Category Archives: Humour
Rat Tales is Book One of a three-book collection, titled …
The Creature Tales.
Books Two & Three, scheduled for publication, early 2019.
Rat Tales – Book Trailer …
A Mischief of Little Horrors
Had your rabies shots yet? The rats are loose!
Rat Tales. Twenty-four ‘rat’ themed short stories, and the first book in a three-book collection, The Creature Tales.
Many of the stories here are traditional blood and gore filled horror, but several venture slightly into the realms of science fiction and the supernatural.
Within this collection, the reader will find every rat incarnation imaginable, from the super strong and ultra intelligent to bloodthirsty and seemingly immortal.
While every story has been written to stand alone, several are loosely inter-connected with an ongoing reference to the future. Among the stories are:
A farmer’s imaginative though barbaric attempt to solve his rat problem backfires in the worst possible way.
A young boy’s efforts to repay the kindness of his childhood rodent friends has consequences that will change the course of history.
A vicious ghostly rat falls victim to karma
A centuries-old rat looks back on how it became the seemingly immortal creature it is ...
Some escaped convicts realise too late they’ve chosen the wrong couple to terrorise when their rodent pets see their own comfy lives threatened.
A grim fate awaits those who take shelter in an abandoned house.
A country squire finds himself on the receiving end of his sporting cruelty.
These are just some of the stories in this extensive collection, so brace yourselves for … A Mischief of Little Horrors.
Amazon Reviews …
24 October 2018
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I first read a story about rats in Mary Danby’s Nightmares 2 collection as a child. One of them, ‘Heads and Tails’ was particularly gruesome, considering the target group was children. In ‘Rat Tales’ the level of gruesome is handled well, from the entertaining but thought provoking Raticide to the comic sounding but unsettling Rats on the Radio. Some of the puns work well, Ratcula for example.
Even the hardest non-rat fan (and there’s a lot of us out there) would find it difficult not to find one story here they might enjoy.
24 October 2018
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
October 22, 2018
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Welcome to another report from SNNC, the Silly Nonsense News Channel, your reporter as always, P. A. Ruddock
The Flat Earth society had already gotten plenty of flak for their latest conference, claiming members from all around the world were attending.
A number of ‘experts’ had been assembled from among the farthest fringes of the crackpot science and conspiracy theory communities. The attendees were to be treated to the very cream of implausible nonsense to explain away such inconvenient concepts as gravity in a two-dimensional world and photographs of the earth from space
‘– they’re all fakes, just like the moon landings, it’s all big conspiracy by the global – err, sorry, I meant big-business corporations,’ a flat-earth spokesman told SNNC.
There was even to be a weird and wonderful explanation as to why people should end up back where they started if they kept travelling in the same direction – apparently, the closer you got to the edge of the world, it would increasingly tilt so you sort of rolled back to the middle, I kid you not – It’s still under discussion, we’ll keep you posted.
Also on the agenda was to be a debate on the general consensus that the edges of the world were surrounded by giant impenetrable and unclimbable mountains, a great wall of ice, or Antarctica as we Round Earthers call it. It was these mountains that, apparently, stop us all falling over the edge like we would a cliff, and of course the oceans doing the same. This last aspect was also to be an urgent topic of discussion. Not all flat-earthers were utterly bereft of common sense or indifferent to the wider scientific community, and climate change was troubling many of the society’s saner members.
They worry that all the mountains are going to melt. Others were less concerned, claiming the situation is all under control – Donald Trump’s plans to build a giant wall to keep out all those awful Mexicans is really just a clever ruse to disguise the wall’s real purpose – it was to be much bigger, all around, oops, sorry, along the circular perimeter of the earth, and that would be our new sea barrier
– yes, that’s right, Donald Trump is going to save the world! Hmm? Hilary Clinton was asked for her comments on that last bit … probably best not to repeat her reply.
Needless to say, the broader public has some difficulty getting their head around the idea of the earth being a giant pudding bowl, attracting ridicule from all around the world, especially from among their equally deluded arch rivals, the Hollow Earth believers.
But getting back to the conference – the original proposal was to hold it in Australia, but they eventually agreed on Birmingham instead after the Flat Earth central committee decided that said continent didn’t really exist and that it was actually a huge compound at a secret location somewhere in South America, filled with American actors.
When approached, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, stars of the Australian telly super-soap, Neighbours, appeared amused at the Flat Earthers’ claims but were otherwise unavailable for comment. On the other hand, Australian authoress, the lovely Patricia Puddle, while initially dismissive, has admitted, albeit amid fits of giggles, she intends to learn Spanish – “ Just in case.”
It seems too that all the world’s airlines, pilots, and astronauts are also all in on the giant hoax, but nonetheless, oversees Flat-Earthers were not deterred from hopping aboard budget flights to Birmingham, especially after their membership being offered generous discounts from local hoteliers.
Unsurprisingly, Australian membership of the Flat Earth society has somewhat flatlined since. On the plus side, the people of Birmingham can sleep secure in the knowledge that their city does exist, and by default, the rest of the UK too.
To attract more believers to their cause, the Flat-Earthers have taken a leaf out of Scientology and its dodgy Hollywood advocates. They cite several celebrities who also question the ‘global’ view of the earth – there’s Lofty Whatshisname, the well-known American basketcase, sorry, basketball player, along with British celebrity and former cricketer, Freddie Flintoff who has also admitted to coming round to their beliefs after asking several deep and meaningful questions …
“… If you’re in a helicopter and you hover why does the earth not come to you if it’s round?
“Why if we’re hurtling through space, why would water stay still? Why is it not wobbling?
“The middle is the North Pole, around the outside is the South Pole which is like a big wall of ice. This is why all governments now have bases on the South Pole.”
(All true, we’re really not making this up!)
SNNC did approach several leading scientists for answers to these probing conundrums, but unfortunately, they all claimed to be doing something far more important than dignifying such bollocks with an answer, like counting the grains of sand.
(Ok, we admit it, we did make up this last bit, but only because we already knew what the answer would be).
And that, readers and viewers, brings us to the end of our coverage of this year’s Flat-Earth conference.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on those bloody flat-earthers, they’re much closer to the truth than they realise,” the Galactic Council’s chief scientist was telling his mate.
“You’re right there. The only bit they’ve got wrong is that the water’s kept in by the sides of the petri dish – perhaps we should put them in a bigger one so we’ve got room for an Australia too?”
NASA scientists finally release …
… REAL photos of earth from outer space.
For the very best in internet bollocks, stay tuned for future reports … upcoming features include:
The Moon? Did we really land on it & Is it Really there?
Hollow Earth theories? Are they based on ‘solid’ science or just filled with hot air (or molten lava)?
Alternatively, keep a lookout for my upcoming book, Flashbulb Moments – Ninety-nine flash-fiction stories – some silly, some sad, and some plain scary ones.
This will be no:34 (of 100) in the eventual Flash Fiction collection, a humorous little Sci-Fi tale coming in at just over 500 words (521).
Further study needed
It was an odd-looking creature. Not in a bad or ugly looking way you understand, but just on account of being so alien. With its green fur, the one cyclops eye, and those insect-like six legs it defied description; despite the six legs, it wasn’t an insect, or at least no one thought so, not with it being two foot long.
The scientists had yet to decide on an official name or designation for it; in the meantime, they stuck with the name decided on by the two kids who found the little creature on the banks of the Pescos river in New Mexico, they had called it Fuzzy.
“I really don’t what to make of it, really I don’t,” Dr Markham was telling Colonel Bingley from the nearby Roswell air base, “definitely not native to earth though,” she added.
“I agree. It’s like nothing we’ve ever found before, either,” the Colonel replied, poking Fuzzy with a pencil, fascinated by the animated reaction as all its six little legs started to wave about randomly.
Fuzzy was taken to the Roswell Alien Studies facilities, deep underground below the innocuous looking air base. What followed was a seemingly endless series of tests, blood and tissue extractions, X-rays, and in between, Fuzzy would be exposed to extremes of temperature, noise, and other distressing stimuli to assess the creature’s reactions in each case. A couple of the junior lab assistants felt sorry for the little creature, sad that more efforts weren’t being made to understand or communicate with it. Unfortunately, compassion and understanding weren’t on the ‘what to do’ checklist of the military and senior science staff.
“I concur. We should keep the creature alive. We can determine the possible applications of its unique DNA, both medicinal and for weaponising. We can then move onto live dissection, pain threshold analysis, and so on,” Dr Markham agreed.
“I’ll put that in my report then – further study needed.”
