Thursday, 13 October 2011

I am changing address ...

the flash fiction continues there.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Two Hundred Words - A Puzzle

Of the two hundred words, handwritten on a scrap of red card in black and sans serif, he saw at once that only three were key. The edges of the card were torn but the block of text appeared complete. The first clue was to be found in the first sentence.

He read it again. Out on the water he saw a boat approaching, the onshore breeze swelling a yellow sail. The second clue was buried in the text. He had to search for it.

As he sat contemplating the words, the boat drew up along the quay. He did not recognise the man who threw the rope, but he took it and tied it to the cleat on which he had been sitting. The boat looked foreign. He watched the sailor busy himself with the mast, then went back to the text.

The final clue was the most difficult. He read the piece again but couldn’t see it. He said the words to himself, mumbling them like a prayer, but he could not hear the one he sought.

A shadow appeared across the writing. He looked up. The sailor stood over him.

“Who are you?” he asked, in French.


Thursday, 1 September 2011

The list of words not to be used ...

The list of words not to be used was put up on the door of the library. They had been written in alphabetical order. At first in groups, then one by one, the people approached them, read them, considered them. The following weeks saw a rash of haste as texts were consulted, words obliterated, and certain books burnt.

The list of words not to be used soon became the only existent example of those words. The people pretended to ignore it. From time to time, certain of them went by close enough to catch sight of one or two of the words. Certain of them committed the words to memory.

The list of words not to be used vanished about three months after it had appeared. Everyone noticed. There were rumours. Some said it had been removed by order, others that it had been stolen.

When enough time had passed, no one remembered how many words had been on the list. Memories faltered, secret arguments developed and opposing groups were formed. Centuries saw the list of words not to be used transformed into legend, millennia to myth. Historians speculate. Linguists propose. Writers imagine. The list of words not to be used illudes all attempts to be recreated.


Friday, 5 August 2011

Fugue No.3


The falcon cannot hear the falconer. The rain comes down in sheets.


- The falcon cannot hear the falconer, way up here where the clouds roil and the rain comes down in sheets. From up here the fist of the wind can be seen dealing blows upon the mountainside, ruffling its fur of fir trees.

- But way down there, above the tree line, in the heather, comes the maddened hare, path as jagged as the lightening. But even though the falcon cannot hear the falconer, it knows its task, as sure as claws are sharp, as sure as the rain comes down in sheets.


The falcon cannot hear the falconer, whose fist hangs in the air, whose eyes, from fur-lined hood, seek out his feathered will. Down here, among the heather, they wait or run, up here above the tree line where the crowd of fir stand by the fence and lightening illuminates the maddened hare. As the claws come down, as the mad end begins, as the rain comes down in sheets.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Retelling the story

I slowly peeled back my eyelids and immediately wished I was still out for the count. The building opposite mine, a tower block, twenty stories, was leaning like Pisa. My head had hit something. Hard. There was a stickiness as I raised it. That song was still playing, something hip-hop, something infectious. As a soundtrack to a scene of grand destruction, it held its own. Delusional maybe, but a grandeur nonetheless. I checked my watch and noted twenty past one, the minute hand at an angle equal to that of the tower opposite. I hadn’t been unconscious long. It was quiet. Despite the car alarms honking like electronic geese, it was very quiet. A hush similar to snow’s, peculiar to a scene of massive violence. It could just be the ringing in the ears. The sirens hadn’t arrived. The dust was as yet unsettled. My mind, feeling gooey, tried to assure itself there would be an explanation for all of this. Though, it was still struggling with the building opposite and hadn’t yet taken in the fact that the skyline behind it was smoke and orange fire.

When I got to my feet, the first of the helicopters passed overhead. They didn’t stop. The walking wounded emerged from buildings, grey and bloodied. We stood around. Someone was saying terrorists, someone else, earthquake. Phones weren’t working. I passed a woman praying.

