Instant Chicken

This is a Deleted Scene from the beginning of “Of a Feather“, in which I explore where birds came from and why some of them are brighter than we give them credit for.

The days were getting noticeably shorter, and colder.  The plants were not doing well.  Some of the more aware dinosaurs gathered to discuss what might be going on.

“We call it ‘winter’,” said a huge herbivore, lowering its head into the conversation from somewhere above.  

“Well I’ve been counting and I’m pretty certain we should still be in summer!  There should be fruit and foliage and everything!”  The speaker was a smaller, spikier herbivore who was feeling extremely nervous.  

“He’s got a point,” said one of the reasons for the spiky herbivore’s nerves. “Normally, some of you should be migrating just before winter, but you’ve not.”  The carnivore stretched and flexed running muscles, bared its teeth in a grin and flailed a pair of tiny arms.

One of the smaller omnivores ran in a small, panicky circle.

“Everything is going wrong!” it wailed, to no great purpose.

“No no” said the huge plant eater, full of sauropod smugness, “it’s merely a little early winter.  That’s all.”  The omnivore stopped running.

“You don’t think it’s anything to do with the enormous rock that fell out of the sky, the huge column of flame, the terrible winds, the sudden clouds and the terrifying quakes we’ve been having?”


“Are you sure?”  The little omnivore was leaning so far back that it was in danger of falling over.  It shook a tiny fist at the vast sauropod.

“Correlation does not equal causation,” boomed the Sauropod, “surely we all remember that?”

The smaller dinosaurs stared at each other.

“So,” said the spiky herbivore, “you don’t find the timing at all suggestive?”

“Not entirely.”

“Bollocks to you, then,” squeaked the omnivore, “because I’m pretty close to the mammals and they’re starting to sound pretty smug with their homeostasis and their fur.”

“Well even if you don’t think the falling rock was the cause, you’re surely aware that by the normal count of days we’re still in late summer?  But the plants are dying off and there’s no sign of the normal late summer fruits or autumnal fare.”

“A harsh winter is something we’ve all been through before and will all go through again, I’m sure,” said the Sauropod.  The omnivore bristled.

“Patronising bloody mobile mountain!”

“Calm down,” said the spiky herbivore.  “It can’t do any good to get upset.”

“It’s going to affect you lot first, of course,” said the carnivore.  “I can see me getting a great many really good meals before the End.”

“Is it really going to End, then?” The omnivore quaked and backed under the limited shelter of a wilting bush.

“Oh yes,” said the carnivore, “if the plants continue to die off this way there will be excellent hunting for a while as all the plant eaters compete for what remains of their food.  But sooner or later that supply will be exhausted, whether due to over-grazing or the continued climate disaster.  Meat eaters will do well in the short term, but you know what it’s like: when there’s plenty of food, everyone gets very romantic and before you know it there’s a population explosion.  Bad news all around, really, as the apex predators graze on anything they can hunt down, finally turning on their own before all life as we know it is extinguished.”

The little group fell silent.

“What can we do?”  The spiky herbivore looked around.  “I mean, there MUST be SOMETHING.”

“I plan to lay in a huge supply of condiments,” said the carnivore.

“No, but…really?”


“And that’s it?”

“We could always try evolving,” said the omnivore.

The predator cocked its head to one side.

“Now there’s a thought,” it said.

“Don’t be silly,” said the spiky herbivore “our greatest minds have agreed, more or less, that evolution is a gradual process that happens over generations as species self select to best fill an environmental niche.”

“It’s only a theory,” said the Sauropod, with a faint smile.  The omnivore and the herbivore exchanged glances.

“Don’t give him the satisfaction,” said the spiky herbivore.  They all became aware that the carnivore was making some very unusual noises, and turned to watch.

The carnivore was standing completely still, every muscle flexed and thrown into sharp relief as it quivered with effort.

“Hhhnnnnnnnnnnnnnng!” it said.

“What are you doing?”  The omnivore started backing away, just in case the predator was tensing to leap into the attack.

“Huuuuuhhnnnnnngngngngngngngngng…..pah!” said the carnivore, breathing heavily.

“You’re not laying an egg, are you?” The spiky herbivore planted its feet, just in case.

“Huhhhhh….no, I’m evolving…hUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHNNNNNG!”

The final effort left the carnivore dazed, out of breath and staggering.  It shuffled, claws finding purchase in the soft earth, but its eyes were crossed and it was breathing hard.

“You’ll do yourself a mischief,” opined the sauropod.

“This isn’t how evolution works!” said the herbivore, “Were you listening when we said it was a gradual process?  Evolving takes generations and generations!  You can’t just put some effort in early on and expect results!”

“You….phew…you’re just not…trying…” panted the carnivore.

“You’re ridiculous,” said the spiky herbivore.  “I shall fetch a biologist and get you a proper explanation.  You wait there, try not to prolapse anything in the meantime.”

“HNGGNGNGNGNGNGNNNNNNN!” Claws gouged tracks into the earth, every cell in the carnivore’s body seemed to vibrate.  Its eyes were closed, screwed up in effort, as it attempted to do in moments what any sensible biological system took generations to accomplish.

“Oh this is nonsense,” said the herbivore, turning away.

“HUH! HGNNNNNNNNN – “ there was a soft pop, like the sound you make when you want to imitate a bottle opening, and a sudden stillness.  The omnivore stood paralysed with astonishment.

“…crikey,” it whispered.  The herbivore turned slowly back.

Where the carnivore had stood there was something much, much smaller.  Smaller, and reddish brown.  Feathered, reddish brown, and small.  It scratched hesitantly at the ground and made a noise that was perhaps best represented as


The herbivore sighed.

“Oh well done,” it said, as one might to a naughty child who has succeeded in doing the thing that you have laboriously told it is the only thing it must not do, “brilliant.  You know you’ve doomed yourself, don’t you?  There’s ONE of you.  Who are you going to share genes with?  Because you’re dinner to any of your former own kind.”


“And now you don’t even speak the language.  You’re a bloody genius, you know that?”

“What worries me,” said the omnivore, looking around him like someone expecting an ambush, “is the conservation of energy.  All that mass has to have gone somewhere.  And there’s no way we’d still be standing here if it had been perfectly converted into energy.” It realised, with sudden joy, that it was substantially taller than what the carnivore had become.

“Where’s all that extra mass, eh?  What have you done with it?”

The new arrival pecked at the ground.

The omnivore shrugged and trotted after the spiky herbivore.

“Don’t worry,” said the herbivore, “it’s very unlikely to happen twice, and even if he can tell someone else what he did and how he did it, I doubt it will catch on.”

“What about us?”

The herbivore looked down.

“I think we might have to eat, drink and be merry.  You know, while we can.”

“I know,” said the omnivore.  Some mammals scrabbled past, too small and fast to be snapped up and eaten.  Around them, the day grew darker and the temperature fell again as the night drew in ever more quickly.

Adam, Eve, and the first night away from Home.

First of all, for those of you reading this because there’s potential sex will be sadly disappointed. There isn’t any. I did some research and it turns out, according to Genesis, that Adam and Eve don’t get it on until after they’ve been kicked out of Eden.

