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Writing

Discordant Love Beyond Death

12th July 2019 — 1

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Unfortunately, the July Kickstarter campaign has been cancelled as it was fairly obvious that it would not meet its goal. There are several reasons that have been identified, that will be addressed and fear not a revamped more focussed campaign will be launched in the coming months.

 

It’s the middle of summer and I suspect the last thing you’ll be thinking about is Valentine’s Day 2020. But with ONLY a little over 200 days to go, time is rapidly running out to find that special gift that expresses just how much you really love your partner. Don’t settle for the usual last-minute token flowers, unimaginative restaurant booking or guilt fuelled Amazon panic buys. Get your true love something unique, something memorable, something that shows you were thinking of them now and you’ll be thinking of them forever, long after one of you is DEAD!

Get them the gift of “Discordant Love Beyond Death” a horror-themed anthology this coming Valentine’s Day!  

Not enough? Well, why not immortalise your love by getting their name interwoven into one of the many fantastic stories. It’ll mean far more than another generic heart-shaped card.  

Yes, I’m afraid this is a shameless plug for a book, one I’ve had the enormous pleasure of contributing to. Discordant Love Beyond Death is an anthology of 22 macabre short stories that explore the subject of what happens to love after death and is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter until the end of July 2019. So if you, or better still your partner, like your indie literature dark, varied and thought-provoking, treat yourselves to something a little special this coming Valentine’s day.

I can assure you my writing is a little better than my attempts at sales patter. This is my first fledging efforts to take my writing from the world of online flash fiction into actual print and I couldn’t be in better company with so many talented writers contributing to the anthology:

I love the challenge of writing prompts and “Love after Death” was a great open-ended idea that offered so many possibilities, especially when you consider the many forms of love beyond the obvious romantic cliches. My original concept was to write a story that somehow explored all the classical forms of love in a single tale. But it soon became painfully obvious that it would read more like an academic treatise than any form of entertainment, not to mention the pressure of an 8k word goal. That said I did manage to keep the seed of this idea in the final Darkness Indivisible contribution as it attempts to explore different types of love, relationships and how they change.

Other influences in my contribution keep the classic theme; as I wanted the story to be a journey similar to Dante’s, but rather than a hellish landscape the journey would be through time with its own rich tapestry of horrors, The biggest influence was Milton’s infinitely quotable Paradise Lost the title and ultimately the core of the story being inspired by the passage:

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible

I find huge inspiration in music and Mumford and Son’s album Delta was probably the biggest overall influence on the tone of the story. Practically the lyrics of every track (Guiding Light, If I say, Rose of Sharon and of course Darkness Indivisible) are intermeshed in some form consciously or not into every chapter, all summed up in the track “42” which is practically a parable for Darkness Indivisible and highly worth a listen.

Now I’m loathed to give away any more details for fear of spoiling the story but if you want a taste of what you can expect then feel free to peruse some of the other short stories on the site (links below).

Finally, a big thanks to Mumford and Son’s for their brilliant and truly inspirational album and an even bigger thanks to Dickon Springate at Beyond Death Publishing for conceiving and creating the project.

Cover image courtesy of James Discombe

Writing

Flash Fiction Challenge – Damned Dwelling

5th October 2018 — 0

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This is my entry to Octobers monthly flash fiction challenge on the /r/fantasywriters sub Reddit. This month’s challenge was to write a fantasy story based around a curio shop in only 500 words. You should check out some of the other entries it’s amazing what people can come up with in so few words.


The tinkle of the shop bell resounded around the dusty curiosity shop to the accompaniment of much muttering and yawning.

“Here we go again,” Hobbs sighed stirring from a tatty couch conveniently situated near the only window.

“She’s just sheltering from the rain,” Daphne said, “She won’t buy anything”.

The bedraggled woman closed the door and shook the worst of the rain from her coat. The shopkeeper started from his snooze by the commotion dragged himself out of his chair, “Can I help you dear, are you looking for something in particular?”.

A loud tut came from behind the counter as Thomas interjected: “Wait for it …”

“I’m only browsing,” the woman replied.

