The Neighbours from Hell

A very long time ago in a town far far away. (Well actually the same town but it didn’t sound as good) I was attending one of those how to get from a dunce to a fiction writer courses. The tutor was one of those types sent to inspire. He suggested that we write a story entitled “The Neighbours from Hell” where the neighbours really were from hell.

The pictures that this generates in my mind were so vivid that I was inspired to write various short stories all of them centred on the same subject.

See my earlier bog posts for more stories on the same theme. https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/13/on-the-theme-of-hell/, https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/18/the-neighbours-from-hell/.

I haven’t written one now for several years but do wonder if I ever grew a big enough pair to set about a book whether it might not be on a similar subject.

This is the next version of the hell stories:

Story

How did I get here? Where am I? I seem to be sat in an interview. A mere five seconds ago, I was walking up my neighbour’s path.

Ranged around me are six people in exquisite suits, finely tailored. This must be a prestigious position! What am I doing here?

The first man is leaning forwards his suit a delicate pinstripe in grey. Sombre, restrained, tasteful which belies the light from his eyes. The light is like insane excitement, almost techno-blue like the neon glow from a car stereo display. A light all gleam but no soul.

It must be the shock of the sudden change of scene, I feel disorientated; I look around bemused. I find that we are sat, cross-legged on a deep green carpet. It is a surreal and dream-like existence; not like any sense of reality, I am used to. Perhaps I am not awake at all?

The journey up that garden path, did I dream that too? It seems that as soon as I touched that door knocker…

Around us, other people lounge engaged with their own affairs. The area appears to be of all things a student bar. But if this is a student bar, these are the best-attired students I have ever seen. I feel strangely out of place in my carpet slippers and gardening trousers.

Now why was I visiting my neighbour? It seems now like another lifetime. Oh the noise, yes, that weird (and very loud) caterwauling emitting from the house. It had made my ears ache the second I had heard it.

So now, I am in a student bar? The furniture seems to be fixed around the wall vaguely like a sofa. But more utilitarian – perhaps an upholstered bench – in a very tasteful green.

The room punctuated by iron scrollwork screens. Each set at random angles to create interesting spaces for people to congregate. The screens have a Verdigris finish and stained wood surrounds. Each screen is a support for well-tended houseplants. A rubbery creeper here, a flowering orchid there. Each supports a shelf – waist-height of well-worn brown-stained wood. Like the surface of an old school desk; a meeting point at which others stand in active discussion.

Another thing strikes me; if this is a bar then why am I the only one holding a drink? I look down at what appears to be a large gin and tonic in a dainty wheel-cut glass – of a crystal so fine it is sure to ring with a tone fine enough for opera.

I look around and feeling my conspicuousness. I gulp the drink in the hope that I will gain some “fibre” from its contents. The bitterness of the draft grips my throat like drinking the entire bark rather than just quinine. I feel as if all fluid is drawn from my mouth.

Of a sudden, the noise hits me. I realise what has made the experience even more surreal – I have been completely deaf. Not a sound have I heard since this “dream” commenced.

The man before me is talking – he is staring at me with his gleaming eyes. I realise that he is talking to me

“Mr Blythe?”

“Oh, I mean, yes”

“I need to test your understanding: for the position you understand?”

“The position, oh, yes, the position”

“Now, as I was saying, you need to understand the database on which you will be working extremely well. If you satisfy the requirements then the rewards are high”

“Rewards, oh, ah, I mean yes, rewards”

“Now a design question; in which we will use the example of some gice”

Gice? I’m sure that he said gice, what are they? Does he mean mice?

“Mr Blythe?”

“Oh yes, sorry”

For some reason I feel that I have to pass this test, I have not felt the urge to ask where I am or what I am doing here. I am faced with a test and it has assumed all importance for me. Although I cannot say, what the test is for or what the penalty would be for failure.

“There are some gice in a carriage,” my interviewer continues. Immediately and without further description.

I know the carriage. It stands in my mind like a piece of art. A horse-drawn carriage angular and gleaming with a strength. As if it was hewn from solid ebony rather than constructed. The seats of deep-buttoned leather in a saddle-soaped burgundy. Each button lovingly buffed. The entire seat stuffed until bursting with horsehair. The wheels high and unadorned each spoke painted a gleaming black to match the body of the carriage. The horse-shafts slightly curving a deep black themselves. The whole, poised, stationary like some fantastic animal about to pounce. This carriage is no ordinary carriage.

The interviewer continues, “The carriage is in a corridor”

In my mind an endless corridor of gleaming white appears. The carriage is stood; the doors mere inches from the walls. The walls shining white like the interior of a brand-new hospital. Lit by some internal light banishing all shadow. The carriage is moving along the corridor at a fantastic speed. Door handles remaining a uniform distance from the wall. Passing intersecting corridors in a blur.

“Now Mr Blythe”

I come back from the vision so suddenly I can almost feel muscles in my head snap with the strain.

The interviewer continued, “How many objects are there?”

It feels like the weight of the rest of my life rests on this one question. I think so carefully that I can almost feel the fluff of lack of use drop from my brain cells as the mental cogs whirr.

I surmise that as he mentioned “gice” as a group that I can count them as one. The sense that a lot depends on my answer lingers. If gice are one then gice plus carriage plus corridor, must equal three mustn’t it? How do I know?

“Three” I respond.

Instantly all six people burst into laughter. My interviewer recovers first. The light in his eyes now somehow reflects deep concern. The light appears to be probing me, looking for the weakness that gave that answer.

“No that’s not right; it’s one.”

Suddenly I get understanding; it is like mentally finding the answer to an exam question. Lights metaphorically go on in my head. I sense an enormous rush of happiness. Akin to that of solving a difficult puzzle that has bothered me for weeks. I feel that I have long needed to know the answer to this question. It is strange, why do I feel such fulfilment? What does it mean?

“Ah, I see”

And I do see, although I can’t explain how, it is like the answer was just placed in my mind – the answer has to be one. And; from this understanding, I am now able to ask the interviewer questions of my own:

“So, how do you decide whether to put gice in a corridor or a carriage?”

The interviewer now looks at me approvingly “It’s not like that; it’s whichever choice fits the best”

“Ah, so it is an entirely pragmatic approach”

I realise that I am now able to watch myself from a distance. It is as if I am floating above myself, whilst also being inside myself at the same time. I am involved in the interview still. However, I am also watching myself in the interview as it continues. I can see that the interviewer approves of me – I get a growing impression that I have this position in the bag. But why? How do I understand the question? How do I understand that these objects together make just one? What is the database? Why must I work on it?

As I watch myself, I see that my delight at the understanding is growing. Finally, I see the six rise as if to leave. Rearranging themselves so that the magnificent suits settle into a smooth uncreased line.

I reach out and catch the arm of the interviewer; I stop him as the other’s leave.

“The one object, that’s the database isn’t it?”

He beams at me quite suddenly; it is like the sun suddenly shines in my world.

“You worked it out” and then he turns toward me.

We sprawl now upon the floor. The atmosphere of the interview has become very relaxed. We prop ourselves against one of the iron screens. I notice for the first time that a strip across the top of each screen is an inlay of stained glass. Approximately six inches in height composed of a flower motif in yellow, orange and green.

Sunlight now beams into the room. The stained glass gleams like an artistic snapshot of springtime. The sunlight lights the spot where we sit and chat in a relaxed style.

This is it – I have the job. I can feel delight and elation. The interviewer rises once more and leaves through a door. The door shuts behind him as if guided by a powerful spring. I approach the door but it has an air about it. Like a staffroom door to a child. I have a definite sense that I cannot go through this door.

I look back into the room, in the far corner nearly hidden by one of the iron screens stands a group of men in dark suits. The confidence of my new success buoying me I feel the need to approach, perhaps to swagger a bit. As I approach they look up, resentment obvious in their eyes. I get the feeling that passing this “test” is not all positive. Something tells me that having obtained the “position” I have somehow deprived these people. Not only that but I get the definite sense that I know these people from somewhere. But David Blythe would definitely have no memory of them. Why is this? Have I been living a double-life somehow, if so, why can’t I remember?

I turn to a man, youthful in appearance with shiny long dark hair. He has a familiarity as of a colleague that I have long worked with. He is glowering and his face darkened as if in shadow.

In excitement, I blurt out “who is that man? The man who interviewed me, what is his name?”

For some reason the unreality of my situation has ceased to affect me; perhaps, the drink? I am not sure. I am acting as if part of this scene, not observing it. It is as if I really belong in this totally alien place, performing unreal tasks.

The man looks up just once and catches my eye, I see the sulky expression; he refuses to speak. He turns away from me. One of his colleagues seems familiar. Unfriendly he indicates a large box of white-painted speakers.

I get the feeling that these are being removed. It is as if the equipment to which they were once attached is now redundant. They have the appearance of speakers that were once attached to a computer. Stained and well used. They could have been in a classroom used as part of a presentation; I get the feeling this is not insignificant.

Each of the speakers seems to develop a label as I view them. It is as if the labels are writing themselves as I watch. Each label has a neatly-lettered name on it.

The nearest set of speakers has a number of names, the first and subsequent lines untidily ruled out. The final lettering is “T. Bordure”. Unlike the answer “one” that brought great happiness, this label brings me uncertainty. I realise that I am guessing that this label is the correct one. I want to be certain. Nonetheless, the name associated with that brief script springs into my mind.

“Tim Bordure?” I enquire

Tim? How did I know Tim? How can I know the name?

It must be written down somewhere? Maybe it is part of my history at work? Work? Yes, that slipped into my head, work. I must have been doing something before to give me the experience for this new position.

I still feel uncertain about that name, have I identified the correct label? I determine to rush back. Back? Back to where? I must check that name; I must look it up on our intranet. Intranet? What Intranet? Where will I look up that name? Why must I look it up?

I must stop this; this can’t be real. I must think straight, I must find out what is real again.

I still feel like I just passed a significant test. I feel for some reason that I have been preparing for this test for a long time. Finally, I have understood, I have passed. But passed what? I can’t remember any preparation.

I am a Forty Five year old civil servant. I can’t remember preparing for anything in a very long time.

I feel certain that the six who just left are important, that having passed the “test” I will soon be joining them. However, I still don’t understand the glass – if it was gin why was I holding it in an interview? Why me alone?

I feel a sense of excitement and anticipation but mostly a sense of fulfilment. A sense of the mission ahead and that this “understanding” I have mysteriously achieved is a part of that.

*             *             *

I feel the itching in my eyes and blink. Oh, thank goodness it really was a dream. I felt sure it had to be it was so surreal. I am going to wake up back in my own life, beside Deirdre in our old rumpled bed. No test; no strange people; no “database”.

*             *             *

I open my eyes; there has been a change. I am not sat in the “student bar”. Neither am I waking from a dream to a small bedroom in Tunbridge Wells.