In fact, it looks like they didn’t have time to do much of anything before the Serpent persuaded Eve to eat the apple. We can discuss the plot holes in Eden story another time. For now, here’s my take on what happened next:
Adam sat near the fire and sighed.
“Look, all I said was He commanded us to be fruitful, and if we want to get back in His good books we should probably do that.”
Eve threw another twig on the small fire and stared at him.
“Oh, NOW you’re interested in doing what God said. I like these sudden impulses of yours. Like that sudden impulse to stand up for me when we were being thrown out?”
“I didn’t have a…”
There was silence. The wood popped and squeaked as the fire consumed it. Around them, the night seemed full of movement and small, disconcerting sounds. Back in the Garden everything had been simpler and the animals had at least been polite.
“So much for all that ‘Your desire shall be for your Husband’ business” Adam muttered.
“It is” snapped Eve “and very inconvenient that is, too. I mean, you’re literally the only man in the world so it’s not like I can leave you and take up with someone who has an actual backbone or anything.”
Adam sighed.
“I’m sorry,” he said “it’s been a really trying day. I don’t need to tell you that. This morning when the sun came up everything was so simple. Now look at us.”
“And you blame me?”
Adam shook his head, staring out into the darkness.
“No. If the serpent had come to me, I would have done exactly the same thing. It might have taken longer for me to give in, but that’s only because I’ve spent more time around God and I’m more used to obeying Him. This is our fault, collectively. I’m just sorry it happened.”
Eve shrugged, brushing her hair away from her face.
“And I’m sorry I’ve reacted so defensively. It’s just that…He said I’d bear children in pain. I’m not looking forward to that. And one thing kind of leads to the other.”
She paused, hiding behind her hair again.
“Also,” she said “we’ve never done…that…before and I’m really not sure how it all works. Will it hurt?”
Adam grinned. Finally, he could help.
“It’s not painful at all,” he said “actually, it feels really good. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.”
Eve peered at him from behind her hair.
“How do you know?” she asked quietly. Adam, warming to his subject, moved closer.
“Well, my first wife really liked it, so we did it a lot.”
There was silence. Adam, about to put his arm around Eve, sensed the temperature around the fire drop quite substantially. He moved his arm away.
“First wife?” asked Eve.
“I’ve mentioned Lilith before, surely?” said Adam “I’m sure I’ve spoken to you about Lilith. She was…come on! Lilith! She got kicked out because she wanted to be in charge and be on top all the time! I’m always talking about Lilith!”
“First I’ve heard about her,” said Eve quietly “first I’ve heard about Lilith the domineering sex maniac. Wow. Sounds like you two had a really good time. And God kicked her out, you say?”
Adam nodded, was about to speak, caught sight of Eve’s expression in the firelight and closed his mouth.
“If only,” said Eve “if only we’d had even an inkling that God’s typical punishment for transgression was exile. If only we’d known that, if things didn’t go His way, He’d kick us out. That might have been really useful information to have at some point prior to us eating that apple.
“That,” she said “would have been really useful to know, ADAM.”
“Granted,” said Adam “and you know what, I feel pretty bad about not telling you, but frankly I only realised that I’d done the wrong thing after we ate the apple, but what with the sudden need to make clothes because we’re suddenly aware it’s bad to be naked and then the pressing business of God’s Judgement followed shortly by being told I’ll have to be a farmer all my life – and let me tell you, I have no idea what that means or what a farmer is, I expect you’ll be asking me to work that out starting tomorrow morning because we’ve got nothing to eat. So, you know, with God not being exactly forthcoming with instructions, all I know is that I’ll be eating food farmered with the sweat of my face! Like that makes any sense!
“So, yeah, Lilith slipped my mind! I would imagine that, if you’d had much of a past, bits of that might have slipped your mind today too! But no! Not Eve! Eve was created by God as the perfect companion for me after he’d worked out how to get you right. He didn’t make any mistakes with you, did he?”
He became aware that he was standing, and sat slowly back down.
“Sorry,” he said “this is ridiculous. You’re the last person I should be angry at. The worst of it is, I’m not. I’m angry at Him. But you’re the only other person in the world that I can talk to. Can we forgive each other and start again tomorrow?”
Eve thought about it for a few moments.
“Can we forgive each other and start again tonight?” she asked. Adam nodded slowly.
“Yes. I’m sorry for losing my temper with you, sorry I didn’t tell you everything up front…I think I was just really excited to meet you at first, and then later I didn’t want to think about anyone else…and, well, then we got thrown out of Paradise.”
Eve smiled.
“I’m sorry I was angry at you. Everything is new, and scary, and I don’t know what’s supposed to happen next. I thought God loved us, and I thought we could trust the Serpent, and everything’s gone horribly wrong, and it feels like it’s my fault.”
Adam sat next to her, put his arm around her shoulder and held her. She leaned against him, just for a moment enjoying the way she could relax and let his body take her weight…and curiously impressed that he seemed to be able to support her with no sign of effort.
They sat together for a time, body against body, sharing the warmth of the fire and a companionable silence. She rested her head against his shoulder.
“Is that how forgiveness works?” she asked. Adam looked at her sideways.
“How do you mean?”
“Is that all there is to it?”
He threw another stick on the fire.
“I don’t know,” he said “maybe. And maybe we get to decide how it works. Do you want to make it more complicated?”
“Not more complicated…” said Eve “…just…thinking about, you know, my desire being for my husband.”
“Oh” said Adam.
“And if it’s as much fun as you say, maybe it’s a good way to show we’re not angry at each other?”
“Yeah!” said Adam “I think…good plan!”
“So,” said Eve “show me how that works?”
They wrapped arms around one another, drew closer and decided to worry about farmering, and childbirth, and everything else, in the morning.

Buttercup Yellow

This is the story I didn’t write for The Writer’s Arena 2015 tournament.  It is a response to Mr. Tony Southcotte’s claim that when the call to adventure comes, the hero should always say yes.  To my mind, sometimes there are pressing reasons for the hero to stay at home instead.  To see the story I ended up writing for the tournament, read Dairy of a Madman.  If you’re looking for the reason I wrote that, instead of this, look a the dates the two were finished.  It’s taken me this long to make this tale work.  I hope you enjoy it.

The thing they never told you about, when you join the Council of the Wise, the thing they were curiously reticent about, the thing that never came up in the interview, was the travel.

“Your powers have grown, Eldrick the Wise,” they had said “and with them, your stewardship of all that grows and flourishes. Join us, that you may lend your wisdom to yet more of the Kingdoms of Man.”

But then as soon as something needed doing it was “A great darkness descends upon us! Someone must go forth and seek knowledge from the great Library of Lost Ee!”, or “Doom threatens! Someone must go forth and consult the Ebonii Codex!”, and the person doing the Going Forth was always Eldrick. It had reached the point where the conversations went thus:

“Wise Eldrick, there are terrible rumours of…”

“I’ll just get my coat, shall I?”

It was all very well being one of the Wise, but was it so Wise to leave vital information scattered about the continent in storehouses that were never less than a hundred leagues apart? And now, with the sun setting over yet another day on the road, Eldrick the wise sat staring at the arses of two unhappy oxen as they plodded slowly along a trackway towards some tiny village where, if he was lucky, someone might have a barn he could sleep in. Eldrick turned to the cart’s owner.

“How many days from here to the city of Erebeth?”

“By cart? Nine. P’raps more. Depends on traffic.”

Eldrick looked around him, at the rolling and swaying fields of late season wheat and the entire lack of people.



“And where is the next village?”

The carter sat a little more upright and looked around.

“Fordham, about a league ahead.”

Eldrick suppressed a sigh. A few days earlier he’d been riding with a carter who had two horses and making better progress, but he’d made the mistake of not getting enough sleep for the fourteen nights before and being a bit of a hurry. This made him irritable enough to ask whether the animals could move any faster, at which point the carter had mentioned they’d go a deal faster with only one man in the cart and if he was such a wonderful wizard he could just magic himself to his destination. Being thrown off a cart hadn’t done anything for Eldrick’s sense of self worth.

He knew the country, though. Well, of course he did. He’d been criss crossing the continent for nearly two hundred years on assorted errands. He knew ALL the country. This particular bit was known as The Hundreds, a bucolic and deeply fertile place that raised crops and sturdy people. It was the sort of place he’d always thought he might retire to, if Wizards ever really retired. Rumbling through The Hundreds in an Ox-cart wouldn’t be so bad except there was the threat of immanent continent devouring war as the jealous hand of The Shadow stretched forth to usurp the throne. And as usual, there was a single passage in some dusty tome that held hints about how this would all play out, or something, so off he’d gone. The memory that there was work to be done, and probably always would be, quite spoiled the moment.


Molly poked the cow with a stick. The cow looked back at her and shifted its weight slightly. She poked it again. The stick was light and springy, so the cow didn’t mind being poked too much. Molly wasn’t in much of a hurry and anyway, her mother was up front trying to manage the small herd into the yard so they could be milked.

She liked the cows. The were mostly placid, mostly docile, slightly curious creatures that did pretty much what was asked of them most of the time, which was all you could reasonably ask of anyone. Unlike her younger brother who did what you least wanted him to at the worst possible moment.

There was space in front of the cow. She swatted it with the stick and the animal took a few lumbering steps forwards.

It mooed.

“Don’t you moo me,” said Molly, crossing her arms and frowning, “you just take your mooing and get in that yard to be milked. And no more fuss from you.”

It might have been the matter of fact tone of voice, or the frown, or the stick, but the cow did exactly as it was asked and Molly was left standing by the gate as her mother closed it behind them. Her mother reached down and patted her shoulder.

“Well done, Moll” she said “now go fetch buckets and the churn. Lots to do.”

There always was. It made the days rush by.

Mornings were fetching water, from the river upstream of the village because that was better water, and then a wash and some breakfast. Bread, normally. Then there was working. Cows to be brought in and milked, taken back to pasture, then to the fields for His Lordship. Or the orchards. Or dozens of odd jobs on the grounds of the manor, like ratting in the barns where if you were good with a sling you could earn praise and a penny or two. Then there was work at home, tending the yard so there would be food for winter or fixing things around the cottage. There were the goats to milk and feed, and fires to tend so there would be hot water for the pottage in the evening. There were clothes to clean and repair, sometimes wool to spin or wind. Always something. Molly never went to bed feeling wide awake. Best of all, though there were the mysteries. Like how Mother made cheese. Or where Father went when he came back with a bird, or a fish, for the pot. And how the beer went from funny smelling water to the small ale she and her brother drank. All the interesting stuff that she was just a year or so from knowing all about.


Eldrick had exhausted the entertainment possibilities of the cart and the oxen, so he decided to try conversation.

“And is Sir Robert still Lord of this particular Hundred?” The carter considered this.


“I see. He had a son when last I came this way. Has the boy grown strong?”


Eldrick clenched his fists.

“What, in your opinion, is the defining feature of Sir Robert’s tenure as Lord of the Fordham?”

The carter considered this. Eldrick could see his lips moving.

“Well, sir, I’d say it was his marrying that nice lady from over towards Barrowfield. She’m ever so gracious. And mostly we ‘ear tell she’m at court, sir.”

“So he married someone you rarely see, and you think that’s his greatest achievement?”

“Ar. Well, I ain’t really one for celebrity gossip, sir.”

“I see. Tell me, Carter, what have you heard of the threat that faces King Richard?”

There was a pause.

“’Ow do you know my name is Carter?”

“You drive a cart.”

“My friend drives a cart and he’s a Cooper.”

“I’m also a Wizard?”

“Ar. That’ll be it. Well, sir, I can’t say as I knew it was King Richard that’s king now. Last I ‘eard we ‘ad a King Stephen.”

Eldrick considered this. Stephen had been His Majesty’s grandfather, some eighty years old when a sudden fever took him. He was peacefully succeeded by his son Richard. Richard had died young, father to three sons, the eldest taking his father’s name on his accession to the throne. Which had happened some fifteen years previously.

“I can see you have more important concerns than far off events” said Eldrick.

