The end of the world

George had traipsed through snow, his feet lazily crunching into the freshly laid blanket on the hill, the sound of the world turned down low so that all he could hear was his own shuffling. He picked a spot at the top, overlooking the town in which he grew up, and sat down. He felt the cold, wet snow soak through his trousers, but he didn’t care. It’s nearly the end of the year, he thought, but what have I done? A discussion began to bounce around his head. Well, you didn’t get that job you wanted, you failed your driving test, you’re still single and you’ve lost a few friends.

No, think of something good, something positive, he implored himself.

How about that pretty girl you finally talked to at the start of the year? You know, the one whose name you daren’t even think of in case she just so happens to be psychic, even though you don’t believe in psychics.

See, that’s a start. She makes me think. I like people who make me think. George was almost being optimistic.

But you’ve only spoken to her twice. To be fair, that’s pretty pathetic. Hardly progress.

Have I really done nothing? Have I really wasted this year? Am I too lazy? Too incompetent? Too scared? Where have I gone wrong?  Questions would not stop flooding into George’s head, it felt as though his mind was filling up, ready to burst.

You’ve not gone wrong, you’ve just not gone right. It’s not the end of the world.

The flooding of George’s mind suddenly stopped. The thoughts evaporated, leaving those final words to echo around the void. The end of the world. The end of the world. The end of the world…

George jumped to his feet and ran. He loped through the snow down the hill, running faster than he had in a long time. The end of the world. He bounded across a usually busy road without looking and headed for the woods which flanked the river. By now he would normally be doubled over with stitch, but none of his muscles seemed to realise that they were being used. He ran effortlessly, muttering five words to himself – “The end of the world.” George glided through the trees, skipped steps when he met stairs and found himself eventually running by the side of the river. The rushing waters spurred him on, nature’s chorus singing to him, “The end of the world.” Then he stopped. Before him was the bridge. It was the sort of bridge which you could tell was the pride and joy of the architect, the product of thousands of careful hours of potentially treacherous building for its Victorian construction team, a bridge which could tell a million stories of travels, companionship, love, death and more.

George slowly walked out onto the bridge, taking in the view of the snow-covered countryside. A small country church sat covered in snow near the horizon, like a perfect postcard picture. George climbed onto the side of the bridge, and, without a second thought, jumped into the water.

He felt only the thrill of the jump. He did not notice the iciness of the water, he just let it wash over him and began to swim. George had never been the strongest of swimmers, he didn’t even get to the deep end during swimming lessons at school, but he swam as though he was built for it, cutting through the water at record-breaking speed. He navigated the murky waters of the river, casting a large wake behind him, threading his way through canal systems and past weirs with only a single thought: the end of the world.

Shadows grew long in front of him as the Sun set to his rear, but even his shadow was struggling to match his pace. He felt the river widening as he smelled salt on the air – the sea was ahead. The end of the world. The first wave crashing against his face exhilarated him, he felt the tide flow with him and against him, trying to drag him out and force him back, but George was too forceful, too strong. The waves grew bigger and bigger, rain crashed down upon him as he headed into the heart of a storm. Lightning tore the sky in two, illuminating the way to the end of the world for a multitude of incandescent moments. The sky crashed itself back together, thunder resounding across the crests of the waves, reverberating through George’s mind, urging him on. THE END OF THE WORLD, announced the thunder.

The last swell of the storm carried George further ahead. He did not need to rest, but the sky was relaxing. He floated on his back, the gentle, rhythmic rippling of the water’s surface was meditative, his body slowly swaying. It should be daytime right now at home, he pondered, but out here it is night. He did not know the constellations, he could not even find north in this sky, but he knew where he was going. The end of the world.

The gentle flow rocked George to sleep. When he awoke, he could not tell if it was night or day; those words seemed to lack meaning. Everything out here was different. Well, almost everything. A plastic bag floated into George’s hair, a Woolworth’s bag, which George promptly pocketed. Can’t have that mess out here, he assured himself, then joked, man’s mess is everywhere, and that could be the end of the world.

George sensed something up ahead. No, he thought, that was wrong. George sensed nothing up ahead. The waves in front of him just disappeared, they did not crash into a barrier, they did not rush forth as if going over a cliff; they simply disappeared and reappeared, and disappeared and reappeared. George righted himself, not expecting to find his feet on the loose ocean bed, but he stood tall, taller than ever. He felt huge, Brobdingnagian even. He was standing proudly at the end of the world. No, he thought, that was also wrong. He was standing proudly at the edge of the world.

