Wednesday, 19 March 2014



Being in space is impossible to imagine. It is like being outside on your patio at night, and it’s quite a starry night and you are very tall. In fact you are so tall that your head ends up in space, but you can breathe like a scuba diver but without equipment, and it’s normal. And with your head all up in the darkness of the night sky and near all the stars you look around space. That’s what space is like, but you can’t breathe unless you are an alien or an astronaut or cosmonaut. Or an Chinese or Indian astronaut.  What are they called? A racist would call them Bollynauts, but I will not. In the future there are not more racists. We learn this from Star Trek. What Star Trek doesn’t tell you is that everyone is really really judged on how well you can draw. “Stupid awful Draftsperson” they might say to someone. But they don’t show these scenes in ‘Star Trek’.

Anyway. Fifty Zastrons in the future is where we tell our story. And in space, which we have already established is impossible to imagine. A zastron in a measurement of time that came into being after years became too old fashioned. And Fifty Zastrons in the future, the Earth, or Erath as it came to be known after centuries of wrong iPhone automated spelling corrections, the Erath was just a few years away from destruction, even though they basically recycled everything, especially garden waste and metal. It didn’t matter, they had recycled everything and the world was still going to blow up as what no one had ever worked out is that in the middle of the Erath is lots of naturally occurring dynamite, and one night a man in Dorking had a bonfire in his garden and lit the fuse which was at the top end of some bracken, and when that happened they had only five jontins to get off the planet before it would explode as there was no way to put the fuse out without blowing the world up.

And so a new colony was formed on a brand new planet in the solar system.  This brand new planet had never been seen because it was always night on this planet and from the outside it basically just looked like space. But one day a comet bumped into it in the same day that a scientist was looking at it through a huge telescope, and then we knew there was a new planet in the solar system which was named ‘Erath’.  It was named ‘Erath’ before ‘Earth’ was renamed ‘Erath’, and could possibly explain the autocorrection mistake that happened with Erath. I mean Earth. I might call ‘Erath’ ‘Earth’ to avoid confusion. By Erath I mean Earth. I hope this it clear.

Anyway, it turned out that Erath was completely habitable, and the next couple of space-years were spent building a new colony to live in. A few hundred families were sent out there, and got on very well with the new place except that it was always nighttime, which mean that flowers didn’t grow much and people often felt very snoozy - a bit like after Christmas Dinner. But, because it was dark and the stars were out all the time, it also felt like being in space which was great as they could finally imagine what being in space was like.

All of the families lived in enormous metal tube houses which anchored to the ground with metal ropes to stop them floating away. In fact, there was no chance of them floating away - the gravity on Erath was the same as the gravity on Earth, but the man in charge of the buildings and indeed the ropes wasn’t a scientist he was a builder, and didn’t want to take any chances, not with the reputation he had built up on the website ‘trusted tradesmen’ which is one of only three websites still going that far off into the future.  One of the others is the website created to publicise the film ‘Space Jam’. Which has remained unchanged since 1996 our years.

The families settled in and lived together in perfect harmony, growing new and exciting space vegetables, and hunting for alions, which as everyone knows is the secret real word for aliens. A lot of them were excited to be the pioneers of this brave new world and it made them feel like the olden day pioneers who were also pioneers and probably felt excited about being pioneers.

They would head out onto the surface of Erath with their laser lassoes, and also normal guns and see what they could catch. It was always nothing, and they would normally have nutrition pills for supper, followed by meteor pudding which is the future name for crumble.

But one family in particular had a different experience to everyone else. After experiencing a movie experience file in the family experiencing chamber - normally one of the Shreks or a Gavin and Stacey christmas special - they would go to their sleep tubes as normal.

That’s when the peculiar noises started to happen.  Firstly it was footsteps, when everyone in the colony was as normal suspended at 45 degrees off the ground in their sleep tubes. Footsteps padding up and down, and now and again a mechanical sliding sound. You have to remember that these people are alone in space apart from the company, many miles away from the Erath. I mean Earth.

This was very strange, and shitted them right up.

As the nights went on, the noises continued. They heard more footsteps and mechanical sliding. And then they heard voices becoming clearer and clearer. They always moaned in monotonous tones. Eventually they picked out words. Egg. They heard. BLT.  Tuna - is it line caught? Doesn’t say. How much is that Kit Kat. Can you ask him if they’ll give me a napkin? These words were nonsensical to these future heads, and sounded as weird to them as hearing medieval voices talking about peasants, and drawbridges and dragons would sound to us. But whenever they tried to descend from their sleeping tubes to see what was making the noise, the colony seemed empty and dark, with only the gentle hum of the natural deuriniser working in the background - an excellent machine which means you no longer have to go for a wee - the machine does it for you. It does not work for poos.

