal manifestation smiles, resignation obvious and inescapable, tears falling as he speaks.

‘I am so sorry for all of this, what I did to you. The Evil will stop at nothing to keep himself in this plane, and to stop him I will smother every atom of that persona into oblivion. Let me read the words, so you can understand the good that existed but was lost so long ago.’

As the Creature reads, book turns from solid to smoke, vapour swirling around and into the fabric of the apparition. Instead of being bound to the woman, good has reattached itself to evil with one task in mind, to forcibly cancel darkness out with light, once and for all. The building suddenly stops shaking, and with a thump, Daniel appears on the floor in an ungainly heap.


Outside the Library, Emergency Services are in a state of some considerable concern. The ground beneath their feet has gone from solid to distinctly unstable within moments. With complete synchronicity, every manhole cover and access point covered by a metal plate is blown upwards into the early July morning. How anyone is not hurt is a miracle… and as each one whistles into clear blue sky, they vanish without a trace, before time slows to a crawl.

For a mile surrounding the Library an overpowering, oppressive stench rises like a wave from beneath city’s streets: is it hideously overripe cheese, rotting food or dead fish? Perhaps it is all three: as nearly four thousand people lose consciousness simultaneously nobody cares.


There remains a fair deal of contention as to what exactly happened at 10.15 am on the morning of July 16th: most agree they won’t ever forget the smell. Details are still under investigation, discussion in public subject to a raft of legal restrictions… but evidence remains. The three foot high wave of white liquid that engulfed Albert Square and surrounding streets has been described as a mass hallucination, because how else would the entire Town Hall have remained undamaged? Except amazingly, everything for a square mile is now pristinely clean.

Skeletal remains that appeared in 162 neat rows east of St Peter’s Square are being identified by the Manchester Police Force. Early rumours suggest at least some may belong to a number of the Jackson’s Row Missing, homeless people who mysteriously vanished across forty years. Initial damage reported to the inside of the Central Library could not be confirmed, and patrons were somewhat divided over what they observed in the hours leading up to the incident. The event’s only casualty was last seen inside the building: Edgar Burrows remains listed as ‘missing.’

Manchester Chronicle reporter Daniel Burton was injured as a result of a separate incident on the same day and remains stable at the Royal Infirmary. His harrowing report surrounding this incident and Burrow’s true identity has been read nearly twenty  million times on the Internet.


As man sleeps, wrapped in hospital linen, Elaine refuses to leave his side. Outside their room a dead Elm tree continues to regenerate: late, unexpected burst of Spring green in mid July. There will be issues to address over McCormack’s abilities once Daniel is fully conscious…


 

August Short Story :: Lydia

This story was first published in 31 parts via Twitter during August. 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.


Lydia

The Circus has never visited Anchorbridge before, of that Connie is certain. It’s not even on the map, battered corner store and gas station, collection of huts and tents that the railroad somehow forgot. Why they’re stopping here, now, is a mystery to all the carnies except one. Polari knows why they’re pitched, massive tent hauled to it’s full, imposing height. Sometimes, deviation is their plan because the Cards instruct change matters more than dollars. Connie watches from her caravan as he holds court: showman extraordinaire, Ringmaster of all.

This change transpired the night before, wagons pulled to sudden halt before crossing the tracks. Autumn’s coming: they’re already too far south as it is. To hit the State Line before October’s winds start causing trouble, this is a stop too far for everybody… yet, it’s show-time. 

Connie’s neck and chin have been itching since early dawn, so she combs the coarse, red fibres of her beard as distraction. Body is humming, heat within like late summer sun, harsh and unrelenting. This flesh demands satisfaction, but no man here will touch her. She’ll survive. These muscles intimidate whilst breasts infuriate, which is the way it should be when you’re 100% woman except for the addition of excess facial hair. Gramma Ana had cried the day she’d upped and left, but understood why. Normal folks won’t accept a freak, just the way life works.

Except these folks do, and have. Sure, she’s lonely sometimes, but everyone here is too, in their own way. The relief is companionship, acceptance and understanding. The performance is everything, glue that sticks them together in one glorious, colourful whole… and she’s needed. The Bosco Brothers and the Amazing Almarzanoff can’t get the main tent support straight, it requires a woman’s brutal, muscular touch to complete. Beard grooming can wait, this is a part of the dance Connie secretly loves. Without her, they are less than whole, as it should be.

They’ll do three nights here and then it’s time to pack the wagons to head north for the Winter.


In the middle of her first Strongwoman act, Conni’s aware of being stared at. It shouldn’t be a problem, that’s part of performance, except this time… something is in the air. Tonight has been full of surprises: a lame horse galloping into the ring fully cured, before demanding to be part of the act she’d performed in for over a decade. The clowns’ buckets, normally filled with paper tonight held water: Beppo was not happy at his resultant soaking.