He didn’t know what he had expected to find at the edge. Everything just sorted of ended. Stopped. There was no barrier, though there were stars which seemed at once to be right in front of him, like some very expensive hyper-realistic wallpaper, and at a great distance, like stars should be, many of them twinkling in our sky long after they had died in their own region of space. Without hesitation, George closed his eyes and stuck his head through the wall of sky. When he opened his eyes he saw nothing. It wasn’t even black. Just nothing. Emptiness, but not. Everything at once if you took it all away, but not a lacuna, not fillable.

What had he expected? Turtles all the way down? A passage into another world where he was perhaps more successful? Some sort of afterlife, an affirmation of a single religion for which he could swim about evangelising? Was this vacuum the answer? No God? No beyond? Just… this?

Everything raged inside him. Every thought, every fear, every embarrassment, every frustration, every excitement, every pleasure, every feeling of anger, envy, self-pity, self-loathing, all churned inside him. He bellowed into the void, “WHAT IS THIS?”

There was no echo. No response.

“WHAT AM I FOR?”

Nothing.

“WHAT CAN I DO?”

Nothing.

“HOW CAN THIS END?”

The questions in his head ceased. A vortex of noise rose from a whisper to a cacophony, every voice of every person who George had ever affected was speaking all at once. Everyone whose life he had changed by virtue of simply being in it was speaking to him through the maelstrom of mutterings, cries, shouts and even measured tones. He could not grasp any sentences but the words filled his head. There were words of anger, of pain, of fear. There were words of hope, of caring, of compassion. There were words of love, of desire, of passion. There were words of teaching, of instruction, of guidance. But jumbled together he could make no sense of them, the noise was becoming unbearable. His head hurt. He thought about jumping. I’ll do it, he thought aloud, don’t think I won’t.

The words grew louder. He could feel himself about to explode or collapse. He leant slightly forward, ready to let himself go. The words all revolved rapidly around his head and merged into one sentence. Every voice spoke as one and every voice meant it. George’s family and friends and acquaintances were all speaking to him. People he had yet to meet, people he might never meet, people who had died before he even came into being, were all speaking to him. The universe was speaking to him. And they all said one thing:

“George… I love you.”

Stunned, George stopped thinking. He felt his heart swell. A lone tear trickled down his cheek.

And he fell.

George became alert with a jolt. His arse was numb, his legs stiff, and the cold breeze on his exposed face penetrated down to his bones. She was looking at him quizzically. The pretty girl he’d met at the start of the year was sitting next to him, taking some amusement at him falling asleep where he sat. There was a whole world in those eyes, a world he wished to explore. His face was on fire, George was surprised that the heat was not melting the snow for miles around, he felt her eyes piercing through to his soul, every insecurity and lack of achievement was boiling inside him, bubbling up to the surface for the world in her eyes to see. He heard a faint rustling. A cracking sound brought him back to reality. There, he saw a hand extended to him, holding a piece of chocolate. Fruit and Nut – his favourite.

The smile on her face and the taste of the chocolate combined to bring George to his senses. He noticed a small, white ball of fluff frolicking in the soft snow, noticeable because of the flopping, pink tongue bouncing around. The girl had a dog, or something resembling a smaller version of a dog (George didn’t really consider anything that small to really be a dog). They chatted for a short amount of time, enough to keep George thinking for the rest of the day, but she really wanted to sledge down the hill so George agreed to take it in turns. As he watched her slowly picking up speed in her cheap, plastic sledge, the living snowball she called a dog chasing after her, tongue lolling, George smiled genuinely for the first time in what felt a very long time. Perhaps tomorrow, he thought, I’ll swim to the end of the world, but not today. Today is good.

 

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D.I.

The time came to leave. She had been allocated her new home, the moment she had waited for her entire life, it all led to this. First she had to find it. Her future residence was busy moving about, unaware of her impending arrival.

His name was Dominic, or Dom to his friends. He’d recently changed his diet, after putting on a bit of timber during his mid-twenties, and switched to assorted foods which mostly came in green. They sometimes came in brown or yellow, but he didn’t think that those colours suited him, and neither did his toilet. He travelled around a lot, due to his fondness for hiking and his propensity for catching the wrong train whenever he felt like napping on the move. Dom was not an easy man to find at the best of times, which he almost realised once when a trip to go mountain climbing resulted in him floating around the North Sea in a dinghy.