“Well,” said the Carter, “no bugger ever comes out here to tell us anything.”


Molly watched the cart enter the village, leaning against one of the dry stone walls around the cattle yard. There were two tracks in the village, the one running in the direction of sunrise and the one that went to His Lordship’s place and, in the other direction, to the Assizes and the market at Wooton-under-Lip. It was an unusual sight. Normally, the carter would ride alone and there was almost never another man with him, beating at him with a hat. The second figure jumped from the cart before it came to a halt, hauling a staff and a pack with him, and stalked off perpendicular to the path of the cart. A moment or so later he came sprinting back.

Eldrick jumped off the cart and hauled his gear with him. The carter was muttering and cursing, which he was entitled to do, but Eldrick had been pushed further than he’d ever had to deal with before (including being subject to the soul tearing horrors in the dungeons of Maladestyn Wraithborn, the last true Necromancer of the Eastern lands) and all he wanted was a drink. He had begun to stalk off in the direction of what looked like a public house when, out of the corner of his eye, he’d caught a glimpse of something like the Aurora Royal. That ephemeral pastel fire that surrounded the King at the moment of accession paled into insignificance next to the moment of coruscation he’d seen. That bright, that obvious, it could only be…

…a girl. Perhaps ten, or a short fourteen, or a tall eight. She had the stringy look of a peasant who worked more than she ate, but ate regularly enough that she had muscle. Her eyes were brown and bright with intelligence, her skin sun browned but also dirty. Her jaw was squarish, and he revised his estimate of her age because it was clear she was yet to grow into the bones she already had. Young, then, but already hard at work. Her brown hair was pulled back and tied. Eldrick didn’t know into what, but it was out of the way. She was staring at him with a curiosity that he enjoyed, and all about her danced a prismatic fire that he had to work to ignore because looking at it directly was hard on his eyes. He knew what that meant. He had one himself. Only, and this was a hard realisation, not as bright.

“Hello” said Eldrick, and raised his hat. “What is your name?”

“Molly” said the girl. She gave him an appraising look.

The stranger was old. Older even than Old Tom, who was well into his forties and a local talking legend. Molly could tell because his face was lined and wrinkled, and because his beard, which wasn’t anywhere near a sensible length, was mostly white. His eyes, a cold and pale blue that reminded her of ice on the water bucket in a bad winter, had the sort of intensity that she saw in her Pa when he was working on something. His clothes were scruffy from travel – stained, dusty, dark with wear – but hard wearing and expensive. His cloak, for example, was oiled leather and she’d only seen that when His Lordship had ridden through to inspect storm damage the Fall before last. You needed to have money to have an oiled leather travel cloak. So, old, rich and riding an ox cart. It didn’t make sense he’d want to talk to her.

“Molly,” said the old man “where might I find your father?”

“At home today, working on the roof. Out cottage is along of the bakery.” She paused. “Shall I ask my Ma to take you there?”

“Yes. Please. Now, if it’s convenient”.

Molly knew rich folk were often in a hurry, although she often wondered why since they didn’t ever seem to have anything really pressing to do. In her, admittedly limited, experience, they went about and looked at things, and pointed, and then other people did the actual work. She ran to find her Ma.

Eldrick watched the girl go and sighed. That a talent such as hers should be dressed in a plain cloth smock and hand me down shoes was almost an affront. He hadn’t been able to judge her age. On a normal person, it would have been evident in her aura but the insistent power of her talent hid all of the fine details from him. He would ask, though he knew already she was old for an apprentice. Ideally, you’d secure them young enough that learning to read and picking up new languages would be easy. At this age, even the words of her own language would be harder for the girl to read and write. He sighed, impatient and just a little frustrated, re-working his route and responsibilities. Of course he would take her to the Sanctum for training. He’d try to acquire her as his own apprentice but he knew these decisions were political in the extreme. Perhaps if he took her along on the rest of his journey first. Erebeth was nine days from here. A day, maybe three, to search the Bibliodome of Karath for the Parchment of Tuum. Perhaps another day to transcribe the important section. Then nine days back here, then fourteen from here to the Santcum. Thirty five days, on most of which he’d be able to train the girl at least a little. Who could deny him then? He nodded to himself. He could take a day here, and buy a horse in Erebeth to cut the travel time a little. It would work. All he had to do was convince the parents.


The girl’s mother looked to be in her mid fifties. Her greying hair was pulled back from her face, which was lined and weary. Eldrick was used to long weeks of travel and long nights of study, but he had never felt as weary as this woman looked. He clothing was brown, hard wearing, and patched. She was thin, but Eldrick noted that she was wiry and had some muscle even if it was whipcord lean. Her blue eyes never met his.

“We live this way” said the mother, and started off down the track at a respectable pace. The wizard tried to keep up.

“Just the two children, then?”

“Of the six,” she said “I’ve turned my husband out of my bed now, though, since the last one nearly killed me.”



He shrugged, and caught sight of the cottage.

Eldrick had been born in the great coast city of Nezz. If you wanted something to last more than a year in Nezz, you built it from stone. Everything else rotted or corroded. He knew that peasants lived in cottages, he knew that sometimes they were little more than single room huts. This one, he realised at a glance, had been made with a technique called wattle and daub.

“Sticks and mud” he said under his breath. How could such a powerful talent have been fated to live here? The mother shot him an angry glance.

“That’s as may be” she said “but there’s near four acres of land and cattle of our own to consider, so we live frugal that our children will have something when they come of age.”

“They may have more than you suspect” said Eldrick.

The girl’s father was repairing the roof when Eldrick and her mother arrived. He looked the stranger over once or twice before carefully descending on a ladder that, slight as he was, didn’t look strong enough to hold him.

“I’ve come to ask about your daughter” he said.

“Molly?” The man scowled. “Why? Has she done something she ought not?”

“Not at all. You may not realise this, and I’m not sure your daughter knows either, but she harbours a talent which I may be able to nurture.”

The father reached out and grabbed him by the robe.

“Oh aye? We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? When that traveling scribe convinced Jack the Cottar that his eldest girl had a talent for penmanship, and took her off to learn, and she come back a six month later battered and three month gone with child!”

Eldrick was appalled. Unmarried, because a lifetime of study had led to another lifetime of wandering around looking for obscure texts in hard to find places, he had simply stopped thinking about women as anything other than people he needed to deal with occasionally. He was dimly aware of sex, but not as something he was likely to indulge in. Mistreating people, on the other hand, he could never stand.

“No!” he said. He leaned on his staff, suddenly very weary.

“Look, it’s not like that. Your daughter has a powerful gift for magic, one that should be trained. And the world faces a threat, some time off yet, which she could be the sole counter to. If she joins me now, I can begin her training as I travel. She will want for nothing, and when you see her next she will have the respect of all who see her. I am a wizard, a member of The Council of the Wise.” He waited for the reaction.

“Never heard of you” said the mother. The father nodded.

“I work for the King” hissed Eldrick. “Your child would learn to read, to write, to work sorcery. She would eat the best food. She would live in a house that was not made of shit and twigs.”

The father grinned.

“Alright, alright, no need to baffle us with all your fancy persuasions.” Eldrick reminded himself that not everyone who lives in a village is an idiot. The father thought for a moment. “I can’t just give her away. She’s my daughter, not my table. For another thing, you’ll need His Lordship’s permission to move her out of the village. So, if they both say yes then you’ll have my blessing.”

Eldrick was wise enough to look to the mother for the actual approval, and he saw it in her eyes even though her face was stone.

“You don’t need to worry about His Lordship” said Eldrick “Crown Law says I can take an apprentice when and if I find one suitable. A benefit of serving the Crown and the Council. I’ll just have to convince your girl.”

“Her name,” the mother’s tone would have frozen the fastest flowing river “is Molly.”


Molly sat on the Pudding Stone near the well, scrunched up her features so she could look at the old man without getting the sun in her eyes and made thoughtful noises.

“What’s a wizard?”

Eldrick wondered how to explain this in terms that an illiterate twelve year old who knew a lot about cows and nothing about magic might easily understand.

“Well. When you want something from your father, do you ask for it?”

“D’pends on his mood. Yes, sometimes.”

“Do you always get what you want?”

“D’pends what I ask for.”

“Does it also depend on how you ask? And what you might have done that day?”


“A wizard is a person who knows how to behave so that things like the sky, and fire, and mountains, will listen when you ask for things. A wizard can ask them so they’ll say yes.”

“Show me” she said.

Eldrick had not done any actual magic in some time. There was seldom a need. He got from place to place by horse, cart, carriage, coach and on foot. It never occurred to him to ask the earth to carry him, because to his mind it already did. He frowned. Something to inspire rather than terrify. Something a child might like. Something memorable. He brought his hands together in front of him as if slowly and silently clapping. The words he mouthed, tumbling from his lips in a restless stream of sibilant silence, were as familiar to him the steps to his bedchamber. He drew his hands apart and between them grew a delicate violet tracery of lines and tiny regular shapes. The further apart his hands moved, the more detail could be seen – an occult spider’s web of significant paths and shapes surrounding a space in the centre.

“Tell me,” said Eldrick “what have you always wanted to see?”

“The golden ships at Smarna” said the girl, to her own surprise. The golden ships were a wonder, their fame as well traveled as the ships themselves. Eldrick smiled. He’s been there.

