Tag Archives: competition entry

Spring Town

I wrote this for a competition where the theme was Spring.  I may have been a little wide in my interpretation of the brief…

 

Spring Town

By Jason Gibbs

 

Mortimer looked at his watch, then, surprised by the time, he held it to his ear to check it was working. He could hear the little cogs whirring happily. For once it appeared he was genuinely early. He shook his head in mock wonder and headed downstairs.

“Would you like a cup of tea dear?” his wife called as he was on the stairs.

“Yes please love, I’m running a little early so I shall have time to enjoy it for a change.”

He walked into the kitchen and took a seat. Lotty turned round and exclaimed.

“Mortimer Theodore Adams, you cannot go to work dressed like that. You are the General Manager!”

“Lotty, I am the General Manager, I can go dressed as I please.” It was to no avail, she was already shepherding him out of the kitchen and back upstairs.

He grudgingly changed his shirt to something white and plain, put on his cravat and his waistcoat and once more entered the kitchen. This time with less confidence and the nagging feeling he was forgetting something.

“Now Mortimer, that looks much better. Do you still have time to have your tea?”

He checked his watch and realised that not only was he now running late, but he’d now remembered he had a meeting with young George first thing. It would be most impolite for him to be late. Declining the tea he pecked his wife on the cheek, grabbed his coat and walked with some alacrity out of the house and down to the garage.

They had two of the modern carriages. His wife’s was an older, larger and slightly clunky model, but his contrivance, well, she was a beauty. When he’d been made General Manager of the Works he’d decided to treat himself. He’d worked so hard all these years he deserved a little present, so he bought one of the new run-arounds. She wasn’t cheap to buy, and no cheaper to run really. She had a dual spring motor, and even though she had reverse springs on the brakes, which would take back some of the energy lost, he often had to go to the main garage to get her topped up.

He climbed in and slowly eased the rather spritely throttle. It controlled how much energy the springs delivered, and when he’d first bought the thing he’d let it out in one go and bounced along the road. He started along his drive accompanied by the gentle whirring of the spring motor and the rumble of the tires.

As General Manager he was paid rather well, and this had enabled him to buy Lotty the home she’d always dreamed of. It was big, he wasn’t sure how many rooms, and the gardens were so large it seemed to take an age to get out of them. The house was on the other side of the ridge from the main town, and the drive to the Works provided the best moment of his morning.

Coming over the brow of the hill the whole of the town was spread out before him. He could see the river, gurgling and frolicking as it ran between the streets all the way to the Hampton Spring Works, of which he was the General Manager. The Works squatted on the river and would be quite ugly if it wasn’t for the three graceful snail shells which rose above it. Each shell contained one of the Main Springs, which powered every mechanical contrivance in the town, and was in turn rewound by the river itself. It truly was a modern wonder. The third Spring was a sign of how well the town was doing, now there was never a time when power wasn’t available, even during the annual maintenance of each Spring. The third was added just before he was promoted, and the last General Manager had told him it would make his life much easier, and he certainly seemed to be right.

Mortimer lost sight of the snails as he dipped into the town, and he glanced about at his fellows, wondering what they’d do if the miracle of spring power wasn’t available to them.

The security man opened the gate before he got to it, which was very kind of him as it reduced wear on the springs in his carriage, and Mortimer gently coasted up to his parking place at the front of the building. Getting out he looked around with pride. The Hampton Spring Works was a fine place to be General Manager and, he believed, a fine place to work.

He walked into his office and his secretary brought in his morning cup of tea. On the rare occasions he managed to have tea at home she seemed to realise and didn’t bring a cup in. It was quite wonderful having such an excellent secretary.

“George Yarde to see you sir.”

“Please send him in, and do get him a cup of tea if he wants one.”

“Yes sir.”

George bustled in. He was a large and florid man, not the typical emaciated engineer they seemed to get, and he had such energy.

“Sir, Mr Adams, you must come and see this.”

“Now George. Let’s first talk about it, and you can have your tea, and then perhaps we can visit your lab.”

On several previous occasions George had dragged him down to show him something, which while interesting hadn’t really been of immediate use, and he’d ended up wasting half the day in the labs. Though wasting was perhaps unfair, besides he did enjoy being back in his old hunting grounds.

“Oh.” George looked a bit crestfallen, but quickly gathered himself. “Well it’s about the energy transfer problem.”