Dominic did, however, have a distinctive scent, which she had picked up thanks to the help of her clan. Dom smells like most men, largely inoffensive when not sweating, unless your nose is incredibly sensitive, in which case he smells oddly like burning plastic inside an igloo made of frozen cheese (you know it when you smell it).

She, whom we shall call Bonnie, though her actual name can only be pronounced if you have the right number of tongues, found him wandering around in a forest pushing around a shopping trolley in desperation, somehow unable to find the cabbage. Bonnie’s clan watched him for a while, hanging unnoticed from the branches of the trees, using their furry, prehensile tails to lower themselves closer. It had taken them weeks to figure out his scent and track it, they were not going to ruin what might be their one chance at success.

They hatched a plan. Bonnie and two others would rush off ahead, where they would try to find a big rock to hide up a tree. The others would find all manner of pebbles and pinecones to launch at poor Dominic. They would force him to run, right towards the waiting rock, where he would be knocked unconscious. Several weeks tracking Dom should have told them at least one thing – he would go the wrong way. As the first projectile was lobbed in his vicinity, Dom ran in the wrong direction, wailing like a small child who has just been informed that ice cream is a figment of their imagination.

Feeling deflated, Bonnie began the depressing walk home, destined to die alone. A failure. That’s when they found him. The bump on his head appeared to be growing as they watched, slowly stretching up towards the sky, as Dominic was on his back. He’d run head first into a tree and knocked himself unconscious.

Bonnie’s time had come. Her new home was ready, the moment she had waited for her entire life, it all came down to this. The clan held his mouth open, as Bonnie crawled in and slid down his oesophagus. It was a tight squeeze, but she had practised and found it relatively easy. She reached his stomach and paused for a moment to take it all in, tentatively walked in circles to find the most comfortable spot, then curled up into a snug little ball. She let out her last breath, a satisfied sigh, and passed away with a smile on her face.

In Perpetuity

The darkened room blurred as he opened his right eye, clotted blood stopped him opening the other. The place reeked of rotting flesh and the ferric stench of blood, mingled with the rusted scent of the manacles digging painfully into his wrists and ankles. Through the blur, he could just make out a row of tables along the centre of the room, directly in line with thin shafts of light from unreachable slits which passed for windows. Adorning the walls were strange sculptures, or paintings; they were too difficult to make out, whatever they were.

It was supposed to be easy. He simply had to observe, to find out what these savages had done with their hostages, their victims. He was given detailed instructions, but he could not read, as so few could since the war wiped out nearly all of mankind. He suspected that the instructions came from others who could not read either, that he was sent to die. He laid there pathetically; naked, chained, awaiting his end.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of soft footsteps on a cold stone floor, as a blurred shadow drew nearer. The stories of torture, of flayed men, of death flooded his mind, as the warm urine flowed over his thighs and onto the floor.

The shadow came into focus and smiled at him, the smile of a young, attractive woman who looked almost happy to see him. She stood there naked, then lowered herself face down onto the nearest table and looked him in the eyes. A second figure approached, fully clothed in black robes, covered from head to toe but for the hands and eyes, slowly withdrawing a freshly sharpened blade. The woman on the table continued to stare deep into his eyes, piercing him like the blade which was being used to carve into her back. He saw pain and pleasure at once in her eyes, as she let out a slight moan, biting her lip, gripping the table tightly.

As the blade danced across her flesh she began to relax. Speaking softly, she said, “I envy you,” her eyes watering heavily as the knife’s penetration continued. He could not respond, he could not even summon the strength to open his mouth. He sat there, transfixed by the carver’s cryptic calligraphy adorning her back, writing words he could not read. “I am but a single page,” she said, “yet you are to be a book.” He could not understand what she meant, so he wept.

He wanted to sleep, to forget what he was watching, but it was impossible to look away. Hours passed, before the carver finally wiped clean the blade and returned it to its home, hidden beneath blood-stained robes. The page sat up, revealing the careful, bloody script on her back. Fine, red words were written, paragraph after paragraph, from the bottom of her neck to the point where her thighs met her buttocks. She looked back over her shoulder, fire was in her eyes as she smiled at him.

