Category Archives: miscellaneous
Another taster story from my upcoming Canine Tales, Book Two in the Creature Tales collection. As can probably be assumed from the cover, many of the stories sit firmly in the blood and gore horror category, but sitting alongside them are several softer and more heart-warming ones. This is one such story …
Billy Marston had been a butcher’s boy before volunteering for France. At only 15 yrs. old, he’d lied about his age to join up, not that the recruiting sergeants inquired too closely when they suspected something amiss about a barely five ft tall youth claiming to be 17. They would inwardly smile at the would-be recruit’s naivety at thinking they had fooled anyone yet admiring their decision to try. It was just the sort of courage that would be needed for what was facing them
Billy wasn’t alone in doing that, so eager were most young men at the time wanting to go fight and for their country. But then, the real fighting had barely started yet, they still had no idea; everyone thought it would all soon be over and they’d be home in time for Christmas.
After a mere twelve weeks’ training in some god-awful cold army camp along the South coast, Billy was passed out as ready and fit for action, a junior Gunner and assigned to an artillery battery.
Mum and dad, his little sister, Ruby, and the family dog, Bobtail, were all there to see him off for his journey to France.
Although the family dog, everyone knew Bobtail was really Billy’s dog. The two had been inseparable before Billy had gone away for his basic training. In fact, Billy’s mum and dad had joked he’d miss that bloody dog more than them.
Whether that was true or not, the little terrier had whined and moped around the whole time Billy had been away and seeing him once more was the first time since the little dog appeared happy. The truth was, Bobtail had no intention of being separated again from the boy who had raised and loved him from the first day he had opened his eyes as a tiny hand-sized puppy.
“Hey, boy, be home before y’know it, Bobtail,” Billy was telling the dog, stooping down on one knee to clasp his arms about him in one last hug before boarding the troop ship. Bobtail was licking at the boy’s face and hands, furiously wagging its tail just like he used to as an excited puppy before reluctantly having to give up his attentions as Billy rose to his feet.
Like countless other parents that day, Billy’s mum and dad watched tearfully as their young son, still more boy than man, proudly marched across the gangplank with the last of his comrades to board the troop ship bound for the war in Europe.
Billy’s parents weren’t the only ones with tear-filled eyes. Bobtail too watched anxiously, seeing the figure of his beloved master disappearing from sight. He’d already spent twelve long weeks absent the boy’s loving hugs and playful belly rubs, determined not to be so any longer…
A sudden and unexpected pull of the leash that Billy’s little sister was holding him by saw the dog break free. Cheering roars of approval accompanied Bobtail’s mad dash across the gangplank just moments before it was pulled away for the ship to set sail.
There was no way the captain or anyone else was going to delay the troop ship’s sailing while they searched it just to return one little dog. For better or worse, master and dog were both now bound for France …
“Well, Gunner Marston, this is a fine fucking mess, ain’t it boy?” the young soldier’s sergeant was bellowing at him, trying to mask his amusement with his sternest face and tone. Billy stood fixed to the spot, sure that he was more afraid of his sergeant than he would ever be of the whole German army.
Bobtail stood beside his master as if to attention too, his sorry ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ soulful brown eyes looking up at the human making all the noise. Despite the shouting, Bobtail could see kindness in the human’s eyes, sensing this was a good human beneath the stern exterior.
Sgt. Rickman looked down at the dog, their eyes meeting. He also had a dog back home and understood the bond that existed between Billy and the sorry looking dog looking back up at him. Still, he had to at least make some show of punishing the young gunner for the dog’s presence aboard the ship …
“Well, Marston, if you think the ship’s crew are gonna look after yer pet mutt y’can think again, laddy!” The sergeant paused for effect …
“I can tell y’now if this were a longer trip, the little fella would be fish food now!” Billy took an involuntary swallow, convinced Sgt. Rickman had some horrible punishment in mind.
“Still, what’s done is done. He’ll be your responsibility. You’ll be the one feeding and cleaning up after him, and sharing your bunk and rations in case yer thought the army was gonna pay for his grub?”
Relief swept over the trembling young gunner, much preferring to keep Bobtail with him than be locked up in some room out of the way. Still, all he could think to say was: “Yes, Sergeant!”
“Okay. Be on yer way then,” the sergeant huffed, and then just as Billy was about to turn away, Sgt Rickman gave him a wink, and a hint of a knowing grin before he left. A beaming smile swept across Billy’s face as he and Bobtail made their way back to the troop quarters.
“Thanks, Sarge,” Billy had answered before closing the door before him, anxious to be away before the sergeant changed his mind.
Sgt. Rickman sighed and shook his head gently from side to side, wondering what would become of the two of them once they got to the front. He wasn’t hopeful about their chances …
They were a bit cramped in their bunks, but the boy soldiers all gave quite a cheer seeing the two of them come in. Little Bobtail had become a firm favourite among the lads, many of whom were no doubt missing their own dogs. Perhaps Bobtail was a little reminder of home for them? Needless to say, they all chipped in with scraps and titbits from their grub for the little dog that had become their unofficial mascot.
Bobtail absolutely loved all the attention and fuss he was getting. Of course, he still loved Billy the best, but this was like a whole new family for him, and he loved them all.
It wasn’t long before the troop ship was docking, and they all were marched off the ship to waiting trucks for the short drive to where their real soldiering would begin.