But as the disembodied voices went on later and later, they suddenly took on a new and terrifying twist. There was an awful sound of screeching metal and fire if fire made a sound but it doesn’t but you can imagine that, I promise you it’s not as hard to imagine as space is. And screaming and screaming and finally silence.

So this mystery continued - and as I said before it shitted them right up.

They soon lost all interest on colonising the planet properly which was a shame as they were there to save the whole population of Earth.  Instead the people became obsessed with solving the mystery of the voices.

They didn’t have a word for what they were experiencing. You see, in the future, lots of words have changed. They have a word for rocketsickness - which is rocketsickness, timetravel sickness which is timetravelsickness and teleportationsickness which is ‘prunk’.

But they had lost some words too. Like Oxo, self-service till and haunting.

So scientific is our future that people had entirely forgotten about fanciful notions like haunting, doing your hair and also picnics because the outside is so terrifying what with all the broken glass rain and out of control robots. 

But these people.  These people on the virgin planet, hidden for so long in our solar system were experiencing emotions that hadn’t been felt for several zastrons. And they came up with a brand new word for it. They were being haunted. Because you see - the word haunted describes perfectly what it feels like to be haunted. So that’s the word they came up with.

They became obsessed with the haunting, and sat for night in the small section of living tube that the voices and eventual screaming was coming from.

Eventually - one of the children - came up with the notion of checking to see what the heat sensitive cameras covering the living areas had caught. They weren’t seeing anything, they were only hearing noises.  But perhaps the cameras were seeing the full story.

They went back to control centre which was all upside down because gravity and they looked cool in it and reviewed the tapes.

What they saw took their breath away.  In the always empty section of living tube, was fully occupied on camera. People dressed in primitive clothes - by which I mean jeans and tops from Fat Face were walking up and down - pressing buttons to open doors, and perusing what seemed to be a refrigerated cupboard which contained sandwiches. The people came and went and talked weirdly into rectangles they held up to their ears.

The images weren’t crisp of course.  On the virtual monitors they came and went, leaving wispy trails of white and blue, like zantromorphs.  You probably don’t know what they are.

Then all of a sudden the image changed. The tube was ripped apart like something being ripped apart easily. Bodies flew left and right and also up and down. Flames licked the walls like a hungry and hot tramp eating an ice cream.

And then nothing.

The tube was back to the way it was before.  Empty, silent, brand new.

Soon after that the families started to leave. They couldn’t stand what they had seen.

But the leader of the pioneers, a man called Human 9 stayed on, and because he had once been a spy or a secret agent or something he had the phone number of the the president of the most powerful and successful country on old Earth - Africa.

He called the president and asked him to look into exactly what the living tubes were made of on the Erath colony.

He phoned back after he’d done some other chores, and he had got the correct information.

Apparently, that section of living tube was made out of the buffet car of a 21st century train that got smashed up in an accident killing thousands of people.

Remember - they recycled everything. Everything comes around again. Even ghosts.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Single Minded Man

When Otto Renner was a child, he was terrified of things that came in twos. This fear of identical objects was paralysing. So much so that he went into weird fits, blacking out for minutes at a time, throwing up and crying. As a result - everything in the house had to be mismatching. It was a nightmare for his parents who found that to avoid hour after hour of terrible terrible screaming and convulsions, they had to have mismatched curtains, cutlery, salt and pepper pots. Also shoes, taps and eyebrows. And rooftiles and windscreen wipers and skis. And other things.  Here’s fun.  Can you think of household objects that come in twos? I’ll start you off.  Knitting needles.

I hope you enjoyed that bit of fun. Perhaps you thought of 'chopsticks'.

Snowflakes were young Otto’s favourite thing, but he didn’t really believe that famous thing about them. That they could break a man’s arm.  Is that snowflakes?

He was also suspicious about things like trousers and swimming trunks and scissors because they said they came in pairs even though they really didn’t.

As Otto Renner grew up, he didn’t really change. His hatred of things that were the same continued.  He couldn’t live in a town that was twinned with anywhere. Or in an apartment with identical apartments nearby. Or a terrace.  

So Otto Renner lived in a house in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of a little town. He never locked the door of his little house.  Partly because he had little to steal, but mostly because he couldn’t stand to have a spare key - and when he lost the primary key, he had no key to copy, so he left the door on the latch.  And inside this little house he conducted his experiments in Time Travel, whilst also doing proof-reading by mail for money, and watching the back catalogue of Arnold Scrwarzenegger films apart from that one he hated. He loved Arnold Schwarzenegger films even more than he loved the idea of inventing Time Travel.

Otto was convinced that Time Travel was possible, and as such had been determined to discover the first time travel device.  His first attempts involved the least effort, but were time heavy.  His original plan was to go somewhere where he thought that travellers from the future might want to visit - like a royal wedding, or a Barbra Streisand concert, and then hang around there, until he saw a time travellor arrive. Then steal his time travel device, dismantle it, and invent it. Thus making him the inventor of Time Travel.