He tried to speak but the words got stuck in his throat, resulting in a feeble croaking sound. He eventually mustered a single word – “what,” – before his voice left him completely. “Are you asking me what it says?” the woman asked him. He nodded timidly in response. “I do not know what these words mean, but they will live on beyond me, as will yours, their perfect forms rendered eternal.”

She ceased talking and began to gaze at the artworks across the walls. He could see much more clearly, the outstretched arms chained up high, marked like the woman’s back. The head slumped downwards, onto the open chest, the skin of the torso stretched out and pinned to the wall. Runes were carved across the ribs, spreading out onto the inner flesh. The internal organs hung down, trailing onto the floor, telling a story with the words engraved across every visible inch. Flies buzzed around the entrails, before long their maggots would consume these cadaverous tomes.

He looked back at the woman, losing himself in the intensity of her eyes as she spoke in hushed tones, “We’re part of a bigger story, we’re the vessels of knowledge and thought passed through the ages, we’re the continuation of one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and you get to be part of that story in the most intimate way.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead, stroked a finger slowly along the blade of a long, thin knife, and caressed his throat with it in one smooth, deliberate motion. He felt the warm blood rush down his body as life left him, never knowing what words would be worked into every part of his corpse. He knew only the passion in her eyes, as the world went black.

The Dance in the Deserts – my nanowrimo effort

Last month I found out about nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, where you are encouraged to attempt to write 50,000 words in a month, and decided to give it a go. I did not think that I would manage it and it is looking like I was right, but I have enjoyed the effort so far. I have just gone around a week with no time to write as I have been extremely busy, and I was already behind schedule before that. By now I should be on around 30,000 words, but have managed a measly 5,525. I am going to continue writing this novel, I hope. Here is the opening scene. The book (!) is science fiction, set on another planet in the future.

The Dance in the Deserts – The second age of Malidis

The wind battered against the sand dunes without care or remorse, whipping up a storm of fine quartz grains which scoured the derelict moisture trapper. The nomad seemed not to notice as he waited impatiently for his clandestine meeting with the one they called Medín. His gaunt frame was masked by his bulky cloak, revealing only his bony face with its weathered, leathery skin. His eyes were so narrow that they appeared to be shut, whilst his lips were dry and cracked and did nothing to stop the sand from coating his teeth. He chewed an exotic leaf to stave away his thirst, but by now it was dry and useless. He nervously thumbed a machete hidden beneath his cloak, one of many weapons and tools which he kept under there, necessary even for a pacifist in these deserts. Why was Medín keeping him waiting? I should not have come alone, he thought. His body was starting to ache; the storms were tolerable for nomads, but they took their toll. As he began to weary, a figure appeared on the horizon, hunched over, clearly feeling the full force of the storm. The nomad fought the urge to help him, he needed to appear stronger and uncaring, and so he watched as the traveller tumbled down the opposite dune and scrambled up towards the nomad’s feet.

‘Medín sends his apologies, he could not make it,’ the traveller wheezed. The nomad stood silently, I have failed, this fool is not to be bartered with, he is no more than a mere messenger. The messenger continued, ‘Bit of a pain, this storm.’ The nomad remained stoic, unmoving, resolute in his desire to show no emotion to this messenger of Medín. The reputation of Medín and his minions will one day pass into legend. He was a purveyor of information, seemingly omnipresent and omniscient, he appeared to know everyone worth knowing, was willing to talk to anyone, and had the sort of charm which could cause even a monk sworn to silence to start spilling their secrets carelessly, like precious water in the desert. Villagers sang songs about Medín and awaited his return, eager to drink the words and wisdom he brought. The nomad did not sing their songs or join in their eagerness for his return. It seemed that Medín knew even this, sending a messenger in his place.

‘So what did you want with Medín? What is so important that you had to get me lost in this shitstorm?’ The nomad surveyed the traveller through those narrow slits he called eyes; he was short, stocky, and his hair was hidden under the hood of a dusty traveller’s coat. He was clean shaven, but had obviously rushed and cut himself more than once. He hides his hair; he hides his heritage. He had long, thick eyelashes that were covered in sand, blinking rapidly to keep the dust out.