I am sat on a very hard orange plastic seat. There is a hexagon of seats. I form one side with another man sat a short distance to one side. I am facing other men.

The six of us I notice are myself and the five from the interview. But no sign of “Tim”. We are all silent and unmoving, facing forwards motionless.

My arms are resting quietly along the arms of a… what? I could swear the seat was orange and plastic. But now my arms are resting on a chair of tubular steel and black leather. It strikes me like a chair I have observed through the window of a local hairdressers. Even the chair seems to be unreal.

Into my mind hovers a vision of “Tim” as I last saw him beaming with happiness for me, I feel a great warmth towards him. The vision seems to blot out my mental objections to the situation in which I find myself.

My previous life with Deirdre is but a distant whisper in a melange of more strident voices. Central is this sense that I have a mission. That it is of overriding importance and that I have been preparing for it for a long time. But what is this mission? What am I doing?

In my mind, “Tim” continues to smile; but his face now begins to appear a representation. His smile more like a caricature. A clown rather than a warm human being.

“David Blythe, at last you join us”.

I look down at myself as he speaks into my mind and I see that I am now attired like the others. Gardening trousers, old faded slippers have metamorphosed into a sombre grey flawless suit. A suit that moves so smoothly I swear it was silk. The shoes gleaming enough to blind onlookers. But no onlookers – just the team of six.

In my mind “Tim” speaks again. Looking less and less appealing, the charming smile appears an animal snarl.

“So David, welcome to the purpose of your life. It’s been a long preparation but you have finally achieved the level which I knew you would achieve seven hundred years ago.”

Seven hundred years? What does he mean seven hundred years? No one lives for seven hundred years; surely, he knows that?

“Yes, now we have all six of the database administrators together. Finally the management of earth can come back on stream”

As he announces this confusing message the man to left and right of me grasps my arm in a tight grip. I felt a sense of panic rise. A dark foreknowledge of what is to occur. I see in my mind frightening images, which I do my best to dismiss.

I look to my left hand and I see that the flesh of my fingers is extending as I watch, one part of my mind hysterical. One part, an older part, calm, expectant. The growth is amazingly rapid.

Then pain begins. A sense of stretching, then a burning tearing sensation. As I watch, my finger ends rip and inwardly I scream with agony but outwardly, I am calm, silent. I see that my fingers have found my neighbours – also extended like my own. As they find them the finger, ends fuse and thicken to form a five-pointed cage of flesh and bone.

Strangely, I begin to embrace the pain to draw it into myself like a possession. It is like a smoke-ridden breath to an addict. Deeply pleasurable but also dreadful and frightening.

Now the skin, blood and bone of the two limbs rushes together. The five fingered birdcage completed, but growth still continues; nerves fuse. Sensory pathways between our two minds now become one.

I begin to receive pain, an almost intolerable level of pain. This is not my mind, I am receiving the pain response of my nearest neighbour now fused with me.

His mind is an inner scream of agony and suffering. For some reason I am able to deal with the sensations more rapidly than he. Over time I can see beyond the wall of pain. I begin to receive his thought, his memories, his desires.

Beyond the pain is regret. Time wasted, things not accomplished a knowledge that he has reached the end and never lived up to his obligations.

I realise that as I receive this “broadcast” of despair I am broadcasting back one of my own. Mental images of the time that girl rejected me at school. The sense of failure when I was redundant. No happy thoughts seem to escape me.

I have no time to think. I begin to receive more images. I realise that my other neighbour is now linked to me as well. This man is quite different. I find that the link between us is an unbreakable curse.

Toby has been a murderer all his life. He feels great pleasure at the inflicting of pain on others. I can see the many people he has tortured and abused. The sense of despair in their eyes as they realise that they are about to die. Then the cold blankness of their eyes in death.

I cannot escape him; he is now one with me and I with him. I can see the blows in detail that he meted on those he battered to death. I feel his exaltation at the powerful feelings this raised in him..

I realise that now Toby and Neil are a part of me, I am a part of them. I am now the murderer, his feelings of pleasure are also mine, we are one. One, the answer to that question that got me this “position” one, I reflect bitterly.

I now can feel the mind of each of the six in the ring, each in pain, each filled with regrets. We are now linked as one organism into a flesh and bone ring. Some minds are sadistic, some deluded but no happy mind do I receive.

I realise that as one we have the collective ability of six united. This collective must have great power of thought and of mind. Each memory is mine as much as my own. I can think with their thoughts. Recall their memories and they, can do likewise with mine.

I am filled with the guilt not only for my own misdeeds but also for those of the other five. Between us, we have “sins” of such great gravity and breadth that no single man would have had time or imagination to experience. Now I feel them and remember them as if they all belong to me.

I begin to mull over this past in deep shock. I cease to perceive with my eyes or ears. Living only inside in the darkness of this new world. I am saved from this by a sharp tug on my pain stretched arms.

The white room is moving at some incredible speed. The walls begin to slide down as if a partition rather than a part of the structure. Around the room, there is only darkness.

I have the sensation of sitting in a square of light consisting only of ceiling and floor surrounding by impenetrable black.

As I wait, I see approaching from out of the dark another square very like ours. In fact it appears to be ours, approaching so fast.

Initially a faint dot – almost unperceivable but upon us in moments. Docking with our room at lightning speed. The jolt sends fresh waves of pain through the ring of which I am a member.

The ring is a mirror of ours – I can see myself facing me, and close to me my neighbour Toby but this cannot be. We cannot be sat in two places at once.

As I try to understand, to get control of my mind I see a small child, walking across the darkness. Her feet resting on dark, walking through the dark towards us.

She is a barely four feet high and clad in an almost see through full-length shift. But as she approaches, I see that her pretty form is marred. She has no eyes. The sockets burned out and glaring red.

I want to scream but I seem unable to do so. My mouth will not open. I mentally recoil as she grasps the place where the hands of Toby and I join. At the same time with her, other arm she grasps the ring that has now docked with us.

It is then that I have the realisation that I had not seen the ring approaching with my eyes at all. In fact, the ring was behind me. I have seen the approach through the eyes of the man opposite. It was hard to think like this now; I was not thinking “us” so much as “me”. My ring of six was now me and I was it.

Then a new pain. I realise that fresh flesh and bone is forming between the ring in which I am sitting and the other ring. The child seems to take no part. As I struggle with the new pain, I realise that I cannot sense her. She appears to have no mind; in fact, she appears not to exist.

As I wait, the girl detaches herself and walks away across the darkness until it absorbs her slight form.

The two joined rings allow me to feel the other me. I can feel me as a happy and positive man. I can feel the sensation of the first time Deidre and I went out. I can feel the satisfaction at getting my first job.

The two halves of me are at war. It is not just my war. Each of the men in my ring aggressively responding to this new invasion. Electricity sparks across the interface between us. Twelve minds attempt to destroy one another.

But the war has just begun.

Even as I battle my other, self I see approaching a third ring of six. As this one also docks at lightning speed. I sense all six minds in my ring unite in despair at the new arrival. Mental images from the other ring are of welcoming expectation.

From the darkness, this time emerges a boy child, dressed again in a sheer outfit like a shift or nightgown. Again, he has a face ruined by burning.

He grasps the place where the hands of Neil and I join and with his other arm grasps the ring that has now docked with us.

As we fuse I feel the pain blank out my mind for a while. I feel a sense of our imbalance, the sense of war between the two halves and in the third ring judgement. Like the sensation, I had in the interview of watching myself. The third ring is watching the war between good and bad and judging us.

The bad hates the judgement. The good welcomes it. The sense of the warring parts of self escalates until the junctions between us hum with angry electricity.

As the boy disappears into the darkness, I see “Tim”. I see him flying, unsupported through the darkness towards us. He is gliding supported by nothingness. Arriving with a graceful determination.

As he nears the room enlarges to be become one whole. New walls start to “grow” organically around us. The walls reflect back that penetrating whiteness.

I barely perceive it; wracked as I am with pain and battling my inner self split into three parts.

“Tim” hovers above the ring for mere seconds before fresh flesh springs from the union of three rings. It rushes upwards like vine from a tree. I feel a sensation like blood draining from me and lose all consciousness.

*             *             *

I am awake; I can feel myself angry, despairing, frightened. I am real. I can feel myself in all six parts. I can now feel “Tim” floating above me. Strangled in a flesh and bone cage, which has surrounded him; feeds on him; is embedded with his mind, torso, abdomen.

I can feel his suffering as I can the six. I can feel that he is receiving the war amongst the eighteen and struggling with it. As he struggles the struggle becomes mine. I feel almost a compassion for him but also anger and loathing.

The electricity between us is now an angry growl. The heat from it oppressive. It crackles with the fury of our warring as pain follows hope, and judgement follows pain. Round and round like a desperate man drowning.

Then above us an entity begins to form, drawing on the pain and frustration. A blue light develops above the warring minds – drawing lightning rods of power in a blue arc directly from “Tim”.

The consciousness of the entity is malign drawing strength from the three rings of six. It begins to tower in an ice blue form above us. Sneering in its awareness of its own strength it looks down on those who formed it. It bathes in the suffering of the puny who united for this moment.

Now at last the database is online.

 

 

 

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Father Christmas

This was part of an exercise designed such that you would write about children.

Unfortunately I have very limited experience with children and apparently it showed. My lack of understanding was about the level that children think at.

From my perspective a child has reasonably little awareness of a world outside of their head. My limited understanding stemmed from the way parents treat children.

Parents insist upon holding a child’s hand (because children have no idea an oncoming car can kill them).

Parents tend to keep children close to them (because children can’t survive alone).

Parents escort children everywhere (because children are unable to do anything by themselves).

So I had the impression that prior to a certain age a child’s perspective was skewed by what was inside the child’s head.

The feedback I received was that the story was unrealistic as the child would not be this naïve.

That shows how little I know.

This underlines the idea that you should try to write about things that you know – or do your research well.

After this I’ve pretty well decided that using children as characters is not going to be something that I’m great at. So probably has no future in the things that I write.

The following therefore is probably only of interest in terms of an example of what not to do.

Story

“Can I have a puppy Mummy? Can I?  I want a puppy because I don’t have a puppy”.

“Timmy be quiet can’t you see I’m talking?”

Mummy was talking very loud.  Mummy is loud if I am naughty.  I think the man must have been naughty.  I hid behind Mummy’s legs.

Mummy was very upset –the back of her hand went white.  My hand hurts when she holds it so tightly.

“Mummy, Mummy let go, I want to play”.

I looked down at my new shoes.  The little lights in the sides came on as I was walking.  I was stamping my shoes and trying to see the lights come on.

I wondered if the strange man had sweeties.  “Hello” I said from behind Mummy’s legs.

The man bent down and looked at me.  He was very dirty, he had strange-looking hair with leaves in it.

“Mummy he smells funny”

Mummy pulled my hand suddenly – it really hurt – I was crying.  Mummy was talking very loud now.

