Merry Christmas, Bob

John woke up early on Christmas morning, one of his favourite days of the year. He got up from his bed, a mattress on the floor, and kept the duvet around himself as the heating hadn’t come on. He heard the soft patting of his elderly spaniel’s tail and smiled. “Merry Christmas,” he said to the dog, as he went through to the kitchen to put the kettle on. As he returned with his tea he brought a present for his pet, a new coat which he had been making out of some old pillow cases. The dog’s tail wagged again. As he sat down on the settee he lifted his pet up next to him and put the coat on over his soft fur. The dog rested its head on John’s lap and started gently licking his hand. “Did you get me anything?” John said to the happy little spaniel, resulting in more tail wagging. John gently got up from the settee and picked a lone present off of the floor, his present from the dog. It was a new towel for the bathroom, one which wasn’t covered in dog hairs. “Thanks buddy, I see you’ve been paying attention,” he said as he gave his friend a kiss on the head, followed by more tail wagging.

Normally on Christmas day John would go to church, as the people were always welcoming even though he knew none of them, but his dog, Bob, was getting frail, so he decided to stay at home this year. After getting dressed, making sure he had a big thick jumper as the gas was off, John treated himself to a few chocolates and admired the card on the table. It had come in the post from some random company but had his name on, so he displayed it proudly in the room which functioned as his bedroom, living room and dining room. John switched on the radio, looking forward to blasting out some Christmas tunes. He placed the new towel in the bathroom then danced into the main room, where he picked up Bob and danced with him into the kitchen.

The kettle was on again and John showed his furry companion what was in the fridge. John’s Christmas meal was there, a microwavable turkey dinner, so it was fortunate that the electricity had not gone off. Next to it was a pack of luxury dog food, some extra soft variety which Bob should manage to eat, but first it was time to do some reading. John loved reading Christmas stories to Bob. He always wagged his tail at the right moments and was happy to lick John’s hand during his favourite parts. They both had an appetite by the end of the book, so on went the microwave, filling the apartment with the smell of turkey and cheap gravy. Normally Bob would be on the floor whilst eating, but as a Christmas treat his bowl was on the settee next to his owner. John pulled a cracker, inside which was a bottle opener, then put the paper hat on Bob, who was happily eating his turkey-flavoured mush. The microwave meal tasted decent and John made fast work of it.

Bob appeared to be very pleased with himself, wagging his tail though his eyes were drooping. He spent most of the time sleeping these days, but John didn’t mind, he just picked Bob up and put him on his lap. John dozed off for a few hours, waking up when the radio went off. It was getting dark outside and the power had cut out. There was always a candle on the table ready, so John lit it and watched as Bob wagged his tail twice, casting shadows across the room. Bob licked John’s hand and closed his eyes, letting out a deep breath which sounded like satisfaction. John knew that Bob would not wake up. He looked at his companion and smiled, a single tear ran down his cheek, and he wished him a merry Christmas one last time. It was a good time for him to go; they’d both had a good day together. Merry Christmas, Bob.

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I used to draw cartoons about a sperm called Frank…

Sometimes images can tell stories better than words alone, especially if it is a bit silly. During lectures I used to occasionally draw these little cartoons about an orange sperm called Frank, based on a keyring I had been given. I’ll not share them all here, but there might end up being a fair few. The quality is not amazing, though it does improve as they go along. There is rarely any continuity amongst them and many actually contradict, though there are some themes which get repeated.

The first one I ever drew.

The first one I ever drew.

 

In some of the pictures Frank is a tadpole. That's when continuity went right out of the window.

In some of the pictures Frank is a tadpole. That’s when continuity went right out of the window.

 

Frank 10 Vocabulary

 

 

I inserted Frank into a few film scenes.

I inserted Frank into a few film scenes.

 

This one is now even more appropriate.

This one is now even more appropriate.

 

I loved drawing scenes from Frank's childhood.