Bobtail was clearly becoming a little agitated, the sound of guns and artillery already in earshot even before they’d boarded the back of their transport. Billy held him close, and Bobtail seemed to calm down, safely wrapped up in his master’s arms.
“It’s okay boy, nothing’s going to hurt you, you’ll be safe with me, I promise,” Billy said softly, though far from sure he’d be able to keep that promise. Billy had been overjoyed to see Bobtail across the deck, but only now was he beginning to realise how much danger the little dog had put itself in by dashing aboard the ship to be with him. If it had been in his power to do so, Billy would have whisked the little dog right back home that moment. Unfortunately, it wasn’t; whatever the enemy had to throw at them, they would face it together.
Billy doubted the little dog would ever be totally at ease with the sound of the guns and artillery shells, the sirens, or any of the deafening sounds of frontline warfare. He was immensely proud though of the way Bobtail was coping, no longer whining or barking at them now. In fact, Bobtail seemed to be coping a lot better than he was. Until now, Bobtail had pretty much kept out of the way other than to follow behind his master.
No one seemed to mind the extra couple of feet the unofficial battery mascot took up among them in the trenches and had now taken to calling him ‘Battery Bob.’ Even a few of the officers had taken to throwing Bobtail the odd titbit from the scarce rations, grateful for the morale boost he seemed to be giving the men.
After what they’d seen and done in the few days they’d been there, they had long since left their ‘boyhood’ behind them, however much they might have lied about their ages.
“We need a volunteer to run a telegraph wire to our forward battery trench to coordinate our advance,” Sgt. Rickman said as he addressed his troop. It wasn’t the sort of assignment anyone wanted to volunteer for. The trench the sergeant was referring too was some three hundred yards across the field of fire of snipers and the constant bombardment of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, so called for the black billowing smoke that accompanied their detonation.
A man made for too big a target running across the no man’s land, and stealthily crawling made him too slow a one, either way making for an unenviable task. Nonetheless and knowing full well the danger, Billy stepped forward …
“Good lad,” Sgt. Rickman said.
In truth, Billy was the last one he wanted to volunteer. There were older and more seasoned soldiers better suited to the job, but he didn’t have time to argue and wouldn’t have been doing Billy any favourers showing him favouritism.
“Pass me the wire-roll end as soon as I climb up top,” Billy told the sergeant. Unnoticed by anyone, Bobtail trotted after him as Billy edged himself up and out over the top edge of their trench before someone passed him the wooden rod to which the one end of the telegraph wire was attached. Billy’s job would be to keep hold of it while it unfurled from the wire-roll back in the trench as he crawled through the mud-soaked and barbed wire strewed land. No one had any illusions as to Billy’s chances of making it, but equally, he had to try.
“Shoo, get back down, back in the trench, boy” Billy urged the little dog that had followed him up, trying to shoo him away with his hand too. For once, Bobtail ignored his master’s commands. Bobtail had seen others of the ‘family’ he’d grown to love try crawling across the no man’s land with such things … they hardly ever came back.
Bobtail lunged towards him, grabbing the rod and wire between his teeth before scurrying off into the night. Being little, Bobtail was no greyhound, but he could still run and dart in and out of the tiniest holes in the ground way faster and effectively than any human could.
Billy wanted to shout out to the little dog to call him back but knew that would only attract enemy fire in their direction. Sgt. Rickman too had popped his head above the parapet to see what was happening …
“What the f…?” Sgt. Rickman started to say.
“I’m sorry, Sarge, he just grabbed and run off with it before I could stop him.”
“It’s okay, lad, he’s going in the right direction. And honestly, he’s already got a lot farther than I thought you would, Marston,” the sergeant added, giving Billy a gentle nudge of the arm.
Bobtail completed the task like a seasoned professional, darting this way and that, occasionally stopping to take cover in one of the bomb blast craters before continuing. The whole operation took less than five minutes.
Through their field binoculars, Sgt. Rickman and Billy watched Bobtail make it all the way to the forward battery trench. Five minutes later they watched the plucky little pooch start on its return run, this time carrying a letters pouch, probably containing more detailed communications from their forward battery.
“Good, good dog, great job, love you little fella,” was all Billy could blubber over and over again, hugging and stroking Bobtail the moment he landed practically in Billy’s arms from jumping back down into the trench. Sgt Rickman took the letters pouch from around Bobtail’s neck to take them to the officer in command.
From that moment on, Bobtail was regarded as much a part of the artillery battery as any human soldier, a canine combatant that had won the hearts and admiration of its comrades.
Following the latest offensive, Billy had been catapulted headlong into one of the abandoned makeshift trenches by an exploding artillery shell. Knocked unconscious by the blast, Billy just lay there for several hours, assumed to have been killed by the rest of his battery which had been forced to retreat …
Billy had no idea what was washing over his face. He knew it wasn’t the poison gas, he’d either be dead or retching up his insides if it had been.
“Urgh,” Billy exclaimed in mock disgust, yet he really couldn’t have been happier. He would have recognised that wet slobbering tongue anywhere, though he did have a moment of panic, wondering if he was, in fact, dead and now reunited with his beloved Bobtail in heaven? But no, the dog’s scent and smell were that of a breathing flesh and blood creature.