The Roswell staff never did get to complete their studies. The following day, despite being kept under 24/7 surveillance, Fuzzy simply vanished. The whole episode was, of course, hushed up like an unclosed case from the X-files.
Species report of interstellar agent, Xenzorion1379 (aka Fuzzy)
A cruel and hostile race for the most part. A few specimens show kindness and compassion in the early years of their development but soon adopt the aggressive and self-destructive tendencies of the wider collective. During my time with the humans, I was prodded, poked, and tormented in all manner of painful ways with no thought to the pain and suffering they were inflicting on me. I witnessed several of them indiscriminately kill many smaller life-forms for no other reason than they were an annoyance.
A few might be worth saving for our species archives, but overall, they must on no account be allowed to spread beyond this planet. Furthermore, should they continue the extermination of their fellow indigenous species, and each other, at their current rate, consideration should be given to recycling and replacing them with a kinder and less destructive life-form, one that would appreciate such a beautiful world.
Further study needed …
Story number 11 of 100, and a mere 830 words. Given my last post was a tad on the dark side, this one’s s humorous contrast to that.
I must say I’m really enjoying writing this series, and it’s a great way of taking a break in between my longer WIPs – I’d definitely recommend having a go at these ‘short’ short stories if/when you’re feeling a bit stuck with longer projects.
The worst ever driving test!
If everything went well, Reggie’d be a qualified driver by lunchtime. He was as excited as hell, but nervous too; Reggie had good reason to be nervous, it would be his fourth attempt. It wasn’t that Reggie wasn’t a good driver, he was – no one got to level 8 on Xbox Motorsport without top-notch driving skills so yes, Reggie knew he wasn’t just a good driver, but a great one. It was just a shame he always got so nervous come the day of the test. Today was going to be different, Reggie just knew it.
“Hello Reggie, all set are we? Feeling confident?” The driving assessor asked.
“Yes thanks, Mr Dokes,” Reggie answered. He was pleased to see it was the same bloke who had assessed him last time. He was a friendly sort. Reggie already felt more relaxed.
“Good. Let’s get started then.”
Reggie was doing everything right: Seatbelt. Pre-driver checks. Mirror, signal manoeuvre. And off they went.
The test was going fine. Despite a racing pulse and sweat dripping from his brow, Reggie was remaining calm. They had parked up to do the obligatory reversing round a corner manoeuvre bit of the test. Reggie tried to ignore the alarm coming from the shops across the road. Immediately after completing the manoeuvre, Mr Dokes had gotten out to check their distance from the kerb. It looked fine. Both Reggie and Mr Dokes’ attention was again drawn elsewhere though. Two men were running out from a sub-post-office into a waiting car parked outside, seemingly from the same direction of the sound of the blaring alarm. Just then, a man ran up to Reggie and the assessor, bundling Mr Dokes into the back seat while he jumped in the front passenger seat.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Huxton. Follow that car. Now!” The DS screamed at Reggie.
He didn’t need telling twice. The car they were following, or rather chasing now, was the same one the two men running out of the little post-office had jumped into before speeding off.
Reggie was in his element. This was real driving, even better than level 8 on Xbox Motorsport! Reggie needed no further urging from the DS, weaving in and out of the traffic like a character out of the Fast and Furious films, beeping his horn every few seconds to warn pedestrians and other drivers.
Reggie swerved to an emergency stop to avoid a woman with a pram, but immediately resumed his direction of pursuit once she had moved out of the way. DS Huxton wondered just what sort of madman he had ordered to drive, silently regretting not jumping in the driving seat himself.
The robbers headed down a one-way street. Reggie went whizzing past it.
“What the … what you do that for, we’re gonna lose them now,” the DS screamed at Reggie.
“No we won’t,” Reggie snapped back, annoyed at his concentration on the road being interrupted, “that’s a one-way system with no way of turning round, and no houses or building to hide in. We’ll get to the other end of the system a good five minutes before the robbers,” Reggie explained. After four previous driving tests and over a hundred driving lessons in the area, Reggie knew these roads like the back of his hand.
They reached the exit of the one way road the robbers had taken and waited. Half a dozen cars exited it before the robbers’ car came into view. Reggie moved forward to block them. The robbers had no choice but to stop and try and make a run for it on foot. Two more police cars with back up arrived a second later, and the two fleeing men were arrested.
Reggie was on a high. No Xbox game had ever come close to this, it had been exhilarating. It was even worth failing his fifth driving test.
“Great work there, mate,” DS Huxton told him. Reggie felt ten feet tall.
“Pity they didn’t have you as their getaway driver,” the DS joked. Reggie laughed at the irony of the remark.
“You commandeered our car in the middle of my driving test,” Reggie told him, chuckling away.
“Your test?” The DS exclaimed, questioningly, “I just assumed you were the instructor!”
Again Reggie laughed and turned to Mr Dokes:
“Oh well. I guess we’ll have to reschedule again – maybe it’ll be fifth time lucky now, eh, Mr Dokes?”
“Well, let’s see, Mr Dokes began: “No faults prior to the reversing manoeuvre. Good use of mirrors throughout. I haven’t faulted you for speeding given you were under police instruction,” he added while turning to glare angrily in the Detective Sergeant’s direction. DS Huxton looked to the floor, somewhat embarrassed. Mr Dokes turned his attention back to Reggie and continued:
“The independent driving was definitely some of the best I’ve seen. And the emergency stop to avoid the woman with the pram, that was perfect.”
“Uh?” Reggie replied, somewhat confused.
“That’s a pass!”
Number 10 in my Flash Fiction series (just 90 to go – yayyyy). A hint of horror but with a very small ‘aitch.’ Got a bit carried away with this one, but with a bit of ruthless editing, still managed to keep it just under 1000 words (966 for those who are curious lol).
If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:
Jack and Mary were a couple of twenty-somethings travelling around Eastern Europe. They made a living from travel writing and blogging about their adventures and way of life. For the past six months, they had settled in Romania, exploring its picturesque views, the historic villages and towns and the imposing stone castles that dotted the countryside. It was a country Jack knew well, being able to trace his ancestry back several generations there.
It was during a stay at one such Gothic fortress, Bran Castle, that Mary fell ill. It didn’t appear serious, but with Mary’s recently discovered pregnancy they were taking no chances.
“She’s a touch anaemic I’d say and has a slight fever. A virus would be my best guess until we get her test results back,” Doctor Miereanu of the Bucharest emergency hospital was telling Jack, “but let me assure you, there’s no danger to the baby,” he added, guessing that’s what they wanted to know.
“Thank you. But this virus? I mean, have you any idea how she may have contracted it, doctor?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know at the moment, but if you’re taking her back to Brasov today, I’d ask your local doctor. I’ll give you a letter for him, and I’ll be emailing your local surgery some patient notes.
Despite being widely travelled in some of the most remote and primitive parts of the world, when it came to health matters, particularly someone he cared for, Jack’s mindset was firmly geared to the high-tech facilities of a modern hospital.
Upon their return, Jack took Mary to their local surgery, just like the Bucharest doctor had suggested. Apart from all the usual health and lifestyle questions, Doctor Dragulescu asked how long they’d spent at Bran castle and if they’d done any wild camping in the area during their travels. Jack thought the doctor was merely going through the motions with his questions, at least until about where they’d travelled in Romania.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, we did some hiking through the Carpathian mountains and surrounding forests” Jack answered. The doctor gave a gentle, knowing nod of his head.
“Is that relevant, doctor?” Jack immediately asked, sensing the doctor was holding something back.
“Possibly. I suspect she may have been bitten by something. Some of our local insects transmit a harmless virus that induces temporary fever, but like my colleague in Bucharest told you, it’s nothing serious that might affect the pregnancy.”
Within the week, apart from her continuing anaemia, Mary had recovered. Three months later she gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy.
The local villagers were happy for them. It was an area where people tended to have large families, and childbirth was celebrated.
Because of her recent fever and anaemia, Mary and Jack had decided against breastfeeding, fearing that traces of the virus she had contracted might still be in her system and be passed to their baby.
Little Jack Jnr wasn’t doing well at all. He’d hardly put any weight on since his birth, and cried almost constantly; it was more like screaming, really, the sort you associate with being hungry, yet he refused to eat, bringing up whatever little milk he could be coaxed into taking from his bottle.
Mary and Jack worried at how pale and sickly their baby looked. Their friends and neighbours never commented on it though and continued to make a fuss of the new baby, assuring Mary the lack of appetite and constant crying would soon pass. The doctor had dismissed the young couple’s concerns, explaining the frequent crying as being due to teething pains; Jack Jnr was a rarity being that 1 in 2000 babies born with natal teeth. Even rarer in Jack Jnr’s case was being born with two front upper incisors.