After a lot of waiting around, he decided to go down a more proactive route. He decided that the best bet for creating time travel was the creation of miniature black holes, and a wormhole that connects them.

The hardest thing about that of course, was creating the miniature black holes and the wormhole that would connect them. And how could he build it into a cool car? What he would have to do is look at the three defining quantities of a black hole - Any black hole: its mass, its charge, its angular momentum. The mass is simple - Otto thought the bigger the better. The charge - The black hole can be charged with an Electro-magnetic field, as they travel at light speed anyway! Next is the angular momentum, but I’m sure you’re tired of this.  So was Otto.

The furthest he’d got so far was to build an enormous home-made electromagnet that he’d plugged into the socket by his bedside table, but the plug got so hot, he was all worried about it and hadn’t really used it.

It was a lonely existence for Otto really. Avoiding things that were the same. Like pillowcases on a double bed and recent episodes of Come Dine With Me, reading badly spelled novels and tinkering with a science that went against the laws of nature, but not offically against the rules of physics.

Time travel is such a non-specific science, that it was very hard for Otto to get a handle on what he was doing right or wrong.

Plus he had all that proof reading to do.  His work mainly came from a small publishing house who dealt mainly in pot boiling thrillers. Many of the books came from the exotically named ‘Alec Ramses Marcelawho wrote plainly terrible books about family murders and long lost millionaire uncles. Otto found Alec’s books to be filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as bad plots and nonsensical character names. But over the years they had started to email each other a little, and only last Christmas, Otto had sent Alec a card featuring a photograph of him dressed up as Doctor Emmet Brown. The saddest thing about the photograph was that it wasn’t for a fancy dress party, or fun run. It was just a Sunday morning when he was working on his Time Machine. Sometimes he did things like that.  That’s what happens when you live far away from anywhere or anyone.

But Otto was getting tired of this lonely life. And building a time machine was getting him absolutely nowhere. He was just about to give up on the whole ten year long affair, when one cold, February day, he returned home from shopping for bits of cable at his local Maplin, to find something quite surprising.

Lying on his bedroom floor was a dead body.

He investigated it a little further.

The dead body was him.

It was definitely him.  He was staring at his own dead body.

This brought up conflicting feelings in Otto.  Firstly - he had the paralysing fear of being in the room with something identical.  Something he had studiously avoided his whole life.

But there was the other thing.  This was proof wasn’t it?  This was proof that he somehow, at some point, creates Time Travel.

His thoughts immediately went back to his original Time Travel idea.  Perhaps the him from the future - ie the the him that was lying dead on his bedroom floor amidst dvd boxes for Arnold Schwarzenegger films - had brought the Time Travel Device with him.  In fact - he must have done - right?  Or how was he expecting to get back home to the future.  So all present day Otto had to do was steal the time travel device from future dead him, and thus become the creator of Time Travel and become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

But maybe not, because it seemed to him that future him was dead on his bedroom floor.

What should he do.  What should he do.

He searched his body.  His dead body, and discovered nothing but a business card.  A business card for ‘Alec Ramses Marcela the potboiling thriller writer.

Otto was confused. Here he was, stuck in his own house with his own dead body, gasping for air amidst panic attacks - because he couldn’t stand being in the room with two matching things, but he had a mystery to solve.

He looked at his own dead body, and it struck him that he looked almost exactly the same age as he did now.  So - unless there are amazing rejuvenation clinics in the future, he must invent time travel pretty soon.

Maybe the future self that was dead was him from just a few minutes in the future. Maybe if he just powered up his existing Time Travel equipment, he might...

With that he reached around behind the body, and switched on the giant homemade electromagnet, which in a fraction of a second sent a pulse through his body strong enough to melt a diamond, and certainly strong enough to kill a man who wasn’t even made of diamond.

Otto collapsed on the floor, not quite dead. Not quite sure if he had travelled through time, even just a tiny bit.

What Otto would never find out was this.  When Otto was a very little boy he was much weaker than the twin brother who was just a few minutes older than him.  And Otto had such a paralysing fear of his identical brother, that his parents, who were young and desperate and fearful for the life of their younger son,  gave the older boy up for adoption.  No one was ever to know.

That identical brother was christened Alec Ramses Marcela by his new family and eventually became a writer of potboilers, while ignorant of his brother who became an unsuccessful time travellor.

When his proof reader sent him a Christmas card with a picture of him dressed as Einstein or something, he was surprised to discover that they had the same face.  It took Alec two months to track his doppelganger down, and when he did he found the front door unlocked.  After knocking on the door, he pushed the door open to check that everything was all right.  He found the house empty, and couldn’t help but look around the peculiar mismatching house of the man with whom he shared a face.  He wandered into the bedroom, and was drawn by the peculiar humming piece of massive electrical equipment which he touched, and was immediately killed by. Missing the arrival of his twin by just 11 minutes - a number which annoyed Otto because of the duplicate ones.

