Monday, 15 December 2014

Laundry List - Friday Flash

He’d always had beautiful penmanship. His mother had inculcated it in him at the point of a scourge across his knuckles. Reiterated by the Monks who were his teachers at the school, though they hit harder with their rattan reeds. They broke knuckles, yet still that could not stem the flow of calligraphy. Curlicues, flourishes and twirls, anything to banish the dread straight line of a letter. Even though Bibles and prayer books were all mass printed these days, still he was demanded to learn the ancient skills of writing for parchment and scrolls. “Fire and soul” that was the holy grail of scrivening, though to his mind it was unclear what promised land it begat. 

Perhaps his mother had been farsighted when she had invested her meagre savings in a fountain pen all those years ago. For he had secured an administrative job in the Civil Service. A precious sinecure in these days of dearth and scarcity. An ornate script for sparse times. Yet he was no longer scripting proclamations of the latest rationing ordinances. It was a different sort of quota he was fashioning in Baroque swirls and convolutes. A winnowing at the point of his nib. 

It would have been faster to use a typewriter, but his superiors were paranoid about leaving traces behind. Carbon papers and the ribbons themselves could be deciphered for their tidings. He did wonder if this hinted that they knew their supremacy would come to an end and were already taking precautions to entomb their actions. He pressed the blotting paper, another potentially incriminating humble mainstay of his work, down on to his finished page. He examined it and saw his words reverse imprinted. Their beautiful cursive flow had become blotchy and tumescent as the paper had absorbed and diffused the pressure of his carefully calibrated ink. 

Two copies of every list. One for operational use, one as a record until presumably the operation had been completed, when both would be set fire to. No lasting traces. Immolation, the same fate as for those listed on the paper. In this new incarnation of his job, he really was like the scribes of old transcribing copies of the Holy Writ by hand, junking any that were not divinely flawless.

From the interrogations, Señor Nunez begat Señora Ordonez begat Señorita Guillen to their inquisitors. And all their names were on the list in his beautiful swooping script. A single letter hard to read might mean someone innocent was taken for extra-judicial sentencing. Although the children on the list must have been innocent at the very least. The Junta were playing judge, jury and executioner. But only he could play god through manifesting mercy. With a few missing strokes of his pen, he could perhaps save a name or two, leave them off the list altogether. His hand was cramping up. There were so many names to write these days. He stopped writing to rest his aching wrist. He held up his half inscribed sheet of paper. He’d always had beautiful penmanship. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Suspect Device - Friday Flash

“We have visuals”

“Okay, approach with care”

The men pored over their monitors at the image of a rectangular object coming more into view.

“Steady as she goes”

“Which plane do you want to scan first?”

“Go nearest, the short side facing us”


“Hold her there”

“Seems like… I dunno… lots of ridges”

“Bit like terraced agriculture like the Asia sector”

“Nothing nourishing about this bad boy”

“Chemical traces?”

“Bleach, pigmented dyes, cationic starch, calcium carbonate, other unknown solvents, but no nitrous concentrations significant enough for incendiary combustibility”


"Background levels only"


"Minimal. It's human but sleight"

“Obviously. We're not dealing with monkeys putting this thing together. Move clockwise on to the long side see if there’s anything to be had there”

“More of the same, though the ridges display more degradation”


“What? Where?”

“At the corner, there’s complete degradation. The ridges have collapsed into each other. But that there looks to me like a partial fingerprint we can lift”

“You’re right. Zooming in to photograph now”

“Scan for light-sensitive sensors, in case the flash sets off the detonator”

“Nothing detected”

“Okay snap the print”

“Done. Now scanning through database”

“Good. Carry on round. We’ve absolutely got to spot the wires”

“Same as the other short side. Ridges. Same chemical make up. No evidence of circuitry”

“Okay. least it doesn't seem to be a dirty bomb. Anything on the print yet?”

“Nothing yet sir. Still rolling through though”

“Let’s go blindside to the other long plane, then after to the flat surface plane”

“Easy there soldier! You nearly drove the robot into the bloody thing!"

“Sorry sir”

‘Well this all looks a bit different. Is that wiring? Seems like a spaghetti if it is”

“Don’t know sir, seems more straw or hemp than-“

“No evidence of conductor material”

“What have we got then?”