In the central space, an image formed. Hazy at first, it resolved quickly until it seemed to be a window onto the brined and gull haunted Smarna docks, the oldest port in the world. The black and ancient timbered warehouses that seemed to scrum around the docks were the perfect back drop to the three perfect golden hulls that sat in the dark water. Bright and sleek and glorious, the Golden Ships were the pride and joy of a merchant prince so rich he could plate a working hull with incorruptible gold and never once worry about the cost. They were the pinnacle of a Master Shipwright’s art and the tale ran that he’d seen them built and then put aside his tools forever. Eldrick pulled his hands apart and allowed the glowing circles to hang unsupported in the air, the violet occult lacework a perfect window onto a scene more than a thousand leagues away. Molly, her parents, stood in rapt silence.

“Could I learn to do this?”

Eldrick smiled.

“This? This is one of the first things you will learn to do. This is the beginning of your journey.”

“I’ll think about it” said Molly. She slipped from the stone and walked away. Eldrick ended the scrying window with a flick of his fingers and watched the girl’s retreating form.

“Well,” he said “where can I find something to eat around here?”


Molly found him back at the Well. Eldrick had bought some beer, some bread and had provided some sausage and cheese from his own supplies. He sat on the Pudding Stone – an odd conglomeration of other stones which was said to have magical powers but was really just a rock – watching the sun set.

“Why do you want me to go with you?” Molly didn’t waste time on niceties and had an expression of slow calculation in her eyes. Eldrick decided to tell the truth.

“The King is under threat. His step brother, who cannot himself ever become King, went into the South to learn their ways and now, grown strong in magic himself and backed by the jealous petty warlords of the Southern wastes, he seeks to raise an army and come north to topple the Royal family and seize these lands for himself. You have a powerful talent, Molly. The strongest I’ve seen. Stronger even than that of Iruven who is head of my Council. If we can train you properly, you might turn the tide in our favour. You might secure peace for another generation.”

“So there’s to be a war?”

“It will happen no matter if you come or no. But with you, it will be shorter. Fewer people will suffer and die.”

She considered this carefully.

“What will happen to me?”

“Starting tomorrow, you will become my apprentice. Every day there will be new lessons. Reading, writing. Numbers. Simple magics so you can practice and exercise your talent. A little history, a little of the politics of our Kingdom. Then the greater workings, the underpinnings of how the world moves. So much. You will see the world very differently in only a few weeks time, I promise you.”

She nodded.

“Will I come back?”

“If you want to” said Eldrick.

“Where are your mother and father?”

“Long dead,” said Eldrick, raising an eyebrow at the question. “Magic has a quality to it…using it extends life. I am far older than I look.”

“And did you ever go back home?”

Once. He had visited Nezz once. He’d paused outside his parents’ house, his hand hovering over the door paralysed by the sensation that he was now a stranger here. He’d wrapped himself in his cloak and hurried on, promising himself he’d stop in on his way back. But strange tides had turned and he’d left that place the next day, by ship in the company of…

…Eldrick snapped himself back to the moment.

“No,” he said “because when I tried, home was no longer there.”

Molly gave him a solemn nod, as if she understood. Which she might.

“Do you know how to make butter?”

Eldrick sipped his beer to cover the fact that he’d almost laughed.

“In what way?”

“In the way that do you know how to make butter?”

She was staring at him, defiant, perhaps even a little angry.

“No, I do not know how to make butter. Is it important?”

“D’pends, dunnit?” said Molly “It won’t save a King, but my Ma makes the best butter for miles. My Pa knows how to seed a pasture so the cows who eat there give a milk that makes a butter so rich and yellow. Proper buttercup, you know? And he knows how to keep the crows off while the seed takes, and when to bring the cows in. He watches the weather. Ma knows how to milk a cow so it gives nice and calm and don’t tread in the bucket or kick, and she can make ‘em follow her all nice and calm so the milk is always good. Cross cows give bad milk. You dint know that either, mister.”

Eldrick shrugged.

“You’re right. I know nothing about butter.”

“So who is it going to take over from my parents? If you can’t teach me that, what use is it talking to mountains or the sky when I can’t pay His Lordship’s tax? Because it’s butter what does it, mister. Butter for His Lordship’s pantry means we sell a little bit each year, buy cows of our own, a little bit of land here and there for grazing, and we has milk. And cheese to sell. But Ma and Pa won’t last forever, so who will they teach all that to?”

Eldrick dropped his gaze to the floor. You didn’t need to Fore-Scry to see where this was going.

“I don’t know” he said.

“Then I has to stay” said Molly. “I don’t have much, but I’ve got that.”


He could have marshaled arguments. He could have explained that the war would touch every place and change everything, that the Shadow was a man long steeped in jealousy and such men are often cruel. Instead he nodded, waved farewell and wrapped himself in his cloak for the long walk out of the village and into the night.


Molly was fourteen when the rumours began. War, people said, in the East and the North. Great battles were fought. His Lordship made noises about calling his levy and taking his household to join the King, but nothing came of it.

A year later, His Lordship packed up his household and left. It had happened before. His Lordship had other homes and sometimes his wife insisted that all his servants pack up all the prettiest things and take them somewhere else. He would be back in a sixmonth, like as not, and until then the peasants paid the Reeve and everything went on as normal.


She was sixteen when The Shadow, the Usurper, came. His soldiers arrived the day before and told everyone to make ready to pay their taxes. They set out a board on the green and pitched a tent for The Shadow to take his ease in. The villagers came in the morning and set out their taxes on the board, then stood in a nervous huddle because the soldiers were talking about a man they feared. They spoke his name in whispers when they spoke it at all. He was the Usurper’s oldest friend and most capable warrior, and they called him Donjon, because you sent things to him that you wanted gone forever.

Donjon stood no higher than most men, but all in armour. He wore no helm and his hair was cut close to his skull. He was not scarred because no blade had ever reached him, and he stood looking at the board with something approaching annoyance on his broad features.

“We should level the place, move the peasants on. You could have a park here.”

The Shadow was a slimmer man, dressed in blues and blacks. His hair was dark and his eyes pale, like his skin. To Molly’s eyes he seemed very unshadowlike.

“You’re still too much the soldier, Hugh. I told you, we won. Now we must think like farmers.” The Shadow gestured to the Reeve.

“You said that this village has paid taxes of this sort regularly, even without a Lord in residence?”

“Yesyermajesty” said the Reeve.

“And it is generally of this quality?”

“This is a fair year, yermajesty” said the Reeve “in a good one, ‘tis better.”

“Better. Hmmm. You see, Hugh? Look at the land around here. This is fertile country, well managed and well run, but not by some halfwit Lord with half an eye on the Court. There are lessons here.”

He paused and looked at the board.

“Look, this is a perfect example of what I mean. Have you seen butter that was this colour ever in your life? Actually buttercup yellow. It would not believe it if I had not seen it myself.” The Shadow gestured to the Reeve.

“Find me the producers of these goods. We will have talk with them about their land and how it shall be run. To stock my table with goods as these, I would make a free man of every single person in this village. Find me my scribes and the master of the purse. We must learn the lessons this village has to teach.” He paused, looked over the board again.

“And I think,” he said slowly “we shall start with how they make that wonderful butter.”


A quick explanation is probably due.  This was a writing prompt from someone who wanted the Writing Prompts subreddit to do their homework for them.  They’d been tasked with writing a monologue.  I was the only person to respond, the original prompt was deleted for breaking the rules and the post faded away into obscurity.  I, on the other hand, was relatively pleased with bashing out a two handed one act play in about 30 minutes.

THE MAN sits in a bedroom. On the bed, a pile of clothing (all female in a variety of colours).
There is a dressing table, a chair, the bed, and a table. Only these things are lit, everything else is black.
SHE stands in the background and we can barely make her out. Throughout, as THE MAN speaks, we increase the light on her until she is fully spotlit.

I miss you.

He starts to pick clothes out of the pile, haphazardly. He looks at them before setting them aside. He settles on one.

They said I had to do this eventually. Go through your things and pack them away. I remember when you first wore this. On our…second date? Yeah. I was lucky to get a second date, you made me work so hard for the first one and I was pretty sure you weren’t going to return my call. But you did. And teased me mercilessly about being too eager.

He folds the garment carefully and sets it on the table. He picks another, sniffs at it.

The perfume I bought you for our first Christmas as a couple. We drank a bottle of wine each on Christmas Eve and then your mother called me and yelled at me for getting you drunk and leaving you hung over for Christmas morning. And then my mother yelled at her for yelling at me. They still laugh about that. It’s good that they can laugh together. I wish I could. No one made me laugh like you did.

He folds the garment carefully and sets it on the table. He picks another up, but does not look at it.

I miss laughing. It went when you did. You tore a hole in my life and because you weren’t there it filled up with pain.

He folds the garment, then unfolds and refolds it.

I used to breathe hurting. I used to hate waking up because it would be fresh, like cutting, to wake up not next to you and to make breakfast without you in the bathroom using all the hot water. Eating cereal without you telling me grownups don’t eat cereal, nothing tasted of anything very much. Or when it did, it was like tin. Like blood in your mouth when you bite your cheek. Even that went away, eventually. Your absense took even the pain, when it had become a friend.

He unfolds and refolds the garment. A different way, this time.

I wish I could hate you for d… for not being there. For leaving me. It’s hard, being here on my own. Having to go on. My phone doesn’t ring any more. I spent so long picking it up and saying your name, because this is all some stupid mistake and you’re just in another city with one of your friends. Shopping. Seeing that band you like. It’s never you. I think people started to hate the disappointment in my voice when they called, so they’ve stopped calling. That’s OK. I don’t have much to say.

Mechanically, he starts to fold and stack the other garments into same height piles.