“Every time, every bloody time,” Thomas groaned, “Hell is watching this old fools sales technique”.

The shopkeeper slumped back into his seat as the woman wandered around the shop, picking up items one by one, looking at them and carefully placing them back down. She picked up an old baseball. Hobbs jumped up excitedly.

“She’s not going to buy it,” Daphne said.

“She might, she might have a son,” Hobbs danced up to the woman just as she put the baseball back down.

“Told you,” Daphne said mockingly. Hobbs threw his hand up in the air exasperated, “I hate you, one day you’ll be wrong, one day I’ll get out of here”.

“Not likely,” Daphne hissed, “She’s the first customer this week. No one is going to buy a rotten baseball, none of us are getting out of here, least of all you!”.

Hobbs threw himself back into the couch in a huff and looked out at the rain.  

The woman continued her rummaging, turning over this and that absentmindedly. Thomas looked on, “It’s a shame old boy Jones isn’t still running the show. Junior here is bloody hopeless”.

His voice trailed off as the woman leaned behind an umbrella rack and with a tug pulled out a black umbrella. She brushed off the cobwebs, opened and closed it and turned to Jones, “I’ll take this thank you”.

All three ghosts shot to their feet. “Finally, I’m getting out of here”. Thomas screamed bolting towards the door, “I can’t believe it, I’m getting out, 58 years I’ve been stuck here bound to that bloody thing”.

The woman handed over the umbrella to Jones who slowly rang up the price on the old till before stammering “Would you like it wrapped?”.

A beam of light broke through the clouds, shining brightly through the window, through Thomas and onto the counter. “I’m finally getting out of this dead-end shop”, Thomas was in tears, “I hope to never see either of you ever again, it has been utter hell, you people are the worst and you deserve each other for all eternity”.

The woman felt the warm sun on her hand, she turned and looked back at the sun streaming through the window, through Thomas and said, “Actually don’t worry, it looks like the sun’s coming out”.


Thanks to Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash for the great photo.

Writing

Flash Fiction Challenge – Time for an Apple

21st September 2018 — 1

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Again, big thanks to FracturedFaith for his irregular Flash Fiction Challenge, a fun opportunity for writers to test their mettle by writing a short piece around an “inspirational” topic. This week, inspiration takes the form of the attached puzzling till receipt,

I must admit, I struggled to come up with something. I usually have too many ideas (good & bad), given the open-ended nature of the challenge and typically struggle to commit to one story. In this instance, the only story that came to mind was that below, I hope it’s entertaining.


He looked across the room, the mid-morning sun catching motes of dust in its beams, they sparkled and blinked like tiny stars above the heads of the gathering audience. It was his first time visiting this retirement home, but if you had seen one you had seen them all. This particular day room was laid out with the usual sturdy uncomfortable looking chairs set out in small groups around several wooden coffee tables decorated with the odd vase of mostly wilting flowers. The beige carpet, beige curtains and whitewashed walls made the room feel bright, airy, sterile and functional.

He pulled his gaze away from one of the dancing glowing specks suspended in a sunbeam, it had held his attention seeming to shine longer and brighter than most. and fumbled for his pocket watch. It was attached to a heavy chain tucked into a pocket in his tatty waistcoat. He loved this watch, it was his connection back to the heyday of magic when magicians captivated music hall audiences with amazing feats, truly a more magical time. Not that he had ever lived through it he was only twenty-two, but he’d read everything from the golden age with an all-consuming passion. The watch gave him a strange sense of melancholy and he felt like a man out of his time. He pulled himself from his reverie snapping the watch closed, turned and cleared his throat.

“Lady’s and Gentlemen”; he bellowed theatrically, “let me introduce myself I am the Great Meldroit and I am here today to astound you with feats of magic you will not have seen even in all of your long years”, with a flourish, he bowed and smiled his broadest smile to an otherwise uninterested audience. Unperturbed he pushed on into his first magic trick, pulling from his sleeve a wand, that with a flurry of movement turned into a bouquet of plastic flowers that he let fall onto the table. There was a murmur of dissatisfaction from the room, all except for a grey haired old lady seated nearest to him who clapped a little over excitedly.