“Traces of emulsion adhesives, resins, thermoplastic polymers, but again nothing overtly explosive”

“What’s that there, that splurge of black just above the corner?”

“Some sort of image or icon?”

“Zooming in sir”

“It’s a, I don’t know what it is-”

“Rotate 180, I think it’s upside down”

“It’s a penguin”

“Penguin? Do we know of any groups that use that for their symbol? Run a search of all terrorist groups and militias”

“Could it be Antarctic secessionists? The penguin was native to there after all”

“Okay include them too. Oh and environ-Mentalists since their flipping bird is no longer native to anywhere”

“Still nothing on the strands, just seems to be, well, string”

“Anything on my fingerprint search yet?”

“No matches sir”

“Impossible. Should have finished by now”

“It has. No one in the datatbase”

“Well either we’re dealing with a top terrorist who can wipe his records clean out of the system, or this guy is already dead”

"No, no. This has been deliberately planted here for us to find"

“Anything on the penguin colophon?”

“The what?”

“The mark sir, just the mark”

“Well just speak English next time man”

“Nothing yet from our records. We’re just about to scrutinise the Dark Web for anything in back channels”

“Okay. Let’s leave this vector for now. Elongate the arm and let’s take a look at the top surface”

“Elongating arm now sir”

“It’s an orange and white plane with writing on it and an enlarged version of the penguin identifier”

“Flush smooth surface, so no evidence of wires”

“Or explosive chemicals. Just dyes and sealants”

“Writing? What’s it say?”

“Dunno sir, seems to be an unrecognisable script”

“No language I’ve seen before”

“Are you a reader?”

“No sir”

“Is it code?”

“Again, don’t know sir”

“I haven’t got time to get a reader or a codebreaker down here. If they’re deliberately trying to communicate their poisonous message too us, whoever they are, I’m not taking any chances. Have the robot blow it to buggery!”

"Initiating detonation sequence sir”

“They’re trying to fuck with our minds and I’m not having it. Anything on any of the searches?”

“Nada sir. This is like nothing we’ve ever encountered before”

‘Well let’s hope once she goes up in smoke we never see the likes of it again”

"Fire in the hole!"

“There she blows sir!”

“Good job. Well done all. Don’t forget to scoop up the confetti, check it for radioactivity and then analyse it in full. We've got to find out what its purpose was”

Monday, 1 December 2014

Executive Toy - Short story (1500 words)

The divinity was sat at his desk admiring his handiwork. That perfect harmony of the spheres he had constructed all those eons ago. Each orb held up and impelled by the influence of its neighbours and then remaining mobilised under its own steam for eternity. A perfect model of equilibrium and conservation, even if He did say so Himself. It was His energy that was being conserved. Since setting things in motion, He had done nothing but put His transcendental feet up on the desk and observed His executive toy spellbound for millennia on end. Bliss exalting bliss.

All He'd wanted was a quiet life. But His creations wouldn't let him rest. The agglomerations of sentient bacteria and molecules He had sown the blue planet with, were always trying to track Him down. No doubt in order to complain about things. Bring him to book, waving His volumes under His nose, the bare faced cheek of it. They really were an ungrateful progeny. He'd sent them warning by way of that punishing flood, which wiped out all bar His chosen breeding couples. But they hadn't taken the hint.

Oh they continued to raise hosannas to the heavens in praise of the beauty of His creation. But they'd expected responses back from Him, which was patently absurd. He was all too conscious that they also raised their voices towards Him beseeching for favours and boons. Money, health, a beautiful spouse or bountiful harvest. Victory in their blood-letting disputes. They were utterly unaware of the disparity in scale between Himself, a builder of galaxies and infinitude, and they as little more than bundles of atoms. Such a gulf precluded any possible communication across the divide. Were He to speak, they all would have instantly been deafened. Or suffered cardiac arrests. The earth might have been knocked off its orbit. Hadn't the ineffable beauty of His creation on their behalf been sufficient to announce Himself to them?

