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.

June Short Story :: Alias

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during June. It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

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

Enjoy.


Alias

Christopher Ashcroft piles the white dish with Special Fried Rice, followed by a large portion of Pork and Mixed Vegetables. It is Friday night: this much-needed treat is his anticipated reward after week of healthy lunches and protein rich dinners, plus three nights at the Gym. However, this is nothing compared with the excitement and arousal he’s currently experiencing at possibilities from the evening’s entertainment. Anticipation of what is in store has fuelled Chris since leaving the office; so much potential chaos awaits after finishing this meal.

His current project is coming to a head: it is therefore time to begin organisation of the next campaign. This battlefield is already littered with thousands of angry and upset individuals, all fired by his own brilliantly executed, subversive approach to online encouragement. The almost foolproof technique has been honed over the past five years, allowing Ashcroft the ability to totally demolish other people’s online credibility without him ever being affected. The key is to start fires, but encourage others to stoke their potential for devastation.

With dinner done, it’s time to sit back in his custom-built gaming chair, surveying fresh wreckage of this latest endeavour: turning two online friends into enemies. He’s convinced the other their online confidante’s a conniving and duplicitous liar, slandering behind their back. A quick glance at Twitter notifications offers unexpected surprise: there’s no DM’s from either Abigail or Ruth, despite having formed complex relationships with both over the last month. With rising concern, Chris goes to their Twitter biographies. Both women have blocked him.

Logging to his alt account shows nothing untoward: no mention of his name, indication he’s been found out. Both women’s conversations continue totally as normal. In fact, one of their closest joint friends has chosen to follow on recommendation, which is quickly reciprocated.With an increasing sense of foreboding, timelines are scoured for any indicator of what might have transpired between lunchtime when he was chatting freely to both and now. Then there’s a notification: latest follower has sent him a message. Opening the window, Chris is stunned.

The solitary line of text suddenly turns his blood cold.

‘We know exactly what you’ve done.’

The instant temptation is to feign ignorance, but a second message has already arrived, stab to his heart.

‘Not just to us, but all those other innocent people since all this began.’

==

Chris tried to sleep, but to no avail. It is 3.25am, and time to do what he’s paid for during the week: troubleshooting. This time, all efforts are focused on his own online behaviour over the last month. The object of this exercise is simple: find out where the mistake was made. This game’s been played, on and off for almost ten years: beginning as a provocateur on tech support sites, moving up to an antagonist on LiveJournal, then a successful period of anonymous destruction via Facebook, until the rules were changed and he got bored of the responses.

A lot has been learnt since those early days: how to IP mask, withhold all personal details, have a cover identity written and committed to memory. Ashcroft is convinced no mistake’s been made; his next step is to work out what has missed in the pair’s complex text communications. Organisational fault is obvious, apparent since before this particular exercise was begun. It is not Abigail or Ruth who exposed him, but their mutual friend. It appears this user has been stalking his actions, active within several planned provocations over the last six months.

The same IP address keeps appearing again and again: tracing the machine to a London Internet cafe, he can now go to bed happy. Sending DM to his new nemesis, sense of ability and comfort soon returns.

‘I’m not afraid. No laws have been broken here. You have no power over me.’

==

There’s brief disorientation as Chris awakes, immediate realisation there’s no bedside clock illuminated beside him. It is soon apparent his flat’s without electricity: PC is dead, no smart devices are operational. All he has is mobile phone, on which a text message sits waiting.

“I have plenty of power, Mr Ashcroft. Stop your online intimidation of the innocent, or there will be consequences.’

As the message is read, entire flat springs back to life, and Chris is calling 999, before stopping himself. How does he explain what just happened to the Police?

==

The rest of the day is spent scouring house for potential bugs, disconnecting all internet-connected items that might be remotely controlled and trying to work out how this particular person not only knows where Ashcroft lives, but his real name, which has never been used online. A sense of discomfort and panic gnaws at a mind all too aware of the irony at play: this is what is meted out to those people whom he decides deserve to have their lives disrupted and manipulated to his own ends; drama created as entertainment now skilfully turned in upon itself.

After a while, pleasure emerges from this unseen, expert manipulation: his new online spectator could also be influenced for entertainment. This offered a chance to expose initial actions as illegal: shutting off electricity should be offence enough to get local Police involved. As he masturbates multiple times in the shower, Chris imagines being watched, making sure that performance is as assured as the online personal he knows will emerge as victorious. Going to bed, sleeping with confidence, Sunday will see the start of a new, focused plan of attack.