That first day… We all have a hundred stories about the first day. A year later, ten years later, a generation later, we’re still telling those stories. We slipped into their telling and made them fit our censored recollections. The one I told the most was the leaning building one. How I peeled back my eyelids, wished I hadn’t, and saw the tower leaning. In the telling I like to angle my hand to parallel the incline. Like this…

(Suggested by a story prompt from the site Flash Fiction Friday)

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Body

When the call came over the radio, Detective John Larson almost didn’t take it. Some eerie instinct tried to warn him off. He hadn’t slept all night, but a body had been reported and he was up. He took the call.

It was out of town, open countryside, and miles from anywhere. Considering the location, it was a surprise to see so many people already there. They stood at the gate to a field in a tight group. Seeing no other police cars, he realised he was the first on the scene. The crowd watched his car approach slowly along the grass-spined track. They looked young. He sensed their mood immediately; it was buoyant, almost celebratory. Larson radioed base that he had arrived, but waited a few moments before turning off the engine. Something in the way the people waited, something akin to déjà vu, suggested an unfamiliar and awful ceremony.

He shook off the presentiment and got out of the car. As he did, a man appeared among the mob and came down the hill to meet him. He was in his late fifties, bearded and ruddy-faced, and wore a yellow raincoat. He was smiling.

“Morning officer.”

Frowning, the detective took the hand offered him, noticing dirt under the fingernails, a calloused palm.

“We got a call about a body.”

“Yes, that was one of my assistants. It’s her first.” The man winked and leaned close. “She’s a bit excited. Everyone is.”

“I’m sorry,” said Larson, drawing back a little, “who are you?”

“Oh, excuse me. Doctor Fred Durren. I’m in charge here. This way, please.”

He led him to the gate and through the people waiting there. They were lively, chatting and smoking. Larson found their attitude inappropriate, yet they cowed him, with their youth, their numbers.

“Who are these people?” he asked almost in a whisper.

“Just my little gang. They’re up from London for a few days.” And with that, the doctor set off across the field. Larsen hurried to catch up. As he did, he saw that quite a lot of earth had been recently excavated.

“Is it a grave?”

“Oh, undoubtedly,” answered Durren. “We found the cattle first. There were so many of them. Possibly as many as a hundred. Mind your step there. All killed at once. And then we found him.”

Larson was shocked; the doctor was speaking with an unconcealed relish. He was about to say something but his attention was taken by the size of the grave. Durren reached the edge and proudly pointed down at something inside.

The detective drew near and looked into the pit. The first thing he noticed were the wheels, two of them, they looked like wagon wheels. Then he saw the skeleton.

“Marvellous, isn’t it?” said Durren, wistfully.

“It’s … it’s been here for some time.”

Durren regarded the other with a strange expression. “Well, yes. At least three thousand years. Late Bronze Age … you were told this was an archaeological site?”


Friday, 15 July 2011

Fugue No.2

SUBJECT - The breeze caressed the trees. The nightingales sang loudly.

DEVELOPMENT - The breeze, a southerly, and somewhat damp from the sea, made the trees whisper among themselves as if a stranger were in town. Moonless night in early June, and the nightingales sang loudly. By the window, the curve of you, a silhouette against the stars.

- The breeze caressed the trees, wavering every leaf, simply passing through, not bending in haste. Moonless sky of stars, silently flickered by bats, with constellations defined and bold. The curve of the plough matching that of your shoulder, as if a decoration. And the nightingales sang loudly.

RECAPITUALTION - The breeze caressed you, and the trees approved, dampened by the sea, and starry sky, the curve in the window with the curve in the sky and the night in the night wavered and flickered and the great bear at your shoulder, and boldest of all, as I kissed you, the nightingales sang loudly.


Thursday, 30 June 2011

Already there

The children gathered around it, thick with inquisitiveness and wary attraction. It lay on its back, rocking slowly from one side to the other, a mockingly mechanical motion, one leg in the air, clawing at the void that was already there, yet approaching at the same time. They watched, those children, eyes showing wonderment - terrified and excited and repulsed all at the same time. The chick, a swallow I think, one of those fallen on first flight, was them. Simply them: young, helpless, at mercy. A mother shooed them. I caught a glimpse of it. Best not look. But the children would. They looked because they had to know.