The man had Mummy’s handbag.  Perhaps he wanted to buy me presents?  Sometimes Mummy buys me presents when she has that bag.

Mummy said that Father Christmas would come with presents. Perhaps this man was Father Christmas? He had a wrinkly hairy face.

“Mummy has Father Christmas got me a present?”

“Timmy if you don’t shut up I’ll give you a thick ear, understand?”

Mummy took me to see Father Christmas before; he wasn’t like this Father Christmas.  When I went to see Father Christmas before he was shiny, red and happy, he didn’t smell like this man.

I saw another Father Christmas in a shop today.  Maybe there are lots of Father Christmas’s?  Perhaps I get more presents if there are lots of Father Christmas’s?

“I want a present, I want a present”.

Mummy turned around and smacked me.  I started crying.  I felt hot and tired

Mummy was very angry now; she was really shouting – her arm had gone stiff and my hand was really hurting.

People were standing still watching me.  They must have known that I was with Father Christmas.

It was very quiet now.  Mummy was not shouting.  A shiny car was there; it was white and had funny lights.

The lights on my shoes are red, these lights were blue, they were very high, I watched them go round and round.

A really big man was talking to Mummy.  He had very dark clothes on; he was scary.  He had a shiny belt on; I was watching the long stick on that belt.  Billy has a stick like that; he got it for his birthday.  I don’t think I could have played with this stick.  Billy has a puppy, it was all floppy and sleepy – I don’t think Father Christmas had my puppy.

The big man put Father Christmas in his shiny car.

“Mummy can I go with Father Christmas?”

“NO Timmy you can’t”.

Mummy didn’t have hold of my hand now. I jumped in next to Father Christmas.

“Father Christmas, can I have a puppy?”

 

 

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Narrative Vs Dialogue

Two stories both on the same subject to show the effects of Narrative vs. Dialogue.

From a course I did so long ago now that I can’t remember the context.

They’re here purely for your enjoyment and with no other explanation.

I hope that you like them.

Narrative

Elizabeth was a fool Jane knew it. They hadn’t been friends for twenty years without the realisation that Elizabeth was a weak-headed, softhearted, naïve fool.

Didn’t she, the mother have the greater insight into the workings of her daughters?

There were the startling, the mediocre and the downright alarming. Rebecca, the eldest – she had always been the exceptional one. Always knowing what she wanted to do. She planned her wedding for the best weekend of the year, a marvellous dress, a fantastic husband.

Then there was Ruth. Jane could feel the anger like a tiny pricking sensation already starting, just thinking about her.

Ruth, yes – she’d warned her – with every one of the dropout wasters she’d hung around with (and taken to bed) she’d warned her.

Now she was pregnant,, of course she hadn’t taken the time to tell her own mother, oh no.

A hasty wedding in October – at a registry office, a rush job at minimal expense – well this guy Richard was hardly the high-flyer, not like Rebecca’s husband.

Ruth had made a bad choice and it was obvious why. It was just to spite her mother. They’d never seen eye to eye and now she had chosen the one thing that she knew would really hurt.

Jane took pride in her family – liked to think that she’d instilled in them some old-fashioned values.

Rebecca had never hung around town late at night picking up boys – and what boys. The latest one had a tongue piercing – and a dotted line tattooed across his neck with a small pair of scissors labelled “cut here”.

What kind of guy was he this Richard? She doubted very much that Ruth even knew him very well. She knew he had a motorbike and was the sort of guy that Jane would despise. Jane would never welcome him into the family.

How better to hurt her mother than to marry him? Well it worked; all the years of spite and angst could not equal what she was doing this time.

If only Ruth wasn’t such a stubborn, wilful girl, she wouldn’t be dragging the family down in this way. Jane wished, not for the first time that she could disown her.

It was bad enough that she’d found them “at it” in her own bathroom but then to go and marry him? It was too much.

So what was Elizabeth going on about? The loose-minded woman. No doubt, she saw Ruth as another hard-luck case like an abandoned puppy or something.

No, Ruth had a lot of learning left and she, Jane was not going to shield her from any of it.

Dialogue

“Isn’t it the most perfect day Jane” Elizabeth gushed, her brow furrowed in concern.

“It’s October Elizabeth, who ever heard of a wedding in October? I may as well look around for thermal underwear” Jane was at her most caustic today. “Now, Rebecca, Rebecca; there’s a girl with sense, a June wedding, very sensible”

“As I recall Jane, you moaned all day that it was too hot and you were suffering from sunburn,” said Elizabeth archly.

“Hmmph well at least I didn’t have to go there looking like an Eskimo – it’s so unattractive.”

Elizabeth sighed inwardly and tried again “The weather is unseasonably warm Jane. Anyway I’m told the registry office is centrally heated”

“Office, yes office, why not a church?”

Elizabeth decided on a change of tack “Did you see the dress though Jane? She will look beautiful”

“I didn’t want to see it, it’s not as though it’s a wedding dress or anything. There won’t be a train or walking up the aisle will there?”

“I guess as long as she’s happy though?” Elizabeth’s voice squeaked with the effort of maintaining diplomacy.

“Happy, happy, what kind of selfish attitude is that? I give it six months, that’s all, six months”

“Richard seems a very nice lad” Elizabeth was tiring of the fight.

“If you don’t count the tongue piercing and the tattoos of course.”

“They all have those now I think”

“Well he isn’t tolerant enough for Ruth that’s for sure. I don’t think he’s had half enough time to realize what a vicious little wildcat she can be”

“What makes you think that, Jane? What evidence do you have?” Elizabeth, by now beaten decided to go with the flow.

“I’ll tell you why – she’s been going round like some old slapper. Mike last year, Derek six months ago and now Richard. Is it any surprise that she’s pregnant?”

Elizabeth gasped, “That’s a vicious thing to say, you’ve no evidence at all for that statement”

“Oh, come on, don’t be so naïve, she’s been hanging around him like a bitch in heat” Jane snapped.

“How can you say that about your own daughter?”

“You just have to look at her for God’s sake, how many brides do you know actually put on weight for their wedding?”

“I think you’ll find the dress size is exactly the same now as when she ordered it Jane.” Elizabeth was sounding exasperated. “You can’t just treat your daughter in this way Jane, you can’t. It will come back to haunt you if you do.”

Jane glared at her stubbornly “I have five daughters, Elizabeth, five and have any been so awful to me as this one? I don’t think so.”

“Ruth is a lovely girl, Jane, surely you see that” said Elizabeth, tears by now gleaming in her soft brown eyes.

Jane’s gaze was grey and piercing “I tell you, for all the pain this one has brought me, I wish I only had four daughters.”
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The Neighbours from Hell

I have been fascinated for a long time in stories about Hell.

On one of the writing courses one of the tutors suggested that we write a story about a neighbour from hell who was literally from hell. (As I mentioned in my earlier post https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/13/on-the-theme-of-hell/)

For some reason this has captured my imagination and over time I have created different stories on this theme.

This is the first of these. Many of them are quite old now and I would rework them today.

But here it is unadulterated in case you like it.

Perhaps this will encourage me to produce more of the same in which case watch this space.

Story

Hi, I’m David and I’m a servant of the Devil.

Of course it isn’t obvious to look at me, I’m a balding middle aged civil servant but nonetheless I am Beelzebub’s man so to speak.  It started when we moved to a small estate in Tunbridge Wells.  I had never liked the place from the beginning.  But the price was right and Deirdre; yes, Deirdre just had to have the place.

It’s comfortable enough in a boring suburban way but any place that has a fridge and a sofa would suffice for me.  Deirdre though has to maintain “standards.”  That started almost the first day.  We had only recently moved in when Deirdre started on about meeting the neighbours.

“You should meet them David, you never know if he might be something important in The City, it doesn’t harm to network”

Frankly I couldn’t see the point in this, I’ve worked as a Junior Civil Servant for twenty years now and I see no obvious break in that career coming anytime soon.

“We should show we are good neighbours David, Go next door and introduce us.”

I noticed the “us” in that sentence and the very final ring to it.  A decision had been made, and I was to be the one to implement it.  I didn’t even dare sigh.  I shed the carpet slippers with regret – I had just got comfortable with The Sunday Times (one of my rare pleasures).

I am not naturally an outgoing person, I would happily leave the neighbours to themselves, however Deirdre had spoken.  (I am more frightened of Deirdre than the unknown quantity of the neighbours).

The house from a distance looked exactly like ours. It looked comfortable four-bedroomed detached with a beautiful white picket fence and a tidy arbour over a tiny front gate.

However as I approached the road appeared to darken and clouds began to gather. The gate began to look horribly distant when previously it had been mere feet from mine. I paused uncertainly. The charming arbour with red English rose seemed to be writhing like a nest of snakes. The pleasant curving aspect of a moment ago now seemed to me a gaunt gothic archway. I felt the challenge of the few steps to be too much. Something was definitely wrong.

However into my head rushed the vision of Deirdre: if I returned without having performed my little “task”.  The glare, the folded arms, that stare which told me what a pointless little individual I truly was.  I shuddered and then hastened on.

The tiny white gate now seemed to be of rusty iron (how strange what a change in perspective can do).  And the picket fence I noticed also iron – it reminded me uncomfortably of the cage surrounding a Victorian grave.

I girded myself for the short walk to the door.  This was ridiculous I told myself – a perfectly charming little place.  As I pulled, open the gate to a sound like wood tortured by a gale I distinctly heard the tolling of a resonant bell but from a great distance.  The grass surrounding the path swirled and twisted as if animated with menace, which seemed odd.  When I had set off the day was fine and clear – mere seconds ago.  It was as if the garden had weather of its own.  I realised that I had closed my eyes against the “illusion”.  As I opened them, I recognised that I had been wrong all along, the garden was dead, dry and brown, dusty grass bordered by dried out stumps of a herb garden.  I mused that they certainly needed to get the gardener in.

I hastened to the door – a plain white UPVC door with a faux brass knocker.  At last, I thought something sensible to latch onto.  I lifted the knocker and was amazed at its extreme weight and that it appeared to be hot like a pie direct from the oven.  I flinched immediately and the knocker fell with an enormous clash like hammer meeting anvil.

The door slowly swung inwards as if assisted from behind.  I could feel the sweat beads – clammy in my armpits and cold as they trickled down my ribcage.  “Hello is there anybody there”.

It must be a shy child, that’s it, hiding behind the door, that’s what it is.  I could feel myself trembling just a little.  But the vision of Deirdre firmly in my mind I stepped in.

The door slammed immediately shut behind me with a sound more normally associated with a massive door of oak closing on a vast frame.  I think I would complain to the double-glazing company I reflected whilst peering around what appeared to be an unusually vast hall.

Nothing at all like ours, I couldn’t even see the ceiling and the dining-room door seemed an impossibly long distance away.

