Thursday, 27 October 2011

Wasted : Chapter 1


“Okay” I said “And what are we going to do with the body?”
“Which bit?” asked Rab.
“I don’t care! All of it! It all needs to go!”
Rab surveyed the scene grimly.
“We’re going to need some binbags then.”
“Aye. Whatever. I’ll pay...lets just get it done.”
Rab had wandered into the kitchen and was rummaging under the sink.
“There ye go!” he said “Binbags! Why is it folk aye keep their binbags under the sink?”
I looked at Rab as he pondered this particular nugget of domestic behaviour and was struck once again by his steady composure in the face of horrific violence. Were he not so patently straightforward, he could probably have made a good living writing self help books.
“These are nae good.” Said Rab. “Tesco Value. Far too thin, aw the bits keep fallin oot. Plus, you can see through them. What we’re after is some of your heavy duty bastard binbags.” He looked at me. “Got any of them?”
“No Rab. No I don’t.”
“Shame. Cos that’s what we’re after.”
Some blood dripped off the windowsill, splashed gently onto an occasional table and puddled around a plateful of jammie dodgers. This seemed to catch Rab’s attention and he grabbed a meaty fistful.
“You ever tried the blackcurrant ones?”
“I...no...no I’ve not tried the blackcurrant ones...”
“Well don’t bother. They’re shite.”
“Cheers.” I said. “Right. We need better binbags, I’ll get to the shops. You start clearing up a bit in here.”
“Tickety boo.” Said Rab, as if he was just dusting a mantelpiece and some bookshelves and not in fact getting ready to sweep an entire person into a series of heavy duty binbags.

I headed down the stairs, wee Mrs McLatchie’s front door was open again, she may well have heard the whole thing. Would we have to kill her later as well? Seemed a bit harsh, she always took my turn of cleaning the stairs.

As ever, the stench of the boneyard hung dull and heavy, so it was about five minutes before my head was actually clear enough to process the situation. I was in trouble. Proper, grown up, going to jail to get buggered trouble. The easiest thing to do of course, would be to run away. Or to go to the police. But where was the logic in that? I had wanted him killed in the first place; I just hadn’t expected to be so...involved. I certainly hadn’t expected for him to get done in my flat. There was no way that any court would look favourably on that. Momentarily I tried to rationalize the whole thing as Rabs fault. It was not Rabs fault. Over the last few months, Rab had actually been brand new. When I started working for the Reilly's, he very quickly took me under his wing and ironically, made sure I didn't get murdered.

It was about two days into my new job that i realised that “freelance security” was a euphimism for “organised crime”. What gave it away was the night me and Rab were watching the cash and carry and we let the ice cream van guys in to steal loads of monster munch and mars bars. Rab sat me down and explained it all to me.
“If you tell anyone about this," he said, "I will bite yer baws aff. Then one of the gaffers other guys will set fire to ye."
And then, showing an unusual sensitivity, he suggested we split a box of curly wurlies to cheer me up. I ate too many and got sick.
Over the next few nights, in between various pre-arranged burglaries, Rab talked me through the various arms of the operation that we worked for. From public transport through to hard drugs, we clearly did our very best to serve the community. For cash only. This was precisely the sort of story I was never allowed to do at the paper. Terrified that I may be a cog in a wheel that helped spin the axis of evil, I tried to establish if our “organisation” somehow also funded Alqaeda. Rab asked if this was one of the shops up in the schemes.

Then I tried to work out if I could get free pirated dvds. And I could. Alongside some of the most eye-watering pornography I had ever seen. So there’s job satisfaction. And to be honest, big Rab can be quite good company. He’d never do you a bad turn. Unless you owe money; then he’ll break your legs. Right off in some circumstances. Its nothing personal, it's just how he makes a living and he undertakes it with the same resigned dismay that the rest of us do.

It was while I twitched and shuddered along the street worrying, that Laura sailed cheerfully into view. She was at the fruit juice stand looking precisely like the sort of person who took fruit juice very seriously. She looked great. Fit. Not in the “street” sense of the word, in the genuine, “hey you’ve been working out you look really healthy” sense. Despite the fact that I myself, unshaven, bleary eyed and sinister, looked like the complete opposite of someone who takes fruit juice very seriously, she spotted me and waved enthusiastically.