“Yes?”

“Well you know how hard it is to transfer energy from the Main Springs to smaller energy distribution centres?”

“Easier now that we have the mobile water-wound spring. Much better than those old hand-wound devices which never produced any real power.” It was the last thing which Mortimer had worked on when he was head engineer, and he was rather proud of it, especially as it had been cited as the key reason for his promotion.

“Oh, well yes, but it is just so inefficient, it’s almost embarrassing, because the rewinding…” George then remembered who’d run the project. “Still, a marvel sir, and in its time amazing.”

“Its time has only just begun.”

“Ah, well sir. I think I’ve developed something which will solve some of the inefficiency.”

“Indeed.” Mortimer was still bristling from the criticism, but calmed himself by remembering that he was now General Manager, which was surely a sign that his contribution was valued. He’d also always told George to share his ideas and speak freely, he wanted to get the best out of him after all.

“Ah.”

“Go ahead George, tell me what it is.”

“You know that we’ve been working on very small springs? Down to the millimetre level? Well I was reading in one of the science journals, and it got me to thinking, what if there really were springs which were much, much smaller. I mean there must be, to power everything else, like muscles and things.”

“I too read that journal, and I have to say I wonder at some of the newer aspects of General Spring Theory. It’s become too abstruse for me.”

“Ah yes, well you see the thing is. I found a way of proving that the nano-springs exist.”

“Really?” Mortimer was sceptical, but George was more or less incapable of lying. Being overly excited about things others considered trivial, yes, lying, no.

“Yes. You remember that thing I showed you with the magnets?”

“Another thing Spring Theory can’t explain.”

“Well, I was playing with some acid and various other things…”

Realising that George would probably take the next hour to tell him in absolute detail every step he’d taken Mortimer decided that perhaps a trip to the lab was required.

Doris had come in with George’s tea, and when Mortimer suggested that he show him his device instead of continuing George fairly threw the drink down his throat and almost dragged him to the lab.

“Here it is!”

George’s worktable was covered in bits and pieces. Springs, some whole, some in parts, jars of acid, some of those new-fangled lucifers and all sorts of tools. Right in the middle was a cradle. On the outside of the cradle were some magnets, and suspended in the cradle was a piece of metal with some wire wrapped around it. The wire went through some large holes at each end and then round to a metal box. At one end of the cradle was a winder. Mortimer saw that one of the wires wasn’t actually connected to the metal box.

“What is it?”

“Let me show you.”

George picked up the loose wire, and attached it to a little hook on the box. Mortimer thought he might have seen a spark, and then slowly the piece of metal wrapped in wire started to rotate. It whirled round and round magically.

“Is this all? Where’s the spring?”

“Look inside the box sir.”

He did, and all he saw was some liquid and some solid lumps of something which might have been lead.

“Hmm, well?”

“The lumps of lead contain the nano-springs!”

“Well that is interesting, how do you wind them?”

George grabbed the winder and started to wind it in the opposite direction to the way it had been spinning.

“Like this sir. It took me a while to figure it, and then I was just toying with it, you know, winding it up. I let it go, and it started unwinding, just like a spring, and yet this wire, as you can see, is just plain copper with little ability to hold torsion.”

Mortimer looked thoughtfully at the device. The bucket was the size of a small cat.

“How much power?”

“As much as a normal water-wound torsion spring at least ten times the size.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes sir. It is really much more efficient than our current portable springs.”

One of the problems with the mobile water-wound spring was that at smaller sizes it ran out of power too quickly, and had less peak power. It was one of the reasons his carriage needed to be rewound so regularly. With these nano-springs, well, it might even be possible to go forty miles or more without a rewind.

“How do we wind it… oh of course. We can use the river.”

“Yes sir, we could run banks of them. Even better we could pull one out for maintenance and it wouldn’t affect more than a tiny fraction of the overall power. Once we had enough, I think we could even keep some as backup in case…”

“George my boy, this is amazing…” He was about to ask for a more detailed explanation when one of the messenger boys appeared.

“Mr Adams, there’s a message for you. It’s from your secretary; she says you’re needed urgently in your office.”

This was a little tiresome. He had worked out a signal with her when he went down to the lab after last time. She was supposed to give him an hour and then say there was an important message. It was unlike her to get it wrong, and it certainly hadn’t been an hour. Perhaps it was real? Doris didn’t usually make mistakes, so it really must be urgent. Mortimer sighed.