Odd that they have the heating on, I remember thinking.  So strange in July, it’s like a real oven in here.  I could feel my white shirt become transparent as it fixed itself firmly to my spine – pulling it free was pointless.  It was more humid than a rainforest.  The neighbour must grow tropical plants I thought to myself.

“Hello, hello, I’m David; I’m your new neighbour”

I could hear the trembling highness of my voice.  I really did not want to be here any longer than I had to.  A quick hello and then go I assured myself.

I stepped into the impossibly long hall and perceived in the distance a standard hardboard-faced door.  Very retro I thought, time they had a man in to replace that.  The door seemed completely smooth and gleamed an impossible brilliance of white.

In front of it gyrating and jumping a Chihuahua.  It appeared to be a Chihuahua at any rate.  The yapping also had a familiar tone to it (Deirdre’s mother owns one; she says it is more fun to live with than her ex-husband ever was). I’ve always hated them; they seem perfectly capable of inflicting a very painful wound only to be swept up by the doting owner as if you had hurt them.

This one was strange though, it must have been the odd lighting but I could swear it seemed to have three heads!

The dining room door swung inwards with a scraping noise like stone dragged across massive stone.  This chap must be a sound effects man I thought, quite amazing the effects he can produce.  Well I sighed, that lets down Deirdre’s view of a chap in the city.

As I peered forwards (still apparently some yards from the doorway), I noticed their obscure taste in carpets. From this distance the red and grey carpet appeared like hot coals.

I halted, unsure what to do next, I was trespassing in somebody else’s house.  That bothered me quite a bit.  But the house was doing strange things to my mind.  That bothered me quite a bit more.  I am not naturally courageous.  (I’ve lived with Deirdre too long for that).  This was beyond my threshold for fear by one hundred percent.

I could almost feel a sense of panic rise within me.

Then a voice both sweet and soothing spoke directly into my ear as if the owner was stood right beside me.

“Mr Blythe, do come in, have a drink”

I didn’t remember to jump, I didn’t remember to be afraid, I couldn’t remember ever mentioning my name. I felt so relaxed so calm suddenly. Some distant voice was yelling “you’re in mortal danger, leave, leave now”. But that was only from inside my own head, I wasn’t about to pay attention to that when I could listen to this beautiful voice right here.

I turned slowly and looked straight into feral eyes.  Not human, more like a cat, devoid of any emotion, yet somehow echoing back concern and charm.  Subconsciously I was thinking I bet this man could con his way into the royal mint.  The face smiled, a smile without warmth, like the gape of a large carnivore.

I couldn’t remember moving, but I was sitting, relaxed in a very comfortable high-back chair. A glass of something was positioned conveniently by my right hand. The light was terrible everywhere in this house I determined. The glass seemed to hold a half pint of steaming blood (or at least blood colour liquid). Revolving slowly at the top of the glass appeared to be a large eyeball, which turned and fixed me with a baleful stare. I set the glass slowly on the floor to hide it. I did not wish to offend my host.

I hadn’t seen him, concealed as he was in shadows just opposite me in a chair very like the one I was occupying.  Somehow, his chair seemed vast in comparison with mine though, fully ten times the size.  I couldn’t imagine how I could have looked into his eyes only moments before.  Oh, this is ridiculous I told myself.

“Sorry I didn’t introduce myself, I’m David”

“Ah, yes, I know”

“Right, Right” I mentally tried to recall if we had met previously but I failed utterly.  I shivered.

“Yes well I’ve just moved in next door”

“More Deirdre’s choice than yours wasn’t it”

So he knew my wife as well?  “Sorry?”

“More Deirdre’s choice, you never liked the area?”

I recalled the first visit – even the drive up to the house had felt uncomfortable – I put it down to a head cold, but nonetheless I had been very glad to leave.

“Yes I suppose more Deirdre’s choice,” I mumbled

“I am just a piece of folklore of course”

“Of course, of course…………………………………………………………………what?”

“A piece of folklore, people can’t actually see The Devil”

“The what?  Sorry I thought I heard you describe yourself as the…”

“Devil, yes of course, but I am just a series of ideas, not a ‘thing’ as such”

“So how……..?”

“How can you see me?”

His eyes flashed yellow and at the same time, a stream of images began to play in my head.  I began to realise that Hell was not a place beneath the tarmac after all.

I had been living in it for the past forty-five years.

 

 

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On The Theme of Hell

I have enjoyed the idea of stories about hell ever since one of my writing instructors asked me to consider the neighbours from hell as if they were literally from hell.

Over time I generated several stories on this theme.

Following on from the Book Planning article recently: https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/11/book-planning-pt-2/. In this I consider James who has escaped Hell (but possibly not for very long).

In this one a tormentor from the flame regions tries to find himself a new employee.

The Apprentice

“Ah Lawrence, dear, dear Lawrence, I see that you have put in a request for retirement, you know how I get upset about such things”

“But Your Eminence I have served you faithfully for longer than any of your previous servants, surely I have earned it?”

“Oh dear, this concept of having earned something Lawrence, how very demanding of you.  I’m afraid that I may have to provide myself with a little entertainment at your expense.”

“Ah, that is, I apologise for not having explained myself properly Your Eminence.  What I meant to say was that I have found an excellent replacement servant.”

“Now you have given this some thought Lawrence haven’t you?  It isn’t just the first name that happened to turn up in ‘The Book of the Damned’ is it?”

“Err, well, no Your Eminence.”

“Oh Lawrence don’t lie to me, I’m very good at detecting it you know.”

“Well, I was flicking through ‘The Book’ this afternoon and discovered a possible candidate who lives just next door.”

“One hundred percent for convenience Lawrence but is he as talented as you are?  I’m not sure that I need another apprentice.”

“But think of the advantages Your Eminence, the bending of a new recruit to your will, the fresh viewpoint, the different ideas.”

“Very well Lawrence you’ve made your point, let’s have a look at him shall we.  Oh and Lawrence.”

“Yes Your Eminence.”

“Here’s a set of painful mouth ulcers to repay your feeble deception attempts.  I think I’d rather like to watch you eating some nice hot chips – and don’t stint on the vinegar.”

*          *          *
“David, DAVID, get up now and be swift about it there’s a good man.”

The voice sounded like it came from inside my head. I knew that I was still asleep but without thinking I was up, out of bed and padding down the stairs, still dressed in my pyjamas. I seemed compelled to head towards the source of that voice. Down the street; the house adjacent to mine; through the gate and the front door, which were hanging, open as if in readiness for me.

*          *          *
“Lawrence?  Could you just sort out the business with the wife now?  That would be lovely.  Ah David how nice for you to finally meet me.”

I had a feeling that there was something very wrong with that sentence.  There was also something wrong with being fast asleep but with your eyes wide open.

“Lawrence, come and look at him would you?”

“Yes Your Eminence”

“This would be David. I see from his entry in The Book of the Damned that he would be forty six. So far he is a man largely without drive or ambition, are you sure that he’s the right sort to replace you? It’ll be the hot bath for you if you’re wrong.”

“No, no, I’m sure” Lawrence sounded anxious to please.

“As long as you’re not putting your wishes above mine, such as sneakily nominating a replacement servant so that you can take it easy you know that would just make me annoyed.”

Lawrence sighed “With respect your holiness; everything makes you annoyed.”

“I’m sorry Lawrence but that’s it; off to the hot bath and don’t come back till you’ve mended your ways.”

“No, no, please; I didn’t mean it.”  Lawrence’s voice was edged with fear.

“Oh we’re going to try overacting are we?  Excellent Lawrence; I do love a spot of melodrama; do go on.”

“I was going to beg for my life Eminence.”

“Beg for it Lawrence?  Beg for it?  Have you learned nothing in the three hundred odd years you have served me?”

“Eminence?”

“That life to which you would cling so tenaciously is my invention. It is a shadow of consciousness sufficient to enable you to appreciate the suffering which I can provide, nothing more. Oh, and to provide me with a fine entertainment I might add. Now off to the baths there’s a good man.”

“But, but…” Lawrence had begun to babble.

“Oh dear Lawrence; a desperately slow learner aren’t we?  (I wonder why I’ve never encountered that before.) Should I take that life away from you then?  You could call it a last favour as a long-time companion.”

“No, thank you Eminence; I’ve grown rather attached to it.”

“Well; I’m sure that you know best.  Oh and Lawrence.”

“Yes Your Eminence.” Lawrence responded with a hopeful note to his voice.

“Wake him up before you go; there’s a good man.”

“Eminence” Lawrence’s voice fell to a hopeless whisper.

*          *          *
I had been listening to the whole conversation from the depths of a dream.  I was insulated from it and distant, but now as Lawrence touched me an incredible pain brought me instantly awake and to my knees in one moment. As I gasped Lawrence took one last reproachful look at me and then departed.

“Ah, David, delighted, delighted, now I am really at a loss I really am.  My old slave seems to think that you will be an adequate replacement for him but you seem really lack-lustre to me, it is really bemusing.”

I was still dazed by the pain and unsure what I was supposed to say next.

“Perhaps you might explain what qualities you possess that would make you interesting.  You see I would ask Lawrence but it would be rather difficult right now, he may not have time to explain; in between the screaming that is.”

I continued to stare at him mute with disbelief; it seemed like mere seconds before I had been resting in a comfortable bed.

*          *          *
“I’ll forgive you the silence this far David because you are new; but I warn you don’t stretch my patience any further. What is it about you that makes you so useful?  Hmm?”

I remembered the fear in Lawrence’s voice when he had been told to go for a ‘hot bath’. “I’m sorry, I really don’t understand; this is really a strange kind of dream” I blurted out without thinking.

“Oh this is so annoying; fortunately I had prepared a demonstration, I always find them so useful in illustrating the realities as it were.”

“A demonstration?” I could feel my voice quaver a little; what did he mean by a demonstration?

“Yes David it’s time we had our relationship on the proper footing which it will be I have no doubt after you have returned home.”

*          *          *
Before the sound of “home” had properly died, I found myself back in my bedroom, still kneeling. Looking into the staring eyes of my wife; fixed now in death, around her throat a set of bruises, causing it to be swelled and purple.

I stared in disbelief, Deirdre, my companion now for twenty years. It took me some time to understand that this was real. As I knelt there in shock, the realisation dawned – he had said that there would be a “demonstration.” He had done this – he had murdered my wife.

I looked around for a weapon and saw an ugly brass table lamp – something Deirdre’s mother had given us and I had been too polite to throw out. I grabbed it, pulling the cable from the wall socket and set off down the stairs.

*          *          *
“Back so soon David? How admirable, how quickly you are facing up to the realities.  So much faster than Lawrence did; there really is hope for you.”

“She’s dead, she’s b b b bloody dead and you killed her” I heard myself yell.

“Well of course I did at least indirectly. Of course it was your actual hands that committed the evil deed so to speak but yes I was the guiding intelligence behind it.”