The only person I want to talk to is you. I just…when the accident…when the car…I could see you. I could see you as they tried to cut you out but I couldn’t reach you because they wouldn’t let me. I could see you were scared and I wanted to hold your hand and tell you I was sorry, and you were right, and we could work past it, but they wouldn’t let me. I remember your eyes. Wide open and so afraid, and that’s my fault. You were so angry. I just wanted you to pull over. I just wanted us to talk like we did in the beginning. I know you would have forgiven me. I know you would have forgiven me if we had just been able to talk.

He sorts the folded garments into piles of the same colour.

SHE is now lit and during the next speech she moves to stand behind THE MAN. SHE remains expressionless.

You had a right to be angry. I was stupid to take the wheel but you needed to listen and I needed to be forgiven. I was wrong, but you shouldn’t have told me it was over and you shouldn’t have shut me out and I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

The sorting becomes more frantic. The piles of clothes aren’t the same height, so he sorts them into height order as he speaks.

You were nowhere. But now I can feel you everywhere. I can hear you. Everywhere. They don’t tell you that you start to forget things. I can’t remember what your voice was like. I can’t remember what colour your eyes were. Those things were taken when they put you in the ground and your mother took all the pictures for her scrap booking. But I can feel your eyes on me all the time. You watch me and you don’t say I’m forgiven. You watch me all the time and you never speak. It’s all I need to hear. Then I can be better. I want to be better. Why won’t you let me be better?

THE MAN flips the table.

Why won’t you leave me alone?

THE MAN crumples himself into a ball, makes himself as small as possible. Behind him, SHE looks down at him, then out at the audience. SHE smiles.

Parting Gesture

Susan paced. The gallery was small, although the previous owner had insisted on describing it using words like “snug”, “cosy”, and even “bijou”, too small for the scale of exhibition she was attempting. So she paced and fretted while her business partner Jason put his feet up on her desk and opened a bottle of something refreshing.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” she muttered while Jason rummaged in his pockets, “it’s insane.”
“Have faith!” It was Jason’s standard answer to any of life’s little problems and he knew it made her crazy.

To look at them was to see a study in opposites. Susan, at 34, was a businessperson who desperately wanted to be an artist. Dressed in a severe black suit she yearned to be a Bohemian libertine but the necessity of paying for the house, car, gallery and business partner forced her into the role of mover and shaker. Her hair was sensible, presentable and short and that middle tone brown that isn’t quite mousy but not sufficiently dark to be chestnut, restrained in a low maintenance hairstyle that looked good for every occasion. Susan’s skills were all about the movement of money when what she really wanted was Monet. Jason, on the other hand, seemed to be able to get away with attending any event in a pair of khaki shorts and a variety of garish Hawaiian shirts. His hair was unkempt. Not the slightly scruffy chic of a man with an exceptional stylist but the hair of a man who had got out of an unfamiliar bed and couldn’t find a mirror. He knew nothing about money save perhaps how to spend it but he knew everything about art. Ancient or modern, Jason had slept on the floor, or snogged the girlfriend, of every influential artist that Real Money was interested in buying. He had somehow blundered through some of the best schools in England and Italy, fetching up like a dazed castaway in New York. Susan and Jason were destined for each other, at least as business partners.

“Have faith? That is rich coming from you. You’re an atheist!” Susan could feel a nicotine fit coming on, knew Jason had cigarettes (foul, wonderful, evil French cigarettes that would leave her voice husky and raw but were still better than sex, at least in the short term) and knew that he wouldn’t let her have one until she threatened him with violence.
“Agnostic,” said Jason mildly, “I’m hedging my bets. And anyway I still don’t see what the problem is.” He watched Susan pace and fret through lazy blue eyes.
“The problem is that you have managed to secure us the honour of displaying the latest work of Dominic Hayden. He’s so hot right now! People are falling over themselves to buy his work. His last show packed out the Metro. Sotheby’s drool uncontrollably whenever his work is up for auction. It’s obscene how much money that stuff sells for!”
Jason looked confused. All the words that Susan was saying told him that this was a very good thing to have in their gallery but the tone of Susan’s voice said that it was a disaster and very possibly one that would drag them both to hell. Unable to reconcile the differences in content and tone he lit a cigarette and handed it to Susan as she paced past him.
“I quite agree,” he said languidly, “and for that reason we’re going to have a very good night with this. After all, half the punters who come through the door will come to see the Hayden and pick up a little something in their price range on the way out.”
That much might well be true and Susan had to concede the point.
“Besides,” said Jason, “what’s the worst that could happen?”
Susan stopped pacing and looked at him. Her eyes, usually a lively green, were flat and empty.
“Jason,” she said carefully, “what was the last piece of work that Dominic Hayden produced?”
“Oh,” said Jason, “it was a cow. It was a whole cow in aspic, the whole thing encased in glass with an oak and brass surround. Very pretty I thought.”
“And slightly wider and longer than the space we have available” hissed Susan, her words hitting home finally.

Later that evening, Susan laid back in her stress-busting bath and, to the sound of Tibetan chants and temple bells, did some reading on Dominic Hayden. She learned all about his early pieces in England. The two cars – one exceptionally expensive and the other a thirty year old wreck – that he had cut in half and welded together to produce one vehicle, the two Cessna aircraft he had conjoined in a position that suggested they were mating (and which had been dubbed “The Mile High Club”). It seemed that Hayden rarely produced work that you could call small, let alone Bijou. Even more mystifying was how Jason had managed to get the rights to show the artwork in the first place. Susan’s dreams were often haunted by the possibility that Jason owed a lot of favours to the Art Mafia and that one day serious men in suits would show up to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Those dreams would always become nightmares, her gallery forced to proudly display the bizarre scribbles of the Don’s untalented and colour-blind four year old which would lead to her being buried in concrete because they didn’t sell.
She continued to ponder wrapped in a silk robe that Jason had given her one Christmas – a gift she still felt slightly guilty about accepting since that year she’d given him socks – and curled up with a glass of wine. It occurred to her that as long as there was only one item to exhibit there wouldn’t be a problem using the gallery. There was room outside for a few tables and chairs; she’d find out if she needed permission to spread the guests outside. The more Susan thought about the problem of space the less nervous she felt about it. Would there be such a problem with hiring somewhere for one or two nights? Surely not. Given time, Susan knew, she could come up with a location and get it prepared. If she were lucky it might even be sufficiently industrial a locale to be considered witty. She smiled, drained the glass and went to bed with the “to do” list for the following day running through her head. In the bedroom, the floor scattered with discarded clothes that she hadn’t got around to picking up, she paused and shrugged off the robe, intending to find a t-shirt to sleep in, and then caught sight of herself in the mirrored doors of the closet. She frowned, pouted, sucked in her tummy and turned to see her own profile. She ran down her usual inventory – she could stand to lose five pounds, her breasts were ok but needed a little help to make interesting cleavage. She didn’t like her thighs. She needed a week on a beach somewhere to get rid of the pasty white colour and she didn’t really want to think about her bum and how much time she’d need to spend in a gym to get it the way she wanted. She huffed, picked up a red t-shirt and slipped into it, turned out the lights and went to bed.

Instead of dreams filled with gallery patrons that were complaining about the show, she dreamed of Jason and the beach. Jason, the beach, sunscreen and a flatter stomach…and getting that ridiculous shirt off him, and then the alarm went off, just as she’d run a finger over abs like steel.

The abs of steel were well hidden beneath something in several shades of yuck when he finally turned up at the gallery. He was wearing his normal slightly bewildered look and Susan was instantly annoyed.
“Was she worth turning up an entire hour late for?” she snapped as he ran a hand through his hair.
“She? Don’t know what you mean, had a few drinks with an old mate last night…” He yawned and tottered off to the back room for coffee. Susan fumed. She was having another in a long series of bad hair days – the bad-hair-day-proof style had failed her and she fussed at it while looking around for something to do. Not that there was a shortage of things to do, she just couldn’t sit still long enough to do them. Jason reappeared. She took the opportunity to close on him rapidly.
“Give me a cigarette, you wastrel” she snarled “or I will…uh…” she looked around for something to hit him with. He destroyed the moment by handing over the packet. She stormed towards the back room where there was a door to the back of the building that she could stand in and blow smoke out of.
“Oh!” said Jason “Nearly forgot! Look, I had drinks with Matt De…whatsit, the Italian guy with the big…you know, the red car. Anyway, he says he’s seen the plinth for the piece we’re showing.” Susan stalked back over to Jason and looked up at him, put her fingertips on his stomach and raised an eyebrow.
“How big is it?” she asked.
He blinked.
“Well?” she demanded. He looked lost for a moment.
“Bit bigger than average?” he hazarded. She frowned.
“The plinth” she hissed.
“OH! Uh, it’s about five by five. Square.”
“I got that” said Susan, realising that she hadn’t taken her hand off him yet. She prodded experimentally. Not steel, but…not bad. She stalked off for the cigarette. Jason remained where he was for a moment, staring blankly down at his stomach.
“Plinth” he mimicked and then shook his head. “That woman is wound far too tight” he muttered and shambled off to rearrange some paintings.

The cigarette made Susan cough but worked its foul magic on her nerves. Five by five was perfect, she decided, and left plenty of room to light it properly, set things around it, make the gallery look like something other than block walls painted off-white. She forced a smile. It would work out. If everything went as she wanted it to, it would work out. She stubbed out the cigarette and went back to the gallery to call a few of her more promising artists, to round up some sure-fire sales for the night.