I loved drawing scenes from Frank’s childhood.

 

Ooh look, I stopped doodling them in lectures. Frank's imagination is fun to illustrate.

Ooh look, I stopped doodling them in lectures. Frank’s imagination is fun to illustrate.

 

How cute!

How cute!

 

 

I often made reference to Frank being a keyring.

I often made reference to Frank being a keyring.

 

35 S&M

 

 

Some of them are educational.

Some of them are educational.

 

It is always good to end with Tremors.

It is always good to end with Tremors.

I’ve done 50 overall and have plans somewhere for loads more. I doubt I will ever draw them all, but it could be a nice distraction some day.

 

 

His Journey

As he woke he felt something dripping through his straggly hair. Groggily, he looked at the emptying whiskey bottle lying next to him and felt the room spin, then the floodgates opened. Memories of everything he had done in the last week began to drown him, crushing his chest, dragging him down into the depths of depression. He had lost his job, not through any fault of his own as he just wasn’t needed, but he should not have taken it out on his wife. She left him after he had hit her, so he started following her around, until eventually she was so scared that she moved away. He tried to forget her by drinking; if he consumed enough alcohol he might obliterate any memory of his lost wife from his mind. Predictably, it didn’t work; it just made him regret hurting her even more. He needed to do something drastic.

Whilst lying in a bed covered in whiskey and vomit he had an idea, so he got up straight away and washed the alcohol from his hair, got out his walking boots and a thick coat, and left the house. It was only five miles to the lake, but it felt more like fifty with the harsh winds lashing at his face. He had deliberately left his scarf at home, a gift from his wife – it even had her scent, which he did not need following him to the island. He’d not thought about how he would get to the island in the centre of the lake, but he was a strong swimmer back at school and could always find a way to dry off once he got there. The water was close to freezing and every stroke was harder than the last. His thick coat was only weighing him down, so he shook it loose and swam as fast as he could to the island, kicking off his boots as well. He could not stand on the shore when he reached it, he just laid there shivering, out of breath and not able to see properly. He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting off to sleep, feeling warmer as everything faded.

The next day he woke up feeling oddly refreshed and able to appreciate his new home. The trees this time of year were a rich tapestry of greens, oranges and browns, a sight which inspired him to be tough in the face of the cold, just like the evergreens in front of him. Rummaging through his pockets he found a now useless mobile phone and a pocket knife, so he threw the phone into the lake and got to work on the trees around him. He’d always thought of himself as a potential woodsman, despite only ever having walked through them and collected conkers. Out here he was a king and the trees did his bidding. Within hours he had created an elaborate shelter, under which many trees had been used to create room for storage including a fridge, and his artistic furniture was created from carved logs and sewn-together leaves. Before he tried out his furnishings he stocked his fridge full of berries and nuts, enough to keep him going until he could sort out some weapons and see what there was to hunt.

During his period of rest after all of that creating, he spotted some squirrels playing. Could these be his quarry for his first hunt? He ran over to the fridge, noting that he needed to put a light inside which would come on as the door opened, and collected some of his nuts to lure the squirrels. Instead of killing them he embraced his new found genius and used the nuts to train them. He’d tried to train dogs before but always found it difficult, yet these squirrels were no trouble at all. By the end of the week he had trained them to do almost anything he wanted; he even swore once or twice that he heard them trying to speak English to please their new master. With the squirrels doing all of the work he was able to get out and hunt, though there didn’t seem to be much more than rabbits around, and they all looked like they had been half eaten by somebody else. Leftover rabbit, berries and nuts seemed to be the menu for most nights.