I looked down and saw that my hands were red and trembling as if from some great exertion. The muscles were aching badly –how could this could be, had I killed her?

“Of course it was me that gave her that wretched life in the first place. I certainly think I have the right to take it away. If I get a bit of enjoyment watching her struggle and finally despair as the last gasp chokes from her then I think that is only my due don’t you”

“You bastard, you evil, crazy, mean-minded, bastard” I was desperate now.

“David; I don’t think that’s wise. Whilst the words are inevitably accurate it’s traditional to keep up a modicum of front about these things.  Put down the table-lamp. You can’t do anything with it you know.”

At that instant, my arm started to spasm and I rapidly dropped the brass lamp “Aaah, ah, ah, shit, damn, it electrocuted me. How could it do that?  It wasn’t even plugged in.”

“Because I commanded it to of course; when I say ‘Lord’ I mean ‘Lord of Darkness’ and all that charming Gothic nonsense.

“You mean that you’re The…Devil?” I asked gaping in disbelief.

“Well if you must use such a demeaning term, I prefer to think of myself as ‘The Prince of Evil’ or something similar but each to his own.”

“You’re insane; you know that, you can’t possibly be The Devil. I mean The Devil doesn’t exist.”

“You’ll have plenty of opportunity to verify my existence over the millennia I will force you to serve me. This really is most tiresome; I feel that I’ve given you quite enough time to knuckle down. Tell me why you are useful to me; or shall we go for a tour? I could show you some of the less well-publicised elements of my realm, hmm?

I was distracted from the menace of his last sentence. My mind filled with the image of Deirdre lying dead “I loved her; I really loved her; what will I do now?”

“Well of course you think that you loved her. That was all part of the plan to increase your wretchedness when she finally gave up the ghost. It really is most gratifying that it has worked out so well. Now if you don’t mind your qualifications?”

“M-my qualifications? I-I don’t know about qualifications; I’m just a civil servant.” I could feel my sanity wrestling away from me.

“Oh I think it unlikely to be anything about your job. I’m not interested that you have served 26 years with the Inland Revenue.  Charming though that cliché would be.”

“I c-can’t understand what you mean” my mind felt like it was drowning.

“Let me put it simply for you shall I? You have mere moments to explain to me in what new and diverting ways you can increase the misery of the world or you can join my previous employee in a rather warm bath.”

“I? Increase the misery of the world?” I knew now that it was insanity; I must be delusional.

“Well I’m sure that you do David; merely by breathing. You really are quite dull you know; but that is not quite on the scale that I imagined. I do so love the petty annoyances; they do make the time pass so delightfully swiftly.”

“Petty annoyances?” I was repeating everything he said; by now reduced to parrotry.

“I take it all back David; you really are so incredibly slow I am amazed that anything makes it through that dense artefact you call a skull. An example I think, just to make things easier. Last week I believe was your dear departed wife’s birthday?”

“Deirdre; oh my God; Deirdre” tears fell so thickly now my eyes felt like open sores.

“Yes, as you so eloquently put it, Deirdre. You booked a table at eight and promised to be home on time. Unfortunately, your boss gave you a grilling about use of the photocopier in work time. This delay caused you to miss the bus and the next bus of course didn’t turn up. You decided to walk but a sudden downpour turned that into more of a frantic run didn’t it?”

“Yes, how …?”

“So that by the time you arrived home soaking wet; stressed, tired and an hour late Deidre was slightly less than pleased to see you. Of course you did try the restaurant but due to some mishap they had failed to take your reservation.  Deirdre’s birthday turned out to be a Chinese takeaway and she didn’t talk to you for three days!  It’s all so delightful when it works so well; rather like poetry really.”

“You did all that?” I felt as defeated as the look in Lawrence’s eyes when he departed for the ‘warm bath’.

“Oh not personally of course; I did have Lawrence; He was really very good you know. But then I am hopeful that you can do better.”

“Better?” What did he imagine I could do?

“Well keep the gears oiled, the wheels rolling; continue to make life miserable for people.”

“But why?”

“Oh purely for my entertainment of course; I’m stuck in this realm for all eternity so I definitely do not wish to see anyone enjoying their time here.”

“But surely when the time comes.”

“You die? Oh purely an artefact David I can assure you.  You see you were never living in the first place.  Life is merely that essence that I have caused all the residents of my kingdom to be addicted to; to treasure; to give everything for.  But in fact it is completely worthless.”

“Worthless?”

“Oh yes, you see you can’t cease to exist, you have been imprisoned here for all eternity with me; every miserable one of you. The ‘Day of Judgement’ – over hyped as it has been, has, actually occurred. This place you call ‘home’, ‘Earth’ and in fact this entire Universe is the home of darkness and of suffering for all eternity.”

“But then where do you go…?”

“After you die? Well you see it’s a bit of a sleight of hand.  I whip you out of one rotting mound of flesh and cause you to be born memory erased somewhere else equally miserable; equally without hope.”

“I don’t see the point…”

“Of course if I can make you a little uglier; maybe give your mother postnatal depression so that she can’t stand you. Perhaps I’ll settle for something more minor like a severe nappy rash or that you develop debilitating asthma at a young age.  It’s all rather gratifying once you know how it works.”

“So this is purgatory?” (I remembered something about this from a programme on television; unfortunately, I hadn’t given it much attention.)

“Well not, as such, no; you see as I understand it the definition of purgatory is that eventually you may escape it. You, I’m afraid have no hope of escape, ever. So now” (his voice took on a truly sinister edge) “why are you of value to me David?”

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Book Planning Pt. 2

I am quite taken with plans on the theme of hell and this is one of those.

Sadly the plot questions and other aspects highlighted in the last post have been lost such that I just have the beginnings of a plan.

I still find myself quite fascinated by this idea so perhaps at one stage I’ll evolve it out and see what happens with it.

In the meantime I hope that you enjoy it.

This follows on from the first entry on book planning https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/08/book-planning/

It turns out that I have further book plans which were prepared (presumably with the aim of expanding them into books) and which got no further.

Start of the Plot

James is an ordinary auditor. He likes to be well turned out; takes his time in Marks and Spencer; likes suits for the fuller figured man, even though he might make a waif look over-fed. James likes to spend time in Clarks examining shoes. These are always size 12 (even though he might be considered to be an 11), wide fitting, and lacking any high shine. James selects his ties from John Lewis and always opts for something muted in a diamond pattern or occasionally a pale stripe.

James is diligent in his work, each day carefully noting the time that he has taken and striving the very next day to better his performance. He ticks off each stage in the audit that he has completed and reports his progress weekly to a demotivated boss in a tired and dusty office.

He departs each evening on the 06.35pm bus and sits an exact 3 seats from the rear on the right hand side. In 25 years no one has yet felt the need to sit near to him. He scans the headlines of the day’s Guardian newspaper in silence before alighting 20 minutes’ walk from his uPVC front door.

James in fact is perennially dull. From his mousey-brown hair, the washed out ash-coloured eyes to the greying pallor of his skin there is nothing remarkable about him.

He arrives home each night at an unremarkable 7.07 pm. He takes out the tin of whiskers, today the tuna; tomorrow the chicken. He strokes the cat a regulation 5 times before turning to the freezer for something in the Tesco-finest range.

James turns to the BBC and watches the weather before turning in each evening at 9.30pm without variance. He reads a chapter of his book on audit and governance – the latest from the institute before extinguishing the light.

People like James; he is invisible. He listens carefully to what they have to say, nods appreciatively in the moments where it is expected and then passes on. Whilst they like James, they do not remember him. James in fact has no friends, no companions and no one has seen the inside of his house since he took up residence 25 years ago.

People who James audits find themselves confessing all the aspects of their working lives they should conceal from auditors. They tell him where the frauds are committed, who isn’t monitoring their budgets, where the money is wasted. In fact James is very effective at his job.

There is no sign at all in fact that James is a demon.

Of course James is completely unaware of this. He is unaware that 25 years ago he emerged into the world fully-formed, already moulded into the perfect auditor. He received a house at an impossible price from a distracted estate agent. He walked into a job at the local bank without interview, job description or Curriculum Vitae. James is as ignorant as his down beaten manager.

James in fact is not a demon that one would wish to have conduct audits, travel on the bus with one, or shop in one’s store for tins of Whiskas.

If his true self were to be revealed it is unlikely that the lady at number 22 would talk to James about the weather, smile in a distracted way or return inside (forgetting completely that she has ever spoken to anyone).

It is likely in fact that the lady at number 22 would be screaming in rank hysteria. Thankfully for her briefly as the experience would be almost instantaneously fatal.

James in fact is a career demon, member of the high council, noted for his abilities in the infliction of pain and the manipulation of terror.

In any other circumstance James would be wandering the corridors of horror. He would monitor the efforts of minor demons to make the suffering of the damned more intolerable. He would administer random acts of cruelty just to keep his hand in.

It is in fact fortunate that when walking out of hell 25 years previously James managed to excise all memories of his former existence. Fortunate for everyone else that is.

Sadly, today James will not be catching the 7.24 and purchasing the Guardian from a kiosk on his way to work. The lady in Accounts, who had revealed that the budget for Christmas entertainment was completely unmonitored, need not fear the arrival of a report from James pointing out her error.

It was easy, too easy in fact, Moloch had no need of sleep and wandering the flame lashed world he had plenty of distractions. There was always new tortures to devise, new accounts to be kept, level of suffering expressed, depth of despair that sort of thing. Moloch of course rarely sullied his hands with those details now. He had been in the business so many millennia that he had only to think a request and leagues of minor demons would hurry to do his bidding. Encouraged no doubt by memories of what happened when they were less willing.

Moloch in fact was bored; it had been 50 centuries at least since he had really enjoyed what he was doing. This morning for instance he had a man repeatedly impaled with red hot pokers. There was the screaming of course, the pointless pleading, the whimpering, but what was it all for? He began to wonder what was the meaning of it all, what was the purpose in his existence?

If tomorrow he simply had to cause the suffering of another few million lost souls, why was he even here? Surely there were demons equally qualified, perhaps better qualified to do the same thing. Moloch sighed.

Moloch had thought often in the last few hundred years of his lack of mortality, often he had wished that it was possible to die. It wasn’t the constant pain; Satan knows that he had grown used to that, many centuries ago. No amount of extra torture could really make things any worse for him. No, Moloch had developed that most self-defeating of needs, unique so far in the demon race. The need for a purpose in his existence; Moloch wanted to know why he was here; he wanted it all to mean something.

The need had been growing in him. Growing like the cancers that he sometimes grew on the damned for the amusement of it – what little amusement could be had nowadays.

It had started as a small seed of discontent; a feeling that perhaps he was not as good at the job as previously he had believed himself to be. Each day brought many thousands to him, several really adept at the task. Encouraged by pain it was often moments before the mild started to behave like psychopaths with a penchant for mutilation.

