Sunday, 26 June 2011


They descend from ashen skies on wings of scrap metal. The blissed few. The wishful dead. The angels. They are the seneschals of the Reincarnatrix: She who sits in the molten clouds in Her palace of fearful hope; She who laughs at the suffering below Her with one face and with another face, smiling, dispenses kisses of joyful oblivion – the amnesia of the gods.

It is rumoured She has a third face which whispers barbed kindnesses in the ears of children, lulling them to sleep with dreams of a painless rebirth; with lies.

Lola studied the angels when she first came to this place, to The Job; when she first became one of the freefolk. The angels watch avidly with their bulging eyes, never missing a moment of toil or ruin. The greater the suffering the more violently their naked teeth chatter until it becomes a horrible applause.

Lola has seen her friends give in to the hardship and turn their eyes to the sky, open their mouths and pray with the only prayer She ever listens to: screams. Ragged, throat-tearing, despair-fuelled screams. And when hands of smelt and ore-smoke reach down to cradle them and carry them away Lola has seen their calmed faces and for the first time in years, their smiles.

She looks for signs in the beings that return, for evidence of identity, but they are changed. Their fleshless skulls all bare the same grin; their bodies flaunt a new collage of flesh and rusted metal. She does not like to imagine what may have become of their souls.

Lola cries constantly. It is no longer from the pain in her torn flesh or the stabbing aches in her back. It is for the faces that are no longer there. She used to think there would be a time she could cry no more, but instead it was her voice that went away. Not a word or whimper or moan escapes her lips as she continues to dig; bare fingers clawing through the junk; dry and scarred skin scratching against ragged metal edges.

Their world is nothing but parts and pieces.

Some time ago she uncovered a complete machine, whole and unbroken. The angels flocked to her then. They took it away in one piece. It was the only time they ever spoke to her. She hadn’t even known they could speak.

These used to do The Job. But they broke down too often, were too costly to replace.

Lola fills her quota. She feeds. She lies in her crib. Sometimes new arrivals, more refugees, speak to her, they ask about The Job, for advice. They soon give up. They soon go away.

At dusk, the angels sing. A strange symphony; a tinny echo that only grows louder; a bitter wind gusting through corroded pipes; a serenade from beyond to before, grating and beautiful.

The angels sing and Lola cries herself to sleep. Dream free.

As she sleeps, the fourth face of the Reincarnatrix reaches down and kisses her forehead tenderly. On Lola’s cheeks their tears mingle.


This is the final flash fiction in Torn Pages, chapter 2 of the Xeroverse. From next Sunday there will be a week of guest posts to celebrate the first anniversary of the Xeroverse. Please pop in, join the celebrations, read and comment. Thank you. =)


Recommended Reading:

Two pieces from the talented Rebecca Bohn.
Princesa: an exquisitely-written zombie flash.
Twelve Horses: A desolate tale of the last, lonely robot on Earth.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Doctor Storm

Doctor Storm, white boy with dreads, ran across the rain-swept rooftops. There was an idea loose in the City of Minds and he was hot on its trail.

The City’s overseer, the Angel of Nothing, sat in his Tower of Inspiration. He had been Doctor Storm’s partner once, but now he controlled what had once been free; he commanded the beat that had once been wild, that the two of them had once danced to, together. Nothing happened in the City without the Angel knowing.

Twists of smoke like malnourished waifs slunk through the corridors and stairs of the tower; they saw to The Angel’s every need, his warmth, his comfort, his hunger and desire. The Angel’s servants were ideas, bound to physical form. When they were used up and faded and forgotten, the Angel took them to their resting place, where they would serve in one last way, and the Tower grew just a little.

In the highest room of the Tower there was a table. The table was incongruous in this place of pure thought; it was old, wooden, scratched and stained. It was physical. Many years ago he and Doctor Storm had sat across from each other at this very table. They had discussed the future, they had discussed the past, they had discussed things that might exist, things that could exist, and things that never should. There were still two chairs, though one had been empty for so many years.