At night he was peaceful. The forest provided a beautiful symphony of life, even in the cold weather, and his bed out there was comfier than the one back home. He felt safe, not least because the squirrels had managed to train a badger as a sort of guard dog. The badger’s name was Paul, and though Paul’s new owner was enjoying the rawness of nature (tamed by his hand of course) he could not help but think that something was missing. He needed a new scarf. He pondered through the night and came up with a plan to get that new scarf. When he awoke early the next morning he raided his cupboards and got out all of the biscuits which he could find. He put the kettle on ready for some nettle tea, put some new leaves on his bed, and set out all over the island. He left several trails of biscuits, all leading back to his new home, even throwing some into the water in the hope that a scarf might see them and follow.

To his surprise the plan worked. In no time he was wrapped up in his scarf, sharing tea and biscuits, keeping warm in his luxurious leafy bed. He sent the squirrels out with Paul to go and catch some decent meat, anything but half eaten rabbit. The scarf deserved a feast, so he went to the cellar to get some of his oldest bottles of wine. One had been down there for around seventy years and would make an excellent accompaniment to any meal. Everything was just so perfect and could only get better when the summer months rolled in. Everything he needed was on this island and it had all fallen into place. Everything was right with the world.

On the banks of an island in the middle of a lake a man was found dead. He’d frozen to death after swimming in the icy water during the night. Tests showed that he had consumed a lot of alcohol, but the main thing which was noted by most of the investigators was his strangely serene smile. They weren’t to know that he’d found freedom.

I’ll Tell Thee This For Nowt

I’ll Tell Thee This For Nowt

Although I have done little to promote this blog so far, rendering it almost useless for promoting anyone else’s work, here is a link to a blog you must check out. It is by a good friend of mine and it includes poetry, some spoken word performance, and reviews of performance art which will be particularly interesting to northerners. 

Favourites List

When I have sent people to this blog (maybe even you) I have worried a little. I can’t help but wonder if you will read the first post and not be impressed, or find that it isn’t to your taste. There are categories which can be found at the bottom of the page, but those aren’t noticeable until you’ve scrolled all the way down. I have a handful of favourites, so I thought I would list them here in case anyone wants to skip to the good bits. Listed in the order you would reach them if you scrolled down:

 

Harvester of Sorrow: One of my creepier offerings, inspired by Lovecraft and Metallica, written to fit with the song of the same name (not necessarily in timing, as that would be impossible). It was a fun challenge and I thought I did a decent job.

Ghosts in SpaceI can’t put my finger on what it is I like about this one, I simply do. Perhaps it is different to what I would usually write. It has a sequel, The Ghosts’ Ruinas well, both of which are sci-fi. I might some day make it a trilogy.

Mathilde: Another twisted one, which has at least one memorable point. I felt like I took a bit of a risk with this one.

Mike’s Final Frontier: If you read just one, make it this one. It is one of my sillier offerings, one which I really enjoyed writing and actually like to revisit now and again. I usually find it hard to read my own writing back after a while, but this one is still enjoyable.

Arms: Yet another darker one. I struggle to read this one, but it was the first story I felt that I really took seriously.

If you like any of those you can use the categories at the bottom of the page to find similar stories. Or read everything. I will love you if you read everything.

Necrophobia

I made a mistake in my last post. I thought that Harvester of Sorrow was the last short story I wrote and the last contest entry. I actually wrote a story back in August as well, for a competition where phobias was the main theme, taken from a long list of them. As you can tell from the title, I chose necrophobia as the theme and rushed out a story just before the deadline. I thought that I had an original idea in the story, but I was beaten to it and apparently more than once. Ah well…

 

Necrophobia

Fear saved my life, but overcoming it kept me alive for longer. When the outbreak was announced I was prepared. I don’t live in a major city, so I did not become overwhelmed by hoards of panicking civilians or swarms of the infected; I had time to get ready, when I wasn’t panicking. I’ve always kept to myself and this extended into the way I kept my home; I had my own water storage facilities, my own power supply, food stores, anything you could think of which would allow a person to live for several months whilst cut off from any form of civilisation. Civilisation was gone. The streets belonged to the dead and to those who would take advantage of any survivors.