Moloch was not immune. He had gained the job himself by demonstrating the inefficacy of his predecessor.  His predecessor was now welded to the walls using his own flesh.

In fact the discontent brought him closer each day towards an ever more intolerable eternity. As the years progressed, it was apparent to Moloch that he could not bring himself to care.

He began to experiment with doing less, with being absent more. At intervals he took to daydreaming and not about new methods to terrorise the inmates.

The vast libraries of hell were accessible to him. He began to research items that were not in his job description and that he couldn’t have accounted for if anyone could be bothered to check

Moloch saw to it that self-monitoring regimes were instituted. Failure to perform was rewarded with disproportionate acts of cruelty. These regimes ran completely without his interference. In fact, he realised that if the methods were available he could absent himself entirely for lengthy periods and no one would regard it as strange.

During his researches he began to read of the human act of suicide. It was something he had a passing familiarity with already. Several of the inmates had arrived via that route. Amongst their pleas for mercy would bemoan the act that brought them there, sometimes in great detail.

Eventually Moloch began to seek out those who had chosen this way of ending their life. He encouraged them in some quite inventive ways (even though he said so himself) to relate what had happened, when and why.

Nine centuries passed in which Moloch could be said to have taken an interest in anything but his work. He occasionally looked in to ensure that the full meaning of hell was being explained to those in his care, but these visits grew less and less common.

Eventually Moloch came across Michael; Michael had been a suicide, a soul with the misfortune to come into contact with Moloch. When Moloch explained to him the nature of his researches Michael was very willing to explain his whole life story in a very detailed and helpful manner. He would do this often in high screams or deep despairing sobs. These were the communications that Moloch was used to and they suited him.

Michael it appeared had been an auditor, a man with no friends and a deeply obsessive personality. Moloch liked that. Indeed as he discovered the nature of Michael’s former life he determined that he liked it a great deal. Michael it appeared was empowered to make everyone’s life miserable. He had no friends and was disregarded by the world. Michael lived alone with a small carnivore. This carnivore liked to torture even smaller mammals despite Michael’s best efforts to persuade it otherwise. Moloch liked that too.

Michael had become disenchanted with an auditor’s life. He failed to see any point in his existence, in which he was basically invisible, in which no one remembered to send him a Christmas card. No one could remember his name.

For the first time in his existence Moloch began to draw comparisons with his own experience. The years spent engaged in pointless activity, the lack of any options, the inability to escape. All of these rang true for him, Moloch was so enraptured with the tale he almost forgot to drop Michael into a vat of boiling oil.

What distracted him the most though were the things he could not understand, despite endless repetition. Moloch had been forced to skin him – purely for the sake of form of course. Michael had maintained that just prior to the end he had not cared if he lived or died. Moloch did not understand this. One morning Michael had slipped down to the platform. Instead of catching the 5.38 to Kings Cross had instead jumped in front of the express train destined for Edinburgh.

Moloch had heard many million such tales and dismissed them as the normal hubbub of souls desperate for surcease. But this time, intrigued, he began to wonder if it could be true. How could anything vested with life not care about that life? Look what happened when you didn’t care – Moloch came to visit – often.

Moloch finally had what for him was a defining epiphany. If a human could arrive in hell merely as a result of not caring whether he existed – maybe the gateway to hell could be opened in exactly that way. Of the millions of souls he had encountered not one had not cared. In fact by the time he had spent a short time with them they cared a great deal. Normally they cared about the agony they were in, how wretched they felt, about the inability to escape. In fact he could not remember one soul that simply did not care.

Then there was the act, the symbolic severing of the soul from that which they no longer cared about. For Michael it had been straightforward, any number of lethal devices lurking about on earth. Moloch reasoned that if a train hadn’t been available a large truck or even a suitably high building would no doubt suffice. People of Earth really had nothing to complain about in terms of the methods available for symbolically calling it a day.

Of course calling it a day simply caused them to change plane of existence, today an unregarded auditor tomorrow a soul in torment. Simple translocation, not much in that, the challenge was to cause it to happen in the opposite direction.

Moloch sat a long time meditating over that, deliberating and calculating, as the centuries passed he finally reasoned that he would never be able to abandon all caring, no matter how purposeless the existing had become. However there was nothing to prevent him using the experiences of Michael to his advantage.

As for the thing that would be the act, the symbolic act to end his existence in this realm? Moloch had come to that as well. To attempt to depart the gates of Hell was the daemonic version of suicide. The beings that people that pathway would render him into innumerable fragments. They would populate the passageways with his suffering. No demon had ever ventured that way and not one would ever consider it.

Moloch was ready; a simple matter to collect Michael from where he had hung him on a meat hook for safe keeping. Using a technique learned in the long years of study in the library he merged the two of them into one. Critically for Moloch, one in which the memories of the two beings remained.

Travelling to the gates would not be straightforward. The governance of Hell was absolute. No demon could wander far from his designated paths, to stray into other sectors of hell, to attract attention, this was unwise. Moloch was aided in that now he had the appearance of a soul in torment. It would be straightforward to wander if he was prepared for the many innovative tortures that they would have ready for such a soul.

Many centuries elapsed, many tortures were meted out, but Moloch had been through so many it was hard not to yawn. It intervals it became hard to show an interest. At these intervals he let Michael surface and rode along on his more expressive approach to suffering.

Finally Moloch could see the dark passages leading down to the gates and the shadowy figures that peopled them. This was it – the ‘Suicide’ he had planned. Finally he delved into the depths of Michael’s mind and pulled to the foremost the experiences of his last day. The utter hopelessness of it, the pain, the need to escape, the worthlessness the conviction that existence was not worthwhile. At the same time he wandered straight towards the largest and most brutal of the guardians of the gates.

The guardian turned, grasped him, and tore him apart in a shattering agony. Impressive in that despite the many agonies he had suffered this still got his attention. A being emerged from the fragments; striding unseen, unregarded from the steaming maw of hell.

It had worked! James now emerged into the damp and misty autumnal dawn and caught the 07.24 for his new job at Michael’s old bank. Sadly for Moloch the translocation was not complete. The shattered fragments still held nearly all his memories (and most of those of Michael). He was alive in a new plane of existence but unaware of what he had done. For a short time, this was what saved him. That lack of awareness, that empty-headedness meant that the demons that walk the earth observing, manipulating, destroying could not determine that there was anything remarkable about him. Occasionally something remarkable would happen. James could cause incidents to happen (such as house available for a month’s salary) which should not be possible. But these incidents barely rose above the normal criminal activity of the average day.

In fact James briefly had the life which he had hoped for, mundane, unimportant, with sufficient malice to make it just interesting.

That was until Wednesday…

As you can see there is just the start of the plot so far. If any of these plot ideas cause people to think they might want to read more let me know and I might put some more work into them.

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Five Minute Writing

My blog article https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/18/free-writing/ on Free Writing shows how the following story was written.

On one of my courses I was set 5 minutes to write as much of a story as I was able.

As I mentioned in the above article some people do this as an independent art form. And it is surprising when put to it just how much you can accomplish in just 5 minutes.

I haven’t put this through any kind of editing process so here it is warts and all. I hope it proves interesting to someone reading.

“One of the man animals has escaped Siltha”

“What? How old?”

“This one is 18 – prak458”

“Mother save me – a dangerous age; set the mechdogs on his scent and restrain him before any damage is done”

“I think that it maybe too late”

“Who?”

“One of the volunteers, from the last group, we hadn’t time to psychologically scan them all, this was one of the ones we hadn’t got to yet”

“How old?”

“She is 21”

“Underage, unlicensed, the penalties are more severe…”

“It is a pity, this man was the result of selective breeding, we had hoped …”

“How did he get out?”

“Well the suspicion is that she released him”

“That must never be divulged. Is she from good family?”

“Her mother is a major benefactor to the programme”

“Justice must be seen to be done. In normal circumstances I would specify gassing, but I think in this case – lethal injection, recorded for public viewing. It is regrettable, but an example is needed and protracted death is indicated. Ensure that a screening is specified for the monastery.”

Prak was certain that no man had ever been outside of the monastery in his lifetime. Of course there were dreamers, the old men who spoke of half-forgotten days when it was possible to run out in the fields. There were few men now and none left their cells unescorted. The monastery was a prison, but Prak was now slowly realising, also a refuge. There was already a shrill whistle from unknown flying machines which scanned the monastery from overhead. There was little time.

Why had she done it? He was in the programme, almost certainly would have been licensed in another 7 years, as long as he proved docile.

She had come to his cell at evening prayers. He shouldn’t have, it was only afterwards that he remembered he should first have checked the birth records. He should have been licensed. He should have been medically screened. He knew all of these facts. His actions were unforgivable. He had only a vague idea of the death awaiting him, but he did not imagine it would be swift or gentle.

And then when they were finished she had turned on him, screamed at him, struck him, raised the alarm. The change in her was as instantaneous as it was unfathomable.

Until he had started to panic, looking for an exit, then she had sat, calmly and watched . He wasn’t certain but he thought that he had seen a small glint in her expression. It was as if the pleasure came not from experiencing him. The real pleasure was in watching his fear, watching him run.

No man was ever free at visitor time. This fact had helped him as he fled the bright corridors and out into the darkness. It was impossible for a man to escape – so complacency let him run, and run, and run yet further. Till the gasps came in quick succession and the pain in his chest finally overcame the panic.

The alarms were quieted now; he had found a hiding place, deep in the rubbish holders. The smell was diabolical, but there were no alternatives, no cover, no escape routes. The site around the monastery kept clear, to allow the aerial spybots and the mechdogs hunt more effectively. The lights of a settlement far down the valley side, too far to run. And when he got there; how would he survive – one man animal – alone.

The induction – when they were still whelps – the mechdogs films. They had shown there was no way out. The mechdogs were efficient, empty, ruthless – no one could escape.

He remembered the film of the last man that escaped. That film so old now, long before the monastery. That low servo-whine as the mechdogs set on the man’s trail. He almost imagined he could hear that whine now…

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Hero Story

From one of my courses I was asked for a story about a hero. I chose Stanley who was a hero to me. I hope that you love him as I did.

“Sodding James Bond I mean where would he be if that guy Q hadn’t invented the exploding pen or the rotating watch I ask you that?” Stanley muttered distractedly attacking the edge of a piece of metal with a brutal looking file.

“It’s the engineers that save the day not some jumped up toss-pot in a bad-fitting suit”.

“Oh yes I’m certain he has all the beautiful girls, sex life of a bonobo chimpanzee that one. But without a rocket launcher in that car of his he would have been toast long since.”

Stanley was nursing a particularly fearsome hangover. He had retreated to a favoured part of one of the many sheds in what had once been termed a garden.

The previous evening had been another unsuccessful one.  His normal prejudices returned in force as he mentally revisited the experience.