Yet it was far worse even than mere petty selfish desires inserted into their prayers. There were those among them who wanted to dissect every part of His creation. To come to an understanding of its sublime works and in doing so, maybe arrogate such power for themselves. They worked out the parabolas of His spheres. So He tweaked their orbits to make them elliptical. Then they figured that out too. After some false starts which He was happy to imagine would lead them up the garden path, eventually they chased down gravity and the curvature of spacetime. It wouldn't be long before they came to an appreciation of the intricate complexity of multi-dimensionality and multiverses. 

Hand-in-hand with this inquisitiveness, came a more alarming scepticism. They dared doubt that He could ever have composed such wonders. Rather their very own innate physical properties would explain their coming into being. These little upstarts were getting a little too big for their booties. However the flood ruse wouldn't work a second time. Never revisit your past triumphs and besides, they had so messed with the atmosphere over their planet, they were raining down floods and tsunamis on their own heads and barely even blinking. Any weather-based cataclysm they would likely claim credit for at their own hands rather than His. He had to go deeper, bigger. More upscale. There had to be no doubt whose signature was on the next warning shot.

He stared at his arrangement of planetary discs but it sparked no new creative burst. Perhaps He should just sweep the whole thing away and start again. But He really couldn't face the prospect of all that toil again, it had been such a long time ago after all. To commit six days (in the old currency, when Methuselah really did live nine hundred and sixty-nine years), to labouring, when He had been off his feet for an epoch, well it didn't bear contemplation. Even if He decided to forgo seeding this version with back-chatting bacteria, that only knocked what, a day and a half out of the equation? No He would again have to make do and mend with the materials at hand. He suddenly apprehended that His calculations on a piece of papyrus the size of Texas, represented the first 'work' that His desk had played host to in generations. Gad His ingrate offspring had really got to Him. He would sleep on the matter, just for one day in the old currency, before that diabolic protozoa Albert Einstein had dared challenge His notion of time. 'Big Bang?' He'd see to it they'd all get a big bang in their comeuppance alright...

He awoke feeling refreshed and flexed His superhuman arms to banish the stiffness. By accident His holy outstretched fist smote an outlying planet in the Milky Way and sent it crashing into its neighbour. He held His perfumed breath as he anticipated a conflagration, but none was forthcoming. Instead, the two planets took it in turns to rebound and recoil off one another with each fresh collision. As there was no air in space, sound lacked a medium through which to travel and report these impacts. He leaned in over these two outlying planets and breathed some numinous air just in order to receive the sound effects. The two planetary bodies crashed backwards and forwards into one another with a sharp click-clack. He could not help but pull a little rueful smile. For had He not just conducted an experiment the likes of which He constantly berated his insolent young pups down there on earth for?

He ceased His miraculous breath. The two planets continued their 'After you Claude' dance across the celestial spheres in silence. He decided to introduce a third planet to their charming duet. And how pleasing was the result! The outer planet cannoned into the centre planet, halting its own progress immediately, while sending the centre one careering into the other planetary orb on the outside. It in turn was hurled out into the void, before reaching its zenith and swinging back into the centre sphere and stopping instantly, while for its part the middle ball retraced its weary steps back in the direction from which it had just come.

At a stroke, the Master Designer had His new executive toy. The pleasing thing was that this too was still perpetual motion. No degrading of energy of momentum. A perfect, frictionless system. The periodicity of the orbs never changed. Maybe He should have insisted that rosary beads were like this, then the believers may never have encountered any crisis of faith. He experimented with five planets and found the variety of combinations and effects for Him to observe increased exponentially. When he pulled back two of the planets on one side and three on the other, they thrillingly swapped back and forth between which were the threesome and which the pair. Everything was ripe for transferring to the earth.

He devoted some thought as to which of the five spheres the earth should be positioned as. It seemed to Him that the middle ball actually did the least travelling of all, transferring on the received energy almost immediately to the next orb. If it wasn't to be the middle rondure, equally it couldn't have the mighty Jupiter slamming into anything for it would just disintegrate poor old Mars. While Saturn was made of gas and therefore of unreliable solidity.