Jack Jnr continued to refuse food, and after just a month, Mary decided she was over the virus and tried to breastfeed him. Jack Jnr seemed to quieten when she brought his face closer to her. A moment after putting his mouth to her breast, Mary recoiled in pain when she felt a sharp pain akin to a needle piercing her nipple. Jack Jnr seemed oblivious to her discomfort and appeared to be feeding. Mary instantly forgot the momentary pain, elated at seeing that Jack Jnr was finally feeding and had stopped crying. He suddenly looked a picture of health; even a trace of colour appeared to fill his otherwise deathly pale complexion.
After ten minutes or so, Jack Jnr ceased suckling, and she slowly put him back in his cot, not even noticing at first the trickle of blood around her nipple.
She gasped in horror when Jack Jnr smiled. She saw the two tiny front teeth in his top gum. Jack Jnr may indeed have been ‘a rarity’ as doctor Dragulescy had put it, having been born with some natal teeth, but these seemed much bigger than they should be and were dripping a small amount of blood. She thought it must be his gums, and that the traces of blood around her nipple was from Jack Jnr.
After that first breastfeeding session, Mary felt no more pain when Jack Jnr suckled on her. The traces of blood in each case, the doctor assured her, were down to the premature development of Jack’s front teeth and was nothing to worry about.
At just three months old, little Jack Jnr was already sporting two impressive quarter inch front incisors that would protrude over his lower lip whenever he was hungry.
The locals too were delighted at the progress little Jack Jnr was making. It had been several centuries since Bran castle had boasted an aristocratic Count in residence.
Dracula’s Castle as legend more accurately knew it would once again be restored to its former glory in the coming years, no longer just another tourist attraction.
Flash Fiction story number 9 in my 100 story series. There’s no particular order to the stories I’m posting other than their eventual place in the full collection later in the year.
I Managed to keep this one at a shade over 500 words (511). It’s a theme that’s been explored in other stories (and films) but I’ve tried to give it a new slant here. Hope it brings you a smile …
The world was in a mess, no doubt about it. People were reluctant to turn on the TV for fear of another of the almost hourly newsflashes popping up, informing the public about the latest terrorist outrage or of yet another pre-teen shooting half his classmates with a high-powered rifle. And on those rare days when no such atrocities took place, the regular news would be giving us the latest statistics on climate change, air pollution, and the imminent collapse of the economy.
A lot of people though had stopped worrying or even caring, convinced that it was only a matter of time before one of the bickering world leaders took umbrage at the latest social media insult and irradiated us all in a giant mushroom cloud.
Such fears weren’t helped by reports that the eastern dictator, Ting Wee Dong, had scheduled another nuclear test, the exact time and date to be kept secret. And just to show the West wasn’t to be outdone, the western dictator Donald Blair Bush had tweeted to the world that he too had ordered a nuclear test of the biggest and baddest bomb ever made, the exact time and date to be kept secret.
“I told you before, I want you to stop playing that game,” a mother was telling her son.
“But …” the young boy started to protest.
“No buts. I told you, it’s way too violent. The makers have allowed far too many psychopathic characters and guns and bombs and all sorts to spoil it.”
“But it’s at a really good bit now. Can’t I just play a little longer?”
“Why don’t you start a new game, one where people aren’t getting killed all the time?”
“Cos this one’s more fun. But I probably will start another one soon; this one keeps crashing every time the two sides start fighting or blow something up.”
At precisely 12 noon GMT the next day, the two most destructive weapons of mass destruction ever conceived were exploded simultaneously on opposite sides of the world. The earth literally shook. The combined blast of the two bombs had knocked it several degrees of its axis, along with opening up a ten mile crack in the earth’s crust that was getting longer with each passing hour. It had also done something to the magnetic core, causing our planet to stop spinning. To put it bluntly, we were all well and truly fucked!
“Are you still playing that game?” The mother called to her son.
“I was, but it’s crashed again. It’s stopped working all together now. I’m going to erase it and start again like you said …”
A trillion light years away in a different dimension where a million years was as a second to the beings who inhabited that place, a little boy and his mother had lost patience with us …
The lights went out, and our world ceased to exist …
A flash of light and a Big Bang … hopefully, we would do better this time around?
Flash Fiction short story no:6 (of 100), under 700 words this time. I’ve been inspired to look again at some of my past abandoned stories following a recent flash fiction challenge in the IASD writing group. Along with compiling many different stories from the group for an IASD anthology in the near future (news of which to be featured in a forthcoming blog post), I hope to publish my own collection of flash fiction too.
Jeez, I love what I do! It’s no mean boast, but I’m probably the best in the world. I’ve a room back home full of trophies and awards. A few years ago, I shot the last white rhino. Before that, I was the first to bag one of the few white tigers to have successfully survived in the wilds of the Indian jungles. To do what I do requires all the stealth and cunning of the wild animals I track. Only my peers and contemporaries can ever truly understand the thrill, the adrenalin rush, that sense of achievement that comes after days, weeks, and even months of tracking and stalking your prey until you finally corner it into position.
My latest quest is the most ambitious yet. Rumours of its existence have been floating around the net for years. The biggest liger ever seen, or so the locals say. Yes, that’s right, a cross between an Asiatic lion from the Gir forest in India, and a Bengal tiger.
No one knows quite how this wild liger came about. Tigers are jungle cats while lions are found on the plains. But India has both, so it’s not impossible.
It’s started attacking domestic livestock from the outlying villages surrounding the forest. That’s how its existence has been confirmed.
With the intimidating size and strength genes of a tiger and the ferocious fighting skills of a lion, it’s a truly magnificent beast. It’s reportedly 12 feet tall on its hind legs and possibly 1000 lbs in weight – heavier and taller even than Hercules, officially the biggest cat in the world. It could be the crowning achievement of my career. I’m determined to have it!
After my arrival at Keshod airport, it was still another 3-hour drive to the area just beyond the southern outskirts of the Gir forest where the liger was last seen.
After a few days preparation, I begin my hunt. It was last spotted nearby in the Gir National Park, probably in the hope of mating with one of the Asiatic lionesses, so that’s where I start.
Possessing twice the size and strength of a regular lion, it’s difficult to imagine any of the alpha males fighting off the intruder to the resident Prides.
Three days I lie in wait, shrouded in natural camouflage, smeared with the local vegetation and scent of the plains. The Park authorities are aiding me in my quest, appreciative of the publicity my success would bring to their tourist business.
It’s a dangerous spot. Being the only sanctuary in the world for the Asiatic lion, there are lots of them about. These are no tame, domesticated varieties you might find in a city zoo.
Sanctuary or not, these are dangerous wild animals that hunt, kill, and rend their prey limb from limb to satisfy theirs and their cubs’ hunger; human flesh would be a more than acceptable alternative to their more usual diet of zebras and giraffes.
I remain aware of the danger. But from years’ experience, I know how to protect myself. I focus instead on the job in hand. I finally spot my prey. I’m staggered by the size of it, even from two hundred yards away. It’s like some monster from the id, more like an image of a prehistoric Sabre Tooth than a modern-day hybrid.
He’s in the cross-hairs of my telescopic sight now. A headshot I decide. I take aim. I’m hoping it will turn to face me. To capture that glint in its eyes, that moment of recognition between the man and beast, there’s no other feeling quite like it.
Turn will you, turn, I urge silently. He does. He’s magnificent. He’s mine!
‘Best photo of the year,’ said the New York Times.
‘Simply Superb’ was the verdict of the Association of Professional Wildlife Photographers’
And my favourite – ‘Another breathtaking glimpse at the majesty of nature, from Nature Magazine.’
Jeez, I love my job!
Flash Fiction story no:5. This one comes in at a shade over the 900-word mark. Just another 95 more stories to go till I reach the magic 100 figure for publication.
House Sitting Surprise
Henry Abbot had grown tired of the local louts shouting abuse at him, throwing rubbish in his garden, even trying to break in a couple of times. Mostly it didn’t bother him. He was a sturdy old boy, but he wasn’t getting any younger. He needed a holiday, just to get away for awhile, he thought.
Dutch and Jonesy were two of Henry’s training recruits from his time as a Colour Sergeant in the army. That was a long time ago, and they had long since matured into two of the toughest squaddies ever to grace a drill square. In Henry’s eyes though, they were still his lads, and he was looking forward to seeing them again.
In ‘his lads’ eyes, he was still the NCO they would walk over hot coals for to hell and back.