“It isn’t as if I have any need of company” “I’m never in need of anyone when I have a broken Morris Minor and a new clutch kit”. “I just sometimes feel that it would be nice to have a drink”. “Is it my fault that all the places which sell respectable beer also seemed to be the popular ones?” “It isn’t that I actually want to meet anyone”.

“The problem is that I am invisible” – “All engineers have to be invisible”.

In Stanley’s mind the world had no respect for engineers or engineering things. The evidence for this perspective was scanty. Currently this evidence consisted of the preference for meddling secret agents over dependable engineers who provided their toys. Nonetheless Stanley was firmly of the view that this was the problem.

At times, despite the need to rewire the reversing light on the Series III Land Rover, something would push Stanley to go to the Skink and Partridge, the Rat and Falcon or the Snail and Marten to stand, and drink, and watch.

“When you’re an engineer you should just keep your gob shut,” Stanley said to himself, “Especially if you’re drinking Old Thumper”. In Stanley’s mind he was never more translucent than after a nice half of Old Thumper or Mainwaring’s special.

He had to proffer large sums of money across the bar even for the landlord to notice that he wanted to order something. It was even worse if he tried to talk to someone whilst the beer evolved itself onto the bar in front of him.

“For some reason when I mentioned the internal diameter of the O-Ring seal on an MGA Brake Master Cylinder it’s as if I never existed”. “I’ve seen People look straight through me, talk with people who were stood behind me or try to walk through me as they dash for the door. (I’m never certain what the damn hurry is either)”

“If I could just stay silent”

The idea of staying quiet had come to Stanley following many such visits. It was a reasonably effective idea at least initially. However then the second half of Old Thumper would take effect

“I was quite happy to stay silent” he said to himself despairingly.

Stanley would prop himself against his favourite oil-stained corner of the bar. He would maintain a careful silence – at least at first. However The Rat and Falcon did sell such excellent bitter. Many a nearby person would consume rather a lot of it.

By the time that Stanley had consumed the second half of Old Thumper someone would lean on the bar next to him and would begin to talk to the wall. At least Stanley was pretty certain it was the wall so convinced was he that he was invisible.

Stanley had learned that in these moments of “addressing the wall” the imbibers of the Rat and Falcon would have nothing to say which was of interest either to him or the Verdigris infested horse brasses behind him.

The conversations always went along similar lines. It could be the problems with the mortgage payments, the girl who was so fine that no later woman had been her like. Sometimes it was the late-diagnosed illness from which the imbiber would not recover.

The conversation was always about the people themselves. It was as if Stanley wasn’t there.

At this point Stanley had learned it was wise to nod and not to say anything.

The talking seemed to make his invisibility much worse. However he seemed unable to control his impulse to talk.

Last night for instance a very nice lady had drifted over.

Queenie was a little heavily made up. This was unfortunate given the mascara staining – a result of the liquid pouring from her eyes.

“No one respects me” she had said. Stanley hoped that the horse brasses were making notes in case she asked questions afterwards. “I mean I’m a nice person”. Stanley wasn’t clear what relevance this could be to the green flock wallpaper but like him it was keeping its own counsel on the issue.

Encouraged by the wallpaper’s silence she continued. “Cliff seemed such a nice one; he didn’t hit me very often, only on his days off”. “But then” (and she raised her voice at this point) “he made off with all my money. I came home Sunday – no rent, no food…”

Stanley wasn’t clear under which definition not hitting someone often was a positive feature. But he was prepared to take Queenie’s view on the subject.

Over the next hour, Stanley exchanged petrol and grease smudges with the bar stool. Queenie at intervals wailed and sobbed. Stanley developed an understanding of the problem. Apparently no one respected Queenie. (“Everyone” appeared to be male, and from Queenie’s description males who Stanley would not be keen to meet).

So many men had offended, assaulted or departed Queenie. She was now convinced that her value rated that of a penny stamp.

Stanley’s mind had begun to wander and he was thinking again of that missing 3/16″ multi-point socket. It was at this point that he forgot that he was invisible: “Do you know that today I found a long shank pop rivet set.  They are just the most useful things. I can now solve the problem of the sill covers on the MK1 Capri, that’s been bugging me for ages”.

Queenie had looked at the horse brasses with a strange expression. It was as if a set of curtains had drawn across her eyes. She had departed in the direction of the ladies. Stanley looked at his beer and realised a refill was needed. After a few more halves of Old Thumper and waiting for an hour he had realised that Queenie was not about to return.

Stanley had wobbled home the 5 miles with that familiar emptiness intact. He had no idea what one was supposed to do with that feeling once the Rat and Falcon was closed. He finally passed out on the rear seat of the Morris Ital. (The one propped up on axle stands in the lean-too car-port).

This morning the problem kept returning to him. He considered it whilst attempting to extract an offensive Head Stud from an Austin Mini. It seemed to him that the problem was an engineering one.

If he examined it from an engineering perspective he would be bound to come up with something – time for a cup of tea and the back of an envelope.

“So problem – vague feeling of emptiness as yet unidentified” mumbled Stanley – the stub of a grimy pencil protruding from behind one ear.

“Solutions so far attempted:

1) Old Thumper – advantages: tendency to remove feeling of emptiness. Disadvantages – feel sodding ill for days afterwards, hmm,

2)  Listening to people in the Rat and Falcon – advantages: the empty feeling abates for a short while. Disadvantages it returns multiplied manifold times a short while afterwards,

3) Staying home and changing the piston rings on the Austin 3 litre – advantages: enjoy myself. Disadvantages: empty feeling keeps nagging at me the whole time”

Stanley reasoned that he had not identified the correct solution. He thumped the top of the valve television set and sat down waiting the 15 minutes for the picture to appear.

He read once that the digital revolution would mean the end of the old television. But a bit of soldering a few circuit diagrams and he had a digital enabled valve TV from the 1960s.

“Now if I can solve the problem of the digitally-enabled TV set I should be able to resolve the emptiness problem”.

“OK emptiness what is that now? Something missing usually but it’s unlikely to be food” Stanley looked down at the snug fitting overalls a little ruefully.

“Old Thumper seems to assuage symptoms but not for long – so it isn’t drink then”

“Meeting people – initially looked promising. But in fact makes things worse; right about the time they start talking.” Stanley chewed the pencil end bitterly.

“What do we have left?” Hmm, now we have “drugs, sex, medical treatment, prosthetics…”

Stanley’s eyes lit up, now here was a solution he could metaphorically get his teeth into – “prosthetics, yes. I solved the motorised legs problem for that young lad just last week”.

Stanley had used his engineering skill to manufacture legs for a paraplegic. It had looked as if he had functional legs. These enabled him to move at speed whilst remaining upright. It had been a satisfying challenge.

“I wonder if I should just try the sex thing first, that could be promising…” Stanley’s thoughts returned to the previous evening…“heaven forbid…” he said to himself.

“Now if the problem seems connected with being invisible and I get more invisible when I talk – how can I overcome that problem…?”

That evening Stanley was evicted from the Snail and Marten. The use of a brightly painted flying helmet (with the attached flashing lights) and a chest-mounted sign (which repeated his every word in a strobing yellow colour) had seemed to him an excellent idea.

“Sodding Landlord” he said.

Sadly the evening had not been a success. If anything people seemed to find him ever-more invisible. Looking everywhere but actually where he stood.

“Attempt 4)” he said to the envelope – with his tongue sticking out “high visibility suit – complete failure”.

“OK, so attempts to make myself more obvious, talking, high visibility suit – no success”. “Making myself quiet and hidden – attracts people – some success but temporary effects only”. “Hmm” “OK so in fact I need to find a mechanism to be completely hidden and very very quiet”

That evening Stanley slipped into the Snail and Marten early. Making certain the landlord’s back was turned he unscrewed the back of the juke box and squeezed inside pulling the panel in behind him.

After a long and dusty evening during which he had scorched his nose (the Juke Box selections sending sparks through the end of it). He was forced to admit this was not the solution.

“So attempts at hiding – well the hiding was very successful” “however still invisible to people and the feeling remains” “so that is attempt 5”

At this point Stanley made an extra strong pot of tea. The obvious things had been eliminated. Yet he remained invisible and he retained an unidentified empty feeling which he could not seem to address.

“Hmm, so it looks like the specification of the problem is wrong” said Stanley to himself. “The invisibility goes with being an engineer, I like being an engineer so I have to stay invisible. I don’t actually need people at all in fact – I am quite happy with machines”

For some reason the empty feeling chose that moment to make itself very forcibly known. “Oh God I feel so miserable” Stanley said to himself “Why in heavens name can’t I just give up and die right this minute?”

Stanley unconsciously hugged himself – feeling wretched. “Ok so I am an engineer therefore I am invisible. I don’t need people but I feel horrible”. “Hmm, so it would appear that I need to address the feeling horrible part”.

Stanley took his spectacles from the upper overall pocket and pulled them on.  One lens was now near opaque but he was very proud of the repair job he had done on the frame. He’d reversed the Rover over them whilst road testing that wheel bearing replacement.

He turned to the old bookshelf. (This was now his favourite piece of furniture after he had reinforced it with 3mm Angle iron cut from an old bed). He leafed through some medical reference books.

“Hmm, so for each of these drugs it seems that the side effects are equally as bad if not worse than the things that they are treating”. Stanley shook his head in some confusion “I think I will stick with the engineering solution”.

“Now what was that list, oh yes hmm, drugs, sex, medical treatment, prosthetics…

Now the drugs seem a bad idea, the prosthetics didn’t work, so we have the sex”. Stanley realised he had no idea how to persuade someone to engage in such activity. After all – he was invisible.

“It appears I have to hope that sex is not the answer as it doesn’t appear to be a basic engineering problem

…or is it”?

A very congealed looking cup of tea and one very large envelope later – “yes it appears that isn’t too difficult actually”. Stanley set to with wire cutters and soldering iron.

Several days later: Looking at his creation Stanley couldn’t help but have a twinge of satisfaction “say what you like Stanley you are a very good engineer” Stanley enthused to himself. 6ft tall, long long legs, a chest that in any human would have meant substantial surgery and a heart melting voice. She moved with flawless poise like a cat with attitude.

After a really great cup of tea Stanley reasoned that it was time to put his android to the test. However he was forced to admit that, sexy as the android was, he didn’t really want sex with her.

Florrie (as he had named her) wasn’t actually filling him with any overpowering sexual urges. “Still Stanley old man, never find out if this is the answer unless you give it a go”. Five minutes later a very red-faced Stanley lay asleep in Florrie’s arms snoring enough to shake the remaining doors on the old sideboard.

Some time later:

“Attempt 6, machine for delivering sex on demand machine very effective – empty feeling remains, abject failure”

Stanley sat down and ran his calloused fingers through thin greasy hair. “I thought you were a bright one Stanley old man – can’t see how you’ve let this beat you”.