==

Over the next week, online activity means supportive encouragement of friends, plus a very public, heartfelt apology to both Abigail and Ruth. The entire time, his nemesis’ actions are tracked and recorded: by Friday, pattern of movement has emerged before a plan is executed. After a meeting in the City, Ashcroft suddenly and unexpectedly detours from his normal route back to Canary Wharf, heading for the part of east London where his nemesis’ Internet cafe is located. Arriving at the address, he is confronted with a burnt out, empty shell of a shop.

Sitting in his vanity-plated black Audi TT, Chris can’t work out what is going on. This is the address that Google Maps specified: location that, according to the Cafe’s web-page, is very much active and vibrant right now. Holding phone in shaking hands, a text message appears:

‘However hard you try and win, this reign of terror and arrogance is over, Mr Ashcroft. Time for punishment.’ Unable to move, sense of genuine panic grips his soul. As the man sits and watches, every application is methodically deleted, before the iPhone is effectively bricked.

Staring at darkness from his screen, glass surface unexpectedly ripples. Trying to move, Ashcroft is immobilised via countless thin, black tendrils of smoke that spill unhindered from the phone, wrapping around left wrist and arm… slowly spreading inside suit, onto his chest…

==

After failing to return back to work, it takes three days before anybody thinks about reporting Ashcroft as missing. The car is eventually located, after having been towed away and then impounded by the Metropolitan Police, with both his keys and phone inexplicably locked inside. Friends and colleagues are interviewed: only after his home is searched and PC taken in for analysis does it emerge that a popular, dedicated City trader led a shocking, double life. However, duplicitous alter ego is not a surprise to everybody, particularly his ex-girlfriend.

Andrea left Chris when it became apparent his lust for attention and control superseded all other rational faculties. It had taken some extraordinary measures to ensure she was no longer bothered by Ashcroft, the details of which are not shared when police finally interview her. The terms of her contract had been very specific: we will be happy to deal with your problem, on the sole condition you never mention who we are, what we do and how justice is served. In the modern world, sometimes, the less people knew of real truths within reality, the better.

In exchange for a promise to live decently and honourably, her soul’s forfeit wiped homophobic, narcissistic arrogance off the face of the Earth. Chris’ spirit, with a growing number of others was uploaded to the Angelic Cloud: there it would be saved, inaccessible, for eternity.


April Short Story :: Thriller

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during April. It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

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

Enjoy.


Thriller

1977

They meet at an audition for kids to star in a West-End production of ‘Oliver.’ Lizzie is 11, Marcus is 12. Their mothers bond over science fiction and Star Wars. It is a match made in a draughty East London rehearsal room.

The pair tentatively holds hands after an hour.

Over five years, Liz and Marc become inseparable, despite living on different sides of London. The Circle line acts as both backdrop and setting for the performance: Hammersmith to Moorgate fuses mothers as friends, shifting offspring progressively closer until they collide. The pair loses their virginities to each other on the weekend before Lizzie is due to begin her BA degree in Acting at the Guildhall School. Marcus will be returning to a second year at RADA: as a symbol of continued devotion, they symbolically exchange Russian wedding bands.

This is the moment where Marc becomes obsessed with the instant of sexual release, and Liz the joy of being loved and respected. It becomes almost immediately obvious that the pair is unable to successfully combine these two concepts into a long-term, prosperous relationship. However, for close to a decade they try. Through numerous infidelities on Marc’s part, Liz remains staunchly devoted to care and consideration. One evening in 1992 she returns to their flat to find him sleeping with another man: a final straw which destroys intimacy for good.

Except that is not the end of the relationship. For the next 20 years, Marc drifts in and out of Liz’s life, becoming increasingly controlling and demanding. He remains the oldest friend she has, but as time goes on comes understanding this entire situation is increasingly toxic. New friends suggest starting fresh, so she does. Despite Marc being both well-known and popular as an actor, he’s finally removed from her life for good. Stubbornly, one legacy remains. However hard she tries, Liz cannot remove the Russian Wedding band from right middle finger.



2012

On an extended lunch-break from the Barbican, Liz is struggling to locate an address in Covent Garden. Edwin, who she’s been seeing for a month, has suggested a place capable of removing her ring without damage to either it or finger. However, it does not seem to exist. She’s walked up and down this tiny street three times, and nowhere can ‘Semper Femina’ be seen, despite knowing this is the location. About to give up and go back to work, she turns suddenly and is presented with a pale cream shopfront accompanied with faintest whiff of jasmine.

Pushing open the door, ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ plays inside, a song consciously avoided for over thirty years. An already anxious Liz finds herself wanting to turn around and leave, were it not for the woman standing behind the cluttered, disorganised counter, smiling warmly. The shop is a disaster area; child’s room not properly cleaned or organised except in gentle, pastel shades. The shopkeeper is the most attractive woman Liz has ever seen: dark skin, jade eyes, hair so black it is impossible to see where it begins and ends against the skintight dress.