He smiled at her, he only needed one audience member, one person to see the wonder that he was offering, so he would perform for her, she would be his concert hall. Over the next 20 minutes, he ran through his repertoire, regaling his audience with baffling card tricks, toy rabbits from hats, disappearing balls and coins galore. The old lady laughed and clapped. Her husband who had sat at her side reading the paper for most of the performance tried to stay her enthusiasm when she started cheering, but the old dear was having none of it. When Meldroit was done she struggled to her feet to give him a standing ovation, much to her husband’s consternation.

“I’m sorry”; the husband said, helping his wife carefully back into her chair; “She has dementia, it’s probably all new to her. She always did love magic”, his words trailed off lost in thought. There was sadness in the old man’s eyes even as he smiled across at her and moved an errant grey lock of her hair from her life-worn face.

The magician looked away, and for a moment stared into the middle distance at the glowing mote still hanging in the sunbeam. He pulled out his pocket watch again, he had time, he snapped the watch closed. “Time for one more magic trick”, he announced to a disinterested room. His singular audience, however, looked up at him eagerly. Spying a discarded breakfast bowl he asked the husband to place it on the table directly in front of his wife, he moved aside one of the stale vases of wilting flowers.

Suddenly in an all too practised move, he took off his top hat and spun it around, revealing it to be empty. Just before pulling out a plastic bag of diced melon from the seemingly empty hat. He tipped the tasty cubed contents into the bowl. The old lady leaned forward with anticipation and licked her dry lips as the magician pulled a peeler from his sleeve.  Wielding it like a wand he tapped it twice on the table, garnering some very puzzled looks in the process.

Closing his eyes he started moving the peeler around the cubes of melon and as he did so the cubes begin to slowly move, to coalesce until there was a whole succulent melon sat in the bowl. He continued to move the peeler over the melon’s surface, wherever the peeler touched the melon the skin reformed, unpeeled until at last a pristine untouched melon now sat in the bowl.

He opened his eyes, the entire room was looking on in stunned amazement. He clapped his hands and the illusion melted away leaving the melon cubes back in the bowl. The old lady quick as you like snatched a piece and tentatively put it to her lips, tasting the cool liquid she devoured the cube with gusto, an impish smile on her face.

The room was quiet now, you could hear a pin drop, his audience had swelled and dozens of faces now looked on expectantly. Emboldened, he emptied the bowl and pulled another bag of fruit from the empty hat. This time it was a bag of cubed apples he poured into the bowl, a hush went around the room. He smiled at the old lady and closed his eyes once more.

Behind his closed eyelids he reached out to the bowl and felt for the fabric, the fabric of time, he could feel it flowing and see its path, it was his gift and his ultimate magic trick. Not only could he see it and feel it, but he could also manipulate it, fold it, bunch it up. As he folded the fabric now would become then, he began to push the fabric each fold taking the contents of the bowl further back, seconds then minutes, then hours, then days.

As he pushed at the fabric the apple began to reform in the bowl, cubes morphed from whence they had come and with no pretence of a peeler the red skin blinked back in a single heartbeat. He stretched out beyond the bowl to the table, the wilting flowers lifted themselves up and came back into full bloom. The old man reached out and plucked one of the flowers, he couldn’t believe his eyes but he did believe his nose, the fragrance reminding him of happier days.

The apple skin turned from red to green as the flowers in the vase receded into buds. He pushed the folds tighter and tighter, one, last, stretch. The apple began to shrink, the stems of the flowers disappeared back into the vase, he continued to push, the apple became a seed and finally disappeared. The old man stared down at the perfect flower he was still holding, somehow outside the fold and in normal time it remained in bloom.

The magician continued to push and coil the fabric ever tighter, creating more folds than he’d ever done before, it was getting difficult, taking all of his willpower. He opened his eyes and stared straight into the tired cloudy eyes of the old lady, he pushed one last time and her eyes began to brighten, the purple-veined bags under her eyes faded, the hard wrinkled lines of her face softened and her limp grey hair turned to a silky jet black. He folded the months and years and decades, to his very limits and beyond. He couldn’t go any further and was struggling to hold the moment against the strain of so much compacted coiled time, the effort making him physically shake.