As Otto lay whimpering on the floor, his arm reached out and pressed play on the DVD player.  In his last few living moments, he watched one of his beloved Arnold Schwarzenegger films.  Except this one was his least favourite.

‘Oh No’. Murmered Otto. ‘Not Twins’.

Friday, 1 February 2013

A One Pronged Attack

Alex Baldwin, no relation, woke up one morning as usual, yawned as usual, got out of bed as usual, and saw a unicorn at the end of his bed not as usual.

The unicorn, if that was what it was, and it was, didn’t look like normal pictures of unicorns.  It was brown, for a start, and quite dirty, like it had been rolling around in the bins, which it had.

It was small - about four feet high, though it didn’t look young. The horn was about a foot long, and appeared to have bloodstains on it.  They weren’t bloodstains by the way. It was ketchup from the bin rolling I referred to earlier. It’s legs were short and fat, it’s eyes were large and grey, and its tail seemed matted and filthy.

It was also smoking. Indoors, if you can imagine such a thing. 

Nevertheless, it was a unicorn.  It was at the foot of Alex Baldwin’s bed, and that was definitely a thing.

Alex stepped back into his bed and crawled towards the foot of it, towards the unicorn.  The unicorn didn’t move, or flinch, but simply stared at him disconsolately.  It struck me while writing that that sounds like the unicorn no longer had a consulate.  Meaning that it didn’t have ‘a building where a consul’s duties are carried out’ on it.  Which it didn’t, so I suppose it’s accurate. And would be a problem if you decided to go for a holiday on that unicorn, then got into trouble, and need to contact the consul about getting home etc.  I suppose the moral is - if someone looks at you disconsolately, don’t immediately go on holiday on them, just in case. I say immediately because as time passes they might have had a consulate built on them, in which case they will start to look at you consulately. I hope all this has helped. It’s just a shame that the holiday programme isn’t on any more, or I could get a job as a correspondent.

Anyway.  The unicorn stared at him, and didn’t move.  He reached out and patted it, and it didn’t move. It didn’t look like it liked it, and it didn’t look like it hated it. It just chewed a little and gazed with glassy eyes like the guests on Saturday kitchen.

Alex stared at the unicorn, and both of them did nothing.  After a minute or two, the unicorn let the cigarette drop out of it’s mouth, and it crushed it out with its hoof. On the carpet, if you can imagine.  

Then, all of a sudden, the unicorn started braying. Incredibly loudly. A rasping honking sound, that left the emotional footprint of an argument about directions in a car.

Alex panicked. His initial reaction was that no one must know that he has a unicorn in his house. Something special had happened to him.  Something magical, and it must be kept a secret.  If people found out about it then... then... who knows what might happen. The government probably.  But more than that.  

A unicorn had arrived in his bedroom.  That had happened for a reason.  Something special was happening to him.  All that time you spend growing up and learning that magic isn’t real had suddenly turned out to be a lesson not worth learning.  And the reason that everyone still thinks that magic isn’t real is because people who know about it keep it secret.  It’s like that argument you hear about time travel.  Of course time travel will never be invented, because if it ever were, we would have been visited by time travellers.  Well duh. Maybe we have and they have been keeping it secret?  Eh?  Ever thought of that?  Ever seen Back To The Future Part 2 where Hill Valley goes all nasty because Biff finds out about the time machine built into a Delorean and buys the sports almanac and gives it to his younger self, and Hill Valley goes all nasty and even loses its consulate as a result.  Well - time travellers have seen it and they know not to tell anyone about it.  They make them watch Back To The Future part two at the time travel depot.  It may not be a depot. Time travellers can only be spotted because they can’t operate simple things like the oyster card barriers because in the future they control barriers with their minds and also the oyster reader is on the other side and pockets are different.

Anyway.  The point of all that is that Alex knew he had to keep the unicorn a secret, or it would be taken away from him before whatever magic it was going to impart was imparted. And if he was going to keep it secret, he needed to to keep it quiet, and he didn’t know quite how to keep it quiet, but he thought maybe it was hungry, so he ran downstairs, and grabbed some boxes of breakfast cereal.  For those of you who enjoy details, the cereals he brought up were Special K, Grape Nuts, and Weetos.  The unicorn ate the Grape Nuts first, then it ate the Special K and finally the Weetos.  From this we can ascertain that Unicorns like Grape Nuts best and Weetos least unless it was saving the best for last in which case reverse the order and that’s your fact.  Of course it could have eaten the number two cereal first, and then finished with worst and then next or vice versa.  I assume this has helped.