Jason slumped into the bar, which wasn’t exactly a bar because it was rather more upscale and served wine and was a place where people met to discuss business. For Jason, the presence of alcohol registered on his personal radar as ‘bar’ and the further presence of Matte Lipsch – which Jason had decided was the worst business name ever and was therefore probably ironic – meant talking about work. Not art. Matte was a money person, like Susan, but also represented Dominic Hayden’s creative output and was the man to whom Jason had turned to get the showing. Matte affected a German accent, a long black cigarette holder and homosexuality which was quite a performance for a straight non-smoking Bostonian.
“Alright, Matte?” said Jason as he slid into a chair opposite the agent.
“Ich bin fein, mein Fruend”
“Oh come on Matte, either in English or medieval Italian. Not German.”
Matte Lipsch nodded his assent.
“Jayson, zer is ein trifling matter of ze display conditions, ein kliene Sach, which means we must have utmost secrecy. The work must not be revealed until the very night. And the following people must be zere.” Matte handed over a list. Jason took it, looked it over.
“Nice nails” he said. Matte smiled and gazed at them happily.
“Unt now, Jason, how goes it mit you and Susan. Have you…?” Jason looked up.
“Mate, I’d suggest you lay off that. It’s strictly business.”
“For you I think but not so much for her.”
Jason stood.
“So if we don’t follow the instructions we don’t get the piece. Right. Yeah. OK. See you on the night, Matte.”
Lipsch watched Jason leave and smiled to himself.

Susan read the list calmly, looked at Jason and smiled.
“So we don’t even get to see what it is we’re displaying until everyone else does?”
“Nope” said Jason, scratching his head and ambling off across the gallery.
“And you can get all of these people here?” she asked as she watched him bend over and pick up a box of wine glasses.
“No problem” said Jason distantly, bringing the box to her desk. “Some of them would turn up for the opening of an envelope. The rest will come because they want to see what Hayden has done this time. All I need to do is make a call.” He grinned his infuriatingly calm, easygoing grin and set the box down.
“Well, while you do that I need to call the insurers and make sure we’re covered, and then make about a billion other calls to get the marketing moving and about a hundred other things…” Susan looked up into his eyes and sighed. He was having fun. He was enjoying this. Then he frowned.
“I don’t suppose you’d like to…” he began but she sighed.
“And then I have to find a new outfit for the evening and who knows, even a date.” She didn’t sound happy.
“I’ll help,” he offered. She gave him a pitying look.
“Nice of you to offer” she said, brushing his words aside.

She sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath, and looked around her. She was momentarily lost, but then found the light switch and was comforted by the fact that she was in her own room. It had been a nightmare. She’d dreamed that the opening night had been a disaster, that the critics had panned the work and that people had walked out in disgust – and when she’d tried to see what all the fuss was about no one had let her look at the art, so she’d forced her way through the crowd of critics and bigwigs to find it was a statue of herself. At which point she’d woken up. She wandered out to the kitchen where she found a clean glass and filled it with wine, drained it, filled it again and wandered back to bed. She sighed as she lay back, and was much relieved to find that when she slept, she did not dream.

The following morning, she shopped. Not wanting to do so alone, she spent the early part of the day calling the various phone numbers of various friends and acquaintances, ending with a positively gushing acceptance from Mandy.
Mandy, known to the press as Amanda Margaret Tewksbury Royes and known to her parents as “whatever has she done this time”, was one of those indispensable people without whom nothing could be opened or considered a success. Young, rich, utterly fashionable and considered one of the more desirable women on any given scene, she and Susan were friends because every wild child needs someone sensible in their lives to listen to gossip and help them with life’s little difficulties. Mandy turned up at Susan’s apartment in a swirl of something terrifyingly expensive and red hair threw her sinfully curved self onto the sofa and looked up at the slightly non-plussed Susan archly.
“Well?” said Mandy with obvious impatience, “have you shagged him yet?”
“What? Who?” Mandy rolled her eyes.
“Oh come ON! The only man in your life worth taking for a ride around the block! Jason!” Susan frowned.
“He’s a colleague, nothing more than that. And he’s not my type at all.” Mandy favoured her with a knowing look.
“If you say so, darling. Now. What are we hunting for today?”
Susan sighed.
“I’ve got a really important opening…”
“Haven’t we all? Jason can help you with that.”
“Can we forget Jason for a moment? I’m talking about an exhibition, an important artist. I need to look fantastic without looking obviously fantastic.”
Mandy seemed to focus.
“I know the very man,” she said, standing in one lithe motion “and his name is Julio. He’s got a little place about half an hour from here. Come on. I’ll have Raymondo drive us.”
As usual, there was no arguing with her and as Raymondo drove Mandy made calls. The one to Julio was particularly specific and strident.

Julio turned out to be English and rather masculine. On arrival in his store – which was tucked away just off a rather expensive street – he introduced himself with a firm handshake and an appraising look. Susan was rather cowed by his presence at first – Julio was well over six feet tall, had the build of a rugby player and short, grey hair topping a tanned, chiselled face. His blue eyes were cold, calculating and hard. Susan actually felt scared.
“Right!” said Julio “Women come here for one reason and one reason only. They want to make an impression. That means style. That means confidence. That means working from the ground up.” Susan drew breath to interrupt and he glared.
“Now, the disaster you’re wearing right now has got to come off. So go through that door and strip to your underwear.” Susan drew a rather sharper breath. Julio locked eyes with her.
“Don’t.” he said, simply, and pointed. Susan did as she was told. A few minutes later she stood in the middle of the room – which was white walled, well lit and empty save for a place to hang clothes on the wall and a chair. The door opened and Julio marched in, looked her up and down, sighed and shuddered.
“Dear me. Mandy? There’s a nice white towelling bathrobe on the back of my office door. Fetch it, would you?”
Susan offered him a glare and he ignored it.
“The underwear has to go too. I would betray everything I hold dear if I let you out of here in…” he pointed at her knickers “… those”
“What’s wrong with them?” Susan asked.
Julio enumerated their faults, ticking them off on his fingers.
“They’re the wrong size, the wrong style, the wrong cut of the wrong style, the wrong material and the wrong colour. I’m being charitable when I assume that your mother still dresses you and don’t admit to me that these were your choice because then I shall have to be cross. The bra,” he paused and frowned, ” is even more of a disaster than the knickers. All in all, it could only be worse if you were actually on fire. Lose the undies too.”
He turned and left, stepping aside to avoid Mandy who arrived with a “isn’t this such fun!” grin that Susan wanted to slap and a white fluffy bathrobe. She handed it to Susan.
“Well?” said Mandy.
“He’s not like the other gay guys I know,” said Susan, trying to find a way to strip without displaying herself to Mandy, not an easy task in a room surrounded by mirrors.
“He’s not gay” said Mandy. She leaned against a mirror and sighed, eyes half closed in happy remembrance, a faint but mischievous smile playing about her lips, “definitely not gay. What makes you think he’d be gay?”
Susan lost control of her fingers and inadvertantly pinged her knickers across the room.
“No reason!” she said, trying hard to avoid blushing “I just thought that men who were into women’s fashion tended to be…you know…”
Mandy shook her head vehemently.
“No, darling!” she said “Julio likes to make women look striking and sexy. Since when have gay men known anything about sexy women?”

She sat, in the robe, trying to make it cover as much of her as possible, in the changing room while somewhere in the shop Julio bustled about and rattled things. Eventually he reappeared.
“You plainly understand nothing, so I shall tell you, ” he said as he placed hangers containing assorted clothing on hooks around the walls. “We start with underwear because it is the foundation of everything. If you feel sexy, you feel confident. You feel a certain amount of power. Whether or not anyone sees your underwear is frankly immaterial, but if someone happens to when you’re not intending they should, better it’s something intriguing rather than something your great grandmother would approve of.”
He paused in the middle of the room.
“You don’t have to tell me your size, but you do have to be completely honest about one thing. When you imagine yourself being stripped by the man of your dreams, what do you hope you’re wearing under your clothes?”
Susan blinked furiously and blushed.
“I don’t…honestly, I can’t believe you…never so…my god, the cheek of…”
“Mandy has burned your knickers, dear, so you’ll need something to wear home.”

“I was doing you, them and attractiveness in general a favour. Are you going to answer my question?”
“There isn’t anyone! There isn’t time for anyone!” Susan looked away, half fuming and half mortified. There was silence for a moment and then Julio drew a long, slow breath.
“Look, love, ” he said as if he were having to explain shoelaces to a child “I don’t give a stuff if there’s a bloke, a woman, a collection of battery operated devices or just some dodgy fiction and some wishful thinking. This isn’t about shagging. It’s about confidence.”
“Stripping people and insulting their underwear drawer isn’t the best way to fill people with confidence” hissed Susan.
Julio grinned from ear to ear.
“We’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got a decent pair of boobs, a frankly lovely arse and a killer set of legs complete with thighs any man would rejoice to be between. You’re driving a Porche, it’s a shame to pretend it’s a Ford. Shall we get on?”

The time dissolved into being pulled, pushed, prodded, measured, denied cigarettes and being tutted at. She tried things on, only for Julio to whisk them away again, apparently unsatisfied. All in all, she thought, it wasn’t doing much for her confidence.

Jason looked at the man in the flat cap and the long brown storeman’s coat with “Barry” written on the lapel in marker.
“The what?” he said. Barry, at the head of a small team, looked at his clipboard and then at the gallery door.
“Plinff” said Barry “for a exhibit. We’re here to set up.”
Jason nodded, opened the door fully and was gently but firmly moved aside as the men bustled in and started moving through the gallery with the purposeful scurry of a SWAT team.
“Empty!” said one.
“S’good” said Barry and, as a man, they pulled tape measures, spirit levels, instruments incorporating lasers, and went to work. Jason stood back and watched as they bustled. He wandered off a few minutes later, then wandered back to find them writing out calculations on sheets of squared paper while one – labelled “Darren” – used a smartphone app to check some stellar alignments. There was a consultation. Then Barry approached him.
“That back wall,” he said “do you need it there?”
Jason thought about this carefully.
“Well, it might be load bearing. I think the neighbours might be unhappy too.”
“Can you check?” asked Barry, and Jason dutifully did so.