“Sorry George, I have to go. I’m impressed. Can you work out how long it will take to get a full size pilot going?”

“Yes sir… of course, I mean, there’s a couple of wrinkles left, but yes.”

Mortimer nodded and headed back to his office.

His secretary was aflutter when he got there.

“I’m so sorry Mr Adams, he let himself straight in. I asked him to wait but he wouldn’t…”

“Don’t worry Doris. Calm down. Now who is it?”

“Mr Phillips sir.”

Oh dear. Phillips was his boss. A dour man, prone to anger, and a real stickler for time. Mortimer looked at the clock and saw that he was three minutes late to the other meeting of his morning, one he’d quite forgotten. Well, he had to take his lumps like a man.

“Good morning Mr Phillips.”

“Hmph, nearly afternoon.”

“It is wonderful of you to come and visit us at the Works, how is head office these days?”

“Filled with the same lazy fools who seem to be everywhere these days.”

“Can I offer you a coffee?”

“Your secretary, Lucy is getting me one, thank you.”

Mortimer decided that correcting the misnaming of his secretary was unlikely to improve his boss’ mood, and so offered him a chair, and asked how he could help.

Phillips was still grumpy, but he also looked worried. This couldn’t be good news.

“The thing is Adams, we have a very big problem at these Works.”

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what you mean?”

“I mean that everything you produce is too damned expensive!”

Mortimer was taken aback.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean sir. We hit the targets set by head office on everything we produce.”

“You do, yes.”

“Then how can it be too expensive?”

“The core of the problem is that the targets we gave you were wrong. Our sales are slumping because we’re more expensive than our competitors.”

“But we’re the only major Spring Works in Hampton.”

“And as you well know our rewind charges are regulated, and at the moment, well. If we only ran the Main Springs we’d be breaking even. Everything else you’re doing here is losing money, even your portable springs.”

“Oh.”

Mortimer had nothing to say. When he’d taken over he’d asked to have the financials brought back to the Works, he’d wanted to learn everything, but head office had decided it was more efficient to have it all centralised. Efficiency didn’t necessarily map to competency it would appear.

“So I’m afraid Adams you’re going to have to cut. Starting with your old department.”

“But Research Engineering is what powers this company.”

“Don’t you quote the corporate spiel to me young man.”

“Sorry sir, but seriously, if we get rid of the engineers we won’t be developing the next product…”

“Head office had a consultancy do a study, and they determined we can buy new product development from smaller companies much more cheaply than developing it internally. We have too many barriers to innovation apparently.”

“But…”

“No buts. You need to get rid of them. Here is a list of all the departments who have to be cut. Overall you need to need to cut your headcount by a third in the next six months.”

Mortimer noticed he didn’t say people. They were headcount, or resources, or minions probably. He was feeling utterly powerless when he remembered George’s nano-springs.

“Sir… can I ask a favour.”

“What?”

“Can I have three months before we cut? I believe we might have something which will blow the socks off the competition.”

“Mmm, what is it?”

Knowing that talk of nano-springs would likely be dismissed as desperation, which it was in part, Mortimer said, “A much more efficient version of the mobile spring.”

“Hmm, well according to another study if we can make it twenty percent smaller then we should be able to defend our market position and move back into profitability…. no, no, sorry Adams, it’s too late. We just can’t afford another three months.”

“Two? And I’ll resign if it doesn’t work.”

Phillips peered at him. Mortimer stared calmly back.

“Dammit man! Six weeks, and then I’ll want your letter.” He frowned, shook his head and left without another word.

Mortimer sat down heavily at his desk. What had he done? He held his head in his hands, his mind whirring. He only looked up again when Doris bustled in a few minutes later with a fresh cup of tea. She nearly said something, but seeing his face bustled back out again mutely.

After a few more minutes of staring at his desk he sipped his tea, and stood to look out of his window. From here he could see the river as it ran out of the Works, and catch, just, sight of the Right Main Spring. Overhead one of the new fast zeppelins was passing, powered in part by the mobile water-wound spring he helped to design. Probably using springs from their competitors he thought grumpily. He wondered how fast they might go with smaller more powerful springs? That made him think again of the nano-springs. He could feel some excitement building. They needed to get moving on it fast.

