Friday, 30 March 2012

Pretty Thief

Sally stole a bit of every man who ever saw her.

Nothing they would miss. Not really.

She didn’t take for gain, more a kind of kleptomania. She really couldn’t help herself; it was like scrapbooking, or collecting butterflies.

Her two-bedroom, terraced house was the same as so many others in the small city of Norford. There was a box room off the main bedroom upstairs. It was sometimes used to describe the houses as ‘three bedroom’, or converted into a bathroom, but it mostly felt like space the architect hadn’t known what to do with, barely big enough for a double bed and a pair of slippers. In Sally’s house it was lined with shelves, with another row back to back in the centre.

The narrow shelves were filled with tiny sample bottles. About the same size and shape as the ones food colouring comes in.

What Sally sampled with great care, some humans stole recklessly and without even realising what they were doing. They would steal huge chunks of a person’s soul and then abuse it, crumple, crease and batter it, and just threw it away like a bad memory. Her own kind were worse, they always took too much, thought of humans as nothing more than cattle.

But Sally wasn’t like that, she saw herself as something of a custodian. She treasured every subtle flavour and nuanced scent a human soul could have. She catalogued them and studied them. She admired the creatures. And that was why she was outcast. She could not consume any part of them. She went hungry, and for that her sisters despised her.

Her sisters knew only feasting and deceit and thought that was enough.

Sally had a plan though. She had found that some humans were empty inside, so empty. In them was nothing but cold curiosity, a dark void that wanted just to examine, to consume and absorb everything around it. They were horrible, despicable things, not so different from her sisters, but she could use them. By giving up some of her precious collection she would scent one of these hollow men to appeal to one of her kind.

She would give him a flavour of devotion and desire, of obedience and worship, and just a hint of defiance; all the things her sisters hungered for. And when one of her sisters noticed, stalked her prey and moved in, took him to a secluded place and opened herself wide in order to consume him, she would be in for a surprise. Instead of the feast she came for she would find her spirit inexorably wrenched into that emptiness, consumed by that ravenous, psychopathic curiosity, even as the man destroyed her body, completely ignorant of her true nature.

Sally would watch. She would call the police and her hollow man would be caught red-handed. She would save humans twice over in one act. And any remnants of her sister she would bottle and take home, ugly things that they were.

They could never be a part of her collection. Sally had other plans for them... she was so very, very hungry.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Born Inside

Jimmy’s cellmate, Bryn, was rocking back and forth on his bunk, muttering. If anyone caught wind of Bryn acting like this, things could go bad for both of them. Jimmy looked out through the bars, the prison was locked down for the evening but he didn’t want anyone overhearing; it wouldn’t be good for him to be seen to be overly caring.

But he did care. Bryn had slept in the bunk below him for nearly three years and Jimmy knew him better than just about anyone he’d ever known before.

He kept his voice low, “Bryn, mate, what’s going on?”

Bryn looked up; he was still shaking but he stopped muttering. Beads of sweat slipped down his face, and his eyes slowly focussed on Jimmy.

“S’bad, Jimmy, s’real bad.”

“When ain’t it? You gotta pull yourself together, mate.”

“Too late. S’my fault. They got out.”

“Who got out? Of here? No way, ain’t no one due out and ain’t no one escaped.”

Bryn shook his head and moaned.

“Out of my head, Jimmy. I used to escape this place every day. Used to imagine myself other places where I wasn’t held in concrete and steel, where I was free to come and go as I pleased.”

“Hell, mate, we’ve all done that.”

“Problem is, I came back here every night.”

“Yeah, we all got that problem.”

“No, no, no. I thought I imagined those places, but they’re real, the demons ain’t just in my head.”

Jimmy had heard rumours about what Bryn did, the savagery, but he’d never asked, just seen the wide berth some of the other killers gave Bryn.

He licked his lips nervously, “Uh... the demons that told you to do all those things?”

“Those other places were prisons, too. And something wanted to escape, something followed me back. Here.”

“Look, mate, I heard about your insanity plea. It didn’t work then, what makes you think it’s gonna work now?”

From somewhere on another level the night time silence was broken by shouting, agitated, angry. It was always difficult to judge exactly where, the way sound ricocheted inside the bones and cavities of the building, but a shout in here, after lights out, always started an avalanche, more shouts, whoops. There was a scream, not unusual, but this sounded different, scared.

You didn’t sound scared in here, it wasn’t good for survival.

Jimmy rolled his eyes, “Great, everyone’s feeling a little crazy tonight, must be a full moon.”

“You don’t understand.” Bryn gripped his arm, “It’s too late, you’re going to die.”