They were both still in the land of the living, though from behind enemy lines, probably not for much longer Billy feared. He may have been alive, but the pain in his leg and blood-stained uniform was a sharp reminder their chances weren’t good. He knew he’d lost a lot of blood, and the effects of that were causing him to drift in and out of consciousness.
Bobtail licked at his face for a few moments. It surprised him when a second later the faithful dog suddenly turned tail to run back in the opposite direction towards their own lines of defence.
Billy was confused, though pleased Bobtail might have a chance of getting back to safety. A moment later, Billy passed out.
By the end of their time at the front, Bobtail had saved dozens, possibly hundreds of lives from his many runs between the trenches and across enemy territory, carrying vital information, and locating wounded soldiers.
Bobtail hadn’t deserted Billy in running back to the battery trench. As he’d done many times before by now, Bobtail had been sent out to use his acute sense of smell to try and find the wounded Billy in case he was still alive. Bobtail hadn’t failed and led Billy’s comrades right to him before their return to the UK to treat Billy’s injuries.
Bobtail had no idea what all the fuss was about, other than he couldn’t remember being happier, having so many lovely people patting him, giving him treats, and smiling.
He wasn’t so impressed with being plonked on a podium and some human he didn’t know placing a ribbon about his neck. Some metal thing was hanging from it too, but Billy seemed okay with it given the beaming smile and look of pride across his face.
If Billy was happy then so was he, though he was tempted to pee over the other human’s arm to show his annoyance. Thankfully he didn’t.
“In honour of the brave actions of Bobtail, also known to his many friend and comrades as Battery Bob.” At that point, there was a spontaneous roar of laughter and approval from many of Billy’s and Bobtails’ comrades from the frontline. Bobtail gave a loud bark too, his tail wagging furiously in sync with his persistent yapping.
This was Bobtail’s moment, and Colonel Smythe who had been giving the speech wisely allowed the crowd their moment …
Smiling and giving a gentle rub and pat of Bobtail’s head before continuing: “I take immense pleasure in having presented our canine hero here with this medal for bravery in having saved innumerable lives and to express how proud and grateful to him we all are.” The villagers and crowd cheered their agreement.
Amid the cheering, Sgt. Rickman shouted in his loudest and most terrifying Drill Sergeant voice, “Three Cheers for Battery Bob.”
After several rounds of ‘Hip Hip Hoorays,’ Colonel Smythe concluded his speech with six simple words …
“Battery ‘Bobtail’ Bob, we salute you.”
Well, what to say here? This is an article I wrote back in 1995 for no other reason than that it was the very first piece of writing I ever had published (3rd prize in a competition for which I was awarded the princely sum of £20). I’ve tidied it up a bit since then, but the text essentially remains the same …
Why Write? An interesting question you might agree, but one with a multitude of answers. The same question could well be asked of those who follow other creative pursuits. What compelled Van Gogh or Gaugin to paint, despite their sufferings, or Beethoven to compose even though he was profoundly deaf? Or, returning to my original question, the Bronte sisters to write when publication seemed an impossible dream? This passionate need for self-expression is in every writer who yearns to achieve authorship as their career. Many of course believe writing to be an easy job with huge financial rewards at the end of it; if money is your sole motivation then you are probably not a born writer. This isn’t to say money should not be a consideration, but its value to many writers is the freedom it allows them to work at what they most enjoy, in their own time and at their own pace. Then, a writer’s intention may merely be to entertain, which is I believe to be an excellent reason for writing; any occupation that brings light relief and enjoyment to so many people is an admirable one. To bring enjoyment to even one person can be a source of profound satisfaction:
“One of my greatest rewards came a year or two ago, mailed to me care of my publishers – an envelope with a Glasgow postmark containing a scrap of paper on which was written very simply, ‘thank you for all the enjoyment your books have given me’. It bore no address and no signature, and accompanying it was a Scottish pound note. I have never parted with either. That kindly gesture has been kept as a talisman ever since. My only regret is that I have never been able to thank that unknown reader.”