“Doris, can you get me George urgently?”

“Yes sir.”

He was going to have to drive George hard to work through the inevitable wrinkles. In fact it would be almost like reverting to being head engineer. Strangely instead of feeling like a step back it felt more like he’d be going home.

He looked out on the still bare Works gardens, the unexpected warmth of the sun helping to calm the fizzing of the worry and excitement mixing within him. He was energised. Winter was over, and its passing heralded the advent of the nano-spring. It was going to change the world, he was sure of it.

 

THE END

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Tattoo Shortlisted by CreativeWritingMatters

My story Tattoo made it to the shortlist of the CreativeWritingMatters WoW! 2014 Short Story Competition, but didn’t place.  Which means I can share it here.  I wonder what my old maths teacher might say.

Tattoo

“That looks amazing.”

“Thanks, I think it really suits you.”

The girl picked herself off the table, still staring at her arm. The dragon stared back at her, and occasionally flicked its tail.

“How long will it do that for?”

“Well it uses your own muscle power to change the colours in the inks, so as long as you have the tattoo. Guaranteed for life.”

“Wow. Awesome!”

She paid and then carefully put on her jacket, suffering only a brief wince of pain. Georgy watched her, satisfied in another job done well. Things were finally going his way.

There were no bookings for the rest of the day, so he decided to take it off. He deserved a break after all the hard work he’d been putting in.

In the old days he’d have headed straight for the pub, but that wasn’t an option now. He went home and changed into his running gear. A nice run would be great, and then he could maybe get his head down studying for his tattooing degree. There was so much more theory he needed to get properly sorted in his head.

As he ran around the park, marvelling at how much fitter he felt, and just generally enjoying the autumnal air he forgot to focus on the path and nearly knocked an old man over into the pond. He caught him just in time.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Hmph. Well, at least you apologised.”

“Erm, Mr Aster?”

“Yes, I am,” The old man peered closely at him. “Is that Kevin Bailey?”

“Ah yes sir, but I call myself Georgy now.”

“Hmph…. Well as we’re not in school any more you should probably call me Tony.”

It felt really odd talking to his old maths teacher like this, but maybe it was fate.

“Ah, thanks, ah, Tony. How are you? Are you still teaching?”

“Retired this year. That’s why I’m spending the day walking round the park. Not much else to do and the wife complains I get under her feet.”

“Right.”

Slightly awkward silence, and then the old man said, “So, what are you doing now? Still avoiding an honest living?”

Georgy’s face reddened. The old man followed hurriedly, “Sorry Kev… Georgy, I didn’t mean to imply you were doing anything illegal. It’s just that you were always one to try and find the easy way.”

“No, no you were right. I used to hang with the wrong crowd. Always convinced working was a mug’s game. We did a few stupid things. But I’m clean now.”

Georgy showed the tattoo of a date on his arm.

“What’s that?”

“The last time I took any drugs or drank.”

“Nearly a year. That’s great, good work. So what do you do now?”

“I’ve got a real job. I’m a tattoo artist.”

Mr Aster looked a little askance.

“I know what you’re thinking sir, ah Tony, but it’s not just tats for drunk lads or hen nights. I did a chef’s hands yesterday.”

“Oh, why would he want them covered in, er, art.”

“Not art, no not at all, well, not solely art anyway. It’s one of these new smart tattoos, it tells you when you’re hands are completely clean. Let me show you.”

Georgy turned his left hand over and on the back was a small area which looked like a faint spider’s web.

“This is my example tat. So normally it’s almost invisible.” They were still standing next to the duck pond, and so Georgy dipped his hand into it. He pulled it out and the web was bright, almost pulsing fuchsia.

“It tells me that it’s got both bacteria on it, the red, and some dirt, the bluer end, hence fuchsia and there’s a lot which is why it is so bright.”

He then wiped off the tattoo, and it went mostly red.

“Now it’s saying that although it looks clean, there’s still some bacteria on it, and I really should wash it properly.”

“That’s amazing. Didn’t have anything like that when I got my tattoo. What’s it for?”

“The chef is a sushi chef, and is out on display in the middle of the restaurant. Given some of the recent scares he thought it would be a good way of reassuring his customers.”

“Clever.”