The Unicorn ate the cereal and stopped braying as a result.  Alex then didn’t know what to do. Unicorns, like babies and pencils don’t come with instruction manuals.  Actually - I was discussing this with my wife the other day. She made the observation that babies come with so many instruction manuals.  Amazon lists 111 882 titles.  But not one Unicorn manual.

Actually, that's a lie, the first result for Unicorns under 'books' is called 'Raising Unicorns - Your Step by Step guide to starting and running a successful - and Magical - Unicorn Farm'.
But on further inspection it is ‘satire’ or ‘fun’, and can be discounted, as this story is about a real unicorn, as you can tell because all my descriptions are so gritty.

I’ve forgotten where I am.  So, Alex Baldwin worked as an engineer for British Telecom, but this isn’t what he wanted to do.  He wanted to be a movie star, and appear in such films as  ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ or ‘The Hunt for Red October’ or to a lesser extent ‘Thomas and the Magic Railroad’.  And then when his movie career dried up, Alex had always dreamed about starring in a sitcom about making a TV show where everyone would suddenly discover that it is comedy and not action that was his strength.  But none of that had so far happened.  But perhaps this unicorn was there to change all that.

Perhaps this unicorn was his ticket out of here.  He just had to figure out how to make it work.

First of all - keep it secret.  Tick.  He was already having a good go at that.  

Now what?

Over the next few weeks, Alex Baldwin changed completely. He kept everyone out of his house, which meant that his relationship suffered and eventually twinkled out of existence.  He stopped going to work, because he decided that he needed to be at home and near his magical gift from heaven in case he missed whatever it was he was supposed to do to make the magic happen.

Because he stopped going to work, he soon lost his job, but of course that didn’t matter, because everything would soon be changing.

If Alex Baldwin could see things from the outside he would surely have noticed that he was spending an awful lot of time shovelling unicorn shit out of his bedroom, which it turned out wasn’t as rare as funny phrases try to make out, but doing very little else.  He was showing very few signs of having wishes granted.

What he was doing  was becoming a weird unwashed loner. And throughout this whole time, the unicorn did nothing but stare, smoke and eat.

But soon, he told himself.  Soon it would all change.

Without anyone to talk to, Alex Baldwin started creating his own rules, that he somehow pretended were rules made up by the unicorn. Don’t eat meat - the unicorn is an animal and might not like it, and the magic might not happen. Don’t use electricity, the unicorn is an ancient creature who doesn’t understand such things, he might not like it, and the magic might not happen. Don’t dance on a Wednesday the unicorn might not like it, and the magic might not happen.

The list of superstitions he created became so immense and complicated that Alex had trouble remembering it, and would have written it down, but he decided that the Unicorn didn’t like seeing things written down due to it’s lack of opposable thumbs.  And fingers.  And penmanship.

And one day the unicorn made a different sound.  A sudden, beautiful cooing and calling, like the voices of a thousand ages joining in celebration.

Alex decided it was because he had drawn squares all over his face in biro.  He had finally stumbled on the trigger to make the magic happen.

The unicorn looked at him with it’s watery grey eyes, and stopped making the noise.  It blinked twice, and seemed to smile.  Then it died, doing one last shit as it did so.

And then it was all over.

Alex’s disappointment was extraordinary.

And the next day he started to put his life back together, beginning by burying the unicorn under the flourishing rose beds.

He started applying for jobs, and trying to patch things up with his ex, and, being a resourceful fellow, outside of the madness, he started to get back on his feet again in a matter of weeks.

That was when he received a phone call.  Would he like to fly out to Hollywood to star in a remake of ‘Beetlejuice’?  Would he ever?!  This was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He was about to make it big. 

Touch wood.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Twenty Fourth Door

Crolin Breeks was living a lie.  He wrote the stars, the astrology column for the local newspaper - you probably take it yourself - The Cannington, Overby, Croftwick, Ridley, Iverson, Nepperfrome Gazette.  It is known locally as ‘COCRING’, and is bucking the trend of print news - the men and women of the small cluster of busy towns and villages would clamour at the doors of the newsagent, keen to get their hands on the brand new COCRINGS as they arrived in store. And in winter, the council made sure that the most elderly and immobile members of the community had a fresh COCRING land squarely on their doormat every Friday,

Crolin Breeks had written the stars for the paper for as long as he could remember, which was about three years - as three years previously he had been bitten by a fox and gone amnesia.

Crolin had undergone many changes since the fox incident.  He’d added the ‘r’ to his name - for instance.  It used to be ‘Crolin Beeks’.  Since the incident Crolin had insisted that he was going deaf, which he wasn’t. He was also convinced that he was going to die on Christmas Eve, which hadn’t happened yet. It was his very first prediction.

