Friday, 5 May 2017

The Mark

The hands on the ruined clock remained still but time continued its flow. The church had been mostly demolished but one side of its tower remained intact, albeit at a lower level than before. The glass behind the dial was broken, of course, but the outer ring bearing the figures for the hours was still there, as were the hands, reaching out as though they needed rescuing. The main body of the building was wrecked though, its contents largely looted, with no sense of it once being revered.

A rat pushed its head up and out into the moonlight. It was hungry and although it felt safe in the ruins, there was little food to be found there. It would have to venture further away to find its supper. The man watching it raised his rifle to his eye and mouthed a single silent word.


Of course, the rat remained unscathed. Although the rifle was loaded, the marksman had other targets in mind. He’d been in position since late the previous morning, his pocket flask providing for most of his needs, the occasional sip being all he’d permit himself. His quarry was yet unknown to him, his employer assigning him his mission along with details of the location and the time he’d expected the contact to be there, picking up the money he’d demanded. The designated time was long past now and only the shooter’s professionalism had kept him here. Someone would come, he knew. No-one demanded three million dollars and then left it for someone else to find.

The night was still quiet at three in the morning though and the watcher was beginning to lose confidence in both himself and the target. A fox had followed the trail half an hour ago, its nose to the ground and its tail in the air, but nothing else had shown itself, even to his night-scope. He’d heard an owl’s hooting and the small sounds of its prey but neither of them had broken cover. Perhaps he’d been seen himself. A successful terrorist was usually as skilled as those sent to hunt him, although the marksman preferred to think he still had the edge. He’d been working this trade since the eighties and had put away more than enough to keep him in comfort for the rest of his life. But there was always the call of the challenge; the sport of the kill. It was an addiction that would never loosen its grip.
The undergrowth and the trees suddenly quietened, the soft noises ceasing as something disturbed the creatures that made them. The disc of his sight panned the trail, hunting.

He heard the child before he saw it, its heavy feet cracking and breaking the finer wood stems that were everywhere. The balloon came first; silver-green in his scope, bobbing at the end of its cord. It would be one of the easiest shots he would ever have made. One to be remembered forever. He’d never killed an American child. Not yet.

The low cough came from directly behind him, the cold nose of the pistol firm against his temple. He began to turn away then stopped.

He would never outrun the bullet. He’d seen many try to but the target always lost the race.

“Okay,” he said. “You’ve got me. Now what?”

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Caution... Writer at Work!

What's the difference between an ordinary mundane person and a writer? It's not immediately obvious. At first you might think there's little to choose between one and the other. It's true, a writer can often be found with a book in their hand, just like an ordinary person might. Indeed, a writer might also be reading the same book – writers read too, sometimes. But a writer might not be reading in the same way as the casual reader. A writer might be following the story in the same way but they could also be studying it; looking for examples within the narrative that impressed them or maybe making a mental note of the structure of the story. They might also be playing ride-along with the author; analysing the flow of each sentence and testing each word for suitability, for example. They could be wondering about the characters or considering the reasons why the writer chose the points of view they did, or debating as to why they developed them in that way and thinking how they might have written it if they'd been the one sitting behind the keyboard. There're a bewildering number of decisions to be made in each line and a writer never rests, not even when you think they're relaxing.

Of course, there are other aspects that aren't immediately obvious to a layman observer. A writer's never off duty. Not ever. Even when they've put the book you thought they were reading down they might still be at work. Because a writer is also the ultimate voyeur. They’ll watch people and they’ll listen and they’ll always take notes, storing their impressions for use in the future. Sometimes they'll wait and they'll mentally store the information but they'll always be paying attention to you. You could be innocently waiting for a bus, for example, and the writer could be taking you in; noting the clothes you're wearing, the scent you've put on, or the way that you spoke to that woman with the child. Everything that you do and their assessment of your reasoning behind it. They could transform you in a flash; you could so easily become an Edith or a Sue, or an athlete or a shop girl. You could even become an alien invader, preparing a campaign for an invasion from space. The journey you could be making could be taking you to China. Or to Kansas. Or to Scunthorpe. Or Proxima Centuri. You could be deciding to go home or just thinking of going for a coffee. Or you could be waiting for a stranger who might abduct you.