Mick and Gazza were always on the lookout for a night’s grafting, though not an honest night’s one like driving a taxi or manning the local 24-hr gas station. Their idea of a night’s work was to go out and rob someone. A ‘good’ night’s work was not getting caught. Their usual victims were the frail and elderly, those who wouldn’t be able or likely to put up much of a fight should the two robbing scumbags be discovered mid thieving.
“Hey, Mick, that house on the corner opposite the post box, I just been past it, and it looks like they’ve left one of the downstairs back windows open.”
“That’s that old boy from Rozzerman street’s house, the old git with his polished shoes and the regimental blazer.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I remember a few years back him telling me to quieten down when I was yelling at some old girl. I’ll give the old bastard ‘quieten down,’ see if I don’t.”
“So, what’s this about an open window?”
“Yeah, back kitchen window by the looks of it. There’s no lights on, and his car’s not there. He might have fucked off somewhere for the weekend.
“And left an empty house and an open window … nice!”
“I think we might have company,” Dutch silently mouthed the words to his mate.
Jonesy nodded his agreement. They both silently sidled up either side of the connecting door between the dining room and the kitchen, waiting for the two intruders to come through.
A moment later, the door opened. Mick and Gazza crept quietly into the dining room; they may have possessed the practised stealth of seasoned burglars, but they were rank amateurs compared to Dutch and Jonesy.
It was the last ‘creeping’ either of them would ever do again. The only sound they might have heard in those last few moments of life was their own or each other’s muffled screams through constricted airways. Both Dutch and Jonesy had big powerful hands, easily strong enough to squeeze the life out of the two robbing scrotes in Henry’s house.
Dutch and Jonesy would have preferred the quick and immediate method of a knife thrust just below the heart or for a few extra minutes of painful gasping for breath drowning in their own blood, a strike to the lungs. But they had Henry’s recently cleaned carpets and new sofa to think of, it just wouldn’t do to go messing up Henry’s front room when they’d promised faithfully to look after his house while he visited family abroad.
Between them, they soon had the two intruders sliced and diced and ready for disposal, and all without a trace of DNA evidence to show the two scumbag burglars had ever been near the house.
“They might be a couple of thieving bastards, but they’re young and healthy; all them mineral-rich nutrients in them would have done wonders for the Sarge’s garden,” Jonesy remarked.
When he wasn’t soldiering, Jonesy was quite the environmentalist – and yes, he was also the camp comedian among his comrades, and no, being dead now, the two intrusive burglars could hardly still be called healthy.
“Can we save the jokes, till later, eh?” Dutch replied, a slight tone of reprimand in his voice given the seriousness of the matter, “and no, we’re not burying them in Henry’s garden. We’ll stick to the woods we reccied earlier.”
“How was yer holiday, Sarge?” Jonesy asked, greeting Henry on his return.
“And the family, hope they were good?” Dutch added.
“Had a smashing time thanks, lads. And yep, the family were all good too. Them grandkids of mine are shooting up fast, I tell you,” Henry replied, adding: “And thanks too for stopping over and looking after my place. I know it meant giving up some of your leave so anytime there’s anything I can do for you, you’ve just to ask.”
“Was a pleasure, Sarge, “ Dutch said.
“What he said,” Jonesy agreed, waving a thumb at his mate.
“And those two louts I told you about, you had no grief from them, did you? I was sure they’d break in if they saw my car was gone and the lights out,” Henry said.
“No trouble at all. We kept the downstairs lights on most of the time, so they knew there were people in,” Dutch lied.
“I heard that they’d had some grief of their own with some rival scumbags elsewhere. Maybe you won’t have any more trouble with them if that’s the case,” Jonesy lied too.
“But you can always give us both a call if anyone else bothers you,” Dutch said.
“Cheers lads. Now let’s all go inside and have us a few beers.”
Back in 2015 I was delighted to write and contribute a ‘guest’ story to a forthcoming Sci-fi anthology by one of my favourite authors, Tom Benson. It was only after accepting said Tom Benson’s invite in our IASD writing group (without hesitation I might add) I began to wonder just what I had let myself in for, given that I had never before written anything even remotely Sci-fi related. With that in mind I set about crafting something in the genre, but adding just a hint of the sort of dark humour I feel most comfortable with and taking the opportunity to poke a little fun at Amazon and Facebook to boot. In December of 2015 I saw my story appear in all its glory in The Welcome by Tom Benson, and I’m delighted to say I don’t think it turned out too bad, even achieving not one but two accolades among the reviews …
An interesting read. “… My favourte story, was “Digital Escape” by guest author Paul A Ruddock. I can imagine technology advancing in the same way that has been described in this story. It certainly would be scary if this happened. The ending to this story is very clever…”
Glad I Found This One. ” … The Best In Shorts Award – Paul Ruddock for ‘Digital Escape’. Absolutely loved it! … ”
… I hope you enjoy …
Tom Benson’s The Welcome
Paul A. Ruddock
Digital escape, a short story by Dave Brown had been available for download for over 100 years, though it was only in the last 10 years the title had been available for neural interfacing. Michael Wright liked the look of it, intrigued by a storyline from so long ago could so accurately mirror the reading technologies of the present.
He might have enjoyed it too if he’d had more faith in the latest neural-interfacing technology, namely the neural implants that made the reading experience a more seamless one. But no, Michael preferred the tried and tested writst-worn e-Reading devices; no way was he going to risk his extended life-span with a neural-interface brain implant.
A quick tap of the wrist and Michael was in a world of imagination made real. Having read the reviews, he was anticipating an interesting and educational experience. Something didn’t feel right though.
He’d expected to be experiencing the story from the perspective of the main character, a story-hopping psychopath. Instead, he found himself in a long-forgotten profession, behind a shop counter serving a customer. He was confused at this unexpected role, and never having handled money before, he was even more confused.
The customer looked agitated with him, and Michael started to feel afraid. Apart from the hands around his neck it was the last thing he would ever feel …
Due to diminishing attention spans of the public and the abolition of crime, older stories featuring the darker side of human nature had become popular. So too had many other genres, simply for the quality and originality of the writing.
The automated content generators. Although powered by tens of billions of the most advanced analytical algorithms and capable of churning out thousands of new books each day, had never really fulfilled the potential hoped for by their designers – Flawless grammar, formulaic plots, and perfect sentence structure made for poor and lifeless writing, which was why so many centuries-old stories had been digitally resurrected.
Literature had come along way from those primitive days of the printed page and eBook readers. No longer did the public have the tedium of exercising their imagination, flipping book pages, or scrolling their electronic counterparts, although e-Reading devices had become the new way of reading in the 21st century.
Within 100 years of the first e-Reader, the world had become a sterile and colourless place. Little was left for nurturing the creative imagination, the very thing needed to compete with the automated production lines of CGI generated visual media.
It had become the norm to use mindless entertainment, requiring no more effort from its audience other than to click the ‘pay to watch’ holographic screen tabs. But the Interplanetary Products and Entertainments Corporation (IPEC) – more commonly referred to as The Mighty Zon, was not about to concede its cash-cow without a fight, and losing what had previously been a very profitable source of income.
The latest e-Read Intelligence devices (EI’s from The Mighty Zon’s e-Read Artificial Intelligence Division), allowed readers to connect neurally with books.
The system was similar to the ancient Virtual Reality game playing, but a thousand times more sophisticated and minus the nuisance of all the necessary physical accessories. In use, the EI devices allowed the author or reader’s imaginations to interpret and become involved in the world in which the story takes place. It also caused the demise of movie entertainment.
Dave Brown, the acclaimed author and pioneer of ‘active plot’ had been dead a long time. His full name was David Bolingbrook Brown, but when he gained celebrity status he preferred being referred to as Mr Brown. Prior to his death, he resented being told his theories were wrong.
It is perhaps not hard to imagine his surprise at once again feeling the familiar tingle of apprehension and excitement prior to snuffing out the life of someone for whom he’d taken a particular dislike, but something felt different this time.
Everything about him looked fuzzy and disjointed, like a bad copy of the worst pirate copy of an old video film. Just as bizarre was his mind. He knew who he was, and his memories were fully intact, but some of the detail was more like having read about himself as a person, a character in his own right.
Conceiving himself as being the person he was would have made sense, but remembering how he died – how could he know such a thing? That was the problem. He remembered how he died, but not in the same way as having read about it.
Anyway, such thoughts were temporarily put aside while he turned his attention to the matter in hand – the obnoxious shop assistant who’d failed to offer a grovelling apology for short-changing him by 23 pence.