Jimmy calmly removed Bryn’s hand, “Now I know you didn’t just threaten me. Watch your mouth, Bryn. Say that to the wrong person round here and you’ll be doing all your imagining in a neck brace, or worse.”

“What kind of creature needs to be locked up in a place that doesn’t even exist, Jimmy?”

The chorus of cries and yells continued to crescendo. It was beginning to sound like a full blown riot, but no way was anyone out of their cells. There was going to be hell to pay when the chief came in; the night warden was probably calling him right now.

Bryn looked up and over Jimmy’s shoulder. His eyes widened.

“Oh shit. I’m sorry, man, so sorry.”

Jimmy’s stomach clenched as a rank smell of rotten meat and soured milk washed over him. There was a clink, clink, of something hard, like ceramic, making contact with the metal of the bars behind him. There was a low, phlegmy huffing and then the straining, creaking sound of tortured metal.

His back prickled cold with fear. Fear of whatever was bending hardened steel with sheer force of strength. Fear of the unknown, but he couldn’t look, couldn’t afford to freeze. He didn’t want to die and there was only one thing he could think of.

It was nothing he hadn’t done before. He just hadn’t cared about the others.

“No, Bryn. I’m the one who’s sorry.”

He took hold of Bryn’s head and twisted sharply, standing, wrenching, hearing that wet, crunching, crackling snap, like biting into the gristle of a chicken leg but ten times as loud.

He let the dead weight of the body pull the head from his hands.

He waited. Nothing.

The smell was fading. He turned. One bar was bent and torn, another was bowed. Something dark was smeared and smattered along the walkway. Blood? But nothing else. Nothing but the confused cries of predators suddenly found themselves prey, and then delivered.

Friday, 16 March 2012


Coloured clouds swirl on the external display like a kaleidoscopic sandstorm. Warm oranges and dull reds, deep browns and mustard yellows. It is a soundless symphony to chaos in the colours of fire.

The silence is eerie. Then the creaking starts and I wish for the silence again. This metal womb weeps with the strains it suffers: a pained, helpless sobbing.

The interior of my craft is a two metre cube, contained in a five metre sphere packed with instruments and reinforcing architecture. A monitor shows the views from the external cameras and beside it there is a dashboard of buttons and readings. To the right of the dashboard are two rows of three lights. They are meant to be on green. They are both on amber.

I lost communications thirty seconds ago.

I have no way of knowing what went wrong, just that it did. The gravity anchor failed, the field that cradled my descent and tied me to the research ship in orbit simply ceased, like a snapped cable, and my plummet began. I watched the decreasing numbers accelerate, nearer and nearer the centre.

Was it error? Was some calibration miscalculated, some digit misplaced? Will Mary, my wife, my partner in every endeavour, be racked with guilt for the rest of her life over some simple slip of the mind?

Was our ship attacked? Such things are not unheard of out here, pirates, or a rival corporation. I hope it is not that. Please, let Mary live.

Was it jealousy or revenge? For the things I did when it felt as if it was mine and Mary’s connection that had snapped irreparably. When I was drawn deeper and deeper into corporate politics and pushed Mary away defensively, taking refuge in something meaningless and harmful, in an engineer named Alison.

Back then I lost sight of what mattered, until Mary reached out and saved me. I will carry the guilt of my betrayal to my grave; I am, now.

One of the amber lights goes out. The small red light blinks on with a subtle plink. I have fallen beyond the reach of the ship; I have passed the point where Jupiter’s gravity is too strong to be countered. No one can reach out and save me now.

Something cracks. I can hear the whistle of wind inside the outer hull. And the winds here are faster and more turbulent than anything on Earth. My cube starts to rumble and shake as the clever devices and physics fields which keep it smooth and stable begin to fail.

The second amber light dies, and the second red plinks on. I am now deeper than our calculations predicted this craft could survive. Every second that passes is a gift. I remember the panic I felt, briefly, with the jolt of the gravity field disengaging, panic that rapidly passed to this strange calm.

There is another jolt. The gravity field? My heart beats faster, the depth gauge isn’t moving. I am holding steady, not rising, not falling.

With a sharp crack the howling wind within the shell grows louder. The interior cocoon has still not been breached though. I engage my helmet, if I am to be rescued it would be stupid to die breathing toxic air.

I still do not rise.

There is something strange on the external monitors. Something unchanging. A surface. A smooth, solid surface. I am two thousand kilometres down, there should be nothing solid here. The view shifts, I switch cameras, I am rolling. Whatever I am on is too smooth, too uniform in colour to be anything but artificial. It should not be possible for anything to maintain position here, and yet, somehow. The camera software isolates shapes on the surface, like large letters, or script, but like nothing from Earth.

Oh, Mary, you were right.