But a writer can do so very much more. They can strip you of your clothes or they can strip you apart; exchanging your fashion, your face or your mind. You could become be a role model for a character they're creating or feature as just a part of one, if there was only one point about you they noticed. Personally, I've written about the mouth of a woman I’ve seen; noting the shade of her lipstick and the shape of her lips. I've been inspired by the smallest and subtlest of details; transplanting each component and then directing the composite, my Frankenstein's Monster, willing it to do whatever I wished. Each word that you speak could be secreted away; the cadences or the tone of voice that you used, the colloquial terms, and the concepts and the content of the whole conversation. Even the gestures you made, the way that you walked, and the fit and the choices of the clothes you wore. Everything about you could be taken and used and could feature in the next novel that the writer might produce.

So, don’t be surprised if you notice someone watching you. We’re usually benign and will rarely confront you. In fact, for the most part, we’ll probably shy away and will redirect our attention to somebody else.  Someone who’ll act naturally - because what’s the point in watching someone who knows they’re being observed?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Underwood - a 500 word flash fiction

Deliberation. That was him all over. He was a man with a mind of his own, never swayed by another. He was a writer too; always tapping away at that relic of his. Underwood, it was called: a big block of metal and ink, like a cross between a squid and a centipede, all steam-punked up and with him busier than a dog sniffing round an ant-hill.

It meant a lot to him though, sitting there in that shed he used. He'd moved it there when the neighbours complained, saying it sounded like a carpenter doing piece-work. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tappity, tappity, tap, tap, tap, all night long. I had to take to drinking cause the Tylenol couldn't cope with it; battering away at it all the hours God sent us. Lord knows when he slept; he was there each night when I went to bed and still sat there when I crawled downstairs again next morning. Him and his paper and his rolls of inked tape, never using whitening, over-typing mistakes 'cause it was his 'way'; not using anything that might make his life a tad easier. He produced reams of it – his book, I mean – word after word after word he typed, never letting me read word one of it.

Of course, he could have been lying all that time. It could have been a tape recording he was playing all night long, if it wasn't for the paper he kept using. Course that could have been a lie too, what with me never seeing what he wrote next day. He could have been filing it away, still blank, in those office drawers he put in there, sitting alongside that Underwood on its table. He could have kept his reel-to-reel in there as well, tucked away in a drawer, waiting ready with his 'carpentry' tapes to be played all night. Just him in his shed, with the door padlocked, even when he was inside of it.

Not that I would ever have gone in.

He was obsessive about his privacy too. As I said, the door was always locked. It's the first time I've seen a door with a hasp fixed on it both inside and out. And with the biggest padlock I ever saw too, like the ones you see on bullion chests. Though, come to think, it might be that. Maybe it was drugs or something. He could have been mixing up whatever in there behind that door and that window with the blind that never opened. He could have been brewing up amphetamines or meth or speed and selling it on during the day, cause he was never a one for grafting. Not him with his hands with palms softer than mine, never used a hammer or shovel in his life.

Maybe I should have had a look in there one day when he was busy visiting that publisher he saw. Mind you, publisher and pusher sound much the same, don't they now?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Heels on Wheels

“You took your time!”

“Just making sure I was ready. Whitehaven doesn't like to be kept waiting.” Cinching the belt tighter, she secured the two sides of her coat together, inadvertently giving her driver a brief flash of black lace. Driver Carl was the one they always assigned to her and they'd quickly settled into an uneasy alliance; with him taking care of escorting her to Ben's more privileged clientèle and with her doing her best to have as little direct physical contact with him as possible. Fortunately, the car was a manual shift, but Carl drove erratically, keeping his right hand on the gear selector, making sure it was always close to her thigh.

“What time ya due there? Two thirty?” Driver Carl had a wad of gum in his mouth as usual, allegedly having kept the same piece going for over three years now, leaving it soaking in an undrunk shot-glass of espresso every night to refresh its flavour. He swore it worked better than any energy drink and never left him needing to visit one of the few local rest-rooms, but it left his breath reeking of stale coffee, making him even more repellent than he would have been otherwise.

“Two o'clock, sharp. And I'm finished after that. You can take me straight back to Ben's. I have my day-clothes and some other stuff to pick up and after that I'll be making my own way home. I need to do some shopping, so I'll not be wanting a ride. You can take someone else out if Ben needs you to.”