His father’s brother’s brother-in-law went to school with the wife of the woman who ran the parent company that own the newspaper group that distributed COCRINGs all over the county, and she had forwarded a job advert to Crolin’s butcher who in turn had passed the advert on to Crolin who applied and got the job on the newspaper as the Stars correspondent, based on the fact that he had a degree in journalism.  What I’m saying is - Crolin applied for a job and he got it.  Crolin publicly described his job as “making up stupid rubbish for idiots”. Then he had to stop saying that as E L James had it copyrighted as her marketing slogan. 

Anyway, as November started to reach its dreary end, Crolin started to get tense.  He knew it was ridiculous to think that his ‘sense’ that he was going to die on Christmas Eve was in any way real.  But he couldn’t help but feel it. Dying on Christmas Eve.  In his mind, Crolin was very much the anti-Jesus.

His parents knew about his fear, so Crolin always found it bizarre that his mother sent him an advent calendar every first of December for as long as he could remember. Three years, obviously.

It seemed to Crolin that his mother was somehow taunting him, giving him a countdown to the terrifying door number twenty-four.  The cardboard double doors that might be the last double cardboard doors he ever opened.

This December the first was no different. The Advent calendar flopped onto his doormat along with his weekly COCRING. In fact  - this year it was the COCRING tie-in advent calendar.

Sorry - I’ve just realised. COCRING is quite a rude word, isn’t it.  I really am sorry about that.  I think a cockring is...some sort of ring.  For a cock. I don’t know how that works.  Um.  I should change the name of it?  Will that be disconcerting? Halfway through the story?

I think we’ll be fine.  It’s not like anything has happened.  This is basically all exposition. OK.  The Pilthorp, Iverson, Sappleton, Sidway, Boltin Angleswick Guardian. Nope. That’s not going to cut it.  Um - something pithy.  Um.  The Angleswick Nepperfrome United Sentinel? No. That’s not going to do it. Either.

This is a minefield.  There are literally no names of newspapers that aren’t rude.  I’m going to go with COCRING, and you’ll just have to cope.

So yes.  The advent calendar plopped onto his mat, with a slightly grubby COCRING  - due to the rainy weather outside.

He opened the envelope, and placed the calendar on his mantlepiece. The calendar was very traditional, a picture of the stable in Bethlehem with the Mary and Joseph, the  three wise men, and Father Christmas coming down the chimbley.

As it was the 1st December, Crolin immediately opened door one.  He tried not to look at where the number twenty four was.  Though he saw it.  It was positioned on Father Christmas’s COCRING - sticking out of his sack.

Door one contained a surprise.  Crolin expected to see a cracker, a toy train, a bauble, a duck with a present, something festive like that.  What he saw was a rather detailed picture of a man’s foot sticking out of a tin of paint.

He looked at it for a moment, but couldn’t make head nor tail of it, like someone trying to complete a jigsaw of an earthworm who’s got a middle bit.

His phone beeped in his pocket.  It was his hearing impaired group.  Crolin was definitely not deaf, but since the incident he was convinced that he was, and as such he went to a support group of other people who did actually have hearing problems.  One of these was Evelyn PillBottle, who had recently had cochlear implants.  Crolin had almost immediately fallen in love with her, and was always desperate to impress her.

Which is why he was particularly annoyed when he arrived at the Adult Ed. centre where the group met and almost immediately stepped into an open pot of blue paint - left there by a feckless decorator.

This prompted a lot of jeering and laughing from the group, which wounded Crolin.  He was under the impression that the deaf as a group would have been kinder.  Evelyn told him that if he was actually deaf he wouldn’t have heard the laughter.  Crolin simply replied ‘pardon’ even though he’d heard what she said.  But Evelyn had her share of jibes from the group. Since she’d had her implants they’d started calling her ‘New Ears’. She made sure she sat extra close to Crolin.  She liked him too.

But for the rest of the meeting Crolin was distracted. He kept thinking about the little picture of the shoe in the paint pot on his advent calendar. 

Surely it must be...coincidence. Right?

The next day, the advent calendar featured the charming festive image of a parking ticket. It did have some snow on top though, for a festive touch.  That afternoon, Crolin got a parking ticket.  It didn’t have snow on it.

The next day the advent calendar - door three - was opened to reveal a spilled coffee mug.  With a sprig of holly near it.  Crolin was so surprised by this image that he dropped his cup of coffee.  It fell to floor near a sprig of holly he had brought out of the under-stairs cupboard in preparation for putting up Christmas decorations.

By this time, Crolin was properly spooked.

He didn’t believe in predictions, yet here it was, a passive stupid bit of cardboard predicting the events of his life before they happened with terrifying accuracy.

Always his eyes were brought back to Father Christmas’s COCRING. Copy of COCRING.  The fatal number twenty four.  What horrors lurked behind the door.  Would he open it? Would he ignore it? Maybe if he didn’t open the doors the things wouldn’t happen?  Was he causing them by opening them?  Or were they simply passive images out of kilter with the space time continuum?