For 3 days Stanley sat completely motionless looking at the wall:

He knew that the crankshaft oil seal on the Wolseley 16/60 was weeping and he didn’t care.

He saw that mould was growing on the teapot again and he didn’t care.

He sat as silent and as still as the wallpaper which he was certain could be seen right though him.

Eventually the demands of thirst and bladder drove him to pull himself from the overalls-sized depression in the sofa.

His lungs were absolutely full – so shallow had his breathing been. He coughed forcefully for several minutes his lungs crackling like fine paper.

“It looks like the medical treatment then old man” Stanley said with some trepidation “that’s all there is to it. Better get yourself a few library books”

Stanley had once been a member of the library. He had a vague memory that the process had not gone well. It was difficult to apply for a library card when the librarian couldn’t see you.

Initially things had looked promising. Until he’d mentioned that the timing cover stud on a Vauxhall Chevette had a left hand thread. (And what a fascinating job it was to cut one by hand). His invisibility had asserted itself completely. It was all he could do to wrest the card from her pale resisting hand.

“On the plus side” Stanley reasoned “if I’m invisible then it won’t be much of a problem taking books from the library”. He chuckled sadly “after all no one will be able to see me”.

As Stanley entered the library the librarian fixed him with a look of such disdain that he was convinced that she could see him. Stanley shuffled across towards her. But she turned to her computer as if he didn’t exist – he realised that he had been mistaken.

“Reference section Stanley – that’s what we are looking for” he mumbled and turned towards the stairs.

After many weeks of visiting the library Stanley realised that he was going to need a computer. Many of the books now referred to computers attached to an Internet. That was going to be a resource that he could not do without. This would be his biggest project ever.

After hours with circuit boards and soldiering irons, Stanley built himself a computer. In fact Stanley had built a phenomenal computer. It would have embarrassed Intel had they realised that it had been built. Stanley had no appreciation that encryption even existed such was the computing power of this device.

Over time he accessed the records of military and medical establishments invisibly and unremarked. He assembled research and records without awareness that he was doing anything wrong. Finally he had what he was looking for.

“Florrie MKII then Stanley I think”

Stanley started again with soldering iron. Florrie watched the creation of a sister, wire by wire, limb by limb.

Florrie MK 2 could have been a pianist, with her long slender fingers. But her eyes held the intelligence of something quite terrifying. “I say again Stanley; if you could only have been happy with what you are you might have made a difference in this world.”

“Still there was no settling this emptiness; it is time to face the solution then.”

Stanley knew that he could not face another night in the Rat and Falcon. So he contented himself with a mope through the local off license. Eventually finding something foul and plastic coated. It might have been considered drinkable by human beings but God alone knows where. However it was effective in silencing the chasm within for just a short while.

Stanley slept, a slow drool from his lip now mixing with the stains on his cheeks – carbon left over from the decoking of the MG.

As he slept the Florrie MK II programme commenced. She gently administered the anaesthetic and watched as his breathing slowed to a regular whisper.

Monitoring him closely Florrie opened the skull of the anesthetised Stanley. Carefully she cauterised connections within the brain.

Wherever research had propounded that social centres were to be found a small section was cauterised away removing the function, excising the need. Establishing (so Stanley had reasoned) a haven of contentment for a fully-formed, self-contained engineer.

After the final stitch she raised Stanley into a semi prone position. She carefully watched his life signs as Stanley, smiling-blissfully, slept.

In the morning Stanley awoke and smiled to himself. Waving his oil-stained arm in front of him – he wondered what it was.

He cooed slowly to himself.

He looked at the thing watching over him and wondered what it was.

His eyes parted with a hazy wonder as he looked around him.

He stared in an unfocused way at the Jensen Healey mouldering away just outside the window and he wondered what it was.

He raised his leg and looked at it for several seconds and wondered if it was part of him or part of this big thing he seemed to be lying on.

Outside the welding set lay untouched, the lathe was silent, and the trolley jack lay as he had left it – in the hallway beside his next-best overalls.

Stanley looked around at this magic place and wondered how he had come to be here.

He smiled a wide-innocent smile and he drifted off to sleep quietly …

The Ice God

Here we have a story from one of my writing courses.

I don’t think this one was good enough to justify further appraisal.

So it is unlikely to be appearing anywhere but here.

This is in case someone out there likes it.

 

The old man gazed into the warmth of the dull orange glow. He placed another snow sprinkled log into the centre of the heat. He huddled with pleasure, listening, as if to a symphony. To the angry hiss of evaporated moisture turning to loud cracking as the log began to catch. The slow warming sounds were like the comfort of an old clock ticking.

 

I loved the fire, the small flames dancing as the new log took; followed by the sodium glare as the embers shined even brighter than the flame. Between the heat, I would emerge; into the ice. To chop the logs as the wind battered me and my old bones moaned their tiredness.

One day the ice would chill those bones as I lay voiceless in the snow and gentle death took me without complaint. In silence, I would go down into the ice and sleep there; but for a few hours more the flames would dance and warm me. The snow-covered logs would drip in a steady rhythm onto the basalt hearth.

I would draw up the chair, wrap tight my cardigan and toast myself. The Ice God howled in anger around the hut; because I continued to live.

The last log nestled in the fiery heat and I turned again to the door. Putting on old cardigans in layers – each matted and moth-eaten, then the great-coat which wrapped them all like a spider’s cocoon of soft brown wool. Each arm sticking out like two skinny twigs poked into the side of a hastily constructed snowman, no longer able to rest wearily by my side.

It was vital I go outside fast; to sweat now would bring frostbitten death. I swung back the battered door and the first icy blast hit me immediately. A torrent of snow decorated the grey flags as I wrestled the sail-like door back into its frame. Already my face was tight beneath the shabby scarf – the Ice God sucked at my warmth – feeding on it, nourishing itself. I could feel my strength falter.

I knelt to the long axe. I pulled hard till I heard it part with a loud crack from the post against which I had laid it scant hours before. I clambered up to the stump, here were snow-buried boughs glistening in invitation.

The axe felt so heavy as I raised it high and swung. With each impact, a breath-cloud of ice gasped through gritted teeth. The Ice God settled around me. It was drinking my heat, prodding at cardigan insulation, flurrying past cold-glazed eyes.

Another heave and a shotgun snap echoed the parting of the ice-hardened bough. The blizzard’s ferocity heightened as The Ice God toyed with me, pestering me; like a cat with a dying mouse.

I stumbled; using the axe as a support; righted myself once more; my knees creaking their protest. My numbed mind begging, “rest, please rest.” I hadn’t realised how quickly The Ice God would beat me.

I wrenched the leaden axe down one last time and ice crystals scattered like sparks. At last, the bag was full. I hung its old rope handle around me like a harness and heaved. The dead weight inched forward across the slippery ground. It gained momentum as The Ice God taunted and abused me. The wind was shrieking with anger. It battered me with airborne ice particles and compressed snow peppering me as I hunched against the load.

There was no feeling in my toes; I knew that the numbness was not good; I needed to be inside now; but I would need all this wood.

I raised my right leg again – so dead weary and pushed it down assisted by my right hand. The sack slipped forwards a few inches and then gradually a few feet as I staggered, desperate.

I must not leave it here – it would freeze immovable in minutes. The doorway seemed so distant as if at the end of a long tunnel of ice and wind. I tottered again, then straining and screaming kept pulling. Fighting tiredness; battling pain I progressed. Till panting, exhausted, I collapsed inside the door.

No time for resting. I pulled myself around on my knees and dragged the wood inward; wedging the door closed behind me. It had swallowed every ounce of warmth. The small fire glinted feebly. I closed my ice-decorated lids in gratitude.

Outside the storm’s fury renewed as the ice dwindled from my eyes and consciousness returned – I must get up.

I dragged a log from the top of the sack – too exhausted still to lift it. I wedged it close beside the flame and blew gently on it, encouraging its strength, willing it to take. Till the hungry cracking noise told me the log would ignite and today I would not die.

Swiftly I pulled off the layers of gloves and then the boots. I unwrapped the cloths around my feet; massaging my angry toes, I sighed relief – nothing dead thank God. I’d avoided frostbite this time.

The shining steel of the kitchen knife sufficed to enable me to look for ice patches on my face. How old I looked already. I was lucky, this time; no real damage; I’d been too slow.

The blade ‘mirror’ revealed my whiteness, the cold lines where my face puckered. I had aged so and in such a short time. If the ice didn’t kill me the aging would – it wasn’t long now. I would welcome it when the time came. A rest from constant battle with the cold death; no one lasted for any length of time.

In the beginning, I’d resolved to record the days. James had carved a record in the chopping board. I burned it as soon as I’d found it.

Now, all that was important was the fire; it entranced me. I needed the fire; to feed it constantly and care for it lovingly like a child.

There was no time for records or writing; just the preparation to meet The Ice God again; always too soon.

Curled up in the snow they had found James, petrified by the chill. All the warmth drained from him. As if a vampire of heat had visited.

The Ice God was remorseless; no heat would be enough to satisfy him. Survival meant good insulation; a big fire and the will to keep alive; but how long and what for?

The end was near and I was glad. The fight nearly ended and it did not scare me as much as I had thought it would. The ice would turn my pale skin blue and the fear would finally disappear from my mind.

I pulled the damp clothes closer to the fire and watched them steam. I looked at the sack with concern; the wood was going fast.

I had known I was destined to die. I had borne it with pride, rebellion, and eventually acceptance. I had less time than most. Then James arrived, fearful, distrusting, young.

When one morning he wasn’t there any longer – there had been no farewells and no tears – no time. James had lasted five days.

They had dragged him out scrunched over – foetal in the snow.

The tiny flame licked slowly over the grey bark then took grip. Hungrily gnawing at the log till blackened, it started to smoke.

Some of that old rebellion was still living inside me – the stubbornness that sustained me in the long wait for punishment. Now it was almost over.

I pulled on the thickest socks. I wrapped around myself the clothing that I could uncover from all corners of the hut.

Now I appeared a great meatball of rag and thread.

I looked back briefly and imagined James here in the last moments; in the moments, I now found myself in. I threw back the door and emerged as rapidly as I was able – now barely more than a walk.

I snatched the axe and headed onwards into the snow. The wind struck with such force that I almost fell back – the draining cold pulling the strength from me. I shuddered, squared my aching shoulders then forged onwards.

The Ice Chamber boundary glowed frozen blue – certain death if I tried to cross.

The energy jumped and snapped; growing louder as I advanced. As the final strength pulled out of me, I fell forwards, buckling at the knees.

As I raised myself enough to lift the axe, The Ice God fell silent. I flailed forwards and a noise like a swarm of angry bees and a snap as the conduit earthed.

 

 

The old man fell forwards silently into the snow. The wind blew the snow politely from around the dead man’s face. Then it moved forwards beyond its cage.

The Ice God was free.