I had first met Laura at school. In many ways, she helped establish the template which has since been the basis for romantic entanglement, or more often, awkward, unhappy sex. Its because of Laura that I know I am predisposed to sensible, respectable, brunette girls who have a great line in foul language. We went out for a while on and off. I had not seen her for about two years.
“Hiya! How ye doin’?”
“Oh...eh..aye not so bad. Yer lookin great"
"Cheers! What ye up tae?”
“Ach not much. How about you?”
“Aye...much the same. Got into Police training though!”
I didn’t say anything just for a second. Then I thought, that maybe the pause sounded guilty, so I better fill the silence. Then I wondered what to say that didn’t sound incriminating, so the silence continued. It’s generally like this when I meet girls though, not just when I’ve murdered someone.
“Hey brilliant!” I said. “You solving crimes yet?”
“Why? You been committing any lately?”
“Hah hah! God no! No. Hah. Eh...no.”
The last time I saw this girl, my major concern was whether or not she was wearing a bra; now I was waiting for her to try and trip me up, Columbo style. And today, she was most certainly wearing a bra. I wondered absent mindedly about whether or not she was wearing one of those shoulder holsters as well.
"Listen...you busy?" said Laura "I've had a shite week, be nice to switch off and catch up."
"Love to. What you up to tonight?"
"No...I mean just now."
"Eh..."
“Aw cmon. I’m back off tomorrow.” She said “I just fancy a wee blether with someone and a bit of chill out time.”
Here she smiled as if to underline the fact that “chill out time” may well include the possibility of sex. And I’ll level with you, I was in the midst of what I will charitably call “a dry spell”.
“So. Your flat still nearby?”
I was so pleasantly surprised, so desparate, that I nearly said “yes”. But it suddenly seemed unlikely that Laura would be quite so keen at the sight of a living room liberally splattered with blood and body parts. Or maybe she would. But if she was I wasn’t interested. As much. It seemed tremendously unfair. I’d waited months for an offer of no-strings attached sex and it happens on the very day I’ve helped murder someone and ended up with a dead body in my flat. There’s no justice. Which, it occurs to me is probably just as well, cos otherwise I’m going to jail to have my dry spell broken by force.
"Laura...really sorry but I can't today. Family emergency."
This was at least, half true.
"Here's my number. Gimme a ring"
I pushed the card at her and ran off, knowing she probably wouldn't call me, not least because I have a really gay looking run. Dead body in the house and no sex. Classic Wednesday.

By the time I got back to the house, Rab had chucked the tidyup and was watching Tricia.
"The chunky lookin' bird here is a total hooer." he said.
"Heavy duty bin bags. Back to business eh?"
There was a knock at the door, Rab looked at me, very unimpressed.
"Did ye leave that open?"
"Hello? Hi Mark? Listen sorry for just turning up. But we really did used to have a laugh..."
"Shit! Its Laura. Quick!"
Rab looked at me and gestured to the living room abattoir.
"Quick whit? Hide?"
Laura stepped into the living room.
“And I know it seems a bit...What the fuck?!”
She definitely did see the body. And the blood. And the bin bags.
“Laura...hang on...its not as simple as you think."
"Hi Laura." said Rab
"What is this? What the fuck is this? Have you done this?"
"Not all of it." said Rab, his professional pride dented.
"Believe me...Laura...this...person, really needed to die.”
“Did they need to get chopped up into little bits?”
“Ehm...” bizarrely, at this point, I looked at Rab for moral support.
“Not that little.” Protested Rab “I mean...we’re hardly talking mince here. The poor prick keeps falling oot aw the bin bags.”
"I'm calling backup."
Laura ran out of the house. It was time to tell Rab the bad news.
"She's a cop."
We ran downstairs after her and out into the street. I have no idea what we thought we were going to do. Actually, I've a pretty good idea what Rab had planned.