The Angel of Nothing was shuffling the tattered Black Tarot deck.

He and Doctor Storm had imagined the Black Tarot, they had researched its science, its magic and mechanics, they created it in all but form. The theory by itself had been enough to show them the cracks between perception and creation; the doorway beyond reality. And that was when they had stepped outside of the real world and come here, to the City.

The Black Tarot was a stacked deck. Where a normal tarot could show hints and shades of what was to come, what the Black Tarot showed actually determined the future. Normal tarot sifted through options and pathways, choices; the Black Tarot solidified all the possible futures into one. With practice and dexterity the dealer could determine the spread, and so dictate the future.

The Angel of Nothing had practiced. The Angel of Nothing was a master. The future was his.

The inhabitants of the City, once so full of vibrancy and revelation, had been shackled. In the real world their counterparts found themselves uninspired and suddenly, unaccountably dull.

Doctor Storm was determined to change all that. He had put his fate in the hands of chaos, in the one thing the Black Tarot had no control over, he let the weather determine his path. Weather was capricious and mercurial, its vast momentum too great for the Black Tarot to affect, and so he became invisible, untouchable.

The City spoke to Doctor Storm, it warned him and kept him hidden; it revealed its hidden tracks to him. And now there was a new idea loose on the streets, new thought, new possibility. The Doctor was determined to find it and bind it to the cause. One day there would be an idea that could bring the Angel down, one day there would be revolution, and on that day freedom of thought would reign again.

The rooftops were slick with rainwater but the Doctor’s footing was sure and the winds howled around him as he ran. He leapt across an alley and lightning thrashed the air, striking the library spire; the air shook with magnificent thunder. He turned towards the library, his heading now revealed.

In his peripheral vision the Doctor saw several shapes leave the Tower of Inspiration. He knew what they were, steel traps with wings of water-proof paper. On the paper were scrawled ideas, of flight and tracking and relentlessness. He had encountered their cunning before.

Doctor Storm’s grin was dark and feral. The hunt was on.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Gunship Afterlife

Muted thunder terrorises the city. Somewhere along the line the gunships forgot the distinction between ‘infected’ and ‘survivor’. They thrash the air with carbon-grey blades, savagely keeping themselves aloft, scouring the streets for movement, scouring them clean of life, and unlife.

The curfew is permanent now; the punishment hard, hot and fatal. We scurry from safehole to safehole, field mice afraid of the hawk’s shadow. Great black hawks that glide between the tower-block corn stalks like death’s own birds of prey.

They are the dominant life form now. Top predator.

I am always the first out of cover, and the last back in. I am not a mother or a child, I am not an engineer or a hunter, I am the leader. My people are the future, I just have to get them there.

I listen, I look at my boy, Martin, he is listening too. He has better ears than I do. I nod at him, he nods back and I slowly step through the shattered glass front of the foyer into the street. I cautiously look to the sides, to the street and the sky. Nothing, yet.

I walk to the middle of the street and look around. Still listening. Nothing but a low wind stirring the grey dust.

I catch Martin’s eye. He sends Brad, Carson, Jimmy over: the army boys. We’re lucky we ever ran into them. I join them on the other side and we pair off to check the building out. The odd floors for me and Carson, even for the other two.

To be honest, the zees never pose much of a threat, they are slow and uncoordinated, but they have an eternal patience. It must have been a decade since the bombs, and you’ll still find one just sat in his chair, doing nothing but waiting. We found a whole family just sat around the dining table once, food untouched. It’s more normal to just find the one zee, and a bunch of gnawed corpses.

They were worse at first, but I guess as the food ran out they slowed down. Something keeps them ticking over though, the mould, maybe. That rust-like growth around their lips, eyes and ears. It spreads inside them too, some symptom; non-contagious, thank god. I got a lung-full once when I hacked a zee’s head off with a fire axe. Only the bitten get infected now. Maybe whoever dropped the bombs got something wrong. I guess somewhere in the world people might even be rebuilding, somewhere in the world they didn’t set those damn gunships in the sky.