But what do I know?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Fugue No.1

SUBJECT - Antonia was running. Johan chased her.

DEVELOPMENT - Antonia was running along a dried out riverbed. She ran over stones of every size and shape, slipping on drifts of pebbles, skipping rocks, and clambering boulders. Johan trailed her from the air, his eyes running over these stones, and pebbles, and rocks, and boulders.

- As Antonia was running, she realised it had always been thus; she ran, Johan chased. Along pried out streams of consciousness, over stories of every size and form, tripping on shifts of meaning, the ticking clocks, the clamouring elders.

RECAPITUALTION - Every time he was just about to catch her, they began again. But roles had been reversed. Johan ruined, Antonia chaste. He would never catch her. She would be forever alone. Tired out. With only reams of stories left, sifted for meaning, stammering, elderly. Antonia was running away from herself. And Johan chased her there.


Friday, 17 June 2011

The Spiralling Story


Stars … stars … stars and stars. So many stars. Everywhere I look is stars. Turning and turning, in widening circles, the stars spin out in an endless sky. A sky with no horizon, only stars, a non-sky, absence of up and down, no reference, no sense of progression or return. I am made of the stars.


Stars have created me. I am at every level: galactic, atomic, particular, all at once, and forever, and again, and of stars, sometimes becoming singular, an independent consciousness that thinks itself unique – as all stars unthinkingly are unique in that collective of stars that is the non-sky, stars, absence of stars, and stars … stars … stars.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Unreality Television

I was told, take him round the back and deal with him. I mean, there’s no ambiguity in that, is there? Everybody knows what that means. He knew what it meant. He didn’t struggle, didn’t plead. He was meek as a lamb. Hurrying almost, as if he couldn’t wait for it to be over. He was leading me. All I could think about was how tight the cord was on his wrists, that it must really hurt, that his hands were turning white. It was my first day, you know? I wasn’t gonna go making a scene. I mean, this is what we signed up for. Really.

Funny, though, cos I saw him a week later on Al Jazeera. Somebody must have moved him, cos he was face down when I left him. Seeing him on TV helped, actually. Made it more unreal. Anyway, I’d already quit by then.


Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Man Who Ran

He was running and running and running, and when he thought he couldn’t run any more, he carried on running. And all the people came out onto the streets to watch him running, and they said, there he goes, running and running. And he ran right out of this country and into the next one. But they don’t care about running in that country and I couldn’t say what became of him.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Error message

404 – page not found.

“Damn,” I said, hit the refresh button, took a drink of wine, and lit the cigarette.

404 – page not found.

“Damn,” I said, hit the refresh button, took another drink of wine, and lit the cigarette (it had gone out).

404 – page not found.

“Damn,” I said, hit the wine, took another cigarette (it had gone out), and lit the refresh button.

404 – page not found.

“Refresh,” I said, lit the wine, took another damn, and hit the cigarette (it had gone out again).

404 – damn not found.

“Wine,” I said, took another page, lit the damn, and refreshed the cigarette (it had gone out).

After this I gave up.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Eternal Return

As he drove to work that morning, Collins experienced a vivid and prolonged sense of déjà vu. It began at the last set of traffic lights. Just when they turned green, and he hesitated, his car stalled, as he knew it would. At that moment the boy in the blue cap appeared and scooted across the road. If I hadn’t stalled, he thought, restarting the engine. At the security gate the guard began saying something about the car park and Collins, the hairs on the back of his neck tickling, realised he could have recited the other’s remarks, word for word, as he spoke them. Shaken now, he made his way to the office and, sure enough, the large-scale map of the complex had slipped its supports and lay crumpled on the floor.