As the sold out, full to bursting tent cheers its acknowledgement of her ability to lift two adult sea lions precariously balanced on plinths, there’s a smile brighter than sunshine from the seats by the entrance. The woman’s tall and blonde, sporting beard the colour of straw. Connie has to stare hard, confirming the truth. Reed thin but still muscular in dungarees and a chequered shirt, this stranger exudes warmth and humour: more significantly, nobody around her seems at all phased by the fact she’s a bearded lady… quite the opposite is the case.

Scanning the crowd, this woman is not alone: there’s a voluptuous brunette in a blue summer dress, elegant goatee plus immaculate handlebar moustache. Twin mousy brown haired, middle aged ladies clap and smile, beards plaited and bowed to match the tailored scarlet trouser suits. The tent is at least a quarter full of beards, sported by both sexes, and nobody seems to be the least bit upset or phased. As the entire audience rises to a standing ovation, Connie’s heart accepts something that previously was unbelievable: she is no longer unique in the World.

There’s also a sudden, overriding desire to take a walk into town the following day: Anchorbridge is suddenly a fascinating place to be pitched at. The Circus’ only Bearded Lady’s already deciding which of many dresses to wear, and hoping she might bump into someone on the way…


The following morning is unusually sunny and warm for mid-September: Connie is having trouble containing excitement as she walks through the outskirts of the town, surprised at how many inhabitants there are living in shacks and tents, in the process of building better homes. Passing these groups, there’s no shortage of smiles or good mornings. Obviously overt single sex families mix with the traditional, one group that appear to be some kind of commune… with absolutely no sadness to be found. Everybody, without exception, appears relaxed and happy.

Her assumption had been there was some raw material being farmed here, or a resource exploited… but the truth is these people are outsiders, with nowhere else to go. Normal society had forced them into the wilderness, and together they were creating their own unique Community. Reaching what passes for Main Street, Connie’s heart soars: there is the woman with the sunshine smile, axe in hand, efficiently trimming a large trunk of its bark. Athleticism is without question, sight of her muscles working as blade strips tree becoming beyond distracting…

‘That’s Lydia,’ says a voice to her right. Turning, a young boy, not yet into his teens, is watching the woman work, as transfixed as she is. ‘My aunt can clear bark off a tree in ten minutes. She’s the best woodworker in town, have you come to learn how to make things too?’

The woman has stopped working, aware of Connie’s presence, and as their eyes meet attraction is both obvious and unavoidable. Lost for words, the Circus’ bearded lady is no longer outsider, or afraid of consequences of her desire. She has already been made better coming here.


This will be the first time Connie has missed a performance since her late teens: she knows Polari will not be angry. In fact, it was him who gave her leave to be here: ‘these truly are your people,’ he’d confirmed before encouraging her not to return for the day’s entertainment. Lying under canvas, Lydia is sleeping beneath crook of her arm. Talking here together, fully clothed, whisper of possibility slowly bound both together. There are two days before the Circus is due to ship out, handful of important choices to make before morning sun finally rises.

It would be so easy to once more drop everything, starting new existence with this family, in a loving community, already instant and accepting home, except… the Circus means more to her than was at first grasped. To leave them would also hurt: there are hard choices lying ahead. What is needed most are Elvira’s cards plus clairvoyant’s unswerving guidance: the distraction beside her must be removed, for now. A note is written, on back of a circus flyer: ‘There are issues that need to be settled, I will return with the dawn.’ before quietly slipping away.

It is a surprise to find a group of friends waiting for her at the City limits: all seven Bosco Brothers impeccably attired in matching suits, Beppo and Alto’s bright scarlet waistcoats acting as beacons in the gloom. Even Polari dressed for the occasion, a faultless ensemble. ‘I know what you seek, but there’s no need. Elvira has told me to follow your lead, that all who yearn must come see this community for themselves. She understands better than anyone what drives both bodies and minds forward. It is time for everyone to stop, think and breathe.’

The look Polari gives is damning, reasoning the Circus stopped here becoming clear: an overridingly female-heavy community, possibility to look past appearance and convention for genuine connection. What mattered most to her as attractive, is different for everybody, after all… As both Boscos plus clowns move as a throng towards town Polari remains, taking Connie’s hand with unexpected gentleness. There is a change to him: not inevitability of losing her to these people, but something far more significant. He is ready to give up existence for her ideal.

‘You have wrought much change since agreeing to stay and became part of our family: I will never be able to thank you for all the lessons these boys were taught, for that is all most of them have ever been. Respect matters, above all else, to build the best of men in this World. There is no point in moving back north, fate dictates this is our home for the winter, perhaps longer. Elvira knew we might lose you, but then grasped greater good that could come from us all taking a moment to stop and think, reassessing where it was that we all belonged.’

Connie will thank Elvira in the morning, no need now to return to the Circus. Anchorbridge has become a way-point, chance of growth for all her friends. What matters most to her is Lydia: cornflower blue eyes, hair the hue of ripened corn, bright bearded future possible together.