And that’s when the first spaceship arrived. A massive, jagged streak of silver, blocking out the rainclouds. I remember thinking briefly, that everything had just changed forever. That suddenly the body in my living room didn’t matter, that Laura being a policewoman was irrelevant, that we may only have moments to live, or a whole lifetime ahead in a suddenly much bigger, brighter universe.
“Check. That. Out.” Said Rab “A fucking big spaceship!”

to be continued....

As it's nearly Halloween, might I suggest you go listen to the Orson Welles Mercury Music Theatre Version which caused a smashing Halloween panic back in 1938.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Steampunk Love Poem


Rounding off a wee informal month of scifi style postings, I just found this in an old fanzine I used to produce called "refractor"; it was a sort of a conspiracy zine, except I just made up all the conspiracies in it...my favourite was one about the British attempting to use the power of voodoo during the second world war. I stopped doing it when it became clear to me from the disturbing letters and phonecalls I was getting, from the zines readers, that some people really believed what I was saying.

Anyway, a steampunk love poem...

Hearts Without Pistons

That day
The smog hung like a shroud,
Draped grimly
Over the greying decay
Of slowly rusting streets,
And green smoke
From the armament factories
Swirled sickly through gaping chimneys,
Cutting stinking lime streaks
Across the five o’clock sky.
In the park
A circus
Too big for fleas
Entertained the factory children
With clockwork clowns.
“They’ll be thinking for themselves soon.”
“The children?”
“No. The clowns. And the Policemen.
And the Priests.
And all the other tin men
With their wind up hearts.”
The next shift of children arrive
In time to watch the trapeze.
Timing so precise,
No one will ever fall.
At 8pm
A rocket roars upwards,
Gleaming brass and shining copper,
Trailing purple flames.
And inside,
The two lovers
Escaping to somewhere more real.


And if steampunk is yer thing, you may enjoy reading about the adventures of "the robot James Watt built", Tin Jimmy...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Doctor Who - Red Letter Day


The disappearances had been going on for some time before myself and the other gentleman became involved. On many occasions since, I have cursed the day I ever set foot in the wretched bookshop – certainly my nerves have never fully recovered. There are still those who recognise me in the street, glancing askance, inferring upon me a sinister notoriety I scarcely deserve. For that reason, I have resolved to record my own version of events, in the hope that it will go some way to drawing a line under the whole affair. Perhaps too, it will convince some of those who left my life that it may yet be safe to return.

The Bookshop in question enjoyed a reputation in the town for sourcing rare and unusual editions. It was equally famed for the haphazard nature of its collections and so I had set aside a day for my explorations. I was looking for a particular copy of “Peter Pan and Wendy” to gift to Miriam – it had been her favourite book as a child – and as I wandered leisurely in and out of the rickety wooden maze of shelving and book stacks, I became gradually aware of being watched. I looked around, but seeing no one, I continued my deliberations. Shortly thereafter the feeling came upon me once more, and this time, I could also hear a whispering – again, not uncommon within the more respectable bookshops, but as I looked around, there was still no one to be seen. I rang the bell upon the counter for service, more for the reassurance of company than assistance, and as if in response there came a low guttural giggle. There was then within me, a very sudden and inexplicable panic, a tremendous overpowering urge to flee, and so, with scant regard to who might see me, I ran foolishly towards the door, intent on leaving immediately. But the door was no longer there.