A scientific man, Collins would normally have sought out the rational explanation for these bizarre sensations, but today there was no time. He had to remain focused. Today, in its inaugural run, they would activate the Super-Large Hadron Collider.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Blood at the Palace

By afternoon the crowd filled the streets. We were mostly women, all walking in the same direction, all chanting the same slogans. When we got there, the tired October sun was going down behind the palace and the air turned cool. I stood near the gates. People were shaking them, shouting and screaming as if possessed. The guards drew back and watched from the other side. Their faces were pale with disbelief, agitation, and fear. No one could believe what was going on. Even the rain couldn’t calm the mob. As the evening drew on, hunger and cold fed the rage. It was around six when we broke through. I saw a guard go under. He never got back up. We ran into the palace calling for the Queen’s head, drunken on the opulence, the blood, the mad rush of unexpected power. Had it not been for Lafayette’s theatrics, the royal family would have been ripped apart that very night.

Friday, 22 April 2011


Begin – fail – restart.

Begin – pronoun – fail – restart.

Begin – nominative singular pronoun - noun – fail – restart.

Begin - nominative singular pronoun – verb - noun – fail – restart.

Begin - nominative singular pronoun – verb – second person singular pronoun – win.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Not since

When they had no other choice but to move, he found the photographs. With dust clouds and fits of sneezing, the cardboard box was retrieved from the back of the attic. Under its weight he tottered on the cantankerous metal ladder that led from the top floor. He dropped the box on the bare living room floor. When he opened it, time shattered into little shards of frozen history. In his mind the entire family woke up, one by one, or in smiling groups. The living and the dead. Behind them the empty room appeared full again. It jumped through decades, sofas styles, and carpets. Half a century of life. He had stopped looking at photographs after his first digital camera; stopped looking at his past. He saw a photo of a child and saw it was himself. He would keep these.

Friday, 8 April 2011


The bullet took off half my face, from the left corner of my mouth up to my forehead. The fire took care of the rest. When they found my body five months later there wasn’t much of me left. A charred husk. I looked like the sausage that fell into the barbecue. Poking around, as detectives do, they discovered my wallet outside in the grass. The cash was gone, as were my bankcards. All that remained of my life, my identity, was a supermarket loyalty card. It didn’t return my name to me. All they could ascertain from the card was an inventory of my last shopping trip: shaving foam, six beers, a loaf of bread, and some triple A batteries.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Instant messaging & language

The earliest forms of instant messaging over distances were optical telegraphs. A fire on a hill, a reflection of the sun, flags at angles. From 1792 to 1846, Napoleon used a semaphore network that extended across the whole of France. The updated Prussian system required towers every thirty kilometres and had a rate of about two words per minute.

The introduction of electricity produced real speed. In 1804, Francesco Salvà i Campillo, a Spanish doctor of medicine, designed a machine to send messages by electrical impulse. It was realised a few years later in Germany, and involved thirty-five tubes of acid, electrolysed by one of thirty-five wires that covered most Latin letters and numerals. The relevant jar would bubble to signify the character.

In 1833, Gauß and Weber used a positive and negative current to transmit the alphabet in binary code. The first message they sent would serve us well in our age of mass and instant communication. "Wissen vor meinen – Sein vor scheinen", "Knowing before opining, being before seeming.”

It only took another thirty-three years for the first transatlantic cable to be laid.

With the invention and spread of the telephone, instant communication became private. Previously, intimacy was kept under the wraps of the envelope, as telegraphing had to be conducted through an intermediary. The telephone would eventually grant the public instant information exchange in assumed privacy.

The arrival of email sounded a death knell for the art of letter writing, albeit a discrete, electronic chime. Emails have seriously reduced our ability to write letters, even our desire to write letters. Our postal workers strain under heavier bags, but this is due to two separate factors: the cuts in their numbers, and the sheer tonnage of physical junk mail delivered every day.

Longer emails will be checked for errors with no evidence of correction. The more common, shorter email doesn’t care about typos, general sense is understood, speed is the objective. The nature of what we wish to communicate is also changing. Personal letters were generally one to one communications. The email allows us to mail any number of people at once. We can send that holiday postcard to one and all with the click of a button. Specificity goes out the Microsoft window; a group email cannot correspond in the same way as a personalised, dedicated letter.