So His first move was to downgrade His design to just four planets. The first four closest to the sun. Earth would pinball between Mars and Venus. Additionally, the heavenly bodies had to be of identical mass to preserve the energy transfer. So the otherworldly One wrought His thaumaturgy and beefed up the internal mass of the other three less weighty planets and augmented their diameters to match that of Earth. If the denizens of that wretched planet happened to train their telescopes up at their familiar neighbours they would see that they had inexplicably expanded their girth. But He trusted their insufferable arrogance to prevail and that they would be casting their lenses further afield than the local neighbourhood as they tried to pierce the secrets of His craft. He couldn't suppress a smile from his supermundane features, as He thought of them seeing Venus and Mars looming large and ever closer with their naked eyes soon enough. That would scare the Bejesus out of their doubting hearts. He positively rubbed his hallowed hands together in anticipation.

So the Supreme Executive sucked in His breath and inhaled Mercury towards the Sun, at the maximum of the amplitude of the swing He had calculated was required. Just as He was about to let go the tension line of His empyrean breath, He suddenly remembered the sound effects hadn't been enabled. He carefully restored Mercury back to its orbit and breathed oxygen to extend the atmosphere of all four planets into one seamless plane. He regathered Mercury back to its full extension. And then He let go...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Blinkered - Friday Flash

I heard the rasp of the man’s finger down the spark wheel. It’s true what they say, when you become blind, one’s other senses become heightened, for I imagined I apprehended it striking against the flint. I started heaving on the unfiltered tip between my lips but was only rewarded with a few dry tobacco grains suctioned into the back of my throat. Foolish sightless me, the man hadn’t yet brought the flame to the cigarette. No doubt his hand was probably trembling too much and he was afraid I might glean that. The grains were coarse and the paper began dissolving between my lips. I discerned I could taste the scent of the man who had rolled it up, the bitter tang of hatred and despair. Of an army with reduced rations of only the cheapest shag. His troops might be hard up against it, yet it was I who was up against the wall. A bullet pocked wall, that much I knew without having to engage any of my senses, compromised or otherwise. 

“What, not a Sobranie then?”

I didn’t anticipate the cuff across my chops that swiped the gasper from my bushwhacked mouth. Didn’t feel a presaging swish of air, didn’t hear his coarse uniformed sleeve scything towards me. The blindfold had done nothing to accentuate my alertness after all.

“I need another one now. I’m not having that up off the ground”.

This time I did hear the crinkle of his rough worsted, though his arm seemed to be moving slowly rather than with the torsion of violence. The gasper was rammed back in the corner of my kisser. I manipulated my lips to funnel the cigarette into the middle of my mouth, for I wasn’t going to smoke this like some barrow boy or stevedore. I was just in time to receive the flame, whose feeble heat I could feel against my skin. Now in addition to tobacco grains, I could taste granules of earth to boot.

“You Sir, are neither an Officer nor a Gentleman”. I took his silence for agreement. I didn’t even know if he could speak my bally language. 

And what of the rest of my reception and ultimately rejection committee? Do they all smoke in advance of their duty to shoot me? To steady their hands, numb them into unerring aim? I hear no matches or lighters sparking up, but then I no longer trust my senses clouded by the blinkers. Perhaps they will await until after my despatch, lighting up to celebrate a job well done. Or at least not botched. An easy kill, a sitting duck of a target. A cigarette to purge their distaste and their dishonour. They know nothing lies behind my execution other than spite, since the war is lost and no advantage can be derived by my slaying. I hope they choke on their smoke. No, that does not become me. Faced with their position I would act exactly the same wouldn’t I? No, I would never let myself be cozened into such a position.

Normally when one smokes a fag, one indulges in watching the smoke wend its sinuous trail up towards the sky. Such carefree motion helps shapes one’s thoughts at that particular moment. But behind the blindfold I could see nothing of its convolutions. I possessed only internal sensations to fix upon. I breathed the smoke as deeply into the alveoli of my lungs as possible. I imagined I could almost feel the fumes licking up against the pulmonary walls and osculating with its infernal embrace. It was very much like the sensation of the first ever cigarette I had sucked on. A sensation forever sought after again and again, yet never recaptured. Just like the first orgasm. The first parachute jump. The first freefall. The first of each and every one of my daredevil enterprises, pushing myself. Each seeking after that first thrill, never able to reproduce it subsequently. Instead moving on to the next risky exploit. Unaware that all the time adrenalin was my blindfold, the sweat running into my eyes, the accelerating heart serving to blot out all true feeling. Always the quest for onwards and upwards, ever upwards. Now come to a crashing halt, here with my back pressed against a brick splintered by shrapnel and varnished in dried blood.