I spent the first few days barely moving. I found a small hiding place and waited for it all to pass me by, listening to the radio in order to find out what was going on. There are many rumours of where it started and how it got into the country, but those details are trivial – survival is the focus. What I do know is that it was not caused by voodoo, or a virus, as most films would have you believe, but by a parasitic fungus which acts fast. The parasite kills the host, then uses their bodies to spread and reproduce. They don’t move quickly, but the infection spreads with ease. It was first thought that you would need to be bitten or scratched in order to be infected, but sometimes it is enough for their fluids to end up on your skin or clothing, which can even happen with a simple touch. The early days saw a lot of people taking to the streets with weapons, mostly cricket bats and golf clubs, but this only helped the infection spread quicker. Some of them explode in the heat, releasing spores, or so I figured. Most sources of water were contaminated, infecting people who tried to ride out the epidemic in the safety of their homes.

I’d prepared for this event for years, but not due to some incredible foresight. It was my worst nightmare and I had to make sure I could survive, for I knew I would panic when the time came. I just hid. I spent most of the time frozen, even wetting myself rather than venture out of my hiding place. But eventually survival instincts took over and I at least had to make use of my stores; otherwise I would starve to death, making all my preparation pointless. I had a plan – load up a car full of supplies and get to the coast where I could steal a boat and get to an oil rig. I figured that the infection might not have spread there. Between my moderately secure home and the coast would be bands of survivors, mostly criminals busy looting, so I had to be quick. But worst of all were the dead and the undead.

I spent the night sorting out supplies for the trip, as I didn’t dare travel whilst it was dark. At first light I went looking for a car and finally saw what I feared. It wasn’t moving, it was just lying there. I froze. I tasted vomit in my mouth and could hear my heart pounding. I couldn’t move except for the violent trembling of my hands, over which I had no control. There was the object of my phobia, a dead body. I’d feared them for as long as I could remember and could not explain why. Fearing corpses was never really a problem, not until they started doing things which the dead should never do. They were walking, attacking, spreading. I hadn’t seen any of the animated corpses, as I’d stayed well hidden. The unmoving body had me transfixed, until I heard a deep moan and some shuffling behind me. Instinct kicked in and I ran towards the nearest car, which fortunately had a door wide open.  I tripped over my own feet, smashing my head on the pavement, and the zombies were closing in. I saw my blood trickling onto the path, as the inanimate corpse opened its eyes and started crawling towards me, emitting the most awful guttural noises as it scrambled desperately.

I forced myself to my feet and ran as fast as I could to the car, slamming the door with only seconds to spare. It was safe in the car, or at least would be for a short amount of time. It gave me a chance to catch my breath and work out how to hot-wire the vehicle. As soon as I got the engine running I only had one thing on my mind – it was time to put my fears behind me. I took great pleasure running them down, making sure I reversed over their heads with a sickening crunch, splattering brains everywhere. If I let my fears overcome me again, I would not make it to the coast. I needed to get there. I needed to be brave.

Harvester of Sorrow

This may be the last story I post for a while, unless I manage to find some old stories which are currently lost, or unless I write something new. This was written in July and was for the last competition I entered on a Facebook group. They had one competition since then but people weren’t entering, so I might have to use the theme from that for a new story, as I hated missing the competitions. I usually got good feedback but never won a competition, this particular one was commonly labelled “creepy”. For the theme of the competition we had to pick from a list of songs, so naturally as a big fan I chose the Metallica song Harvester of Sorrow, which you can play whilst reading if you wish. If I remember correctly, the song is about a man going insane and killing his family. I attempted to fit the rhythm of the song and included some lines from it, but it is impossible to match the pacing of music when writing prose, unless one is psychic and aims it at one person. I unashamedly aimed for a Lovecraft feel to the piece, though I could never do him justice.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Dhu22Iy8fGk%5D

 

Harvester of Sorrow

I am writing this letter in the hope that it will prepare others for those things which I have witnessed, for I am soon to end my life; this torture is too much. I fear that you will not recognise the importance of that which I shall divulge, yet I must communicate these woes before it is too late. My final prayer shall be that no other will suffer my fate.