“'Sa pity. How is it you're always shopping, darling? I've never gotten to take ya home. Anyone would think...”

“...I'm a busy woman with a daughter at pre-school who needs to clothed and fed. Yes, that.”

The car bumped along the road a while longer, stopping at traffic signals every few hundred yards, causing Carl's hand to stray toward the folds of her coat she'd arranged to act as a barrier between them. She knew she could tell Ben about it later but Carl was his only driver. She'd still have to ride with him again and who knew how he'd act after 'Gentle' Ben had had another of his staff discipline him while he watched. She'd as little to do Carl as possible but the stories he'd told her between his masticating and his cursing left her with no illusions as to his character. He was a tough-for-hire, that was what his trade was, his driving just a way to ensure he was close to hand if ever a client got too rough with her. If she pissed him off – who knows if he'd ever respond to her call for help – maybe he'd even join in, saying he was too slow to get to her and making sure she wasn't able to contradict him.

She was never gonna let him take her home.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


Alex closed her eyes, deferring to her client, her inherent programming guiding her through a simplified decision tree. “I am yours to command,” she replied, her voice low and breathy. “I will do whatever you ask of me. Without question and with no hesitation whatsoever.”

Cameron stepped back to assess her more closely. The ALX 9000 was the most advanced model that Posidyne Systems had ever produced. Their ‘companions’ had been tweaked to behave exactly as their most demanding lessees asked; their First Law directives having been modified to permit the more advanced physical play the Company’s more ‘enthusiastic’ clients often required. Admittedly, there’d been a few casualties before the bugs had been sorted out, but that was why the lawyers had insisted every user sign a fully comprehensive disclaimer before taking possession of their escort. Accidents happened, even now, but it was never the rentals that came back dented.

The models in the earlier series had never looked and felt as good either. Cameron was awestruck. He’d expected a room-temperature-warm neoprene-fleshed mannequin. Nothing like this. Moving in closer again, he studied her in more detail. The way she stood; her musculature constantly readjusting her position, her chest rising and falling just like you’d expect of a genuine woman. Hesitantly, he reached out, his hand finding her cheek as soft and smooth as though it was real skin. And warm too. His other hand joined the first, the two of them turning her face toward his; her flesh softening and hardening beneath his palms as though she was consciously anticipating his touch. Responding to him.

She was perfect.

“Alex,” Cameron began. “Would you let me undress you?”

The companion nodded, the minute movements making her facial exo-skin slew and slide between his hands and the harder core beneath. Cameron released her, now intent on exploring further. Alex began to turn, offering her back to him so he could reach the zipper of the form-fitting dress more easily, the silken sheath banana-ing open as his fingers pulled the fastener down. She was nude beneath it, of course, her perfect physique not needing any additional support, although he guessed other clothing options could have been provided if anyone had thought of it. Not that he was going to be complaining, of course.

Savouring the smooth uniformity of the skin, he curled his fingers into an arc, parting her hair and then drawing his hand down from the nape of her neck to the small of her back, the zipper preventing him reaching any further. Her skin was to die for. Barely warmer than room temperature, her coolness enticing him. And the way she wriggled against his touch.

Divine. In a devilish way.

Reaching up to her shoulders, he eased the material free, pushing it first forward and then down, the fine cerulean blue of the dress rippling up against his palms as it slid smoothly down her arms. The silk against her silken skin, gliding freely. A sensual appetiser. A precursor of what would undoubtedly be his finest hours. He pressed closer; his cheek against hers, his arms curved around her, his breath stilled as he imagined how this would all play out.

“I would think that you’d find this experience more pleasurable if we interacted more,” Alex mused, looking back over her shoulder, totally non-plussed by his attention. “Just offering my opinion, of course.”

“You’re right, of course. Whatever was I thinking?” Cameron ceased his efforts, trailing the fingers of one hand lightly behind her from one shoulder to another as he rounded her. “You’ve a beautiful face. It would be a waste to not see it.”

Alex’s lips parted and then curved into a smile, framing her perfect ceramic-white teeth. “Agreed,” she said, canting her head to one side and then shrugging to ease the flow of her costume. “Continue, please.”