Crolin decided not to open the rest of the doors in his calendar.

He wouldn’t tempt fate. This was the win-win situation.  If he hadn’t seen what might happen, then he couldn’t be causing it.  So even if it did exist behind the cardboard doors, he’d never know.  He wouldn’t have caused.  But perhaps if it were dangerous he could use the pictures as a warning?  Certainly he could have avoided the paint and the parking ticket with a little more vigilance?

He decided to talk to Evelyn about the whole thing. Confess all, and see what she had to say.  

Evelyn was thrilled to be asked, and they spent hours discussing the temporal pros and cons of knowing what was to come.  Or was it just coincidence?

Crolin also brought up the irony of the fact that he was the guy who made all the predictions in the newspaper that he thought were nonsense, and here he was in the middle of a thing about real predictions.  They both laughed and said how clever that would be in a story. Just so clever.  So so clever.


They decided by the way to not open any more doors on the calendar

They also decided that they wanted to see a lot more of each other. And so they did.

Christmas eve came and went, and Crolin survived.  Evelyn and Crolin became very attached very quickly, and soon became inseparable.

Years passed, and when the box of Christmas things came out of the under-stairs cupboard, Crolin found himself looking at the advent calendar with its many unopened doors.  He held Evelyn’s hand and with a decisive little nod, he gently touched Santa’s COCRING and opened the doors to number twenty four.

This was a big moment for Crolin. It was a putting away of childish things.  A sign of his new life stretching out ahead.

He still expected the picture to be a falling grand piano, a car accident, an ambulance...

But no.  The picture was of a robin. Just a robin.  

Just a Robin.

Evelyn and Crolin laughed together, and they started to decorate the house.

Later that day they went out for a walk in the woods.

At 4.32 exactly a robin flew into Crolin’s throat by accident and he suffocated. It was going at quite a pace. He was dead by 4.37. He crumpled on top of Evelyn who was powerless to save him.  His heavy, lifeless body almost covering her completely.

His last thought was of one of odd self satisfaction. As he gazed into his girlfriend’s eyes it struck him.  There’s no such thing as predictions.  He wasn’t dying on Christmas Eve.  He was dying on New Ears Eve.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Potted History of Tatum Mottle

Tatum Mottle was a murderer.  He is also the central character of this story. I’m aware that this makes him hard to like, but it might help if I said he only murdered horrid people who deserved murdering.  It might help, but it wouldn’t be true.  He was absolutely mad for murdering. He didn’t mind when he did it.  Morning, noon, night.  During elevensies. During brunch. Tiffin. That weird in the middle meal you sometimes have at Christmas at around five which is mostly sandwiches. Sometimes he didn’t even plan the murders that well.  Sometimes, they were so spontaneous that they were practically manslaughter.  Before you start getting all upset about the fact that he’s a murderer, and murderers shouldn’t be all talked and glamourised - it’s also probably worth remembering that this is also fiction, and it suits the story.  

If this feels like news to you, you should probably apply this to lots of things in life. The news is largely not fiction, but Robocop is. That’s a good rule of thumb.  When trying to work out whether things are fiction or non fiction - just think to yourself - is it more like the local news programme, or is it more like Robocop.  And whichever is closest - just go with that - and you’ll know whether it’s fiction or non fiction. I like to help you guys out a little.  Give a little something back.

So. There we are with Tatum Mottle, the murderer. On the particular day we join him, he was all excited about murdering a man named Silba Thwaitethwaite, 34 years old from the Bradbin area. More on that story later. Back to the studio. Sorry - that makes it sound like a local news programme. I’ll...I’ll stop doing that.  Silba Thwaitethwaite had an interesting job. He was in charge of feeding the lions and sharks and giant spiders at Pilthorp zoo.  Tatum Mottle had had a huge argument with Silba Thwaitethwaite in a nearby pub about the diet of sharks.  Silba thought he was in the right, Tatum thought he was in the wrong.  Silba said that sharks would never eat a human’s hand because they think it looks like a jellyfish, and might sting their mouths on the way down, and he should know he feeds sharks all the time.  Tatum said that this was all nonsense.  Sharks will eat all the bits of a human, and they will also eat jellyfish, but considers them a pudding. So, by that reckoning they might eat the hands last, because most sharks are very well brought up and don’t eat their pudding until after they’ve finished their mains.

So riled up was Tatum Mottle by Silba’s refusal to back down that he decided to murder him as he had done so many others.  He planned to do it the very next evening, while Silba was doing has last feed, at ten o’clock at night.

And now the weather.  The night was clear and crisp, and the first proper autumnal evening that year.  Might be a good idea to wrap up warm if you’re heading out.

Tatum had done so.  He’d put on his warm coat.  It was old, but still did the job.  Most of Tatum’s clothes were old.  Murdering didn’t pay very much, you see. It really is a vocation. He brought with him a length of steel pipe with which to do the business.