‘My words are only for Medín himself,’ the nomad replied, though he knew that an audience with Medín would be near impossible, he probably already knew what the nomad had to say. The messenger stopped blinking for a moment, fixing his eyes on the nomad, reaching into his coat to remove something. In his hand he held what appeared to be a sheet of dull metal, which he handed to the nomad.

The sheet was large, but the carvings on it were small, barely noticeable. The nomad held it close to his face, trying to read the words – it was a message from Medín. ‘I cannot read this language; do you know what it says?’ This time the other man was silent. The nomad lowered the sheet and saw Medín’s messenger brandishing a short sword, which found its way through the metal sheet and into the chest of the nomad. The sickening crunch was almost lost in the wind. As his life slipped away, the nomad could see his murderer remove a vial from an inside pocket of his coat, which he held to the nomad’s chest as blood slowly seeped into it.

‘Well, this wasn’t a complete waste of time,’ said the messenger, who turned and strode away, suddenly unaffected by the storm. The nomad faded fast, clinging onto life just long enough to see a rusted buggy swoop by to pick up his killer, coughing out smoke as it went. He closed his eyes and left; his wandering was over. His name was Talb.

Low Spirits

This was an odd competition as only two of us entered so we both became default winners. Before it was announced there were hints that the topic would include ghosts, which gave me some trepidation as I cannot take them seriously. Due to me inability to take ghosts seriously I realised that I could write the story as humour, which led to around 600 words just flowing straight away. Then the competition was actually announced and the topic wasn’t simply ghosts, but had to include humour, sex, or both. This bothered me because it meant that my story might not stand out, but then the topic was changed due to some confusion and became simply ghosts. This was my contribution.

Low Spirits

Night was drawing closer, like the scribbling of a small child who has discovered the ability to make marks on paper with a pen. Two men were standing, surveying a grisly scene. Their faces were similar, though one of the men was substantially larger and hairier than the other, looking as though one day he had eaten three of his friend and the universe decided that “you are what you eat” should be taken quite literally for a moment. The larger of the two showed little interest in the crimson carnage at the foot of the cliff, most of which was the car, whilst the smaller looked close to tears. “Do you believe in ghosts?” he asked his hirsute companion.

“A right load of bollocks, if you ask me, Pete,” came the reply.

“I was asking you.”

“Well then now you know; ghosts aren’t real.”

“I don’t know how to say this, but I think we are ghosts, Carl.”

Carl laughed, his beard shaking, “Why on Earth would you believe such nonsense?”

Pete pointed at the wreck in front of them, “Well, I think those two bodies are ours.” He gestured towards a slim corpse just outside the car and a larger, hairier corpse which was too big to have been ejected during the crash.

Carl scratched his beard and looked pensive for a moment. “I always thought that you were a handsome man, but you make a bloody ugly corpse, look at your face, it’s a right state!”

“I don’t think that’s my face,” Pete responded, “it might be my elbow.”

Carl continued to laugh, “Anatomy was never your strong suit, or so your wife tells me.”

Pete looked horrified, “A joke about my wife, at a time like this?”

“What does time mean to a ghost?” Carl pointed out. “What are ghosts meant to do anyway?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“You’re the expert, I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Pete pondered for a moment, or at least he looked like he was pondering, he may have been getting gassy, if ghosts can even get gassy, “maybe we have unfinished business.”

“I’m going to sneak into changing rooms and watch women getting undressed,” said Carl with a hungry look on his face, which appeared to be his default setting. It is no surprise that his ghost beard had bits of chicken from a past meal, tangled in the hairs. Somewhere out there is the ghost of a chicken, looking to be reunited with parts of its limbs.

Pete appeared to be furious, “We die and all you want to do is be a pervert?”

Carl was unfazed by the anger, “Unfinished business. I’ve not seen nearly enough naked women and now I have the power of invisibility, isn’t that what everyone wants to do when they become invisible?”

Pete gave this some thought for a while, “The best idea I read was to beat up a mime.”

“Can we move things? Are we pole-vaulters?”

“You mean poltergeists.”

“Yeah, them, I wonder if we can work out. If I sneak into a changing room in a gym I may as well use the equipment, I need to get in shape and I can spook people at the same time, it’s a win-win-win situation.”

“There’s a lot we have to learn.” Pete looked close to tears again, possibly having gone full circle through all the emotions he could muster. “What do you think the funeral will be like?”