The old man looked up from the flower he’d been scrutinising into the face of his wife, into the face of a woman he fell in love with 50 years ago. Tears welled in her eyes as he reached out a frail shaky hand to brush aside the now dark lock of hair from her forehead, brushing her soft cheek. He placed the flower in her hair just as he had done all those years ago. She laughed, recalling the memory and the tears streamed down her face. She held his frail chin in her now youthful hands and shook her head.

The magician faltered he could feel the natural order pushing back, he was out of time and like a coiled spring the fabric unravelled in a flash sending him sprawling to the floor utterly exhausted. Time came crashing back into the room and in the blink of an eye, the old man was staring into his wife’s questioning dulled eyes, the flower in her hair dry and wilted in her once again grey hair. He reached across and wiped the tears from her cheeks and kissed her gently on the lips, she smiled and he was happy.

The magician was helped back to his feet by the nursing staff who’d rushed into the room to see what all the excitement was about, dusted himself off and packed away his bag of tricks. The old man had set the record straight, his wife had had another funny turn, but she was okay now and no one else in the room was going to argue, most of them were unsure just what they had seen, it had been a strange morning.

On his way out the magician took a moment to shake the hand of the old man and bent down to give his wife the peeler, somewhere in her eyes he could still see a spark of light burning, she silently mouthed thank you. He beamed back; “Your welcome” and with a click of his fingers the dried flower in her hair re-bloomed.

 

Writing

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Mirror

28th August 2018 — 2

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Again, big thanks to FracturedFaith for his regular Flash Fiction Challenge, a fun opportunity for writers to test their mettle by writing a short piece around an inspirational topic. This week, inspiration is the attached till receipt, the ominous “THE MIRROR”:

Thanks for the challenge.


The old man stepped through the revolving door and into the grey rainy morning. He struggled with his umbrella, it had been a birthday present from his wife. He couldn’t remember which birthday but it was long enough ago that it had seen better days, one of the ribs stubbornly refused to straighten. He gave up trying to fix it, fished in his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter all the while juggling the tatty thing. He finally lit the cigarette, took a long drag and slowly took in the dreary street scene.

He was no stranger to these early morning commutes home, it’s the nature of the business or at least it used to be, he corrected himself. This would be his last early morning trek home, at least his wife would be happy he thought. He looked back at the offices that had been his life for the last 40 years and he couldn’t help but think they looked like he felt, tired. It was a short walk to the station and the 8:15 train back out to the sticks and his retirement.

He’d been with the paper man and boy, having worked his way from the mailroom, all the way up the greasy ladder to editor in chief. In the process he’d become a ringmaster of sensationalism, it’s what sold papers and he was bloody good at it. He revelled in it, revelled in the power it gave him.

At its height, the tabloid had truly been a power to be reckoned with, over 5 million avid daily readers, hungry for the next scandal, the next big scoop. Minds that could be influenced, manipulated, called upon to do his masters bidding. He was a virtuoso, tugging at their heartstrings and they loved him for it. In his time he’d bought down governments, the mightiest in the land rightly feared his phone call.

So where had it all gone wrong? He still couldn’t quite grasp it as he started towards the station. What had he done wrong, he’d been a faithful servant to his masters and they had rewarded him handsomely. Had he overstepped the line? Yes, of course, many times, that was the game, to shock to create controversy. People had been hurt, lives shattered and not always those who deserved it. But he was sure that on balance he’d been fair, there was never smoke without fire in his experience. In the end, the readers didn’t care, it would all be old news before lunchtime and they’d be hungry for the next exclusive.

He stumbled as a figure slammed into him, sending his umbrella flying, it pulled him out of his reverie and he turned to see a woman, head down, staring at her phone as she disappeared into the rain. She was either oblivious to the chaos in her wake or simply didn’t give a shit, he suspected the latter. Shaking his head he picked up the now torn umbrella and continued on down the street, getting just that little bit wetter.