We finish our sweep. Nothing for me and Carson. Jimmy and Brad had to take care of an old couple they found lying side by side in bed; hard to tell their age now, of course, but there were photos. A lot of the flats seemed well stocked, we always give the kitchen cupboards a cursory glance, looks like we might be able to stay here a couple of weeks.

Back at the front door something’s wrong. I can’t see Martin across from us. I wave the others down and peer along the street, then to the grey sky. Nothing. I open the door a crack and listen. Nothing.

The army boys look from the windows with me. Still nothing.

I send Jimmy and Brad off to find a higher window and push an earphone into one ear. We use our two radios sparingly, the battery supply’s limited. I remember, back when we had leisure time, how they used to say it was ‘too quiet’ in books and movies. The city’s always too quiet these days; except for those horrible, crazy moments. Hadn’t been too many of those recently though. I guess the gunships are getting one part of their job right.

Jimmy calls in. Nothing.

The tribe, Martin, should just be hiding. They should all be over there, safe, out of sight. But if they’re hiding, what are they hiding from?

I’ve got to go out. What else can I do?

Even the wind has stopped. The low clouds always keep the air packed and humid, a breeze is good. Heat haze and sweat is bad, the sick half-light of day is bad. I slowly walk out into the street. Peering. Listening. Maybe there is still a ‘too quiet’.

Then I see it.

A gunship, with the patience of a zee, perched on the rooftop two buildings down, on our side of the street. I’ve never seen one stopped before. I don’t know if it’s something they do. Maybe it’s broken. Maybe it’s not.

I swear it’s watching me, waiting to see where I scurry. I want to go to my son, my tribe, but I mustn’t show it where they are. I want to run, but I daren’t move. I slowly reach round for my binoculars and bring them up to my eyes.

Impossible to tell where the thing’s looking with those sensor globes. There’s no way it can’t see me though. I tighten up the focus.

Oh. Damn.

No way. No goddamn way. How is that even possible?

Around the sensor globe, along the carapace seals and the jointed wings is a rough, orange-brown growth. It might just be rust, but I know, I know, it isn’t.

Somehow, the gunship’s infected.

Gunship Afterlife was inspired by this image by Daniel Graffenberger

Recommended Reading:

Starfall by Kevlin Henney.
Great little alternative history, alternative science, flash.

Djinn's Klämdagar by Aidan Fritz
A teasing glimpse of a last stand in a magical alterverse.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

They Stole Our Future

The boy on Kelli’s couch was a lost past, a broken future, a good time and all kinds of tears rolled into one. You know the kind.

“Hey, Justin.”

Justin groaned.

Kelli watched him rub his eyes, watched him wince and squint himself awake. He didn’t look good. Gone was the naive, beautiful dancer she remembered, instead he had turned up on her doorstep unshaven, unwashed, unkempt. His clothes were a mess, he was a mess. He had collapsed.

They (Bry and Nate and her) had dragged him up the claustrophobic, dangerous stairs into the flat. They banged his head once, he hadn’t seemed to notice. He was laid on the sofa and amidst frowns and reminiscences Nate pronounced him stable, just passed out through exhaustion. It seemed plausible. No ambulance was needed, they decided. They were of a culture that looked after themselves, because one emergency service often invited another, and there was no need to make things complicated.

When he really did just seem to be sleeping, Kelli had persuaded Bryony and Nate to go home. She’d looked after worse than this, club-casualties only able to stay conscious long enough to vomit, shivering and sweating and so sorry, sorry, sorry. At one time or another they’d all played nursemaid, they’d all needed one. She’d looked after Justin before. And this, this was easy, he was just sleeping. So she sent them home.

That was last night. Kelli hadn’t slept. Just made tea, drank tea and watched him.

“Whasshppn,” Justin said. Or something like that.

He coughed. “What’s Happening?” He caught sight of Kelli. “Oh.”

“So. It’s been a while, Just.”

“Kells. I’m really sorry, I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Hey, it’s ok, I mean, we’re still friends, right? It’s ok.”