Rona Randell, (authoress)
If, in your own writing, you are fortunate enough to experience such a moment you may well be well on your way to answering the above question. For many though the urge to write is born out of circumstance. One important thing to appreciate is that writing is a solitary and often lonely occupation. This works both ways: writing leads to solitude, but solitude can also lead to writing. It is this last consideration that brings me to my own reasons for writing. It would be untrue to say that I had never wanted to write before a serious accident rendered me housebound for several months, but it was little more than an unconscious desire, submerged for the most part by the many competing attractions and obligations of everyday life, emerging only rarely during moments of quiet solitude, or after having read something particularly enjoyable or inspiring. It was only then I sometimes thought, yes, I’d like to write something like that and to write as well as that! But such occasions are few and far between. For myself it had always been impossible not to allow the pressures of family and everyday life combine to make any serious attempt at writing an impractical, if not impossible dream; perhaps I used this as an excuse, for indeed there are many who overcame such obstacles to realise their dreams, but for me, the constant rationalisation that there was always tomorrow, the day after, or the weekend, to start putting pen to paper, held me back. My own fault I admit. What made me do so was, again, among other things, having read a book that I found particularly enjoyable, Nineteen Eighty-Four if I remember correctly. Upon finishing it I decided I too would like to write something similar (or at least try). Being housebound as I was I felt as trapped and imprisoned as is possible to be short of being a guest of Her Majesty. Ironically though it was those very circumstances that provided the very time and freedom I needed to write – or at least freedom from all the excuses that had fed my past procrastination. Thus finally inspired, my main obstacle was to put down that first word, a daunting prospect for any fledgeling writer. But once you have taken that first step the writing becomes easier. Word follows word, sentence follows sentence, and paragraphs take shape to form chapters until such time as that elusive first poem, article, short story, or even a novel may one day emerge. It may seem ironic, even absurd that such an incapacity might provide one with any kind of freedom, but given the right attitude and self-discipline it can be equally surprising just how conductive a temporary restriction of one’s physical freedoms and mobility can actually be to any new, or even I should imagine an experienced writer. Cut off from many of the distractions of the outside world and pursuits of ordinary life, being housebound encouraged me to call upon the resources of my imagination and experience. One only has to think of those have found themselves truly cut off from the outside world, I speak of course those writers and authors who have for whatever reason begun or continued their writing whilst in prison: Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Daniel Defoe, and, more recently, the likes of John McVicar, and Jimmy Boyle. Evidently, solitude can be developed into a valuable resource. It can enable one to get in touch with one’s deepest feelings, to form ideas, and encourage the growth of one’s creative imagination, culminating in the elusive ‘written’ word. But what of the benefits of writing? Not the obvious ones of possible fame and fortune, but the more personal, more intimate? During those months of recovery, it would be absurd to suggest that writing in any way changed the physical reality of my situation but it did provide an enjoyable and often fascinating pastime, a marvellous form of escape if you like. It was only when I was alone, with a pen, paper, and a desire to write that I finally produced my first literary efforts. The circumstances were far from ideal but with pen in hand (or fingers on a keypad these days), a few ideas, and a fair degree of imagination, I could be anywhere in the world, create any scenario – an entire world and its characters were there for me to create and immerse myself in. Often I would find myself totally absorbed in what I was trying to say and the struggle involved in trying to transform my thoughts into some form of readable prose. This was not always and indeed still isn’t an easy task. My recovery was slow but nonetheless eventually complete, and my enforced solitude came to an end. It was by no means the ideal milieu for my writing but it was the catalyst for it for which I shall always be grateful. To conclude then, there is no magic formula as to how or why people write. Only you, the writer, can answer that question. And for each of us, I suspect the answer will be different. But whatever the reason, only you can make it happen: imagination, a love of words, creativity, enthusiasm, and the desire to write – those are your tools. All you need is to take the opportunity to use them.
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!
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…
Many thanks to Tom Benson for this latest update on the IASD website, a group and site which I’m proud to be a member and part of …
Well, that happened fast, didn’t it – November already!
We had two aims, apart from the ongoing appliance of our collective target (our group’s initials).
First, we wanted to maintain our monthly Featured Author.
Secondly, we had new anthologies we wanted to create.
When we got the idea underway (two years ago), the author was selected by a secret ballot. Next came my use of a ‘randomiser’ program, which entailed me listing every member’s name. Early this year, thanks to Sylva, I started using the Sociograph program to see who our most active members were in a month. This third method works well and will continue for the foreseeable future.
When the year was but young we had good intentions and aimed to produce three more collections as a group.
– another anthology of short stories and this time…
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Following on from the success of his debut novel, this post is to introduce Ian D. Moore’s forthcoming book, Salby Evolution. First though, a little about Ian himself: Ex-soldier in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, internet entrepreneur, and truck driver, Ian D. Moore has a vast and varied array of life experience to draw on in his writing. Regular readers of my blog and book reviews will remember my first mention of him when I reviewed Salby Damned back in August 2015. Since then he has become an established and well-respected figure in the world of Indie writing and publishing, having been the driving force behind You’re Not Alone, an anthology of short stories by Indie Authors from around the world who graciously and freely contributed stories in aid of the cancer support charity Macmillan Nurses. In addition to the Salby series of books, Ian D. Moore has had a short story featured in Eric Lahti’s Holes: An Indie author Anthology. He is also an avid reader and book reviewer, an admin for a popular Fb author group and a founding member and admin of its accompanying website at: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com
Salby Evolution is the eagerly awaited soon to be published sequel to Salby Damned. Salby Damned was a fresh and innovative take on the Zombie genre, combining elements of science fiction, big business, and the controversial topic of ‘fracking’ to produce an intelligently written eco-thriller with a zombie (with a small ‘z’) themed backdrop. It has been well received, accumulating impressive reviews on both sides of the atlantic, and on Goodreads …
In Salby Evolution, the second book in the Salby series, the devastating virus that gave rise to the zombie deadheads of the first book is once again sweeping the country… In the author’s own words…
One man holds the key to our future. One man holds the key to our extinction.
The merciless Salby viral strain, sweeping across the country, spawns a new breed of predator.
Simon Lloyd, borderline alcoholic, must vanquish the demons of his past and change his single-minded ways.
Filled with resentment, he enters a world far removed from his own. He must choose to take a stand or risk losing his estranged wife and children forever.
Against overwhelming odds, unethical science and the prospect of eternal exile, the decisions he makes will shape the future of mankind.
Intrigued so far? If so then read further the exclusive preview …
Available August 1st(kindle) / (paperback TBA ): for pre-order at: Click here:
Chapter 1 – Rude Awakening
Salby, North Yorkshire, 0100 hours, three hours before the viral outbreak.