They lapsed into a more comfortable silence, when Georgy suddenly said, “You have a tattoo?”

Tony smiled, and rolled up his sleeve. On his arm was a heart with a date and initials.

“It’s the date I met my Betty. I was so in love with her. It really hurt. Does it still hurt like the proverbial?”

“A bit. We often put a little local anaesthetic on these days to reduce the pain. It cuts down on the number of people who insist on having their tattoo while drunk.”

“Ha, I think I was perhaps a little worse for wear when I got this one done.”

“Actually Tony I have a tattoo in honour of you.”

“Really?” The old man looked sceptical.

“Yes, I remember you telling me that I had to know my times-tables, that I couldn’t assume I’d always have my phone or other calculating device with me, whereas I’d always have my brain if I cared to use it. So I had this done.”

Georgy rolled up his right arm, and on the inside just near the elbow was a calculator tattoo, the set of buttons and a screen which was showing blank. Georgy then pressed the buttons, and the screen blinked and showed twenty-two.

“That’s simply incredible! How does it work?”

“Yeah it is. I don’t really know. The ink is kind of smart, and forms a mini-computer. All the lines have to be drawn when doing the tattoo, and it just changes the colours to give the result. Just like the chef’s hands.”

“And an old style calculator. I almost take back what I said all those years ago. Except, well, there’s just one thing?”

“What is it?”

“Three times seven is twenty-one….”

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Filed under Flash Fiction

Stellar Freedom

I wrote this for a competition.  Unfortunately I entirely failed to notice it was snail mail only until the date it was due…

 

Stellar Freedom

I picked up the next load of rubble. There was so much, the mound rose far above me, not that I lifted my head. My Master didn’t like that, and I’d feel the pain of his opprobrium if I dared look up. This was the fifth, or the fiftieth load I’d moved today. I couldn’t tell. We’d stop for a break maybe. My Master would tell me when. He’d let me relieve myself, and have a drink and perhaps some of the soup if it was a meal time.

Sometimes we’d whisper to each other. If the Masters were in a good mood they would overlook it. If not, then pain. We also had to be careful what we said, they were particularly cruel if they felt something might be subversive.

We worked all day. Every day. All of us. Maybe it wasn’t everyone on the planet, or even everyone in our town, but it seemed to be. We didn’t know what we were doing. Some had tried to work it out, but they always seemed to be the ones who were punished most. We soon learned not to speculate.

The others around me were becoming thin, and I knew I must be too. The Masters drove us from first light to dusk. Then they would sleep, but we were afforded no freedom even then. We could rest as well, but if we moved too much at night they would wake, and the punishment was always very severe. We learned not to move too much, even in our sleep.

I have always looked up at the stars above us. Before the Masters, when the world seemed to be on the continuous brink of destruction, I used to think that maybe there was hope in the stars. Perhaps we could build a boat, an Ark perhaps, and sail to those distant worlds, and start new lives, new societies. Free from the pressures of history, of malice and the terror of ever-diminishing resources.

I thought the stars would be man’s salvation. Instead they brought enslavement. They arrived one day in a wave of shooting stars.   A meteor shower, but one which went on for days all across the world, and then, we all woke up to the new order. The Masters had arrived.

They bonded individually to each person, and once bonded it seemed impossible to remove them. Some had tried, but the Master soon asserted control, their neural hooks sending pain shooting though the person’s nerves. The few who hadn’t been captured were hunted down and provided with their own Masters. Or killed.

Perhaps somewhere there are free people. I hope so, but quietly; I don’t want my Master to sense my thoughts.

My Master stirs on my shoulder, his neural claws sinking further into my brain. I know I will never be free of him.

The Masters don’t speak. They only communicate through pain, and vague impressions. It’s amazing how quickly one can learn when the alternative is so unpleasant.

Some seem happy. I’ve seen them with dreamy looks on their faces. They don’t have to worry any more about where their lives are going, what to wear, or if they should change careers. All decisions are made for them, even when they’re allowed to go to the toilet.

I still look up at the stars each night, and hope. There is always hope, quiet and hidden.

Then the stars gained more friends. Another meteor shower. Day after day. I stared at the sky at night, and my fears grew. The last time we’d had such showers the Masters had arrived. We had come to an accommodation now. I knew my place. I didn’t want another Master. I was uneasy in my sleep. But then I realised, so was my Master.