“Mine will be better than yours, more people will cry, and then there will be a massive piss-up. I hope we can get pissed too.” Carl was wondering what beer tastes like for ghosts and thought about making a joke about spirits.

“We’re brothers; we’ll have the same funeral.”

“I’ll be there to comfort your wife, you’re out of the picture now and I’m sure she was only with you to get to me.”

“You’re a ghost too, you idiot.”

“I told you, I don’t believe in ghosts.”

Carl watched as his brother stormed off, unable to decide whether to follow or to wait for the emergency services to arrive at the scene, which might have allowed him to hop into one of the vehicles and get a lift to somewhere closer to town. Eventually he decided to head up to the road at the top of the cliff, as it was better than doing nothing; ghosts should always be doing something, that just made sense to him. Whilst at the top of the cliff he considered throwing himself off again. He’d never been bungee jumping and this was surely much more extreme, even though ghosts couldn’t die. Or could they? Carl decided not to risk it, as he’d hate to become non-existent like fairies, dragons, and ghosts. He’d never really figured life out and would be damned if he could not figure out this strange post-mortem existence, perhaps even literally. As Carl looked down at the bodies below he decided to have some fun, picking up a rock and hurling it at Pete’s body. But nothing happened. Carl had to face the fact that as a pole-vaulter he would never touch and feel again. No more sex. No more food. No more sex. No more drink. No more sex. Not that he really got much, but it upset him nonetheless. The ghost of Carl collided with the floor at the bottom of the cliff with the same amount of force exerted in a staring competition.

As the Sun set, giving off colours which suggest that the child had discovered crayons, Carl morosely shuffled home, a failure in life and a failure in death, unable to even kill himself a second time, though he might have been responsible for the first. Several cars sped straight through his body, if you could even call it a body, clearly unable to see him. He’d have given anything for a car to swerve, even if it took them off the road, that way he could have a few friends, mentoring them in the way of the ghost, which Carl thought sounded like a form of Kung Fu involving blowing on your attacker and making eerie noises. Bouncing off of a bonnet would have been a God-send. As Carl walked into the town he passed through a bus full of passengers, a couple of people jogging, two old ladies having a loud conversation about some youth who had spat at them, a young woman walking a dog, and a youth who was spitting at old ladies.

The streets were all familiar, yet seemed so strange and unreal to Carl. He wasn’t sure where to go as his ghost pockets held no ghost keys so he couldn’t go home, not that they’d have worked anyway. After a short while of wandering, probably not long at all when Carl’s attention span is considered, he spotted something which cheered him up: the local swimming baths, nearing closing time. A group of young people with wet hair and the distinct smell of chlorine were walking through one of the open doors, but Carl went straight for the closed door next to them, bouncing off of it like a ghost bouncing off of a door, if you believe in ghosts. He dusted himself off, removing no dust as he was a ghost, and waded through the kids at the open door. Carl headed straight for the changing rooms, making sure to pick the right one, which was of course the wrong one as Carl could never be mistaken for a woman. The room was completely empty, so he decided to get some sleep inside an open locker.

Carl wasn’t sure if he was dozing off or not, as he was mostly wondering how he could close his eyes at all, considering his eyelids were now translucent. His wondering was interrupted by the closing of the locker by the caretaker, trapping him inside. Instead of panicking, which he decided is a bit useless when you are dead, Carl saw the brighter side of the situation – he could get some undisturbed sleep in here and would wake up to naked women getting ready for a swim.

Hours of thinking about eyelids passed by before Carl heard any signs of life, which caused him to wonder what signs of death sound like, concluding that they sounded like him. He had spent some time pondering the possibility that he was a ghost, and then went back to thinking about eyelids. The voices he heard were not women, which panicked Carl until he remembered his rule about ghosts not panicking. He pressed his ear up against the locker to listen to the conversation.

“What are we doing with these lockers?”

“Scrap yard I think, they’ve been here since I were a lad, who’d want them?”

Carl spent the rest of the day being tossed about, thrown into what felt like the back of a van for much of the time. He had a new goal in death. He would find whoever made up the rules for ghosts and give them a good telling off, maybe a slap if that was within the rules, for who in their right mind would allow cars and people to pass through a ghost, yet not allow ghosts to pass through doors and walls and lockers? And that rule about not panicking, that one annoyed him the most.