He had been careful, the game like all good sports had its rules and there were of course standards. The owners didn’t like bad publicity, especially if it involved one of their own. It was considered bad form if a story led to questions at the gentleman’s club.

And there had been mistakes, on his watch. He’d knowingly stretched and manipulated the truth routinely to entertain his hungry subscribers, and he wasn’t alone. The regulators now kept a careful eye across the industry, a poor attempt to keep this race to the bottom at least civil. He longed for the good old days when he could print with impunity anything that came across his desk, without the approval of a team of tedious and tiresome lawyers.

These days of metrics and political correctness stifled his creativity, tied his hands and now thanks to the Internet every Tom, Dick and Harriet had a voice. His once booming roar that echoed down the halls of power was but a whimper lost amongst the noisy incessant throng. The natural order was that the rich and privileged controlled the media and used it as a medium for conveying their will to the masses, that’s how it had always been since the creation of the first printing press.

Now a spotty teenager could make up a story in their bedroom, package it and publish it to a global audience, the size of which he could not have even dreamt of, and this was called progress? It was chaos. The rule book, standards and regulatory red tape that tied him to the past, didn’t apply to these children. They could publish anything with more impunity than he’d ever had. If he’d run an article mocking suicide victims, with full-colour photos he’d be languishing in prison before the end of the day. Even his masters would be called to account, they might even lose their club privileges, it was unthinkable and deep down it terrified him.

The paper had transformed itself so many times over the years, constantly reinventing itself to find more readers. He smirked as he recalled it’s humble beginnings as “a paper for women, run by women” back in 1903 and he wondered what those prim and proper ladies would think of it now, all these years later. The words of the original founder “… to be entertaining without being frivolous, and serious without being dull” echoed through his head as lofty naive ideals from a different era.

He and the paper had tried to evolve, he’d sat in endless meetings as expert consultancy firms rotated in and out, each implementing fruitless plans to adapt the papers business model to be modern, online, relevant, all the while his readership dwindled, Relevant he spat the word out, and tried to pinpoint just when HE had become irrelevant.

For all these so-called experts, his epiphany came not in the board room but in the pub talking to a pissed up junior accountant. Even in her inebriated state she eloquently ran through the cost base of his paper vs his new competition. The numbers as they say never lie and he knew then that his was up! The era of the newspaper was coming to an end, and like a dinosaur watching that final flash in the sky, he too had seen it coming but was also too slow to react, ignorant to the increasingly obvious danger signs.

He threw his cigarette butt on the floor and stomped down a rain-soaked shoe, looking across the street at a truly monstrous, too bright, flat-screen in a shop window. The BBC news cycle was playing and whatever the story was, the screen flashed up YouTube, Twitter and Facebook logos continuously. He shook his head as he realised there where other dinosaurs that would not survive this extinction event, it would be the death of all media, at least as he and his masters understood it.

As a matter of routine, he turned into the newsagents on the corner. At least it once was a newsagent, now it was just another generic sterile supermarket. The newspaper isle no longer existed, but there were a few of the last remaining papers still in print at the end of one of the isles and he found a handful of copies of his paper. He recalled when there were tall stacks of his paper being sold on every corner.

He snatched up a copy and headed to the till it just had the words “THANK YOU and GOODBYE” emblazoned in big red letters. Not his choice ironically, but then he had no words left. He looked up as the teller chimed in with “That’s going to be a collector’s item one date mate!”, adding “You could be on antiques roadshow with it in a few years”. The editor just shook his head, pocketed his change and walked back out into the rain.

One last look back along to the old offices, it was lighter now and he could see the office lights going out one by one, he knew it was for the last time. He growled and shook his head like an old dog, angry that it had to come to an end on his watch. He turned and fought his way up the remainder of the street, no one saw him throw his battered umbrella and the paper in the bin, they all had their heads down looking at their phones, listening to their new masters.