Choking the shop assistant came naturally. It was immediately afterwards when Michael Wright was slumped across the counter, that Mr Brown noticed something odd … an electronic wrist attachment. It looked out of place in this artificial world, like seeing a digital watch in a period drama.
“Hmm, what have we here I wonder?” Mr Brown mused aloud. Instinctively he knew the odd-looking device had something to do with his newfound consciousness, so he carefully removed it and placed it on his own wrist. It took a few seconds for the EI sensors to interface with his nervous system.
Of course, Mr Brown wasn’t to know that these external devices weren’t as quick as the implant versions, but once device and wearer were synchronised and calibrated for interactive use, the wearer’s mind became flooded with the billions of titles available just two writ-taps away.
In Mr Brown’s case, he also became aware of what happened in the past.
“There’s been another one, Chief, another random victim and no sign of how the behavioural deviant accomplished their egress.”
“No, I don’t believe that,” Chief Regular Investigator Hilary Jackson snapped in reply, adding. “While we’re at it, Lester, please drop the official speak. Whoever’s done this is a murderer … and they escaped, plain and simple.” She allowed her words to sink in before continuing: “I’m sure these aren’t just random victims as you put it, there must be a connection, we just can’t see it yet.”
Hilary Jackson was an enigma in the Ministry of Surveillance and Investigation. She was an individual whose imagination and ability to think outside the empiric mind-set boundaries of her colleagues set her apart. Much to the annoyance of CRI Jackson’s superiors, she had the attitude and used the methods of generations long past, but she got results.
“I want to see the scene of crime, “ CRI Jackson declared, before adding disdainfully, “… before the clean-up squad completely sanitise everything.”
“But why?” asked regular investigator RI Lester Horton. “The SOC officers have taken all the sensor and surveillance readings available?” Horton protested. He lacked enthusiasm at the prospect of being in the physical presence of an actual corpse. In Horton’s opinion, that particular duty was best left to the ‘lower’ genetic work grades.
The sight of a dead body under the age of at least 150 years old was new to them both, but seeing one belonging to a man clearly in the prime of life was beyond the experience of anyone in the developed world. This had been the case for more than a century.
“There’s no sign of anyone else being here, just the life-drained victim lying slumped in the hover chair.” RI Horton casually remarked. He was trying hard, but failing dismally to hide his revulsion at being so close to a dead body.
“And no sign of a struggle either,” CRI Jackson said, “Just bruising around the neck.”
“Not the case,” RI Horton said, “according to the Central Health and Monitoring Centre, the victim’s life-light flickered for several seconds and then went out like it had just been switched off.”
The CRI looked in Horton’s direction with a blank expression.
Horton continued. “ The behavioural … I’m sorry, I mean the murderer … has left no sign or footage of making their egre-, I mean escape. There is no trace of their presence after.”
It was this last aspect of what had happened that most troubled the investigators. In a world where advanced technology and surveillance of every kind had made any type of deliberate crime a thing of the distant past, what they had encountered was quite impossible.
There were 1000 nano-cams for every man, woman, and child on the planet, so for anyone hoping to evade capture and justice, it was simply no longer possible. It was widely regarded as unthinkable to even try.
The ’whys and wherefores’ of a crime were no longer important to most investigators. They were only interested in the apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. To CRI Jackson such attitudes and disinterest in the means and motivation behind a crime were a constant frustration. Equally frustrating was the lack of any additional evidence or clues to what was behind the recent spate of murders … She refused to treat them simply as unexplained deaths.
Since putting on the wrist version of an EI brain implant, Mr Brown’s world changed, frequently and quite literally. From the moment he discovered he could hop back and forth between countless imaginary worlds, which was something the EI was never originally designed for, Mr Brown exploited the unintended feature to the full.
Mr Brown had always fancied himself as a master criminal, preferably one with a few homicidal tendencies. The Thomas Harris novel he was currently immersed in was just the ticket. In true Hannibal Lecter style, he slowly choked the life out of his latest victim and was looking forward to making a stew from their soon-to-be dismembered body parts.
How disappointing it was when he awoke to find himself in a prison cell, having been denied his pleasure. His mind was a complete blank from the moment after he had stifled the last gasps of breath of the man he had seemingly strangled only moments before. It was indeed puzzling.
Perhaps it was a formatting glitch in the original upload? Mr Brown thought.
At least he was alone in the cell, though being in a cell at all was confusing, given that it played no part in the original story he was in. He still had a lot to figure out about his strange and recent digital resurrection, not that he was complaining – escape was a much more complicated affair back in the real world …
CRI Jackson said, “It may be nothing, but each of the victims had their EI interfaces active at the time of their deaths.” She was relieved to have found the connection she knew must exist.
“And?” RI Horton replied. “Most of the population spends half their time plugged into their books, news, or entertainment feeds.”
“On its own, I agree it means nothing.” CRI Jackson said. “But in each case, the victim’s life-readings started going awry precisely 11.62 seconds into their EI neural activations. That’s way too much of a coincidence to be ignored.” She had her subordinates’ renewed attention.
The surveillance technology has proved useful after all, Horton thought. Yes, she may have been right about some connecting factor but she would never have discovered it without the sensor and surveillance readings she was so quick to discount.
RI Horton felt vindicated, conveniently forgetting that it had taken no small measure of good old-fashioned detective work to bring the latest surveillance info to light.
“Yes. That looks interesting.” Mr Brown muttered to himself while browsing through the Sci-Fi and paranormal categories. Like most of the stories Mr Brown liked to read, the latest one to catch his eye was also listed among the IPEC’s Historical back catalogue, but was still a firm favourite among readers, even after 200 years since its first ancient print publication.
He allowed his mind to access the neural EI interface, submerging himself in the Look Inside sample pages. A further tap of his wrist and there he was, an actual character in the story. But Mr Brown was no ordinary reader.
A while back in one of his stories, he’d written a thriller fantasy about a man who could physically transport himself in and out of the digital worlds of the books he downloaded, using the ability to wreak digital havoc. Now as a result of some freak coding anomaly Mr Brown had that ability or something like it – for real.
The entire digital universe was his to explore. He regretted not having that ability many years before when he’d been sent to a secure psychiatric unit for hacking off the head of an irritating salesman who’d interrupted him while writing.
“I finally got a reply from The Mighty Zon,” CRI Jackson said. “Okay, it took the threat of going public to get it, but they’ve allowed me access to their customer database and records.” She grinned at her partner. All that was missing was the classic celebratory wave of a clenched fist.
“That’s impossible.”RI Horton replied, “ No one gets past their automated enquiry response firewalls.”
RI Horton’s response was understandable. It had been more than half a century since an actual IPEC employee had personally responded to an enquiry. On the previous occasion it had taken the entire resources of the Ministry of World Tax Revenue to elicit a single paragraph, buried among 5000 pages of legal jargon … and excuses.
“I’m as surprised as you are Horton, but The Mighty Zon is as worried about these murders as we are.”
It was an achievement by the CRI. For centuries the IPEC’s wealth and power had made it a law unto itself. The Corporation was practically autonomous, free from any outside authority. In a world practically without crime, where dying took place in secret wards, and where the elderly could quietly slip away, a few unexplained deaths could destroy the credibility of such an organisation.
Stern Dillinger, a member of the Board of Directors was prepared to explain and answer questions.
He said, “According to our investigations … one of our customers, a Michael Wright, downloaded Digital Escape, the classic by Dave Brown. While synchronised with the download, he should have assumed the identity of the main character but it appears that Mr Wright assumed the persona of one of the subsidiary characters of the story instead.”
CRI Jackson was squinting. “Are you telling me the subsidiary character died in both the story and in the real world?”
“Yes, “ Dillinger replied. “Somehow, due to the similarity of the main character’s own abilities to those provided by the EI neural-interface, the e-Read AI software mistakenly interpreted Dave Brown’s character as part of its own coding.” He paused. “Basically, the programme wouldn’t allow the customer to merge with it, instead choosing to shunt the customer’s mind into that of the one in nearest digital proximity.”
“Unfortunately for Michael Wright,” CRI Jackson said,”that just happened to be a rude shop assistant in the story.”
“Yes,” Dillinger said, nodding his agreement with the CRI’s summary.
“So, Michael Wright became the first victim,” RI Horton added. “What about the other victims in the story? Will other people in our world die as well?”
“No. Only the person accessing the story via their EI actually dies, and even then, only if they assume the character of an actual victim in the story. If they remain just an observer or an incidental character then they’re safe.”
“Surely, “ Horton asked, “there can be no interaction that could cause death in real time?”