The medicinal bottle, positioned in the middle of the table, beckoned me once more. The glass, my favourite crystal tumbler, specifically set aside for such occurrences, called to me. I couldn’t though, not before work. I wiped the back of my hand across two days of growth—satisfying the itch—removed my glasses and pinched the bridge of my nose. My routine, unchanged since the split, trudged onwards in an endless cycle of work, eat, drink, and sleep. The sorrows simply refused to drown, no matter how deep the liquid I immersed them in. After five years, you’d think I’d have snapped out of it by now, and yet as I sat here contemplating those very thoughts, the burden remained.
My bag contained an unappetising sandwich, a limp, soggy ham and cheese, a flask of tea that usually carried an undertone of the contents before it mingled with plastic, and a book for the long nights spent waiting.
For the last few years, I’d done little but walk the moors, aimlessly looking for something, only to return ‘home’ empty-handed. This wasn’t home, at least, not the home I recalled.
In effect, my sentence was to serve the mundane, the flame inside me thwarted, extinguished to monotony with only the barest glimmer of hope in retirement for the future.
This would do no good—it never did. I hauled my self-pitying bones from the chair, pushed it neatly back under the table and grabbed the workbag. I winked at the bottle.
“I’ll be back for you, later.” I muttered.
My day started normally—as mundane as the rest of the week, really. It wasn’t until the early hours that things began to get a little strange. I worked the graveyard shift as a railway junction box operator and signalman for a major rail freight company. While a lot of the signal boxes and crossings were being made electronic, controlled by computers and machines, the company still had certain places that required the presence of an actual body. Me.
I was on shift at a rural, local signal box, one I’d done many, many times before, one that was usually just a two-operation night. The 2159 from Salby came out of the power station, across the junction heading south for more coal, and then it returned from Leeds railhead at 0509 the following morning with a full load. That would pretty much be it as far as the actual traffic was concerned.
Last night, it hadn’t happened that way—at least not entirely. Sure, the 2159 rumbled through with a honked horn from the driver as it passed. The locomotive ambled its way from the power station terminus to pick up the mainline route south, pulling the usual fifty behind it.
I counted each and every one, just as I always do.
The phone rang five minutes before; the railhead operator at Leeds Central let me know the train was on the way through, a safety procedure just in case any of the mainline trains had been diverted for any reason. That would allow me time to stop the train until I was given the all clear. There were no such concerns last night, and the train passed as usual, without incident.
After it had gone, I settled back down in the worn, threadbare easy chair to watch a little TV. I’d maybe finish another chapter of the current book I was into, an indie author novel from an unknown writer, werewolves of all things. To be fair though, the book was very good.
As usual, my mind wandered back to the break-up of my marriage. This ritual became my nightly, futile attempt to figure out what went wrong, who was to blame, and what the future held. There hadn’t been much contact with my ex-wife since the split; what dialogue there had been, usually ended in bitter arguments. The filing of divorce papers hadn’t helped matters much either, let alone what I thought were vastly over-calculated maintenance payments for our two children.
Although I visited my son when he was little a few times, lately there hadn’t been much in the way of quality time with either him, or his sister, whom I had yet to meet. This was something I planned to resolve, and I’d reached a point where rationality dawned. It told me that no matter what, it could never be the fault of the children for the break-up. I was, and would always be, their father.
Now, marginally calmer having reached this conclusion, I pulled the plug on the TV and turned on the small radio to listen to the news bulletin. It was usually all doom and gloom, but there were some uplifting stories, sometimes. The music they played was a little more to my taste, too, given the hour. I sipped at the tepid tea from the stainless wrapped plastic of the flask lid.
At 0400, the radio presenter announced that an additional “breaking news flash” would interrupt the usual programming. I turned up the volume a little, listening intently as the newsreader reported an explosion, close to my home on the outskirts of the town. It wasn’t a million miles away from where my wife—stupid—ex-wife and children still lived.
I thought nothing of it. The report was pretty vague: people missing, presumed dead at some sort of gas drilling site. From the beginning, it was vehemently opposed by the residents of Salby anyway. Hell, I signed the petition against it myself.
When the 0509 to Salby failed to arrive, that was breaking news, at least as far as my job was concerned. It never failed to turn up, nor, if I remembered correctly, had there never been a phone call from the main rail office to let me know that it wasn’t coming. Very strange. The procedure was simple from here on in. Dial the number to the rail office, which was only a small control centre on the tracks that passed Salby town, inform the controller, and log the call. No response. The phone rang and then rang some more. I dialled again, this time, the central rail control office in Leeds.
The fact that the train hadn’t been seen would have to be reported; then it could be left in the hands of people who got paid a whole heap more than I did to worry about such things. Today, of all days, this had to happen. Why, oh why can’t people do their jobs properly?
If there’s one thing that really gets on my nerves, it’s slackers.
The merciless, nicotine-stained clock on the wall jeered on— it must have been there for years, the same uncaring, unknowing regulatory professor of time. Tick, tick, tick, tick!
At 0600, I would be turning the points back over to remote control at Leeds. The power station line only operated during the night hours, due to the length of the trains. I began to pack my night bag ready for the sedate ride home.