“I- yeah, we’re still friends. I’m sorry.” He rolled into a sitting position and rubbed his face, blinking hard. “I should go.”

“Woah, you just got here, you’re in no state to go anywhere.”

“I can’t, ah, I shouldn’t have come.”

“It’s ok.” She smiled. “Really. Have a shower, have breakfast. We’ll talk about old times, the good times.”

“No, it’s not, I mean.” He glanced around the room. “I’ve been here too long, they’ll come for me.”

“What are you talking about? Who? What the fuck are you involved in?”

“It’s too hard to explain. I’m sorry. I’ll just go.” He started to get up.

She grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back onto the sofa. “No. Explain.”

“I,” he saw the determination in her eyes and didn’t try getting up again, “listen, you remember the stuff we used to believe in, the future? The stuff we used to talk about.”

“OK... yeah. So, like, computers and smart phones and all the cool stuff that we actually have now?”

“No, that was never the future we talked about. That’s the future they fobbed us off with, that’s the future they distract us with.”

“What? It looks like the future to me.”

“It’s all the same thing! OK, so it’s cool, but it’s all computers, it’s one piece of advanced technology with a whole bunch of applications. Where’s the rest?”

“I don’t get it.”

There was an intensity to Justin’s face now. “Jet packs and flying cars and space stations and robots!”

“Science fiction?”

“No! It shouldn’t be, look at computers, look how they’ve advanced, why haven’t all of those things advanced?”

“Look, Justin.” Her brow creased with worry. “You really need some rest.”

“Don’t you get it?”

“You can see all those other things on YouTube, Just. They’re all, well, they’re a bit rubbish.”

“That’s just propaganda. That’s what they allow you to see.”


“I shouldn’t have come, I’m sorry, they’ll track me, they’ll come here, they’ll track my thoughts, they can do that.”

And she couldn’t make him stay. It broke her heart all over again to see him like this, once so bright and happy and calm, now so agitated and... abstract. She let him out and went back upstairs, he knew the trick to get the downstairs gate open so she stayed inside, just looked out of the living room window, down to the street, waiting for him to reappear; waiting for him to walk away from her life, again.

As she waited a sleek, black car pulled over on the opposite side of the road. It wasn’t a make she recognised; it had fifties fins and chrome, but swept into a more modern build. It didn’t seem to sit right either, bobbing slightly, and the red glow to the back end seemed too bright, too obvious in the morning light.

The car shifted oddly as two large men climbed out of the passenger side doors. They were broad shouldered, broad all over in fact, heavy looking, with dark suits and brimmed hats that concealed their faces and made them look like exaggerated cartoon gangsters. She caught a flash of the early morning light reflected from beneath a hat; mirrored shades perhaps?

One of them had some kind of handheld device with a spinning antenna on top; he consulted it then put it back into the car. He nodded at the other and they crossed the road towards where her gate let out onto the street. Her heart leapt, there was no way she had time to warn Justin. They disappeared from sight; she couldn’t see down the very side of the building without actually leaning out of the window and somehow she knew she didn’t want to be spotted by these men.

She heard Justin yelp, and the sounds of a struggle. Then the two men came back into view, carrying Justin back towards the car; he might have been no more than a piece of furniture, the firm grip they had on him and the way they matter-of-factly shoved him into the back seat.

She should call the police. But what would they do? She would wait and see where the car went and take its number plate. Then call the police.

Justin caught sight of her at the window.

“They stole our future!”

The men looked upwards and she caught another flash of sunlight glinting off metal as she ducked beneath the window sill. She didn’t think they saw her.

From outside there was a flash of light and a deep, soft ‘fwump’ noise. Then the room went dark as something too large rushed upwards past her window.

She scrambled round and stared into the sky at the rapidly diminishing rocket car. Her mouth hung open.

She completely forgot to take the number plate.

Apologies for running a hundred words over a thousand this week. If you stuck it out all the way to the end, thank you! =)

Also, you can hear me (actually hear me!) rambling and reading a 101 words of very short fiction on audioboo.