It was during a walk on the moors at night, I’d lost the path in the fog, the waning gibbous moon providing little guidance, yet on I soldiered. It was the last thing I saw before I fell. When I regained consciousness I could no longer see the moon, as I had plummeted deep into some sort of ancient cave system. My initial panic was met with relief when I realised that I had suffered no serious injuries, nor had I broken the electronic lamp in my coat pocket, allowing me to illuminate my new whereabouts. With the deafening wind howling up above and a putrid stench of rotten fish all around, I gazed upon my surroundings with a sense of shock and awe. Crude sculptures lined the walls of the cavern, with bizarre inscriptions of some unknown language scrawled erratically through every visible gap. The creatures depicted were grotesque and appeared to be twisting in agony, unlike anything I could recognise from my zoological studies. Whose hands had wrought these monstrosities? Whose mind conceived of these abominations?

It was all I could do not to vomit. I started to feel claustrophobic, panicking, my breathing getting heavy, sweat dripping down my neck. I could find no way to climb up through the entrance which I had created. I feared that this nightmare of a place would become my tomb, trapped far beyond my fate. I had no choice but to wander into the dark depths of that desperate place. I tried hard not to look at the disproportionate forms, with their twisted limbs and contorted faces, if those really were faces. But no matter how hard I tried they were constantly in sight, surrounded by glyphs in the language of the mad. I felt like I had descended into Hell itself. The panic overtook me and I fell yet again. I remained conscious, noticing that the floor was not stable, but moving, pulsing, enveloping me. Tentacles lashed at me, dragging me down, stinging me on contact. The pain was unbearable, excruciating, matched only by the fear, as I saw the hideous head with its eyes of unimaginable darkness. I believe my sanity left me at that point.

I do not know how I survived, but I fear that I was allowed to live for some dark purpose. Every night I see those eyes, pure black, yet clear. I feel the floor engulfing me, the tentacles lashing me, the eyes penetrating me, the beak… the beak. The stench, the sculptures, the writings, they follow me through every waking nightmare. Nobody would believe me. Not even my beloved family. Morphine became my only comfort, but even that could not stop the torture. I was being called; I knew it, some monster, some ancient god, forcing me to do its work, forcing me to cause its chaos. I knew it was going to win when I struck my wife. I felt angry, miserable, and in agony. I had never harmed my wife, yet there I was, beating her mercilessly. I had to do something to protect my family. These monsters could not touch them in death. If you could see into my eyes you would not doubt that what I did was right. They would be safe.

I emptied every bottle in the house, I could not be completely sober for what I was about to do. Even the strongest whiskey was not masking the rotten stench, nor could it prevent the images in my head. My intestines felt like they were being twisted, as though I was becoming one of the grotesques. If I needed anything to galvanise my resolve, it was the thought that I would thwart their plans, that my family would be free from their torments. I could hear screaming, I knew it was in my mind, I knew that the torturous harmonies would soon be no more. I felt them growing stronger as the pain and anguish increased, but I was not going to water their seeds of hate; I would drown them.

After my two girls had said their prayers and settled into bed, I held the largest downy cushion over their faces simultaneously and waited until their panicked flailing ceased. They were free from the horrors which I would bring upon the family. They would not endure the nightmares brought by the Harvester, the ancient demon-god which was consuming me. I felt an intimate connection with him, but I had to sever that tie. As I said my goodbyes to my beautiful daughters my wife interrupted with a bottle to my head. She was unfortunate in that she did not manage to render me unconscious, but now she is safe, safe from the world of the living where the dark gods reside. Their cackles filled my head, as though they were in the room with me. Did I protect my family? Or did the gods trick me? Whatever their machinations I shall not be a part, I will end my role, but I fear that much worse is to come, that the entire planet will be engulfed. If you are wise you will follow my path; the gun should still be in my hand when you find the body. Let the vile demons know that you are not their puppet, that your sorrow will not be their gain.