 

Writing

Flash Fiction Challenge – A Song of Fire and Mints

12th August 2018 — 4

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A big thanks to FracturedFaith for his regular Flash Fiction Challenge, a fun opportunity for would-be writers to test their mettle by writing a short piece around an inspirational topic. This week, inspiration is the attached till receipt, genius.

Again, thanks for the challenge I hope this little amusement at least entertains, and please be gentle it’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written since school a very very long time ago 😉


The heat was almost unbearable as I drove along the dusty scorched road up into the hills. The months of relentless sun had turned the usually green and fertile countryside into a dust bowl, field after field of withered brown crops telling a story of desperate drought. It was the same story across the country with new record-breaking temperatures being set every year. Global warming predictions were becoming a stark reality and in a time scale that no one could have predicted.

I was regretting agreeing to meet so far out of the city, almost as much as I was regretting not getting the aircon in the car fixed, but cash was tight and the car was rarely used. I really should just sell it. I could feel the sweat running down my back, my shirt would be soaked by the time I got to the farm. I rolled the window back up giving up on the pretence the wind was cooling.

Why this farm? I’d wanted to meet in secrecy, I’d been the one to demand it, I’d learned over the last few weeks to be careful. But this is literally the back end of nowhere, replete with dust devils playing across the fields and road. At least by the time I get to the farm, it would be dark and hopefully, that would provide some respite from the heat.

As an investigative journalist, I was no stranger to midnight liaisons, you went where the story led and in my experience that was often in the shadows. This was different, this wasn’t a secret source a whistle-blower ready to drop the inside scoop and provide me a payday. This was much bigger and it had me scared.

It had started innocuously enough, a phone call and a sequence of clandestine meetings with a small group of student scientists. I had met with several of their group in the first week, and my initial annoyance at being set up, the target of some adolescent joke, slowly gave way to interest, then concern and finally horror.

It all came to a head of all places in a packed London pub, two of the group had asked me to meet them there. I was going to tell them I was done, that without real evidence I couldn’t afford to continue to indulge their fantasy. Before I could make my excuses, they were pointing at a guy in the corner of the pub, he was animatedly talking to a woman. There was nothing odd that I could see in the scene, just more student bloody games.

The guy they had pointed out finished his conversation, the woman left and headed out of the pub, she even looked over and smiled, The bastards, it’s a wind up, that was it I was done, I launched into my time wasters speech, it wasn’t the first time I’d had to deliver it, in fact, I was well rehearsed. One of the group got up and followed the man out towards the back of the pub, taking the wind out of my sails mid-flow. His companion started ushering me in the same direction towards the toilet both men had now entered.

At best I was about to be pranked royally or at worst have an encounter I definitely didn’t sign up for, either way, the increasing urgency from my guide rapidly escalated to him dragging me into the toilet. I expected the worst.

Nothing could have prepared me for the scene of a fire extinguisher being brought down on the poor guy with a sickening thud. He staggered back, I was amazed to see he was still on his feet, and utterly gobsmacked when he launched himself forward kicking his assailant clear across the room. The fire extinguisher fell from the limp hand and rolled over to his colleague who proceeded to snap it up and threw himself into the fray.  He swung wildly, catching his target off guard and knocking him off balance, the guy’s reaction was instant and with a slow dawning realisation – completely unnatural. He was moving oddly, too quick, too angular, too … something I couldn’t put my finger on, but the hairs on the back of my neck told me everything I needed to know.

Again the fire extinguisher came down on his head, and again he did not drop. The student hit him twice more, he didn’t even move on the last hit. I stood in shock, trying to comprehend what I was witnessing. It just didn’t make sense. The student suddenly changed tack and unclipped the hose on the fire extinguisher and started spraying the guy with the contents. The reaction was instant, flailing of arms and legs and the target was finally on the ground, the student pressed the attack and shoved the hose in the guy’s mouth. The creature (I was under no illusions by now) eye’s went wide and then wider again and blinked in a way that shattered my world.

My flight response finally kicked in and I ran out of the pub in sheer terror and I just ran and ran trying to escape the memory of what I had seen. I finally made it back to my apartment, my mind was racing replaying the story the scientists had given me, connecting the dots. I was still shaking when I collected all my notes and packed an overnight bag and headed out, to where I had no idea, just away from here away from London.