CRI Jackson was impressed. Her young colleague was finally showing serious interest. Dillinger hesitated.
“In theory, it could only happen if the scene in the book was being accessed simultaneously, and a stronger character had taken on the identity of the antagonist… that’s what the planetary AI tells us, and no, I don’t fully understand it either.” CRI Jackson turned to Dillinger, asking bluntly. “So, how do we stop this happening again?”
“That I don’t know,” he replied with equal bluntness. “Have you any idea of the size of our customer database? We have over a trillion eBooks available. We can track this character, but only where he’s been. Trying to locate and isolate the code anomaly is impossible.”
“Surely your technical and programming staff can do something?”
What staff?” Dillinger said. “We have an army of maintenance technicians, but beyond that, the systems, the developments, the upgrades, have all been fully automated for the past century.” He shook his head. “The complexity of our interactive systems and algorithms started to exceed human understanding several decades ago.”
It wasn’t the answer CRI Jackson wanted to hear but it came as no surprise.
The CRI met Dillinger’s gaze. “If we can’t track this Dave Brown character in real time, we need to be ahead of him, steer him in a direction we want him to go.”
“Again, theoretically, yes.” Dillinger agreed.
“So, we could be waiting for him?” RI Horton added.
CRI Jackson nodded, pleased that her colleague was showing initiative rather than waiting for a computer read-out to provide him with a neat and tidy solution.
“I have an idea, “ the CRI declared, “but I’ll need the full and unrestricted resources of The Mighty Zon?”
The CRI was about to let rip with about how essential it was, but instead, she chuckled.,
“I mean of course, with the gracious cooperation of the IPEC.”
Mr Brown was choking on the smoke from an artillery shell. The acrid cloud had spread through the corpse-strewn trench in which he found himself. Bloody, limbless bodies lay all about. Flashes of shooting light dotted the sky, accompanied by the crack of explosive thunder.
Cries of ‘forward men,’were cut short by screams of pain. Dave Brown realised he was in a very different story to the one he had been expecting. Instead of having escaped to the relative safety of a Barbara Cartland romance novel after his latest adventure, this was like being dropped in the middle of a war zone.
Perhaps the summary justice of the Ministry of Behaviour might have been a safer option … It was bad enough that a minor formatting problem had caused him to skip an entire paragraph, depriving him of a cannibalistic feast, but this was inexcusable corporate negligence on the part of The Mighty Zon.
Mr Brown decided, should he escape with his digital life and in one piece from this latest story, he would write a very stern letter of complaint for listing what was clearly a dangerous War story under Romance. An idea came to mind, and he grinned as he considered taking other steps.
Another artillery shell landed nearby, hurling Mr Brown into the air, taking with it his left arm below the elbow … which included the wrist-worn EI neural-interface device. There would be no digital quick escape this time, at least there wouldn’t be till he recovered his missing arm.
They hadn’t solved the case to CRI Jackson’s satisfaction, but at least there had been no more unexplained deaths or EI related complaints. The best they could hope for was that the mysterious Mr Brown had been blown to pixelated digital bits and was finally dead – again – both physically and digitally this time.
Despite the uncertainty of that last hope, The Mighty Zon felt confident enough of that last statement:
‘The interplanetary Products and Entertainments Corporation would like to apologise to customers for the recent problems it’s been having with its Historical Content format and categorisation and sorry for any inconvenience and/or discomfort this may have caused.’
It was the closest anyone was ever likely to get to an apology for more than a dozen deaths and many more attempted murders by way of beheading, throttling, and dismemberment. Mr Brown it seemed had a penchant for doing away with people in the most horrible and violent ways.
What The Mighty Zon didn’t reveal in its apology or from its own internal investigations was that it had had numerous complaints from customers finding themselves surrounded by corpses and almost dying at the hands of a homicidal maniac.
Where readers hadn’t died or been attacked, complaints of stories changed beyond recognition flooded the light-wave communication channels – seeing a leather-jacketed., whiskey drinking biker making an impromptu appearance in a convent wasn’t what one expected when expecting to read a serious history of the Sisters of Saint-Hood.
Such incidents might have gone unnoticed for longer had they been confined to just the Crime, Horror, and Thriller categories, but they had appeared in all manner of genres ranging from Historical Romance to Children’s picture books.
As per company policy, such complaints had initially been ignored, but when they started finding the same complaints being posted on MeMeMe.Universe, the successor to MyFacePage.com, The Mighty Zon at last felt compelled to act, to curtail the activities of this mysterious digital assassin.
At CRI Jackson’s suggestion, every last one of it’s past and present catalogue of neurally-accessible eBooks were replaced with a particularly bloody and horrific scene from a shortened version of All Quiet on The Western Front, which is precisely where the mysterious Mr Brown continually found himself each time he ventured back into or from one digital story to another.
“Somewhere out there,” Stern Dillinger told the reflection in the mirror, “Dave Brown is still lurking, buried among a trillion lines of ancient Mobi-format page coding. He may still be very much alive …”
This is a story I wrote back in mid-2015 as my contribution to an anthology of short stories by members of the IASD Indie Author Support and discussion fb secret group …
(see: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com for our group website).
It was an idea first suggested by IASD member and author Eric Lahti who also has a superb blog and review site at: www.ericlahti.wordpress.com.
The Indie Author Support and Discussion Group proudly presents Holes: An Indie Author Anthology.
Starting with the theme of holes of any kind, an international group of indie authors put their writing minds to work to come up a collection of stories that will make you laugh, cry, shudder in fear, and want to clap your hands. Inside you’ll find stories about:
A twisted story about innocence and revenge.
A young woman racing for her life and her love against the age of clockworks.
A man who lost his life in a traffic accident and discovers the afterlife is being stuck in a classroom.
A young African schoolteacher who tackles a band of ruthless, marauding terrorists.
A Russian mobster who made a deal and thought he’d found a loophole to get out of it.
A cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for…you just may get it.
A place where life disappears to when you’re not watching.
A question about whether we are really the dominant species and masters of our own future.
A reader-interactive comedy of errors.
An anomalous client demanding something written from the soul, a soul he is threatening to take
An Inspector Winsford murder mystery.
A legacy gift that just goes on giving.
Slapstick comedy with a touch of British buffoonery (my contribution)
A pretty tease who toys with her theology professor until dark revelations stop her in her tracks.
Some stories are full of sorrow, others full of joy, but all of them will leave you wanting more.
Well it ain’t my hole…
The man from the council stood looking at it, scratching his head in a stereotypical fashion that so perfectly betrayed his utter bewilderment. This was surprising because if there was ever anyone who knew about holes it was Adam Wiggly; what Adam Wiggly didn’t know about holes could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but this one had him baffled.
“Well it ain’t my hole.” Adam said.
“Nor mine,” agreed Karl Rockley, the man from the gas board. He too was scratching his head, almost in sync with several others who were standing around, all with about as much idea what to do as a eunuch in a harem.
“Could be one of Smiffy’s I reckon. I mean, it’s hardly the biggest I’ve ever seen.” Karl suggested.
Adam sniggered at the tail-end of Karl’s remark, but on this rare occasion resisted the temptation to say something crude in reply.
“Nah, not his style, I’ve seen Smiffy’s work, this ain’t one of ‘em.”
“What? What d’ya mean, not his style? It’s a just a friggin hole for Christ’s sake!”
“Nah, ain’t no such thing as just a hole, each one’s different, got its own character, like.” Karl turned towards him with one of those ‘what the f…’ looks.
Adam continued. “Like I says, they’re all different… ya got yer belly holes, slit trench type holes, and then there’s the sort of hole yer get from an entry wound from a small firearm, which is quite different from the hole it leaves the other side. There’s a real science to it, like.”
Karl shook his head in feigned disbelief, though inwardly acknowledging the absurd logic in what Adam was saying. He quickly dismissed the thought from his mind for fear of actually getting sucked into what was fast becoming a ridiculous conversation on the topic of the character of a hole. By now of course, one of the local plod, Police Constable Bill Witherby, had also turned up, equally puzzled but determined to bring a semblance of order to all the confusion.
“Stand back, stand back please, nothing to see here, it’s just a hole in the ground,” the young plod was declaring to anyone bothering to listen.
“I’d hardly say that mate, I mean, there’s no paperwork for it, and the council know sod all about it, not even a B41 stroke 252 for it,” Adam replied.
“And you are?” Asked the plod.
“Adam Wiggly, Chief Roadside Excavation Officer.”