Furthermore, when we use email we see adverts all around our personal messages – this cheapens the message even more, draws it into the spectacle, the private is suffused with the public; our secrets carry commercials.

SMS, or short message service, had a number of origins. In Finland the system was used by Nokia engineers to inform of their whereabouts when out in the field. The company decided to offer the service to customers and very quickly realised that SMS was being used by teenagers to organise their social lives.

SMS has spawned a new sub language, and probably a new form of RSI. This is the telegraph message in the hands of the general public; the thumb dashes and dots across the keypad, corralled by predictive text into the most commonly used words.

Predictive text is the bane of language. Whereas once we may have sought for the right word, the perfect phrase, now we have a little help. By suggesting the most common words beginning with the first letters entered, our means of communication is, like Napoleon’s flags, constricting our expression. Words are gutted of vowels; the confused consonants crowd each other like the pressing queue for the last bus home. Hurry up, hurry up. Words made unfamiliar in this condition are avoided and so vocabulary diminishes.

Jean Baudrillard saw this coming. In 1996 he wrote: “At what threshold of consciousness of formalization will the machine intervene? … Thought would end up thinking only what the machine can take in and process.” (The Perfect Crime)

Despite this, one example serves to reassure the writer, Wikipedia lists a common predictive text error (a textonym), which chooses the word "book" to mean "cool" since book is debatably considered more frequently used than "cool" by some predictive text systems. Not for long I would imagine.

And now we have tweets. Every one of those 140 characters in a tweet message can be reduced to two words: I exist.

It is interesting, for a minute or two, to click from user to user, reading idle inanities swapped among friends and strangers. To wander from tweeter to tweeter is to stroll amongst the soundless chattering of a twenty-four hour chorus.

The restrictions could have brought about a haiku-like search for just the right word. Instead, wholly in line with the character limit’s origin in accommodating the cramped SMS style, tweets have incorporated the text slang of the short message service.

There are roughly a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language, excluding declensions. Our vocabulary is being decimated – no, strike that, for decimation is one in ten, our vocabulary is being obliterated.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The beginning of the end

We heard the rumours only a month before we saw them. The coastal tribes crossed our lands in retreat. What was left of them. They said the new ones arrived on clouds. They said not even the mountains would be safe.

I saw them for the first time on the third night of the planting moon. The wind carried the smell of roasted goat, stolen from our neighbours. Some of their music reached us in the tree line. It was an abrupt measure, full of stops and starts, jagged, as if their souls would always be restless.

In the morning we saw that their tents filled the plain and we knew our world was over.

Friday, 4 March 2011


At the beginning of every May, the date was variable, a quirk in the alignment of buildings around the third floor flat of Sandra Cavendish allowed a triangle of sunlight to appear on the kitchenette’s west wall. It began as a faint luminescence, vaguely discernable about a foot up from the skirting. An isosceles of light lasting half an hour which brightened as the sun rose, easing from regularity to an elongated scalene as it slid to the floor, always to be extinguished before getting there. For only six days, dependent on clouds, the visitation waxed and waned. Then was gone. It coincided with the rising of Sandra herself, who was up at seven-thirty almost every day. She spotted it the first spring she lived in the flat, and thereafter every year. On these mornings she felt good. The corners of things weren’t as belligerent as normal, the pills not so bitter.

One morning she angled a compact so as to mirror the beam back into the room, across the sofa to the television. The following day, ready for the experiment, she bounced the light from kitchenette to a hand glass on the television that cast it onwards to a framed photocopy of Klimt’s kiss. By the end of the six days allotted her, she had included four reflective surfaces and a diminutive mirror ball.

Inevitably the solar event ended. Normality reasserted itself. But she left the mirrors in place, for already the countdown of months had begun until the sun, tired, weakened, returned southwards and the ping-pong lightshow reappeared.