The neighbours turned out to be an independant coffee and artisan shoe repair shop. They weren’t happy to have the back wall disappear, even in the name of Art, and even after Jason had downed some coffee and eaten an ethically sourced empanada. He went back to Barry to discover they’d installed it.

The “it” was hidden under a vast red sheet that pooled on the floor. The shape beneath was a box some eight feet tall and more than that Jason could not tell. Barry handed him an envelope.
“Final instructions, guv,” he said “no peaking now.”
“At the instructions?”
“At the installation” said Barry as his team exfiltrated the gallery.
Jason looked over the envelope. He looked again, and lacking instructions to the contrary he opened it and went through the contents.
“Oh” he said.

Julio had presented Susan with three bags.
“Shoes,” he said of the first.
“Underwear, several sets in several colours.” The bag seemed to weigh nothing.
“Little black dress” he said. Susan frowned.
“I have one of those” she said.
“And last saw serious action on New Year’s Eve 1999” said Julio. “Don’t dare wear anything other than this. Go now.”
Mandy insisted on paying for everything. Susan, defeated by her enthusiasm, stopped fighting.

Later, she and Jason looked at the contents of the envelope and spread them over her desk.
“It’s….everything…” she said, picking through the documents. “…wine list, menu, even a playlist. He’s sent invitations already.”
“He was a notorious control freak and perfectionist” said Jason.
“Me too,” said Susan “so get yourself down to the printer and sort us out some flyers and posters. Then you can make sure we have doormen for the night. I’m going to call a wine merchant, a caterer and my hairdresser. Move!”
She kicked him none too playfully in the ankle and picked up her phone.

She tried not to spend any time in the same space as the installation. The very lack of detail that should have rendered it safe made her worry all the more. The last work of Britain’s most deliberately controversial artist, already more valuable than his best selling piece to date, made her nervous.
“What if it’s terrible?” she mused while the wine merchant’s hold music annoyed her. “What if he knew it was awful and that’s why he chose to have this happen at a tiny inconsequential gallery instead of the Louvre? Oh god, it’s shit…no, no, James, the Claret isn’t shit! I just want…where’s the list?”
Later, she sat by the fire escape and went over her itinerary for the following day. Hair. Nails. Dress. Gallery for six. Doors open at seven. Play the music, distribute cheese and wine. At eight, the big reveal. At nine, therefore, it would all be over and she could console herself with leftover Bollinger. Bollinger and maybe Jason. She giggled at herself and locked the gallery before going home.

The next evening, she dressed. Her hair, makeup, nails, all were as good as they ever got. She opened the bag with the underwear in it.
“God” she said, examining the delicate material “is this it? Is this all of it?”
But when it was all on…
Susan looked at herself in the mirror and wondered where the other woman had come from. She had curves instead of mounds. She had a figure instead of a shape.
“I could quite fancy you, if I was that way inclined” said Susan and grinned. She put on the dress, which was like putting the last jigsaw piece into a puzzle. There was a feeling of slight resistance as part of her insisted she’d be better off in slacks and a blouse, but then with a soft woody click everything was in place.
The reflection looked nothing like her.
“Cinder-fucking-ella, you shall go to the ball” said Susan.

Because nothing ever goes quite to plan, the doorman and the serving staff hadn’t been told who she was. Susan was therefore gratified to see Jason’s jaw hit the floor when he recognised her and made frantic gestures for her to be let in. He tried to talk to her, and his voice was about an octave higher than normal. She smiled at him and he stopped talking altogether. The invited guests had started arriving, so she went to meet and greet them. One by one the great and the influential filed into her gallery and stood around examining the lesser bits and pieces on the walls, drinking the wine and talking to one another in little cliques around the cramped space. The invitations had specified black tie, but you could tell who carried serious weight in the art world because they wore what they wanted. Susan was gratified to see there were no ironic 70s tuxes.
A man in a crown corduroy jacket, who could break artists with almost no effort, smiled at her.
“A charming space,” he said “intimate.”
“Small,” she said “and occasionally cramped. Do you think he’s playing games with space?”
“I couldn’t say,” said the critic, eyeing the shrouded final work.
Oh god, she thought, they’re nervous. They’re all nervous. They don’t want to be the one who doesn’t get it.

Dominic Hayden had prepared a short address, to be read before the reveal. It was, to Susan’s untrained ear, cryptic and evasive.
“In Hayden’s words, ” she said, with a slight smile “the final work is, and here I quote, a final parting gesture from the artist to the audience. From the maker to the onlooker. To make of what they will, to value how they see fit, to celebrate the relationship between the working artist to the critics that they cannot work without.”
She looked to one side at the man in charge of the shroud.
“Now, please” she said, and turned her gaze to Jason. Who was starting at her. There was a noise, a swoosh of material, and a collective gasp. She walked over to Jason and took his hand. They stared at one another for a moment.
“We did it” she said, and realised the room was entirely silent. They looked.

It was a rectangular glass tank, five feet at the base and eight feet high. It was entirely full of liquid. Suspended in it was a figure. A man, neatly bisected down the middle, each half perhaps a foot apart. The figure was wearing evening dress. Even through the slightly cloudy liquid you could make out the trademark sarcastic smirk. The artist himself, arms extended, hands palms up, middle fingers extended.
“I’ve booked us a hotel room” said Susan.
“We should go now” said Jason.
The silence continued.


I have lost count of the days since the break-in. I have been travelling for most of them, constantly moving and constantly just a little behind the thief.

Think about how you would feel. You wake up and find the room where you sleep has been violated in the most crude of manners. Things you cared about have been brutalised, or are simply gone. How would you feel? I had thought I might feel shocked, or outraged. Instead I feel cold, and numb, and the terrible need to have back what has been taken.

It wasn’t hard to find him. It wasn’t hard to set off after him, to decide to catch him myself and make him give up the things he had taken. The difficult part was always the travelling.

I got close a couple of times. I was delayed in London after some locals misunderstood my purpose and attempted to defend the criminal. I remember being in Southampton, watching his ship leave port, waiting to be swept away with fury and instead feeling nothing but the chill of the wind across the dockside.

We crossed paths again in Los Angeles. He was having money troubles, unable to sell what he stole and unwilling to simply part with it. I came within minutes of getting my hands on him then. Mere minutes.

I’m closer now. Close enough to feel his presence. He knows I’m here because he’s been running. He hid. In a desert. Assuming that my lack of local knowledge might slow me down or somehow buy him time. I can hear his ragged, desperate breath now. I must be almost on top of him. He must be almost derranged with fear to have climbed to the edge of a cliff, he must know there’s no escape now. All I can think about is how much I want to express how much his actions hurt me.

I shove aside some foliage, and there he is. His clothing is tattered and battered. He looks like he has not slept in days, perhaps longer, and he’s clutching…can it be?

The shock of it makes me pause. I reach for him, imploring. He kicks out at my hand, shrieking and unhinged, flailing until one of his hands meets the empty space behind him.

“Take it, then, you monster!” he shouts, his voice high and tearing at the air. He throws his bundle, which I lunge to catch. And there is the fury, and the joy, and the awful sorrow flooding into me as I cradle the golden canopic jar which holds my heart.

“Passengers” DVD Extras #2 – Moira and Dr. Curtis

After comments from Donald Uitvlugt on Twitter, I wanted to explain some of the harder choices I made in the writing of Passengers.

Moira and Dr. Curtis were originally one person – Moira Curtis, groundbreaking surgeon and experimenter.  I wanted to have a female character for Shaun to bounce off and to talk with so we could see some of his personality, but immediately I had a problem.

Doctor Curtis was always going to die.  Shaun kills Dr. Curtis to prevent her undoing the surgery that has restored his mobility and I was uncomfortable having a female character who was slated for death.  It was bad enough that Shaun is going to assault her to demonstrate that he’s no longer able to prevent himself transgressing some social boundaries.  So something had to change.

Luckily, realism came to my aid.  Surgeons are almost never involved in patient recovery outside the occasional consultation or brief consultation.  Rebuilding a body is one thing, teaching it to walk again requires a whole different set of skills.

So along came Moira, the physiotherapist.  I wanted to keep a joke that cropped up when I asked Scrivener for a Scottish name and it blithely suggested “Akira”, and working that in as a personal revelation gave me the chance to create an informal relationship for Shaun to explore.  It needed to be less formal than the relationship with Dr. Curtis because no matter how friendly Curtis seems, this is a character with a certain remove and detachment.  It wouldn’t be believable for Shaun to grope Dr. Curtis’s boob.  At least not to me.  Shaun defers to Dr. Curtis, and it made sense to keep that deference.  It’s also important that Shaun have a level of fear about Dr. Curtis.  After all, he’s got to be aware that the good doctor could probably turn him off.

I was pretty uncomfortable writing a female character who existed for the sole purpose of having her breast groped, so it was important that the situation be written the right way.  I ran my thought process past GeekGirlCo, who was really helpful in helping me handle an awkward situation appropriately.

Moira was important because I needed to show the escalation of Shaun’s condition and the cost it’s having on him.  In losing Moira, he loses a friend and confidant.  It pulls Shaun further away from our sympathies, because as nice as Shaun’s frontal lobes might be he’s got baser instincts lurking in his mind somewhere.  I think most people have those less civilised thoughts, whether we want to call them primal urges or by a more clinical name, and the difference is that most of us know when it’s OK to act on them.  Shaun doesn’t have that luxury, but it has to cost him or he can excuse it and ignore it.  In short, assaulting Moira is a step that takes him closer to calling Dr. Curtis.