The Ghosts’ Ruin

I wrote this story as a follow up to Ghosts in Space when the competition theme was rage back in June. I seem to remember planning to write a third part, but can’t find anything. Whilst writing it I was listening to this piece of music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TbxnnC22gwY%5D

 

The Ghosts’ Ruin

My trip to the “streets” of my youth was unsuccessful. I’d travelled to the space station where I grew up in order to help the children there, to help those without homes, to show that someone out there in the black cared about them. I’d grown up without a home, ignored by society as I fended for myself. Most kids don’t make it out of that lifestyle, but I got lucky and made a life for myself beyond the streets of space, and I vowed to go back to do whatever I could to prevent others from having to live that way. I searched all the familiar spots, crawling through air ducts which were much more comfortable to crawl through as a child, hanging around the best places from which to steal food, looking in all of the old nooks and crannies which provided a small amount of shelter at night, but a week of searching led to nothing.

I’d almost given up when I finally found what I was looking for. The child managed to get away from me for a while, but he hadn’t anticipated that I’d know the station as well as he did. When I finally cornered him he was trembling, staring at my dog tags. “You’ve come to take me as well, haven’t you?” he said as he cowered in the corner. His reaction startled me, but I knew why I was there, so I stretched out my hand, “I was once a ghost like you, but now I’m alive. I’ve come to help you live.” It took a while to gain his trust, but it was worth it. Most people seemed to call him ‘rat’, but his friends always called him Dirk, a name which he had chosen for himself because he couldn’t remember his birth name. All of his friends had gone, they’d been taken, and Dirk didn’t know where they had gone but it could not be good, they’d been taken by force and not all had survived the abduction.

I left the station as soon as possible, leaving Dirk with a trusted friend as I set out to find the truth. I was a commissioned military officer, able to access sensitive information, but there was nothing about the abductions whenever I searched the files I could access. It took months of clandestine meetings, slipping cash to the right people – or the wrong people if you are on the receiving end of their activities – in order to get the information I was after. I had to stay in my office late into the night in order for the informant to make the drop. It could not be done via computer, as with most communications, as they were too heavily monitored. If the government got wind of my investigations I would be wiped out in a second, but what could they be hiding? I poured myself a small glass of whiskey as a cleaner came in to empty the bins and give the floor a quick clean. I took my drink to the window and stared at the stars until he left. When I turned back around I saw a file on my desk; it contained the answers I craved.

I knocked the whiskey back quickly and it burnt my throat, but it calmed me, ready for what I was about to read. I poured another drink and kept it firm in my hand. I saw layouts of several space stations, instantly recognising the one I once called home. Someone had marked all the old familiar routes around the station, those used only by the ghosts, the homeless children like Dirk. I started shaking as I read an order to catch and detain them all – I could have been one of them if this order had gone through earlier. I thumbed through photograph after photograph of malnourished children dressed in old rags; nearly every street child ran afoul of the law at some point, but they did nothing more than document you and your crime. I spilled my drink on the picture of Dirk, that poor boy only narrowly escaped whatever fate had befallen his friends.

I finished what was left of my drink and attempted to shake some sense into myself. For all I knew they had been taken to a safe place, but why would it be a secret? I calmed down and continued to flick through the photographs, noticing that the quality was getting worse. I started seeing familiar faces, old friends whom I thought I would never see again. Then I saw the most familiar face of all staring back at me, trying to look as innocent as possible despite having been caught stealing food. I had to know what had happened to those children; I had to know what could have happened to me. None of the files seemed to say what had happened to them, I’d paid good money for blueprints and photos when I wanted more than that. I slammed my glass down in anger and went to pour another drink when I spotted it: a small computer chip had been cleverly concealed at the back of the file, shaken loose by the slamming of my glass.