At first, assuming I had become confused and inexplicably lost my bearings in a small city bookshop, I looked around, expecting the door to be elsewhere. It was then that I saw the man sitting cross legged on the floor.
“Odd isn’t it?” said the gentleman “That’s where I was sure the door was as well.”
I politely nodded, hoping my acknowledgement would not be taken as an invitation to further conversation. Naturally it was.
“Sorry.” He said “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m the Doctor. Good afternoon. Is it still afternoon? You lose track of time in bookshops…”
“No…it’s before eleven.”
“Ah…then is it still Tuesday?”
“Not until tomorrow. Excuse me.”
I wandered across the room, still looking hopefully for the door, no longer interested in buying anything this shop had to offer.
“At least a week then. No wonder I’m getting tired.”
I was embarrassed and annoyed and in no mood for further nonsense from the gentleman.
“What’s this all about?” I said “Were you the one laughing just now?”
“No. No I don’t find our situation remotely funny.” He said “And that feeling? Like you’re being watched? I feel that too. Something’s watching both of us – presumably the same something that has hidden the door.”
“Don’t be ridiculous” I said, intent on maintaining some semblance of normality “I stepped through the door not 5 minutes ago…I’ve become disorientated is all.”
The Doctor smiled.
“Possibly. Though again….that’s how I tried to rationalise it. Is it really that big a bookshop d’you think?”
I looked again, I was so certain; I ran my hands over the wall as if expecting it to give way, revealing one of those secret passages so popular in gothic fiction.
“This was the door.”
“And yet…it isn’t there.”
The panic came again, this time finally resolving itself into terror. I grabbed at one of the shelves to steady myself.
“I only came in here for a gift for my fianc├ęs birthday.”
The Doctor stared at me for a moment, then, clearly having reached some sort of decision he smiled and leaped up from the floor, hand extended.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“Harper. Maxwell Harper.”
“How do you do Harper. Glad you’re here. And no. I don’t know the way out either.” 
Hands still shaking, I passed the Doctor my flask, but he declined.
“Unlike yourself Harper, I didn’t actually come here looking for books. I was looking for people. Missing people.”
Here finally, was something I could understand, something real.
“You’re investigating the disappearances?”
“I was. What do you know?”
“No more than has been in the papers.”
By this stage you may recall that more than twenty people had apparently vanished over the preceding fortnight. It would be fair to say that it’s very likely more than twenty people vanish every day in London, people who are already invisible, destitute and alone. This twenty, who had more obviously vanished, were well heeled city folk. The presence of the gentleman and the strangeness of our situation suddenly put an altogether different complexion upon the matter.
“You think the bookshop has something to do with the disappearances?”
“I know it has. Listen.”
I was first aware of a low moaning, then a whispering
“It’s the books.” Said The Doctor “There are ghosts in the books.”
“Ghosts! Please don’t tell me you’re one of those dreadful spritualists.”
The Doctor hushed me, and I heard once again the strange whispering I had heard before. This time though, the voices were more distinct, sad, some crying, all talking at once without order or reason, as if desperate to be heard.
“Can you hear them? The books are talking Harper. I’ve been hearing them for hours now.” 
He lifted a book from the nearest shelf, ran his fingers carefully along the cover, then lifted it up to his face, first sniffing at it, then listening to it as if it were a shell found at the seaside. His face darkened.
“Something very bad is happening here Harper. These aren’t just books.”
He handed me the book. It had no title. I carefully opened it; the pages were of a heavy yellow vellum, more suitable for manuscript. Indeed, that seemed to be what it was, for across every page the words were scrawled in a deep angry red, like scars across the parchment. Realisation came then, and I dropped the book in horror and disgust. The Doctor carefully picked it up and respectfully returned it to its resting place on the nearest shelf.
“The books are…written in blood?”
“I’m afraid its rather worse than that. Whoever has been making the books doesn’t believe in wasting anything at all. And we need to put a stop to that.” 
I’m sure my face betrayed my terror, my cowardice, for he brightened then, as if resolving to reassure me by his own example.
“There’s a door back here I can’t get opened. Maybe if we give it a go together eh?”

We pushed at the door and finally it gave way, revealing stairs leading down towards the cellar. Below, burning torches, bathed the room in a low red flickering light. I will not pretend I took the first steps down those stairs. Neither did I run, much as every part of my being seemed to scream at me to do so. 