Our work pace stepped up. We were driven harder. Fewer rests, which meant that sometimes I couldn’t hold it any longer. The shame burned, but not for long, I was driven on.

I realised, quietly, that the Master was afraid. It knew what the meteor shower was. It was a threat. Perhaps it would save us?

I had worked all day without stop. There had been no food, and I just fell to the ground when the Master stopped driving me.

I woke in the night, and my shoulder burned. Yet, something was different. My Master, it was gone.

I looked up at the stars. The meteor shower had stopped, and it was just the friendly stars I remembered from my youth. There was Orion, and the Bear. I was exhausted. Not just physically, but the loss of the Master seemed to suck all my energy. It had driven me for so long. Months? Years?

Relief. Fear. Joy. I whooped! I heard others doing the same. We were free.

Then the fear again. The Masters were so bad, or maybe not so bad? Just powerful. They had kept us alive, and… No, they were bad.   What could scare them off?

The morning came, and found us gathered, unsure what to do. Skeletal figures in rags, we looked at each other properly for the first time in forever. It wasn’t pretty. Then we looked at what we’d been building. It looked like a mountain, or maybe a volcano. There was an entrance, and a trail of blood led to it. When the Masters disengaged they didn’t do so cleanly. My wound had closed quickly, but I could see others who were not so lucky. Still figures lying on the ground.

A loud boom split the air. It came from the mountain, and something shot out of the top. Then again and again. The noise was deafening. We fell to our knees, crying in pain and terror. I cannot say how long it went on for.

We were insensible for a time, and then someone, something, was soothing me. Applying balm to my wounds, both mental and physical. I had something on my shoulder. My Master was back! I panicked, but instead of shooting pain, a wave of calm and love suffused me. I looked to my shoulder, something a Master would never allow, and saw there a fluffy ball. The word Tribble jumped into my mind. It promised, without words, to look after me, to completely heal me, and to help us to rebuild our shattered land.

Over the next few weeks and months we recovered. The Tribbles, a name which caused them joyous amusement, helped us. Healing those, and helping those who had lost their way in servitude to return. They taught us about the Masters, and showed us how to protect ourselves. They told us that they would have to leave soon to try and stop the Masters at the next planet, a task they had been pursuing for many millennia, but now they were nearly upon them. They thought they’d stop them at the next planet.

Healing us slowed them, but the Tribbles couldn’t leave us as we were. They were so kind.

They left, all but a few to look after the most damaged, and to build a colony of their kind in symbiosis with us.

The Tribbles used the same method as the Masters. Shot out of the volcanoes. They were some kind of device which allowed the Masters, and the Tribbles, to travel the galaxy.

I look up at the stars and I pray that the Tribbles catch the Masters at the next planet, and that no more are enslaved. The stars were our salvation, but we had to visit hell first. It was ever this way.

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Language is Important

This story was longlisted but unfortunately didn’t make the final cut.  Still, it is always nice to know that I was in with a real chance.  Here is the story:

 

Language is Important

“Dear Sir, it has come to my attention that modern society, at least the less educated part of it, is having some difficulties in determining the correct usages of there, their and they’re.  I therefore propose that we do away with all three of these words and replace them with ‘ther’, this will make communications much less painful to read, at least once the new word gets bedded in.”

He sat back and looked contentedly at the letter.  He still had it.

“Morris, you’re not writing sarcastic angry letters are you?”

“No dear, of course not.”

“You are, I can tell.  Come down darling, morning tea is ready.  I have some crumpets for you.”

“I’ll be right down.”

He got up stiffly and reached over for his Zimmer.  Damn this weak body.  By the time he got downstairs the damned crumpets would be cold, and if there’s one thing he hated it was cold crumpets.  Hmm, there might be a lewd joke in there somewhere.  He was too tired to find it.

He whizzed down the stairs.  Glacially.  He damned his weak body for the umpteenth time that day.

“I expect the crumpets are cold.”

Mary looked at him reproachfully.

“Morris, we have been married many long years, and in all that time I’ve learned a few things about you.  One is that you like your crumpets hot.  Not least because you moan like a stuck pig when they aren’t.”

Oops, she was in one of those moods.

“Sorry, that’s wonderful Mary.  Thank you.  It’s that bloody stair lift.  It needs a rocket.  Or at least a stronger motor.”  He stopped and looked contemplatively into the middle distance.