My craft rolls off the edge and as the depth gauge begins to flicker down again the interior walls bulge inwards.

Recommended reading:
Neither Face Nor Feelings by Jon Bastion
I entered a 72 hour writing competition with the prompt Future Food. I didn't win, but the story that did, Neither Face Nor Feelings, is a remarkably good science fiction flash. Take a look. =)

Friday, 9 March 2012

Molly and Mr. Giraffe

Young Molly often snuck out to dance beneath the full moon, even before she knew of its true power. Her dark skin stood out against her pale pink, cotton pyjamas and as she span, the milky light caught in the shine of her natural curls and gave her a shadowy halo. A breathy giggle escaped her lips, shushed so as not to alert anyone inside, and the soft wind whispered through the trees and the grass of the large garden and joined her in her mirth.

Molly’s adoptive parents were more attuned to the world of business than that of their child. She was thirteen and three quarters and a bit (almost fourteen!) when they bought her a giraffe. This was a very important moment for Molly, and for Mr. and Mrs. Hampton-Smythe; it was a moment of responsibility and trust... which began with letting Molly name the giraffe.

The Hampton-Smythes, John and Sue, impressed upon Molly how important a name was; they told her to take her time and consider it, consider the giraffe and consider herself. She promptly named it Mr. Giraffe.

To be fair to them, the Hampton-Smythes pointed out straight away that Mr. Giraffe was, in fact, a Mrs.

“Precisely,” said Molly. And that was that.

Molly already knew a few things about names. She knew that names were like clothes; sometimes people wore them even when they didn’t quite fit or went out of fashion, and sometimes the right name just fitted, perfectly. On her adoption papers she was named Susanna Josephine. But Molly was short for Molasses, because you’re so sweet and get yourself in such sticky situations.

Susanna Josephine ‘Molly Molasses’ Hampton-Smythe was born with a very different name. It was a name that described her destiny and told the gods just who she was and why they should pay attention to her. Unfortunately, like her parents, her true name was lost amidst brutal tribal warfare; warfare escalated by cheap rifles manufactured in Russia and paid for in American dollars (to Englishmen).

Molly didn’t know all this, of course. She couldn’t remember her true name, or even the sound of her birth mother’s voice, shaping it. All that lurked in the depths of her mind was a fierce crackle that was sometimes sniggering demons of flame and sometimes the haughty cackling of gunfire. Besides, the gods that Molly’s mother knew, the gods that owed her favours, had got themselves all burned up too. It was a hot place Molly came from.

The place she’d come to, not so hot. The gods here were old things, drowsy things, mostly forgotten, but they imbued the green land with a slumbering might.

Mr. John and Mrs. Sue were away a lot of the time doing important Mr. and Mrs. things, things that allowed them to have a big house, a huge garden, a strangeling daughter and, of course, a giraffe. Things that also allowed them to hire a nanny to take care of their darling daughter. Jilly came very highly recommended, very highly qualified and very easily absorbed by Agatha Christie whodunits. This situation suited Molly well as she was perfectly capable of looking after herself, thank you very much.

So one day, when the parents were doing their parent things and Jilly was convincing herself that the butler must surely have dunit, Mr. Giraffe lowered her angular head on its long, long neck till it was level with Molly.

“Molly,” she said, “would you like to learn about your homeland? Would you like to hear about the gods and princes of the plains, the demons of the moonless night, the fierce and cunning things that act as animals and the spirits in the drifting clouds... about your birthright?”

Molly wasn’t really doing much at the time, she’d gotten bored of trying to reconstruct rabbits out of the bones she had found (they were actually weasel bones, but she didn’t know that), so she assented.

Now Mr. Giraffe was a trickster god, but that didn’t mean she had anything but the best of intentions for Molly. She had been very fond of Molly’s mother and her gods and had mourned to hear of their passing. Mr. Giraffe’s real name sounded a little like Huatha Rathlamaine, although it was in the semi-sentient language of the gods which will not be constrained and as such has no written form, so it also sounded nothing at all like Huatha Rathlamaine. It meant the sweetest springtime leaves from the top of the tree, or clouds remember everything they have ever been, or the bone which never breaks, or king, depending on the season and the angle of the light.

Molly thought Mr. Giraffe sounded just fine and that was what she always called the god, to the end of her days, when she was years older and just a little wiser, when the Bone Wars were fought and finished and every mountain knew her name.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Sharks of Old London

Moonlight washed London with an unaccustomed brightness. The dome overhead had once held such intrusions at bay but little was left of it anymore, just a metallic rib cage of great dull arches. In more recent years thick cloud cover kept the city in perpetual grey.