In the following days, I had moved around between travel inns and b&b mixing it up, trying to buy myself some time to process the information I had and had seen. I kept seeing that couple in the pub so normal talking in the corner. The way she got up and smiled on the way out, the way her partner flailed around in the bathroom it didn’t make any sense. I was out of my league.

I realised I stood almost no chance of selling this story to my usual employers, it would be laughed out of the room. There was no publication on the planet that would touch this sketchy tale, it was too absurd. But I had to tell someone, to get the message to people who would know what to do. Luckily I had a long time friend who was fairly high up in Government. Jim Thomas, we’d met 30 odd years ago as it turned out we shared a common and dangerous addiction to alcohol that was in danger of ending both our careers. Over those weeks in therapy, we became steadfast friends and thereafter from time to time had helped each other out. Strictly off the record of course! So if anyone would hear me out, it would be Jim.

And so I found myself on the access road leading up to the farm, it was dark and it was still hot. Up ahead I could see a small cottage with a light in the window. I pulled the car up out front, got out and headed to the cottage, the noise of a small diesel generator humming in the background, definitely off the grid this far from humanity. I looked through the window into a small rustic kitchen, there were items on the table but I couldn’t see anyone.

I started at a noise behind me, and turned around to see Jim leaning against the wall, he clearly had watched me walk up. “You scared the shit out of me”, I spluttered. Jim stood up and walked over smirking, “Sorry old boy, I just couldn’t resist, how was the drive?”. We traded pleasantries as we went into the cottage.

The small kitchen I had seen from outside, seemed larger inside, a good size table and several chairs, a double sink under the window and a small fridge/freezer in the corner. “Want a drink? I went out of my way to pick something up for us”, said Jim pointing at the cans of diet coke on the table. It was a running joke that it was the only thing either of us drank these days. “I’m sorry I’ve had the last of the ice”, he raised his glass and the ice clinked alluringly. Shame!

I fell into a chair and slowly started my story, Jim just sat and listened swirling the ice in his drink. At the end of it, I was relieved to have finally shared this madness, I stared over at Jim trying to judge his reaction. Finally, he smiled and asked, “How do you know I’m not one of them?”. I jokingly replied, “I’ve known you for years and amongst politicians, I consider you one of the most human”. I raised my glass and added, “From what I know of these creatures they wouldn’t be necking ice cold diet coke, without a serious headache”. Jim just laughed, sucking an ice cube into his mouth and crunching down on it.

For the next few minutes, I just answered Jim’s endless questions, who, what, where, why? I totally understand where he was coming from, it had taken me days to get my head around it and even now the idea of a cold-blooded alien lizard race infiltrating every government with an agenda to terraform the planet, seems unbelievable. Even more so in this cosy and isolated cottage.

By the time we were done, I could hear the first bird calls of the morning, I was totally exhausted. A combination of the relief of sharing my nightmare, the stress of the last few weeks, the hour and the endless heat. I looked over to Jim and yawned, he was staring out the window in thought still swirling his ice.

It shot through me like lightning, something was wrong. In my tired state, I couldn’t quite figure it out but my heart was racing as the pit of my stomach knotted. What was it, I tried to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and focus, scanning the room. What is it? I know there’s something wrong but I can’t see it, my gaze falls back upon the table the diet-coke, half the cans empty now, the receipt. I reached out and twisted it so I can see its contents – diesel, glacier mints, diet-coke. Nothing.

Jim is still looking out the window lost in his thoughts, still swirling the ice in his drink. Still swirling the ice in his … my heart stops. How, the ice, I’m slow to take it in, it doesn’t make sense, how is the ice. Jim had held that same glass of diet coke and ice all night and the ice hadn’t melted. How? Why?

I hadn’t noticed Jim get up and slowly, casually walk towards the door constantly swirling his ice. I heard the lock click solidly into place and I span around, Jim still had his back to me and without turning says “Can I interest you in a Glacier Mint, old boy?”.