We surveyed the room, even in the poor light the cogs and grinders of some awful machine could be seen, stretching and stitching the terrible leather of those bindings. The Doctor was staring into the corner. As my eyes became accustomed to the light, I could make out a hunched figure. The shape shuffled and giggled.
“Hello there! I’m The Doctor, I’m a…”
“Time Lord, yes. I gathered. I’ve been watching you wander around my shop for days. I cannot wait to write your story.”
The figure kept his back to us, still clearly busying himself with some unpleasant task.
“Oh there was no need to be shy. You could have come and said hello…I don’t bite. Which I’m guessing is probably more than can be said for you.”
The man turned and stepped out from the shadows into the dim red light of the workshop. He was a fat, unpleasant looking fellow, wearing the telescopic glasses jewellers use for precision work.
“This is my friend Mr Maxwell Harper. And you are?”
“A simple craftsman.”
He gestured around the room.
“Do you like my machines? Certainly they can help you create…but you must of course have the spark of imagination to start with.” He grinned. “And the right materials.”
“You’re too modest.” Said The Doctor “Operating this level of technology takes more than craftsmanship Mister..?”
“On this world, I am but the nib.”
“Mr Nib.”
He stepped forward again, just far enough that we were able to see he was brandishing a number of knives.
“There are always collectors on the look out for something new and different. My books from this planet are very much in vogue in certain circles.”
“And you use this machine to what? Unpick and extrapolate their life and memories?”
“As a starting point.” Said Nib “Then I embellish the stories slightly. More glamour, more pain. My collectors can only take so much of the mundanity of this tedious little planet. But they do love the misery. The sorrow.”
The Doctor lifted a book.
“But these are people….in every possible sense.”
“Yes. That’s rather the unique selling point Doctor. You however, will be a true original. It’s whether you are one oversized edition or an eight volume set.”
All the while they had been talking, I continued to look desperately around the room for something, anything that could aid us in escaping. Certainly there were no other obvious exits from the cellar, only his machines and the endless dark shelves, rows and rows of unread lives, unlived. It became clear to me then, that far more than twenty souls had become the focus of Nib’s craft. 

All pretence of polite conversation now dropped, Nib circled The Doctor in predatory excitement.
“You will be my finest work. Truly priceless. Timeless.”
Nib lunged for The Doctor, blades outstretched and instinctively The Doctor shielded himself with the book he was holding. As the knives plunged in, there was a shriek then what sounded like a sigh before the book crumbled into pieces.
“No!” cried Nib.
Seizing his opportunity, The Doctor pushed Nib back towards the machinery and then grabbed one of the torches from the wall.
“I can’t believe I’m going to say this Harper…burn the books!” he cried “It’s the only way to free them.”
I flailed around, grabbing as many of the braziers from the wall as possible, and setting them to the shelves while the Doctor continued to fight off the fiend who had written them. 
As each book took flame, there was a terrible screaming, a wailing release from the pain and the eternal sadness of what might have been. Not undaunted, but certainly undeterred, I visited fire upon each and every one of the damnable volumes. The cellar walls were now aflame, and the shelves began to crack and topple. I caught sight of The Doctor attempting to haul Nib back, but he charged into the flames as if somehow expecting to rescue his abysmal machines. There was fire all around and amidst the burning books, a constant unearthly howling. In those final moments, The Doctor dragged me back up the stairs. By now, blackened and coughing, I was sure my own story was coming to an end. The Doctor smiled sadly as everything began to blur..
“You know, my birthday always seems to end up like this.” he said, and then he handed me a book.

It was two days later that I was discovered unconscious in the scorched rubble of the bookshop, surrounded by the bones of the missing, still holding the book The Doctor had given me. My own distressed and dishevelled state went some way to convincing the authorities of my innocence – but only just. In any case, my association, however unfortunate with the horrific bookshop murders was enough to immediately distance me from polite society. 

I spent months unable even to leave my house, my only comfort, the book given to me by The Doctor. For days I would grip it, as if to anchor myself to this world lest I once again drifted into his. But those days are behind me now, and I am ready to give it to Miriam, for whom it was intended, if she will but pass my way again.


There are loads of sites featuring "fanfic", stories, books and novels based on other people's creations; some really REALLY weird stuff out there, but loads of cool stuff too. This was my entry into a Doctor Who competition run by audiobook company Big Finish a few years ago. As you may have guessed...it did not win. But it was right good fun to write. For the record, its meant to be the Paul McGann version of the Doctor. But yknow...if you have to explain it...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Terminus

This is somewhere between vanity press and a labour of love.