He found Silba in the Aquarium section of the zoo, high up at the top of the shark tank, where he had just finished feeding the massive carnivores.

Without saying a word, Tatum raised the steel pipe, and did what he had done so many times before.  Silba Thwaitethwaite was now the late Thwaitethwaite, and Tatum pushed his lifeless body into the tank, where he assumed the evidence would be naturally devoured and destroyed. But that wasn’t the end of the matter. The sharks in the tank, having had their mains, eyed Tatum’s blood spattered hand keenly, and within a second, had bitten it off completely. For pudding.

On a side note - French sharks have a little joke about this sort of behaviour.  They say - we’ve had our mains, now let’s have our ‘mains’.  Mains of course being french for hand. Sharks are incredibly efficient eating machines.  They are not brilliant raconteurs, but they enjoy themselves.

Back to our main story tonight.  Tatum is now one hand down, pleased to have been right, but not pleased about the hand thing.

He put a tourniquet around his wrist, and struggled down the tank and out of the zoo before blacking out in the middle of the road.

He woke up several days later in a hospital bed. To find himself in possession of not one hand, but two.

This massively surprised him as one had definitely been eaten.

He discovered over the course of the next few hours that as usual in these cases, when a John Doe is discovered with a missing hand (Tatum didn’t carry any ID for obvious reasons) the normal course of action is to take them the the kind of hospital that does experimental procedures - like engineering pretty babies, creating the kind of exercise that can be swallowed, and hand transplants.

Tatum discovered that not only had he not only not been accused of murdering the late Thwaitethwaite, apparently his death had been attributed entirely to the sharks.  Even the bit about being being around the head.  Apparently they had always had that look about them and it was only a matter of time, thought their neighbours, who in this case were some octopuses said that they were very quiet, and kept themselves to themselves. Not only was Tatum a free man but he was bi-manual which is definitely a word.

So - here he was at the hospital of Pff.  Which stands for Prosthetics Fertility and Fitness. One hand up.

He was over joyed.  And within a further few days, he was sent home.  Sure his new hand was a bit grubbier than his old one, and he thought it would be a very long time before he indulged in any onanism because that would definitely be weird. Or sexy.  After all he didn’t  know whether his new hand had previously belonged to a man or a woman.  If only hand had adam’s apples, he thought to himself, then he’d know.  He did ask at the hospital, but they just shrugged and said ‘Pff’. 

All was normal for a while, but one morning, Tatum awoke to find something very strange had happened.  His bedclothes were filthy, smeared with mud and slimy brown water.
And by on his bedside table was a small and inexpertly made coil pot.

Tatum was massively freaked out, and couldn’t even blame this on anyone and do one of those murders of which he was so fond.

Then nothing happened for a while.  Until one morning he woke up in his kitchen, the same filth all around, but this time he was met by a little array of tiny clay animals, not many of which were any good.

Another morning he found that he had ordered a kiln online.  He stared at his weird new hand.  It had to have a had a hand in this, he thought. And then laughed a bit at his joke, and then got all serious again because of the seriousness of the situation.

He went back to the Hospital of Pff, and kept asking them questions until they finally gave him an answer, though they weren’t happy about it.

Apparently his hand had come from the very recently departed body of a potter of some note.  He was absolutely mad for all kinds of ceramics, until his untimely death.

It’s rare, the doctors said, but it does happen.  The new hand, the wrist infiltrator if you like,  gives some of the qualities of its former owner to its new one.

‘What could be done about it? Who do you guys think you are?’ Shouted Tatum.

‘Pff.’ Said the Doctors. Pointing to a sign that said Pff.

And so it went on.  This poor murderer who could no longer go about his daily business of murdering, because if the toxic and overriding whims of this...potter’s hand.

‘My cerama-cyst’ Tatum called the hand, self consciously doing a joke that works better written down.*

His murdering basically dropped off, and each morning he would have no idea what he might wake up to.

A vase, an ashtray, some cups. Other things made of clay. 

Then one day, almost a year to the day after he had acquired his new hand something terrible happened.  Or something good happened, depending on how you feel about Tatum the murderer.

Tatum woke up one morning to find himself encased in a giant pot.  Unable to move his arms or legs, unable to rock back and forth, unable to do anything at all.  When he woke up, he had about seven minutes left to live, as that was all the air that was left in the urn.

He died very shortly after that.

It was later discovered that ceramicist whose hand was grafted to Tatum’s was not only a keen ceramicist.  He was also a keen amateur murderer.

And finally, the policeman who found the jar that made Tatum potted history, was also a recipient of experimental procedures from Pff.  He was injured on duty whilst being a policeman in Detroit in the near future, and most of body was replaced by robot parts.  He was part man, part machine, but all cop.

And that’s how you can tell that this is fiction.

*Lucky reader.