I was able to access the files on the chip through a handheld console, as I did not trust the computer on my desk. It contained a video, poorly filmed as it was obviously a secret, probably using a camera hidden in someone’s beret. I didn’t recognise the facility through which the cameraman had travelled, but it was clearly military and clearly top secret. He passed through a maze of corridors, through numerous high security doors, eventually ending up deep underground. He was led into a hospital room, where a child was lying unconscious on a bed. There was something odd about the child and it wasn’t until the camera got closer that I saw what was wrong. One of his arms had been replaced with a gun and he had a wound which looked like it was caused by the same weapon.

I continued to watch, crushing the whiskey glass in my hand when I saw that they weren’t just testing this technology on the children by turning them into weapons, but were forcing them to test it on each other. I didn’t care about the shards of glass in my hand as I watched Dirk’s friends forced to fight each other or be executed on the spot. Tears filled my eyes and I started to shake violently. It could have been me. My breathing got heavier. None of this made sense. I clenched my fists, pushing the glass further into my wounds. How could anyone do that to innocent children? I wanted to scream and shout at someone, but nobody was there. My head was swimming, I could see no further than my desk so I flung it over, smashing it into the wall. That felt good. I picked up the chair and hurled it through the window. Maybe I could destroy them from the inside, just smash everything I could see. It made sense at the time. I shouted some threat out of the window, I don’t remember what I said, it was all a blur, but I made a new vow that night. I would get revenge for the ghosts. I would stop this from happening to any other child. I’d never killed anyone before, but at that moment I felt like I needed to.

I could not let those feelings consume me, I had work to do, but for that night I relished them. I grabbed the whiskey bottle and looked back at my scene of destruction. I wanted to do that to the face of every official I saw in that video.

Ghosts in Space

This story was sort of written for a competition on a Facebook group, though I submitted it late with no intention of winning, I just wanted to take part but was too busy before the deadline. The theme for this competition was simply “street children” and it was written in June.

 

Ghosts in Space

The luxurious shuttle was waiting, suspended out in orbit of the space station, waiting for the signal to dock. Docking always takes a long time on busy stations, especially those with high immigration levels, even for government funded visits. The docking procedure itself would take no longer than a few minutes as these overcrowded stations had poor security, they were unlikely to even check for illegals, which is half the problem.  Stepping off of the shuttle into one of the many corridors of the station brought tears to my eyes; I’d worked so hard to get away from this place and had finally returned. I had a purpose, I had to be here, I had to be back on the “streets” as we called them. The corridors were wide enough to fit a standard family vehicle, flanked on either side by residential cabins and offices. I’d entered in one of the upmarket areas, parts with which I was unfamiliar, but it all had the same sort of look to it – the same walls, the same doors, the same viewing ports directed at either the stars or the uninhabitable planet. That planet: the source of our problems.

The planet we were orbiting was meant to be made fit for human life, one of many in this solar system which was supposed to be used for habitation but failed the procedures, leaving thousands stranded on a cramped station stuck in orbit. I made my way to the slums, the run-down areas where market stalls line the streets, make-shift shelters are common, and adult beggars ask for money wherever they can find space, but I was looking for the ghosts. We called ourselves Ghosts in Space, it took the edge off of the harshness of life, made it sound more fun, like something out of the science fiction shows we sometimes watched through a shop window. We were nothing but children, the ones that went unseen, without food, without homes, without an education. Thankfully on a space station there is no bad weather to contend with, no harsh winters, just the cruelty of those who control the thermostat and like to play God. Fortunately I only lost one friend to the occasional cold.