It was only a few miles, usually no more than twenty minutes. All of the roads were national speed limit, 60 mph stretches, and at that hour, I usually missed the first of the early commuters heading in. Despite trying to call for half an hour without response, I transferred the signal box back to the main signalling offices at Leeds.
With a last look to the grimy interior, I closed the door to the raised cabin and locked it with the master key—just in case there should be any curious kids playing near the lines later in the day.
Once the proud owner of a shiny 4×4 with a whopping 2.8 litre V6 in the front, I found its days were numbered after the separation. It had cost me a pretty penny to get new furniture, not to mention the sizeable deposit on the rented house, now called home. The badass, gas-guzzling monster had to go, replaced with a more efficient, but slightly-the-worse-for-wear Vauxhall.
That was another of the niggling grievances in my mind. Every time I drove it, I always felt that it wasn’t supposed to be like this, that it wasn’t fair, and more to the point, that it wasn’t my fault.
I got behind the wheel and slammed the driver’s door a little too hard, forcing the ignition and revving the engine a little too much as the car rattled into life. The dust and gravel track road leading to the points’ office proved no match for the tyres as they kicked up plumes of chippings. I vented my angst on the accelerator, and took out my frustrations on the car itself, before mounting the blacktop main road with a distinct squeal as the traction changed.
“Screw it, and screw you for leaving me!” I snarled at the windscreen. The stressed, furrowed face glared back without compromise. I fumbled in my jacket for the crushed pack of smokes. With a well-rehearsed tap on the centre console, the filter rose just enough for me to get a hold with my lips and pull the cigarette clear. I dropped the pack as the car lighter clicked its indication of readiness, pulled out the glowing red-hot implement, and seared the tip of my fix.
That first long, slow, deep drag was always the best one, and it calmed me down a little. The familiar tingle as the toxins hit the back of my throat, despite the constant angel at my shoulder, which waggled an ethereal finger along with the words: ‘You really should quit,’ felt comforting. The wisps of smoke curled up around my face as I blew out through my nose, slowly, revelling in the moment and in utter defiance of my impromptu celestial saviour.
There were some nasty turns as you got out towards Salby—if you didn’t know they were there, they could take you by surprise. With a certain sense of ‘I told you so’, I noticed a car at the side of the road, the front end embedded in the drainage ditch. Skyward tail lights created a luminescent beacon in the surrounding mist. The driver, not used to the road, must have lost control. I slowed the car to a crawl as I passed the stranded vehicle, which didn’t look like it had been there for very long. Curled smoke from the tailpipe suggested that it had only recently come to an abrupt stop. No sign of the driver; perhaps they had gone for help to the small-holding nearby, in the hope that the farmer might tow them out to continue their journey.
Given the weird night I’d had and the dark mood I was in, I decided to carry on home and pushed down on the accelerator once more. The front end of the car rose slightly as the power surged through the front wheels.
My focus shifted back to the road, just in time to round a sweeping bend, but too late to avoid the sickening thump as something bounced off the bonnet. In my wing mirror, I saw it catapulted to the roadside by the impact of my car, nudging 60 mph. Unsure of what I’d hit, I slowed and pulled over, the engine still running as I sat for a few seconds just staring into the rear-view mirror, hoping it was just an animal that had run out of luck.
The undulating mist obscured my vision as I peered into the murky half-light. The sun began to warm the morning dew from the grassy fields on both sides of the main drag, which sent ethereal, spectral formations floating up and over the hedges. I looked back over my shoulder towards the car, the gesture more to reassure myself it was still there, rather than anything else. An odd, uneasy, churning sensation in the pit of my stomach urged me to turn tail, return to the car, and flee—but I couldn’t though, it wouldn’t be right would it? I mean, what if they, or it, were still alive, lying there injured? I had to know. I had to find out. I popped the door and walked back towards the location of the body.
“Uh—hello, is anyone there?” I called out sheepishly. I prayed for a clear window through the rising vapour or any chance of an unhindered view.
“H—hello. Are you hurt? I have a phone. Do you need an ambulance?” I was conscious of the waver to my voice.
A shape forming in the swirling maelstrom just up ahead made me stare first in disbelief, and then in horror, as a gap in the mist shifted between us. No more than thirty feet in front of me, the grey, boiler-suited form of a man, but that wasn’t what made me tremble.
The impact of the car had caught the victim at his right knee-joint, literally spinning the man’s leg and foot around 180 degrees. His left foot faced forwards, and his right foot faced directly behind him, yet the man still attempted to stand and miraculously, made it to his feet. He began to limp towards me. His twisted leg dragged behind him as he drew closer.
I could see the expression on his face, which sent a cold chill running through my whole body. It pushed the boundaries of my resistance to the fear welling inside me to the absolute limit.
“Jesus Christ! Your leg, mate! How can you possibly stand?”
The wounded man staggered towards me. His face appeared distorted by a grimace that I could only put down to the agonising pain of his injury, enhanced by a low, guttural growl that came from between his tightly clenched teeth. When he was less than ten feet away, the piece of wood protruding from his chest registered in my brain. It was all I could do not to double over, instead gasping in a lungful of air in amazement as my gaze locked onto it, clearly able to see that it passed right through his body.