“What he means is, he watches and stands around, drinking tea and scratching his arse,” Karl added by way of explanation of the important sounding title. “Other people dig the holes, and then he tells ‘em what a shit job they’ve made of it.”
Adam turned to give him a scouring look. He would have preferred punching him but there was already enough animosity between the council and the gas board as it was, so had to content himself with the curt response: “Ya fookin’ twat!”
The plod had now been joined by a second plod, Police Constable Hilary Jenkins. Adam and Karl both switched their attention to the shapely young lass. The uniform really suited her, Adam thought, reminding him of a fantasy he had about Angie Dickson, the actress who played ‘Police Woman’ in the TV series.
“Soz about the language luv,” Adam hastily added. Karl smiled, feeling smug at Adam’s obvious embarrassment, unaware that it was due more to a ‘below the waist’ reaction than his having sworn in front of a female police officer.
“No need, me dad was Navy so there’s nowt you or anyone could say that I ain’t likely to have heard… or seen… before,” PC Jenkins replied. To emphasise her point she gave Adam a sly wink and a smile while momentarily glancing down at his crotch area. For some reason Adam’s face now resembled a beetroot.
“Now, what’s being done about this ‘ere ‘ole then?” PC Jenkins asked in a gruff voice that was totally at odds with her small but shapely stature and good looks.
“That’ll be for me to decide,” said the latest arrival at the scene, a short squat little man wearing a cheap ill-fitting pinstripe suit and a Laurel and Hardy style bowler hat. Karl and Adam just sighed, knowing exactly who he was:
“I’ll take charge now, now stand aside you two so I can assess the situation,” the bowler-hatted little man demanded with about as much authority as a toddler demanding an ice cream.
“And your name is?” Asked PC Jenkins, her tone making it clear she had no intention whatsoever of letting the little man take charge.
Taken aback by the petite looking blonde haired PC’s authoritative manner, the little man partially delegated his response to Adam Wiggly in the vain hope of soliciting some support in asserting his imagined importance.
“Mr. Wiggly here can confirm my identity and status, I’m Mr. Dibble… Dibble of the Council.”
It was hard for anyone in earshot not to piss themselves laughing at the pomposity of the way in which he declared it. It brought to mind the likes of Gideon of the Yard or Scott of the Antarctic… and now added to those illustrious names… Dibble of the Council. Somehow though it didn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Adam and Karl shrugged their shoulders in a half-hearted manner, nodding in the affirmative, though their disdain for Dibble couldn’t have been more obvious, something the pretty young PC picked up on.
“Well, Mr. Dibble,” PC Jenkins replied, adding as an afterthought, “of the Council… What exactly do you intend doing about this ‘ere ‘ole?”
“That’ll depend, first thing’s first…” It was a typical Dibble response, to say a lot but mean absolutely nothing, particularly when he was out of his depth. Given that he’d probably be out of his depth at the shallow end of a toddler’s paddling pool, that was more often than not.
“I don’t get it?” Karl said.
“Get what?” Adam asked. “What you on about now?”
“Y’know, what Dibble said… ‘First thing’s first’… what’s all that? I mean why would anyone say that? It’s not like you might decide to go with second thing first or third thing second. It don’t make sense. Everyone turned to look at Karl, baffled as to what he was rambling on about. Knowing however that the subtleties of the English language weren’t likely to be one of his few strong points, no one really felt up to the job of trying to explain.
“And that first thing is, Mr. Dibble… of the Council?” Asked PC Jenkins.
“Assess the situation, establish the facts, and decide on a course of action,” Mr. Dibble replied, ignoring the obvious sarcasm in the PC’s voice.
In the meantime, a couple more plods working under PC Jenkins’ direction were doing exactly that rather than just talking about it. Barriers were being erected to divert traffic from the busy junction close to where the hole was, while the first officer on the scene busied himself with keeping back the growing number of curious onlookers, many of whom had their own thoughts on the matter:
“What a carry on, I wonder if it’s one of those hidden camera shows?”
“Nah, can’t see any.”
“Well you wouldn’t would you, not if they were hidden, stands to reason.”
“Ha ha, I hadn’t thought of that…”
“Maybe there’s a serial killer on the loose and they’re looking for bodies?”
“What? You think someone’s been digging up the road, tarmac and all, burying bodies then fixing up the road again, and all without seeing or noticing owt, nah, don’t be so bloody daft.”
“Reckon it’s a remake of that film, you know, the one where a load of inept workmen make idiots of themselves, oh what was it called again..?”
“You know, the one with Eric Sykes and Tommy Cooper in it and all them others…” “Oh I know the one you mean, yeah, what was it… The Plank!”
“It’s the aliens, same ones as that keep making them there crop circles,” suggested yet another. Admittedly it was the most far-fetched of the speculations, but it was probably the most justified considering the old fella spouting the latest theory was pissed as a newt.
With all the attention the hole was getting from all and sundry, no one seemed surprised when the TV guys appeared in one of their vans. First thoughts were that it might be some sort of news crew. Already the assorted parties were jostling for position, for their five minutes of media fame should they be approached for their thoughts on the mysterious hole that had appeared from nowhere. Maybe the theory that someone was filming a remake of The Plank wasn’t that far off the mark after all…
“Hi guys. So tell me, what’s the story here?”
Adam was about to speak up, well, that’s what Adam did most of the time, speak a lot when not filling his gob with beer that is. He was quickly silenced by the interruption of his bowler-hatted boss.
“I’m the one you’ll be wanting to speak to on that matter I imagine,” Adam’s bowler-hatted boss declared. “Mr. Dibble’s the name, Dibble of the Council.”
Adam and Karl, and even PC Jenkins couldn’t help but snigger at the repetition of how he introduced himself. Mr. Dibble ignored them, pretending to be oblivious to their contempt.
No one noticed the approach of the tweed-jacketed, corduroy trouser wearing man wheeling a bicycle. Had he still been riding it as he approached the police barriers no doubt he would have been stopped, but the crafty bugger had dismounted by then, and stealthily approached unchallenged in a manner your average rucksack carrying kamikaze terrorist could only ever dream of hoping to get away with…
“Ermm… Hello. Might I enquire what you’re all doing standing around and trampling through our excavation site?” The latest addition asked.
“Your excavation site? You mean this is your bloody hole?” Adam exclaimed.
“Well of course it’s mine, well my department’s I should say.”
Once again, it was the little Napoleon Dibble – of the Council – who sought to take charge, shuffling his way through the assorted workmen and other departmental officials. I say shuffling on account of his lack of height and presence preventing him from barging his way through in the way he would have liked, and genuinely believed his imagined importance should have allowed. In reality he was forced to apologetically plead to be allowed to pass and squeeze through the crowd in much the same way some suited civvy might try and squeeze unnoticed through a bunch of drunken squaddies to get to the bar…
“Which is… and you are?” Dibble of the Council asked.
“Henry Michaels… of the Ministry for endangered indigenous species and habitats.”
It was at that point Adam and Karl nearly spat out the tea they were drinking from the polystyrene cups they were both clutching. It was yet another illustrious name to add to Dibble of the Council, Gideon of the Yard, and Scott of the Antarctic – Michaels of the Ministry no less.
“This has gotta be some kind of fookin’ Candid Camera prank,” Karl was saying to Adam.
“Nah, can’t be. They’d need a F69 stroke P Form for sommat like that.” Adam replied without a trace of irony. The only thing that even came close to what Adam knew about holes was his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the myriad of paperwork needed to dig one within the borough limits. Karl was more inclined to think he was taking the piss and probably making it up as he went along…
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Michaels of the Ministry said. “This hole is definitely not a television prank. It is a serious endeavour to preserve the Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroach. The creature was long thought to be extinct until its albeit yet to be confirmed rediscovery when the electricity board were laying some cables here.”
“That’s all very well but who gave you permission to dig the entire street up? My department never authorises anything bigger than a six by eight hole without a committee meeting first.” Mr. Dibble replied in his haughtiest tone.
“I can assure you Mr. Dibble, my department did acquire the emergency requisite permissions as per Form B209 stroke 4b.”
Mr. Dibble was now glowering and his cheeks were turning crimson. For once Adam came to his rescue without any need for prompting.
“Ahh right,” Adam interrupted. “Yeah, that would allow the excavation of a hole this size, but only over the weekend or a long bank holiday. What you actually needed was a D59 dash 3b Form to cover weekday emergency excavations.” Adam explained, delighted to embarrass his boss with his superior knowledge of council rules and procedures…
“Which I would have had to authorise… If I decided to!” Mr. Dibble added, determined not to be outdone by his subordinate.