“Don’t you dare think of such a thing Morris!”

She fairly screeched.

He shook his head as she went on.

“That stair lift cost a pretty penny, and we can’t afford a new one, or the repairs after your tinkering.”

“Hmph.”

She looked at him sternly, in vain hope that he’d listen, before deciding a change of subject would be more effective.

“English Breakfast for you this morning.  Ah, and that’s the sound of the crumpets, I’ll just get them.”

He sipped his tea, and then tucked into the crumpets when they arrived.  Mary has smothered them in butter just the way he liked them.  Silence reigned over the household while they both enjoyed their elevenses in a truly civilised manner.

“Now Morris, you do remember that young Charlie is coming today.”

He’d tried to explain that the tumour was having no effect on his memory, but her Aunt Jessica had lost her marbles when she’d had a brain tumour and Mary assumed that would happen to him too.

“Yes Mary.  I’ve been looking forward to the visit since he suggested it.  He is such a wonderfully inventive boy.”

He looked over at Mary, wondering what their own children might have been like.  Those years had passed and Mary had invested her energy in her nieces and nephews.  Charlie was their nephew by her, now departed, elder brother.

The bell rang, and Mary answered the door.

“Morning Mr Charlie.”

Charlie looked at her distractedly and said, “Morning”, before rushing over to shake his hand.  “Morris you look great!”

“So you’ve spoken to my oncologist then.”

He looked nonplussed.

“You only use the word great when you’re hiding particularly bad news.”

“Well Morris, the thing is… may I sit down?”

“Of course.  Mary can you get Charlie a cup of tea?”

“Yes Morris.”  She looked a little disappointed at Charlie’s treatment of her.

Charlie sighed.

“Morris, we’ve talked about this before.”

He gestured towards Mary.

“Have we?  What did we say?”

“Look.  I know it’s hard.  But she’s been dead for nearly five years now.  Naming your household robot after her, and then hacking it so it goes along with your games…”

He gave Charlie a hard look.

“Yes?”

“Well.  It just makes other things more difficult.  That’s all.  Still, I’m glad it’s not wearing her clothes this time.”

Morris shook his head.

Mary, or the house robot, depending on your point of view, provided Charlie with a cup of tea and then tactfully retreated into the kitchen.  That would allow the men to talk.

“Charlie, lay it out straight.  I’m an old man, and I spend so much of my time waiting for things, so please don’t join the ranks of the armies of delay.”

“Well Morris, you, I mean your body, is not responding to the treatment.  They reckon you might have another six weeks.”

“I see.”

“They’re also mighty ticked off with you for refusing to speak to them.”

“Damned vultures.  Worse than vultures, at least vultures are honest.  Instead they play with their words.  They use medical terms, or normal words but somehow changed, warped so that they are heavy with meaning, but only to them.  When they have to say anything in something approaching English they hedge and caveat until it’s impossible to pin it down.  Also, I’d always remember both a witty put-down and an important question several days after each appointment.”

He stopped.

“I do appreciate you going to the appointments for me.  I will make sure you’re looked after.”

Charlie waved away the offer.  He wasn’t doing it for a reward.

They sat in silence for a little while.

“So Charlie, make your pitch again.”

“Morris, I’ve tried so many times, you’ve made it clear that you aren’t interested.”

“Ah, a new tactic, I like it.  Make me negotiate against myself.  It won’t work you know.”

“Did you at least read the literature I sent you?”

Morris paused.  He could tell that young Charlie, if anyone approaching fifty years of age could be called young, was genuinely worried about him, and he felt a tiny bit guilty at the way he was treating him.  But it did have the positive of being at least a little entertaining.

“Yes.”

Silence.

“Ah ha, another nice ploy.  Silence.  OK, I’ll bite.  I read it, and I have to admit to being intrigued.”

“Really?”

“No need to look so surprised nephew of mine, I’m not completely resigned to a journey across the Styx just yet.”

“Ah.  You do realise…”

“That it doesn’t stop me being dead?  Yes.  The documents, in their flowery and somewhat euphemistic manner made that clear, if more tangentially than I’d have been happy with.”

“Right.  But will you do it?  I mean, I don’t mean to push, but…”

“It’ll take a week or two to arrange, and a week or two to actually do, and with the latest from those vultures I don’t have much more than that.  Yes, yes.”