When my car hit him, he must have been flung into the air and landed upon the wooden fencing which ran alongside the fields, shrouded by the hedgerows. I deduced that the impact must have sheared off part of the fence which he had become impaled by, piercing him a fraction below the breastbone, which surely must have missed his heart by mere millimetres. Yet here he is, limping ever closer.
“Stop! Get away from me, dammit. How the hell are you still alive?” The question, I knew, was utterly ludicrous.
No response from the approaching figure, no cries of pain, and no visible blood trail either despite the horrific wounds to his chest and leg. His right foot dragged uselessly across the ground every time he moved forwards, the sound chilling me to the core.
He struggled to maintain balance, which caused him to veer off farther into the centre of the wet, misty road. I kept my eyes fixed upon him, unable to break my compulsive stare towards the fence stake, which rose and fell as he advanced. I had the good sense to take slow and measured steps backwards and to the side, in an attempt to get to the relative safety of the grass verge. This road had a reputation for high-speed at the best of times, an accident blackspot, in fact.
I heard the rumbling diesel engine a matter of seconds before two bright, white eyes pierced the mire. The bulk grain wagon ploughed through the swirling mist. It hit the staggering, overall-covered man full on. The impact caused his body to fly past my position, held by the inertia of the truck before the driver punched the brakes. In a surreal moment, my head instinctively turned to follow as the truck screeched past me, missing my car by a hair’s breadth. My eyes followed the grain wagon; I cringed when I saw the sickening sway of the chassis as the wheels passed over the body. The truck lurched forwards as the brakes finally brought it to rest. Several haunting hisses, followed by one long exhale, saw the truck roll no farther.
The driver’s door opened and I could just make out the figure of a burly looking trucker. He rubbed his eyes and forehead with a bit of rag in disbelief at what had just happened, stuffing the torn piece of cloth into his back pocket, where it dangled as he walked. Both of us stared at the crumpled pile in the wake of the truck, the mangled mess almost indistinguishable as ever being human.
The embedded fence post stood vertical, akin to a stunted flagpole, which marked the spot where the body lay. Roadkill.
The truck belched hot steam from its punctured radiator, merely adding to the swirling mist.
“Don’t go any closer if you know what’s good for you. Just get back in your cab and drive. I’m out of here! There’s some weird shit going on,” I barked, as the man began to edge closer.
“I had no chance to avoid him, did you see? He was in the middle of the road, I had no chance to miss him. You … you must have seen,” the flustered trucker babbled.
“I saw everything, graphically. Get back in your truck, light a cigarette to calm yourself, and then get the hell out of here. I gotta go, this is some freaky shit,” I reiterated, already moving towards the car and fishing in my empty pockets for my cigarettes.
“Here, buddy, take one of mine,” the trucker offered—his hand shaking as he held the pack. “What the hell should I do? I mean, I killed him, right? He’s gotta be dead. I need to call someone, the police, ambulance—someone.”
“Just hold on there—um—” I began.
“Oh, Jack—the name’s Jack.”
“Well, Jack, just hold on there before you do that. You see, I hit him first. Just like you, he came from nowhere, in the middle of the road. He should have been dead, his leg was—and he’d been impaled through the chest, a piece of wood musta gone clean through him.”
It poured out of me, to this trucker I’d only just met, in as big a mess as I was. I took a deep breath in, matched Jack’s earlier brow wiping pose and offered up a solution. “Okay, we need to see if he’s still alive, though I don’t know how he could possibly be. I thought I was having a bad day but—I’ll get my phone from the car first,” I resolved, as my senses began to return.
I flopped into the driver’s seat. What made me check the rear-view mirror just then, I’ll never know, but I did. The mist began to rise slightly, and I could see the crumpled pile just behind and to the side of the large truck. I noticed the fence post, which should have been vertical, was now horizontal. The impact had pushed the post back through the body of the man, so it stuck out even farther from the front of him.
“Shit, no way, man. No way! Screw that, it can’t be—there’s no way.”
The sight sent me into panic overload. My hands fumbled with the ignition keys as I yelled over my shoulder through the open window.
“Jack, get in your truck and drive—now!”
I didn’t hang around to witness more as the car spluttered into life. I rammed it into first before I popped the handbrake, revving the engine enough to make the tyres deposit a layer of burnt rubber as they fought for traction. I slammed the car into second and my foot to the floor. I was heading for the centre of town. I had to pass through it to get home.
I came across only one other vehicle for the remainder of the journey, a sporty-looking Ford parked up in the lay-by, opposite Salby’s one and only pub on the main drag. It wasn’t easy to see in the early morning light as I approached. The hazy, halo hue faded to reveal the car more clearly. My gaze on the road ahead faltered, drawn to the vehicle, and I peered through the driver’s window. Empty.
“Stuff stopping again. Wherever you are, you’re on your own.” I stated, resolutely.
The town centre, eerily quiet as I drove through and minus the usual steady trickle of cars city-bound, was also a little strange. Was it a national holiday? Did I miss something? I didn’t know and couldn’t focus. My mind raced over the imprinted images, trying to figure out what could possibly have allowed that man, that thing, to live after so much damage. He/it was either very lucky, or very unlucky, whichever way the coin landed. I drew too hard on the fresh fix. The hot ash fell from the tip, landed between my legs, and onto the seat. My eyes followed the rolling ember as it disappeared under my crotch, and I frantically tried to get to it before it could burn a nice, round hole in the cloth covering.