Moon or not, London was never safe at night. Lou should have been inside, holed up. But Billy hadn’t sealed the boards down properly and a pack of Ash Wolves had got into the factory, with their grey skin flaking from their malnourished bodies, their howling yelps and their broken, yellow teeth they were like things raised from the grave.

She scuttled from shadow to shadow, testing boards and doors where she could. But the city shuts up at night, locks down.

She reached the end of an alley, the dead end. Waste and rubbish were heaped all round, but that was no different from anywhere else. She was exhausted. She thought about just hiding in the refuse, burying herself. No, the wolves would sniff her out.

Something snarled behind her.

“Hello, littling.”

Oh, Lou, idiot.

She turned and looked back down the alley.

“Lookit, littling’s a girl.”

There were three men. The one on the right was thin, in body and features, his lips were twisted in a leer, his little eyes glinted. The one on the left was hunched, his left shoulder all bunched up into his back; his mouth hung open and copious drool slid out between his few remaining teeth, glistening disturbingly in the moonlight.

The man in the middle was bigger in many ways, he was taller but he filled his grubby shirt out too, obviously ate well. He had an Ash Wolf on a chain. Lou had never seen one so subdued, hadn’t really seen many till tonight. Everyone said they couldn’t be tamed.

The big man flicked the chain.

“Not much meat on it. Barely feed the dog.”

They started advancing down the alley towards her. She looked around for some way out. Her breath came in short gasps and her heart was pounding so hard it hurt. This was bad. Damn Billy.

They stopped when the dog was a head’s length from her. She could see it was trembling, its thin body wracked with tension, its eyes wide. She couldn’t look away from its teeth, its curling black lips, the saliva slowly plip, plipping to the ground between them. The men paused as she cowered, watching her, savouring her fear.

She whimpered, her voice tiny and wavering, “Knights save me.”


The grins above her widened.

“Knights be myths, littling. Ain’t no Knights no more.”

The wolf was breathing misted, fetid breath in her face, and then it wasn’t. A large chunk of masonry drove its head into the hard concrete with a crunch and short whine. Warm blood splattered her thighs.

Something large landed on the thin man. He crunched too, and squeaked, briefly.

A new man, the biggest man Lou had ever seen, launched himself off the thin man’s twitching body at the other two. They fought. The man with the hunch and the gaping grin swung wildly, as likely to hit his friend as the attacker. The third man was more coordinated, but no match for this brutal, new opponent.

When the three lay on the ground, unmoving, the hulking man turned to her. She wished she had run when she had the chance.


He turned away from her and shuttled a ladder down from an old fire escape.

“It’s safer up here, away from the streets.”

He started to climb. He wasn’t forcing her, she could run away. But he had saved her, and he was offering haven. Take a risk on him, or the streets?

She wiped a grubby wrist across her face, smearing damp grime, then climbed. She followed him through an open window three floors up. When she was in he pulled it closed and flicked a dim electric light on. She noticed that the windows were blacked out.

“You a Knight?”

He considered her with dark eyes. His features were strange, broad and misshapen as if his face had been remoulded by clumsy fingers. His pale skin was doughy, marred by a dozen tiny scars and a larger one running across his nose and below his left eye. They were all old scars, white.

“I guess I am.” His voice was rough and low, like distant rubble falling in the night.

“You really immortal?”

“That was the idea.”

“You’re not?”

He sat down on a bed that creaked beneath his weight. A pained expression crossed his face as he stretched out his back and shoulders.

“Do you know what a shark is?”

“A shark?”

“They’re like really big fish. Lived in the sea, probably still do.”


“Well, see, we’re all made up of cells, and cells die and get replaced. In humans the process is limited, it runs out, because if it didn’t then things can go bad inside people. But sharks live deep in the ocean and it protects them from things like sunlight and radiation, the process just keeps going, they always heal, and they pretty much live forever.”

Lou concentrated really hard, trying to understand.

He continued, “So some really smart people thought they would make protectors, and make them tough, with bits of shark in their DNA.”


“The stuff that makes us. This was a few hundred years ago.”

She blinked, “A few hundred?”

“I lost count.” He winced at some hidden ache. “I’ve seen London fall and rise, and fall again.”

“But,” she thought hard, screwing her face up, “what protects you from sunlight, and... radishun?”

“Radiation. Well, there was the dome, and there was medicine. Nowadays I just try to stay out of the sun.”

“What about the other Knights?”

His brows dipped and he looked away from her, “There are no others. Not anymore. Soon enough there’ll be none at all.”

Blog post: Sharks Never Die
Where I talk about sharks, writing, and ideas that just won't die...

Recommended Reading: More Than Dreams by Steve Green
Life in the Dome. A three part flash serial and a very refreshing take on the well-trodden dystopia trope.