As a ghost I would get my food any way I could, stealing from market stalls, rummaging through bins, playing on the sympathies of restaurant owners, it was all fair game. I found shelter in the air vents, when I wasn’t muscled out by some of the homeless men. They scared me. As ghosts we often felt invisible, until one of our friends went missing. We found some of his belongings in the makeshift bed of a young homeless man, with what might have been his bones, but for all we knew it could have been a stray dog. I wanted desperately to get away from that place; I never thought I would return. But there I was, crawling into an air vent twenty years later, looking for ghosts.

Nobody cared about me when I was a child. I was truly a ghost walking the streets of space. The station was overcrowded and more families arrived each year. We were forgotten, or perhaps we were a solution. Ignore us and we might perish, leaving fewer mouths to feed. We had nobody to help us, but that was about to change. When I escaped the space station I promised that I would do everything I could so that others would not have to go through the life that I had. I was one of the fortunate few, I found a way out, and if I didn’t do my part then children in the future might be living in the streets as well. I could not bear that thought.

Mathilde

This short story was written in May as part of a short story competition on a Facebook group. The story had to be between 500 and 1,000 words, and these were our instructions with regards to theme:

A British soldier hiding in the basement of a farm in France during World War 1 and the French woman who lives there as well. You may take those two characters and do whatever you want with them.

Mathilde

They were fucking. They were two floors above him and he could still hear every detail. Clothes were thrown to the floor, the bed was creaking, as both of her German lovers shared in her ecstasy. One was gentler than the other, preferring instead to speak to her in broken French, appealing to more of her senses, and clearly it was doing the job. She was enjoying it. She was enjoying it and that was a problem. Suddenly the unlit cellar grew darker, smaller, suffocating. She was meant to be distracting them to help him, not for pleasure. There was no escape; the whole village was occupied by The Hun, that’s why he needed Mathilde. Mathilde, the woman in bed with Germany. Suddenly the unlit cellar felt like a tomb.

An escape plan was needed. With the noise upstairs the moment was surely at hand, nobody in the house would notice. Nobody except the man who was standing on the stairs with gun in hand, completely naked but for the sadistic smile he wore across his face. The quieter, rougher man from upstairs had snuck away during the ongoing mêlée in the bedroom and made his way to the cellar. The man said nothing. He kept his gun pointed as he walked over silently, his large frame blocking out the light streaming down the staircase, as he struck with the handle of the pistol. The cellar went black.

He was in a different room when he regained consciousness. The unlit cellar became a dream. He did not see his German captor, his naked, hairy German captor. He saw the beautiful soft face of Mathilde, with her full red lips, large doe eyes, and cheeks which blush just the right amount. She did not look worried or upset, but somehow pleased with the arrangement. It was comforting to see. Her supple fingers toyed with a knife, caressing the blade, as he noticed the ropes binding him to the chair. She’d been helping him all this time, keeping him hidden, safe in the cellar, bringing him food whenever she was able. The unlit cellar became a lie. She had turned on him, sold him out, betrayed him, but for what?

The torture began slowly. He felt the blade of the knife slide effortlessly under his skin, pain shot up his arm, overwhelming the brief sensation of pleasure he got from the initial cut. The knife worked its way in deeper, slowly, almost teasingly. Mathilde appeared to be taking pride in her work, carefully slicing patterns into the tender flesh, oblivious to the screams for help. No, not oblivious, it was music for her. Her blade was dancing, reflected in her eyes. If not for the pain he could have watched the intensity in those eyes for days. There was a raw and wild beauty to it, something few men see.

She started talking, interrupting the artistry of her torture. Her loquacious German had been watching, sitting in the corner the whole time. It was not clear what they were saying, but it seemed that they had known each other for a long time, that this was how they got their pleasure, that the safety of the man in the cellar was never the goal. He thought only of England, of what it held waiting for him, as Mathilde began heating the blade over a flame, smiling as though she had just won the war single-handed. Memories and dreams were all he had left as he became an instrument in Mathilde’s sadistic symphony.