The first thing to hit me was a pungent, singed material smell; the next was the bee-sting pain on the inside of my leg. In what can only be described as borderline panic and unable to see clearly, I anchored on, pushed open the driver’s door, and practically fell from the vehicle. As a matter of instinct, my hands shot to my burnt inner thigh, swatting and patting even though the heat had gone. Anyone watching would have thought I’d finally flipped out. Content that I wasn’t actually on fire, annoyed, and in shock, I resumed my journey, cursing the tobacco angel.
I pulled up outside my rented property, scanned through the windows, and half-expected to see the mashed body of the man crawling towards me as I surveyed the street. I could almost hear the scrape of the wooden fence post on the ground as he moved closer—but there was no such thing, only my mind playing more vivid tricks.
Could it have been a weird dream? I’d been doing a lot of overtime hours lately; could I have imagined the whole thing? Being a thinker didn’t help matters. That was a personality trait of mine—as well as being analytical, logical, and direct, just like my father was. He was a draughtsman in his day, precise and reasoned.
‘Everything in its place, a place for everything,’ he’d said.
I remember his forefinger, stressing the importance of his imparted wisdom, waggled inches from my adolescent, acne-rife face.
I locked the car before walking around to the front. The shallow dent to the corner of the wing provided visual confirmation. On balance, I resolved to deal with it after some sleep. It was just too much to think about right now, and the prospect of trying to explain it to a desk sergeant at the police station didn’t seem too appealing. Besides, I had twenty-four hours to report an accident and I wasn’t the last person to run over the guy.
After a good few minutes of mental debate on my way into my second-floor apartment, I’d argued myself into a plausible plan, and finally, at 0730 as the sun broke through the veil, I pulled the blinds and fell to my bed.
It took over an hour of tossing and turning before my mind committed to rest, and then only for a couple of hours of short, fitful sleep.
For further links to Ian D. Moore and his writing see:
Blog: The Quill Pen Writes
Amazon: Author profile
Goodreads: Author profile
An eagerly awaited military themed short story collection from the pen of friend and fellow blogger, Tom Benson. Having read and reviewed several of the author’s many and previous works I know this will make a welcome addition to my reading lists.
A glance at my Work in Progress will give some idea of my intended output for the next few months. I enjoy variety in my writing as I do in my reading, so apart from working on novels this year – I aim to produce two anthologies.
My next anthology of short stories is due for publication at end of March 2016.
I’ve already adjusted the font, and the angle of the plane on the cover for about the fifth time, but I believe the latest version does the job.
A Time for Courage is a collection of 12stories. There are two which appear in other collections, but they deserve to be included here.
As always I strive to produce a varied selection, even when adhering to a theme, and I’ve worked to develop these stories in each successive draft.
I’m now looking for volunteers to sample the…
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This blog post was born out of an idea by Damyanti to host the Cherished Blogfest, an opportunity to discover and
connect with many of our fellow bloggers. I was happy to agree to co-hosting the project, along with Dan Antion, Peter Nena, and Sharukh Bamboat. The remit was to write a 500 word post about some cherished object or possession we each had. It was hard trying to decide just what to choose, as I’m sure it was for most of us, but in the end I chose something that had a family significance rather than exclusively personal to me.
We all have things we cherish, be it a car we’ve put our heart and soul into restoring and preserving, a piece of jewellery we may have been given by a loved one long, long ago, or perhaps even a keepsake or photo we carry around in our wallet or purse that brings a smile and a happy memory every time we see it. My cherished object though is a drawing – not a valuable piece of art or some daring exploration of pushing the artistic boundaries, but a simple small crayon drawn picture that my son brought home from school over twenty five years ago. It’s of me, my late wife, our son Liam, and of all things, some alien monsters he’d seen in a picture book. It has pride of place just beneath one of my treasured photographs, and is rarely removed from its spot except for the odd dusting or in this instance, to be photographed for my Cherished Blogfest post.
Why does this particular drawing hold such a place in my heart and memories? Well, I think any parent will have half an idea already. I mean, what parent doesn’t possess some treasured item of their children’s childhood, but for me, whenever I glance at this picture it brings back a memory of the day and circumstances when I first saw it. I’d just moved into a new and freshly decorated flat. The front-room was wall-papered but with a waist high white area along the bottom. But to Liam, that shiny white painted area represented an enormous canvas for him to practice his drawing skills on. When I returned home from work I could his see his colourful efforts reaching all the way along from the living room door, stretching behind the sofa that was a foot or so away from the wall, right as far as the glass patio doors. Needless to say I wasn’t amused…
“Didn’t know? So why is he peeking out from behind the sofa with that cheeky grin on his face?” I replied, unconvinced by her defence of the little lad’s artistry, turning my head back in Liam’s direction whose little smiling face was still half peering out from his hiding place. His gran ignored my question, choosing instead to change the subject:
“Oh before I forget, he brought a drawing home for you, it’s on the kitchen table.”
Liam’s smile had grown even bigger and he was nodding his head at the mention of his drawing. I don’t why but my initial anger just disappeared. It was probably the first bit of real mischief and naughtiness he’d gotten into since the death of his mum a year earlier, and for some reason I couldn’t help but give a silent chuckle. Liam still remembered her. My son’s picture was a welcome and timely reminder that life goes on…