“Hey, I’ve just had a thought,” Adam piped up.
“Really?” Remarked Karl in mock surprise with a sly grin sprawled across his face. Adam once again felt a desire to punch the little git for the implied sleight on his ability to think, but since it was probably no different to what everyone else was thinking, he decided Karl could wait, turning instead his attention to Michaels, the man from the Ministry.
“No offence mate.” Adam said. “But ya don’t exactly look like the sort of fella who earns a living digging holes, mate?”
Michaels of the Ministry laughed: “You’re right, I didn’t dig any holes personally, I just arranged for a more specialised firm to take over from the original excavation, though I can’t for the life of me remember who was in charge of that?”
“Actually, that would be me,” yet another new arrival to the merry band announced: “Smiffy’s the name, Arnold Smith if we’re being all formal.”
“Ha! ‘Ello Smiffy, you ain’t gonna tell us this is down to you are ya?” Karl said. “Ya see Adam, I told ya it might one of Smiffy’s but oh no, you knew better, reckoning it were too big or weren’t his style or some other bollox.” Karl added, eager to take the opportunity to prove Adam wrong.
“Yes and no is the answer to that.” Smiffy answered.
“Uh?” Adam grunted.
“I might have known the electricity board would be at the bottom of this!” Mr. Dibble huffed.
“If I may,” PC Jenkins interrupted, “If you could shed some light on this, I’m all ears?”
“Sure,” Smiffy said. “Me and my crew were called out on a rush job to replace a faulty cable last night. Not long after, some fella walking past stopped and told us he’d spotted some rare insect or bug I think he said, scurrying up along the sides of our hole. They just looked like regular bugs to me but what do I know?”
“About entomology? Probably about as much as I know about digging holes I suspect.” Michaels of the Ministry said.
“Ento…Uh? What was that?” Asked Smiffy, not being used to that many syllables in an entire sentence let alone a single word.
“Entomology.” Michaels repeated, “The study of insects.”
“Could start with taking a look at Dibble them.” Adam chipped in. Karl did his best to supress a snigger. Dibble on the other hand wasn’t so amused. PC Jenkins took a deep breath.
“Can we please let Mr. Smith continue with his account?”
“Ahh right.” Smiffy said, forgetting all about entomology: “Well, next thing I knew, half a dozen official looking bods were crawling all over the site, ya man here included. Before I knew it they were in charge with their own diggers, hence the ruddy great fuck off hole we got now.”
“And why wasn’t I made aware of all this earlier, and where have you been in the meantime, we could have had all this cleared up ages ago,” Mr. Dibble said.
“Out of my hands now, speak to the organ grinder over there,” Smiffy answered, pointing in the direction of Michaels of the Ministry.
“That’s absolutely right,” Michaels agreed. “This entire area is now under the jurisdiction of my department.”
Needless to say, Mr. Dibble took umbrage at seeing his authority and control of the situation fast disappearing: “Make no mistake,” Mr. Dibble said. “I shall be having words with the mayor about this I can tell you!”
As per usual, despite his official position in the council, no one was paying much attention to the officious Mr. Dibble, and even less so when Adam made his latest observation.
“Eh up!” Adam announced. “Can anyone make out that bit pointing out at the bottom at the far side of the hole, it looks like some kinda shell…”
Silence descended on the collective chatter for a few moments as the seriousness of the last statement dawned on everyone.
“It might well be,” said PC Jenkins as she stepped to the very edge of the hole and peered down at where Adam was pointing. Strangely enough the others were more inclined to edge themselves in the opposite direction…
“When you say a shell Mr. Wiggly, are you saying it might be some sort of bomb?” Michaels of the Ministry asked, who oddly enough now seemed to have lost some of his authority and confidence. Suddenly people were taking a little more notice of the oafish Adam.
“Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying Mr. Michaels… and you there Miss, PC Jenkins, might be an idea not to be getting too close.”
“Yes, I agree, perhaps we should all move a little further away and pass this onto someone better equipped to deal with the new situation.” Mr. Dibble urged. For once, he and Adam finally agreed on something. If truth be known, Mr. Dibble was probably more worried at Adam later being credited as the first one to alert everyone to the danger and acting decisively in the matter… Mr. Dibble had no intention of letting Adam challenge him for his job on the strength of that…
“Way ahead of you guys,” PC Jenkins replied prior to getting on her radio to report the latest development.
“Ermm, Mr. Wiggly, if it is a bomb, or even just a suspect one, what’s likely to happen now?” Michaels of the Ministry asked.
“Controlled explosion of some sort I’d guess,” Adam replied. Karl nodded his agreement with Adam.
“Whoa, now let’s not act hastily, there’s already way too many people involved and contaminating the site.” Michaels of the Ministry said: “Contaminating the site? It’s not a crime scene you know.” PC Jenkins interjected.
“I know that but this site has been designated as a one of special importance. You do know the Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroach hasn’t been seen in over two hundred years, and that the ones residing in this hole might be the last living specimens in the world.” Everyone’s jaw just dropped at that, including Mr. Dibble’s. Until that point he had been unrivalled in his capacity for stupidity, but Michaels of the Ministry’s concern for some rare bugs over all their safety eclipsed even his capacity for coming out with complete and utter bollox.
“Err, hello up there, but I think something’s ticking down here.” Called a voice from just a few feet away from where Adam had first spotted what he was now sure was an unexploded shell, probably a souvenir of the last war.
Whilst they’d all been discussing who the hole belonged to, and then the current danger, some of Michaels of the Ministry’s lab staff had clambered down into the hole to take soil samples in the hope of collecting some live specimens of the rare bug Michaels was so excited about…
“Sorry, false alarm, it’s stopped now…” The voice called again a second or two later.
“I don’t care, you guys get yourselves back up, now!” PC Jenkins shouted down at them.
“PC Jenkins.” Said Michaels of the Ministry. “Let me remind you I’m in charge here, and I won’t have you or anyone jeopardising our preservation work here.” Before she could respond, Michaels had already turned his attention elsewhere:
“You chaps down there, carry on collecting the samples I asked for.”
“Suit yourself, on your head be it then.” The pretty PC answered.
“Might be an idea if you and your lot get everyone cleared from the area, luv.” Adam said. “If that thing down there’s started ticking once, it might start again, what with them twats down there with their digging and whatnot,” Adam was telling PC Jenkins. Again, Karl was nodding his agreement.
“Well we don’t know that for sure, and they did say it was a false alarm. And yes I think it needs to be investigated, but I’m not going to authorise a full scale evacuation of the area just on the say so of a council hole-digger and a man from the gas board.” PC Jenkins replied.
“Chief Roadside Excavation Officer, if ya don’t mind, luv.” Adam corrected her. “Gas Infrastructure Site Surveyor.” Karl added.
This time it was Adam’s turn to give Karl a ‘what the f…’ look, knowing damned well he’d just made that up.
Mr. Dibble was staying on the fence on this; he didn’t want to openly agree with PC Jenkins just in case she was wrong, but he thought Adam and Karl were probably exaggerating the danger and he didn’t want to share in the bureaucratic fall-out by endorsing their advice if that turned out to be the case.
“Thank you PC Jenkins, a voice of sanity at last,” Michaels of the Ministry declared. He was relieved he and his team of could continue their bug collecting and that no one was going to deliberately blow them up, or at least not until they had enough of their precious specimens.
“Sod this for a game of soldiers.” Adam huffed: “I’m off to the pub until the bomb disposal mob declare this a safe zone, you joining me Karl?”
“Too bloody right mate, this lot are off their heads, mate.” Karl agreed.
“Hold up, wait for me.” Smiffy shouted after them. It wasn’t that he was worried about being blown up but he knew the local pub served a mean bacon buttie.
They really should have listened to Adam and Karl. They were both ex-military and knew only too well the dangers of an unexploded bomb.
It took seconds for the immediate surroundings to feel the full blast of the explosion, though it took considerably longer for the resultant fires to be put out and for the dust to settle. Any life within the immediate vicinity was now toast. The one exception was the previously thought to be extinct colony of Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroaches, who were now happily scurrying away to find another hole to enjoy a well-deserved nap in after having been kept awake by a lot of silly humans. Considering cockroaches will probably still be around long after the last of the human race has been irradiated under an atomic mushroom cloud, Michaels of the Ministry really shouldn’t have been too worried about them.
Adam and Karl, who had sensibly decided they’d be better off supping a quiet pint in a nearby pub rather than gabbing away around a ruddy great hole with a ruddy great bomb at the bottom of it, continued where they’d left off in their previous discussion on the character of a hole…