In fact, if Liz didn’t know better the long, flowing and incredibly figure-hugging outfit is part of her own body…when the woman speaks, the air around them both seems to move of its own accord.

“Your friend sent you: you wish to let go of the past but still hold it as a souvenir.”

A hand is extended, talon-like nails painted purple with thin, black streaks. It holds a small, glass bottle, inside which is a tiny, white seed.

‘Take this before bedtime tonight, your ring will fall off in the morning. Say the words on the bottle. You’ll know what to do next.’

Blinking, Liz finds herself back in the alley. The shop remains, but a sign has appeared in the window stating, in Gothic script: ‘Gone for Long Lunch.’ Looking down, tiny bottle is clutched in her hand. On its front is a label, stating:

‘A Spell to Re-Unite Two Lost Objects.’

The front label unfolds: on Tube back to work, contents are summarily digested. Any spell, once cast, becomes the soul obligation of the user, and by swallowing their tablet an individual takes full responsibility for any consequences arising. Most importantly, results will vary. ‘How bad could it be?’ Liz thinks, rattling tiny white speck inside thick glass, size of a sesame seed. ‘Perhaps I should do some research online, just to check.’ Being her own boss ought to have some advantages…

The rest of the afternoon becomes a transformative experience.

Internet search after search brings forth glowing reviews of Semper Femina’s products: happy souls who used the place as the means to start journeys to enlightenment and self-discovery. There’s even a Guardian review which calls the place ‘an antidote to traditional witchcraft.’ The shop’s own (very impressively produced) website reminds her that ‘magic is as much about belief as results. Only by truly wishing to change our lives for the better, does the Nirvana we individually search for come to pass. You are, in effect, your spells’ own catalyst.’

By bedtime, Liz is convinced, desperate to remove the ring before her next scheduled date with Edwin. She will tell him over dinner she’s not interested in seeing him anymore regardless: his constant assessment, often during sex, of her shortcomings has become a deal breaker. However, he was right. This physical connection to her past is toxic and negative, so needs to go. Getting into bed, the seed is placed on back of tongue before being washed down with a swig of water. Sleep hits with surprising speed, Liz lost to dreams almost immediately.

Saturday is warm and welcoming: she’d be hours late for work if this were a weekday. Taking a second after waking to feel for her finger, ring appears to have finally been dislodged: but where has it gone? A frantic search of the duvet begins, but Russian band cannot be located. In increasing desperation covers are removed, pillowcases taken off until Liz’ foot treads on something hard. The ring’s on the floor: hand must have slipped out of bed during the night, or the disturbance of covers caused it to fall there… the spell has indeed done its job.

Taking the ring, placing it in her palm, bottle is retrieved from dressing table before words on label are recited:

“Woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing.”

The bands are suddenly so hot Liz recoils in shock, making them fly upwards. Unexpectedly the room seems to pivot. It’s the same unmistakeably odd feeling experienced at the shop: a small and perfectly formed black hole then appears from thin air at eye level. Its gravity is immediate and apparent: before there is time to react, the Russian wedding band has been swallowed into nothingness.

Liz is coughing, sudden and violent before the swallowed seed shoots out of her mouth, also sucked into non-existence before hole shudders, folds into itself, through and round into a vortex, before completely vanishing. The doorbell rings but woman is far too shocked to move. Finally, awareness prompts movement: walking downstairs to see if the person who rang still remains, a sumptuous vellum envelope awaits, resting on the doormat. It is wax sealed with the Semper Femina crest, and on the front is hand-written a message in lush, purple script.

‘Your spell has only been partially successful. If you wish to complete the incantation, now break the seal on this missive. However, BE WARNED. Please ensure this outcome is EXACTLY what is required for your own particular situation.’

Without thought, Liz opens the envelope.


She’s about to leave the house to dump Edwin six hours later when Liz remembers she’s left the TV on in the bedroom. As the BBC News titles fade, the woman is suddenly staring with mounting horror as Marcus’ beaming image appears on-screen, newscaster looking distinctly spooked. Ex-boyfriend had been doing live TV on a popular morning cookery programme when there had been an ‘incident’: as video plays, Liz scrabbles for the spell bottle, reading its label with mounting panic, before the true horror of consequences captured on multiple cameras registers.

As Marcus is bodily sucked into a perfectly formed, man-sized black hole at head height between the cookery corner and guest sofa, Liz realises that his ring must still be being worn somewhere, even if it wasn’t obvious on his finger. The spell, undoubtedly, had done its job.