Cameron nodded, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he matched her smile. He took hold of the dress again, drawing it down until it caught against her elbows, Alex helpfully keeping her arms in close to assist him. Then, with only a few lithe movements that ended with her leaning in closer to him, she disentangled herself, the top of her dress falling between them to hang loosely from her waist.

“Oh, Mon Cher,” she said, her face moving forward so that their cheeks slid together, her voice like liquid. “This is always so hard for me.”

“And for me too,” Cameron mumbled, his mouth now close to the delicate perfection of her ear. “Knowing that this will be our only time together, it’s going to be hard to go on having enjoyed this. Never to be repeated.”

Alex pulled away slightly, her face pale and concerned. “I know. I’ll do everything I can to help. You know that.” She cupped her palms around his head, her fingers splaying to pull him close again, their lips almost touching.

And then she snapped his neck with a quick decisive twist, his body falling to hang limply from her hands.

“It’s done,” she said, suddenly business-like, turning to the official hidden behind the one-way glass screen. “Murderer #78542. Refused offered counselling and chemical behaviour modifications. Subsequently sentenced to death without appeal. Penalty paid.”

Witness Tyler scowled, wondering if her bionetic implants could see him through through the glass. “Thank you, Alex,” he said, shivering despite the warmth of his watch cubicle. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014


Just black.
Hughie turned his head to the left and then to the right, scanning the cellar. There was nothing to be seen. Nothing visible anyway.
But he knew he wasn't alone.
At first it was intuition. Or something unknown to him. All he knew was that he knew.
It took a few minutes for his vision to return, his eyes seeing despite the lack of light, his brain needing to see and finding things, even though they weren't there. Putting his hands out in front of him, the red and grey blotches lacked substance; hallucinations brought forth to fill the nothingness presented to him. His feet still moved though, his shuffling feet searching as he inched forward toward...
Toward what?
Something. Definitely something. Something sharing the space with him. He knew it was there even though he knew his eyes were tricking him. His ears too. He'd thought he could hear it, but when it turned when he did and stopped when he did, he realised it was only himself he could hear. His breath or the blood rushing through his veins. Or something else.
And then it fell on his head.

Friday, 15 August 2014

A meeting...

She moved down the aisle with a look of self-confidence. Either that or she was the ultimate introvert and nothing or no-one else existed for her. She was a little over five feet tall, dressed in blacks, greys and a dark floral print. Like camouflage; not wanting anyone else to notice her. A little soft goth not wanting interaction.
However, her subdued nature enthralled me. What was her story? Who was she? How did she live? I imagined her as an artist, painting illustrations of flowers for a publication with less than a hundred subscribers; her immaculate representations unseen by most of the world; being avidly viewed by only a couple of dozen appreciative botanists in studys as far apart as Helsinki and Honolulu. Or maybe she was a webpage designer; constantly developing page templates using HTML and rarely venturing out in the daylight. Her work'd be seen in thousands of places across the whole of the internet and no-one would ever be able to put a name to the one-woman studio creating them all.

I had to know more about her.

Waiting until she stopped to pick up a packet of pasta - who knew how many types there were - I judged my move perfectly, reaching out to take hold of the fettuccine at the same time as she did, delighting in the way her eyes turned to mine: looking puzzled behind the dark rims propped against her nose.

“I'm sorry,” I said, keeping hold of the other end of the wrapper. “I was just needing some pasta.”

“Me, too,” Miss Soft Goth, replied. “But,” she said, raising a perfectly plucked eyebrow, “there are some more packets behind it.”

I sighed, not wanting to lose this opportunity. “Of course there are, ma'am. But...” I began, studying her feverishly to look for some reason to keep her attention a little longer. She'd got no rings on her fingers; just a friendship bracelet that looked hand-crafted and a stylishly simple dial-faced watch with a silver bracelet and a single gemstone at the twelve o'clock position. Her clothes were drab but well made, with a high-end quality that suggested they were either hideously expensive or vintage garments bought from an exclusive boutique shop. And her glasses; her glasses were dark-rimmed and framed with a minimum of decoration. A monogrammed letter, that's all, positioned discretely against the hinge; the letter and the hinge both finished in a dull lustre. Expensive again. She was classy.