The Dance

The short story theme this time was “a life changing decision”. I didn’t get any votes this time, ah well.

The Dance

The first was the One, and he taught the dance. The Ancients learnt their steps patiently, dancing at first the dance of light. Solo they moved, spreading to the furthest reaches, pushing light into the darkness, following the rhythm of the One. His guidance led them to one other, teaching them the ways to move their bodies to create beauty and harmony, building the dance in complexity. They grew in knowledge and love of one another, memorising each move, forging unity in a dazzling swirl which shall never fade from memory. Their bodies moved with increasing intensity as they filled the darkness with light and colour. But the One had never the intention to be the sole leader of the dance. All that is would use his steps, yet would repeat them to their own desires.

He displayed to the Ancients a beautiful dance, full of splendour and harmony, with bodies moving in ways which they had never thought possible, yet he did not teach them these ways. They saw a world take form, with bodies seeming to collide yet keeping their grace. They met one another and each transformed the dance of their partners, guiding them into a dizzying spin, full of power and intensity. More entered the dance, and the Ancients saw oceans form, moving to the most incredible rhythms. They witnessed continents join the routine, rising and falling, moving with the water and against it. They pushed each other to new heights, the air blew over the lands and waters, and they took the dance in new directions, building and building with unceasing beauty.

The One said, “This is what may become, but you must dance your own dance and create in my name, for I shall be sending others when the stage is set.” And with that message he sent forth the Ancients to dance their own dance, but for one of their number. He chose for himself a favoured one; the most beautiful of all the Ancients, for the stage was not set. The favoured one was not able to understand, and so kept a partner, refusing to let go, not wishing to dance alone. The other Ancients were astonished and feared the wrath of the One, for disobedience leads to chaos in the Great Dance. They were not of the knowledge that this was all in keeping with the One’s will.

They were clumsy in beginning, striving desperately to do as they had seen. They danced and they danced, day and night, and times came when it was almost as beautiful as that which they had been shown. But they faltered, not often, but enough to cause them dismay, for the perfection of the dance of the One was always beyond reach. Some of the Ancients tried to learn new steps, and the Earth shook and cracked, the seas roared and clashed, the air blew violently over the land and seas, where even fire did spew forth. The dance continued, yet not the dance of their desires. The Ancients feared that the One would end their dance without sending the favoured one, but he showed no such displeasure. He waited, for the right moment drew near, and commanded the favoured one. “You shall be life,” he said, “And you shall dance with unparalleled elegance, filling the world with new dancers, and they will learn your dance.”

And so it was that life entered the world, spreading far and wide. Life’s partner followed and they began their dance slowly and steadily. The Ancients were in awe of Life and rejoiced in her every move. The dance of Life changed the ways of the waters, where her dance had begun. It transformed the air and moved steadily over the land. Her partner followed, obsequious in her shadow, constantly in line, constantly guided. He grew jealous of Life. He wanted for himself the ability to change the dance and win praise from the other Ancients. It built inside him as his partner grew in confidence, adding new dimensions to the dance. As he followed Life he learnt from her the ways of creation, of how to move in new ways.

The tension and envy built, dwelling close to the surface of his heart. All of the other Ancients were creating, yet he only followed, and eventually he found the courage to try something new. At first these steps confused Life, but she recovered gracefully, moving with them and adapting to the changes. Her partner started to try to lead the dance, but she would allow no such thing. The tension they created transformed all, pushing Life to her limits, which she always surpassed. The dance of the Ancients would never be the same, as Life and her partner exploded in confidence and courage. Their dance swarmed the seas from the depths to the shores. They caressed the land and transformed its face. They took to the skies and grew in the confidence that there were no limits, seeing their future in the stars. The One had willed it all. They performed, thinking for themselves, and the One smiled.

Occasions arose when Life and her partner would lose control and the dance would come close to a halt. But Life was learned in the ways of the One and she kept the rhythm flowing, taking the lead over her reckless partner. She led many dancers and they were blessed with their own abilities, each one as precious as the next. They danced in the seas and on the lands, in the air and looking to the stars. From them came new dancers, some of which were able to lead their own dances. The One saw this and chose to complete the dance, for his will to be done in fullness. He came down into the dance and he was Love. He filled the new dancers and danced with Life, sharing in the dance with her partner and all of the Ancients, to a rhythm which will be without end.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.