Two days, maybe a week no more and this damn war would be over. We would win it, yet I am likely to be one of the final casualties for our side. All because I took this outlandish plunge off my own bat. Behind the lines of this beaten army, yet their ideology I knew deep down to be both remorseless and unforgiving. To the last they would not be able to stomach any challenge to the monolith of their assemblage, no matter how gerrymandered. Even with a dearth of numbers on the front lines, they would perforce by their own perverse logic have to take a small platoon away behind the lines to form a firing squad. To eradicate the abomination that my gall represents. The decadence and delinquency that my brazen action somehow symptomises my country and the alliance we are part of. 

I can feel the faint heat of the burning tip close to my lips now. The cigarette is almost done. The reek of it in my nostrils is more like that of the cordite and saltpetre of the recently vacated battlefield. The tobacco and paper fuse to my own destruction was burning down to my own discharge. Now reduced to a dog end, it seared my lips. My nostrils were filled with the scent of burning flesh and brimstone. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

New Cover Reveal

In 2011 I published my novel "Not In My Name" about the genesis of a homegrown Islamic terrorist, in response to the bombing of railways in Madrid and London and the spate of suicide bombings in Israel that prompted the erection of the security wall.

Everything that I wrote in that book, about online recruitment, suicide bombers, beheading videos, martyrdom and the nature of a death cult, is more true today with the emergence of ISIS/ ISIL than even back then.

Recently I've blogged on the factors shared with the rise of recruitment to ISIS to the homegrown suicide bombers who attacked the London Underground, herehere and here. I despair of the pronouncements made by the authorities as they flail around trying to get to grips with the phenomena of 5 Britons a week travelling to join up with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They seem to me to be utterly clueless with this manifestation of militant Islamic terrorism, but the point is it's not that new. My book lays out the journey from Yorkshire to Syria or Iraq.

I'll be honest, my book hasn't done terribly well up until now. I think part of the reason is not that people aren't interested in this subject, but that I did them a disservice with a terrible original cover that looked like the book was a cartoonish treatment of a serious subject. The fault was mine not the designer, since they were working from my brief. So I'm glad to announce that I have republished the book to Kindle with a brand new cover this time designed by Appleseed Images. It will be interesting to see if the cover makes any difference to sales.

Here's the new cover:

Friday, 21 November 2014

Subjectify - Friday Flash

Flatfoots finally caught up to me, and naturally threw me in chokey. My good run was over. My life was over. Stripped of the freedom to roam by my prison bars, there was only one thing to be done. I fixed on ending my life. The warders were plenty amenable, leaving me with a razor blade after lights out. An unbloodied helping hand. Guess one less for them to scrutinise. Maybe they were just scared of me. Or maybe it was their way of meeting out their own justice. 

But breaking the membrane of my own skin was harder than that of someone else’s. Rather than arouse my blood, it fled away from my veins. My usual sure-handedness deserted me, the blade was all aquiver. And though my dread of incarceration must have conjured up some modicum of fear, I couldn’t smell or taste it like I always could on my prey. 

Guess I wasn’t as good at killing myself as I was at killing others. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Achromatic Landcsape #4 - Flash Fiction

The pylons stretching back like a forlorn wedding arch awaiting for Gog and Magog to breast them triumphantly. 

The slack skipping ropes of their sagging cables, since the escarpment chalk giants are off elsewhere playing hopscotch. 

A mesh of Babel towers all connected up to deliver the illumination for humans to generate their own blaze, glare and incandescence of incomprehensible communication.

Standing like Christmas trees stripped of their needles and baubles in bleakest January, still broadcasting their proudly erect posture but generating only barrenness.

A column of ramrod straightbacked corps disarmed by the ordinance to cats cradle their copulas. 

Multi-limbed blights snarled in the gossamer silk offered by their antecessor as a way out of this never-ending green labyrinth.