And yes, having a woman in a nurturing and healing role while a man gets to be a decision maker is a sexist position.  It’s a trope I walked right into, but hopefully it doesn’t play out too badly.

“Passengers” DVD Extras #1 – Deleted Scenes.

The following is the alternate ending I wrote because the original was too abrupt.  It was cut back because of word count, and because I eventually decided that a stark ending with no looking back was better.  I wanted the suggestion that Shaun no longer had a conscience, and that we’d been a shut out of his head as he’d been.  As it turns out, a third re-write should have been made to fix the ending I used.  Hindsight.

Shaun shook his head.

“No. There has to be something else we can do.”

“Shaun, eventually you’re going to hurt someone. Do you want that on your conscience?”

Shaun was back in the chair, staring resolutely at the floor.

“I don’t want to believe you,” he said “but I can’t ignore what you’re saying. Get the sedative. Get the consent form. Do it now.”

Dr. Curtis stepped back into the room to find Shaun gone.  The plastic chair, legs in the air, was against the wall.  Dr. Curtis experienced a moment of panic and forced himself to breathe slowly and think.  Shaun couldn’t have more than a minute or two’s head start.  He could still be caught.

The reception desk at the main door confirmed that Shaun had passed that way and Dr.Curtis took a moment to pat his jacket pocket.  The syringe was safe.  He stepped out into the evening and went where the lights and people were, reasoning that Shaun would try to lose himself in a crowd.

He caught up with Shaun at an intersection.  Dr.  Curtis had caught sight of him minutes earlier, watching with a kind of detached horror as the man shuffled and twitched along.  If you knew nothing of his condition, you would have seen in Shaun a man clearly struggling with himself.  His mouth was locked in a rictus, lips pulled back, and his eyes were wide and wild.  Dr. Curtis watched for a moment as Shaun teetered on the edge of the kerb and then put his hand on Shaun’s shoulder.  The contact seemed to defuse something.

“Help?” said Shaun, shying away from the doctor’s hand “it’s hard to talk.  Did you bring the shot?  Please?”

“It’s going to be OK, Shaun,” said Dr. Curtis, pulling as much warmth and reassurance into his voice as he could muster.  He rolled Shaun’s sleeve, aware that the man was weeping.

“sorrysorrysorrysorry” said Shaun.

Dr. Curtis patted Shaun’s arm and then found himself moving.  He lost all sense of place for a moment and then found himself standing several feet from Shaun, facing him.

“Oh god” thought Dr. Curtis “I’m in traffic”.  Something loud happened beside him.  He turned to look.  There was a sudden feeling of pressure, a sound like an explosion.

From the safety of the kerb, Shaun watched the drivers brake and swerve.  He watched the rag doll body roll and roll and come to a stop.  He listened to the shocked cries and shouting.  He smiled, he turned and he walked away.

[WP] Two constraints: 1. It’s raining 2. There are only two characters.

Beyond the lip of the shelter roof the rain was unrelenting. Beyond the rain, and a railing, was the sea; grey and topped with angry white, wind whipped, rain spattered. Inside the shelter Jane sat at one end of the elderly wooden bench and Paul at the other. He sighed, turned to her.

“Don’t you bloody dare” she said. She drew her coat closer, tighter around her. She’d tried to leave, had been driven back by the sudden furious downpour, sat in her corner with the empty diet coke bottle and the “Sens 4 Jaffa” graffiti with her hair plastered to her skull.


She turned, baleful eyes beneath that slicked fringe, and bared her teeth.

“Shut it. Do you hear that?” The pause was filled with the pounding of the rain. “That is the only sound I want to hear.”

Paul was pale, wide eyed, stricken. He shifted and writhed as if constricted, stared at the ground. There was nowhere to go except into the rain.

“I’m sorry” he said “I know it was wrong. I let myself get carried away. I wish I could pretend it didn’t happen or that I wasn’t in control. I was really, really stupid.”

The rain intensified. Jane shivered and tried to curl up on the bench, but couldn’t.

“I’m seeing Darren” she said “He’ll bloody kill you if he finds out.”

Paul nodded. Darren had been against it from the outset, but he was in court that day – again, Paul didn’t say and didn’t wish that someone would finally give the man a custodial sentence – so Jane had needed distracting. It seemed like a good idea at the time; a run down to some sleepy seaside town, one of God’s Waiting Rooms, to spend the day looking at the sea and eating icecream. It had just been Paul and Jane, like back when they were kids and the happy glow of that memory should have made him smile. Instead it twisted his stomach and something made him say

“He’ll kill you too when he finds out you kissed me.”

“I did not bloody kiss you. You kissed me.”

Paul stood. He was trembling. Nerves? Anger? Both.
“Oh yeah, that was me,” he said “standing there saying about how I’d had such a lovely day and you were just the best friend who always understood you, looked out for you, cared about you. Oh no, wait. That was you.”

“You stuck your hand up my top” she said. No heat, no anger, just flat. There was no getting away from it, no avoiding it. Paul deflated.

“Yeah, I did. And I shouldn’t have.”

“No you should not have.”

“Look, I was an idiot.”

“You stuck your hand up my top on the sea front at Eastbourne. In broad daylight. After an otherwise very pleasant kiss.” Jane stood and faced him, even though he was trying very hard to be somewhere else.

“I said I’m an idiot.”

“The worst of it is, it was a nice kiss” said Jane in a very small voice. Paul felt like he’d been struck by lightning. “I mean,” she continued “we’ve been friends for years and I’d never thought about it until today, but it turns out you’ve got a very nice kiss. I’m partial to that, I am.”

Paul stared, words deserting him even as he tried to say them. She’d never thought about it. He always had. He closed his eyes, took a breath.

“Can you forgive me?”

The rain slowed, stopped. Jane looked out at the sky and sniffed.

“Not yet” she said. She stepped out of the shelter and looked back at him. “Maybe next week. Maybe.”

Paul sat in the shelter, picking at the flaking green paint and staring at the ground, listening as she walked away, wondering what forgiveness might be like.

[WP] Bugs had multiplied hideously in the heat

Are you OK? Doctor Hobart, are you OK?” They were the first words I’d been able to understand in a little while so I nodded and mimed needing a drink. The suit’s external temperature indicator is still reading dangerously hot, so I stand up and move to the other side of the chamber,  triggering one of the showerheads. Steam rises and the world is obscured by the fog.

“We have to know if it’s safe” says the same voice as I strip off the heavy gloves. I’ll never get the helmet unsealed if I don’t get rid of the gloves first. They hit the wet floor with a sound like liver on ceramic.

“Define ‘safe'” I say, hoping the microphone is working.

“Are we likely to lose containment?”

Ah. Well. Containment. Now there’s a phrase.

“Right now, they’re quiescent. Resting. And if we don’t disturb them, that might not change,” I say “but I’m making no promises, Gerald. I can’t believe you’ve been this lax.”

Gerald has had a hard day and I shouldn’t needle him, so I accept what comes next with good grace.

“Oh it’s easy for you to say things like that,” snaps Gerald “with your academic position and your portfolio of published papers and your tenure…well it’s not so easy out here in commerce. It’s all about results out here, buddy!”

I’m standing in a makeshift airlock, hastily rigged up because every facility that works with Level 4 materials needs this stuff, but we’re nowhere near the Level 4 facilities. There is water collecting on the floor from the decontamination showers that should really be part of a tented structure. Integrity is being maintained with willpower and duct tape. And through the door at the other end of the room…

…I don’t want to think about what’s in there. I sit on a bench and wait for him to calm down.

“Gerald, is Erica there?”

I’ve worked with Erica before, during the Orlando outbreak. She’s good.

“She’s on her way to you” says Gerald.

“OK, but I needed to ask about the protocols that were in use. Gerald, what was the last thing you did?”

He explains. They’d known the experiment was a failure straight away when the sample registered as corrupted. They’d carried on because even failures can tell you something.

“But when we decided to sacrifice the sample, the protocol called for heat” says Gerald.

Sacrifice. The term we scientists sometimes use when we want to talk about what happens to lab mice when their career in science is over. Some methods are nicer than others.

“Heat should have induced lethargy and then…melting…of the sample.”

“Lethargy is right, and there’s a certain plasticity to them, but other than that I’m seeing a lot of life.”

“This is awful” says Gerald.

“Oh it gets worse,” I say “I introduced myself as a test. The ones nearest the door responded.”

“oh god” says Gerald in a tiny, sick voice.

Erica steps into the airlock, sealing her suit and shooting me a tight smile. I’m pleased to see her too, but busy with my own headgear.

Later. We step up to the door.

“Ready?” I ask.

“No” says Erica, and opens the door.

The room is full of them. Languid grey shapes sprawl over every item of furniture and flat surface.  Some of them are nearly dilequescent.  Erica coughs, gags, swallows really hard.  They aren’t pretty.  The nearest one opens an eye so slowly. It registers my presence, spots Erica. We both exhale. I do a quick count. There don’t appear to be any more of them.

“Did you know this was possible?”

Erica shakes her head.

“There were no indications that we could trust. There was something in the Cosgrove Hall documents, if you looked hard enough. And hints in Aardman.”

The nearest of them sits up, plucks a carrot from behind one drooping ear and chews on it for a moment before gesturing to me.

“What’s up, Doc?” it says “And who’s the dame?”