I've loved HG Wells "The War of the Worlds" since I was 8 years old. It's the book that keeps on giving, and I've read it pretty much every year of my life since then. No really.

In the mid 90s, when conspiracy theory and aliens and all that malarkey were popular, I decided to write a sort of a sequel, something many other people have attempted. My favourite is Christopher Priest's "The Space Machine".

I wanted it to be illustrated, like this version I had read when I was younger that terrified the life out of me. So if nothing else, working on this was how I properly got to know my friend (and artist) Ross, who among other less impressive feats, introduced me to my future wife. So what I'm saying is, even if you cant be bothered reading the whole story, metaphorically it has a happy ending.


Terminus

Thursday, 6 October 2011

National Poetry Day - Dad's Time Machine

To celebrate National Poetry Day, poems across all the blogs...

The theme for National Poetry Day is actually "Games", this poem is one I wrote for my wee boy Connor a few years ago now...just silly.


“Look!” said Dad
“Everyone come and see,
It’s my fantastic, wonderful
Time machine!”

And it had
Wheels that went whoosh,
And springs that went ping,
Ten levers for pulling
And a bell that went bing.
And a big round blue button
That when pressed it, went pop
And right at the top
Going tick tock
A clock.

“We could go back to last Christmas
And meet old Saint Nick
We can fly on to next Thursday
Come on! Let’s go! Quick!"

So we all jumped in and the clock went
BONG!
And dad said “Oh no!
I’ve set the time wrong.
It’s not going to take us
To meet Santa Claus
We’re going right back to see
Dinosaurs!”

The wheels went whoosh.
The springs went ping.
The lights all went out
We could not see a thing.
And we shuddered
And shoogled.
We went in, out and round.
We wibbled
And wobbled
We went up, under and down.

Then..a big BUMP.
We stopped
With a thump.
All the lights came on again
And a roaring made us
Jump.

Out of the trees came
A big T-Rex!
With sharp shiny teeth
Wearing huge purple specs.

Down from the sky came
A pteranadon!
Flapping his wings
Which had pink mittens on.

Over the hill came
A triceratops!
With big pointy horns
And polkadot socks.

And they all stood around
With their horns, wings and teeth
And dad said “Hello!
Would you all like some sweets?”

We counted out sweeties.
One. Two. Three.
There were some for the dinosaurs
And some left for me.

Then we all said goodbye
To our dinosaur friends.
The clock went BONG
We were off again!

National Poetry Day - Star Wars Biscuits


To celebrate National Poetry Day, I've been publishing poems across all the blogs.
This one is a painful childhood memory, exorcised...

Encased
Forever in a Tupperware box
Beneath my bed,
A treasure
Without value.
A Time Capsule
Full of 1983.
A crazy notion,
A recognition of mortality
One hazy summer’s day.
When
Having just been to Coopers
I sealed my feshly purchased
Return of The Jedi Biscuits
In a box
To keep forever.
Star Wars biscuits were nice.
That is,
They actually are Nice, the biscuits,
Sort of coconutty.
But Nice biscuits
Didn’t have pictures of Jabba The Hutt
Drawn on in food colouring.
On the eve of my 21st Birthday
Perhaps hoping to recapture
A little slice of a childhood summer
Long since gone,
I opened Pandora’s Tupperware Box.
Inside were a few black and blue crumbs,
The crumpled remnants
Of the cheery wrapper
And a note from Stephen,
My childhood friend
Which read
“Ha ha. I have ate your bisckits.”
And for a moment
It was 1983 once more
And I wanted to kill the bastard.


My favourite thing about this poem, was actually the time I got to perform it (and several others) at a Proper Poetry Club on Ashton Lane, accompanied by my good friend Ray Mitchell on both trumpet and bongos. Needless to say, it went down an absolute storm.

I've noticed a lot of folk land on this page looking for actual star wars biscuits. By way of an apology, might I recommend you check out this top notch official star wars recipe for wookie cookies. Nom.