He was starting to feel as testy as he sounded.  Tiredness probably.  This body had served him well for so many years; it was so disappointing that it would fail him like this.

“Morris….” Charlie gently rocked him awake again.

“What? Yes, sorry.  Tactic of my own, doesn’t always work though.  Before I’m forced to use it again, the answer is yes, make it happen.”

Charlie beamed at the old man, who drifted back to sleep with the smile.

A week later he bid farewell to Mary one last time, and was driven to the institute.  Or should that be Institute?  He didn’t want to give it too much weight, it was to be his final resting place, in at least one sense, and he felt that it should have some irreverence.

He was wheeled in.  Charlie was waiting, gripped his hand and wished him luck, before gently stepping away.  Morris was then presented to the head man, Dr Surguet.

“Dr Tramferline, it is such a pleasure to meet you!”

“Morris.”

“Ah yes, your famous informality.  Of course, Morris.”

“It is not informality, it is my name, the other is merely a hook, a way for strangers to pigeonhole me.  Given what you are going to do to me shortly, I prefer not to view you as a stranger, and your use of the title would create that impression.”

“Sharp.  Yes, excellent.  I can see why Charlie was so keen to have you on the program.  Obviously you’ve already been through the first set of tests, required before you could even be considered.  I’m afraid we will need to run a rather more extreme set of tests now, some of which will feel like repeats.  Once that is done you will have a final chance to ask questions, and confirm your approval, and we shall proceed.”

Morris looked at him, and realised that he’d been dismissed.  He’d wanted to engage in some form of wordplay at least, but the busy Dr Surguet clearly had other things to do.  He nodded, and was wheeled out again.

They laid him on the table gently.  There was a cute young nurse.  Dark hair and stunning blue eyes, he felt he could get lost in them.  He told her, and she smiled at him kindly.  In the old days he’d have serenaded her, and she’d have been putty in his hands.  Now he was putty in hers as she hooked him up to wires, tubes and straps.  He was must have drifted off a few times because she mutated into a strikingly hard faced, but still attractive, red head, and then a large, hairy, and quiet-spoken man, before returning, eyes shining.

“Congratulations old boy, great news, you’ve passed all the tests, they’re ready for you.”

“You said great again Charlie.  What’s the problem?”

Charlie seemed a little shocked, both at the weakness of his croaking, and that he’d spotted the bad news.

“Well, I’m afraid they don’t believe they can unhook you from this equipment, that is if you do decide not to go ahead with the process.”

“Damned vultures…” he started coughing, or was it laughing.  The nice little brunette came in and gave him some water.  When he’d recovered he winked at her and said, “I hear you’ve made sure I have to stay with you forever.”

She smiled and went back to monitoring all the systems which now surrounded him.  He noticed that there seemed to be many more boxes and wires and tubes.  There were bings, and beeps and other sounds coming from him, forming a soft lullaby.

“Morris…”

“Sorry Charlie, what were you asking?”

“Are you willing to proceed with the transition?”

“Yes Charlie.  Goodbye, and see you on the other side.  Oh, and if it doesn’t work, take a look at my bookshelf, there are a few gifts there for you.”

“Goodbye Morris.”

Charlie’s eyes seemed to sparkle, and then darkness smothered him.

He awoke to the gentle susurration of the machines.  There were fewer bings, and more whirring.

“Dr Tramferline?”

“Morris!” he growled.

“He’s back.”

“Morris, it’s so great to see you,” said Charlie.

“Druid fish.  Cake.”

Charlie looked round at the nurse.  Perhaps he caught the glimpse of dismay on her face before the professional mask returned, but his smile faded.  She scurried out, and returned with Dr Surguet.

Meanwhile he’d been trying to speak to Morris.

“Morris, are you ok?”

“Peter.  Nylon book and captive redundancy.”

He tried again, but each time the machine returned nonsense.

Dr Surguet arrived and listened for a short time.  Then he put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder in a kindly gesture.

“Charlie, I’m sorry.  The transfer hasn’t worked.”

“What?  Why?  You said he was perfect.”

“Now Charlie, I said a perfect candidate, but he was old, and very ill.  Perhaps if we’d transferred him earlier…”

Charlie bowed his head.

“So what do we do?”

“I’m afraid we have to turn the machine off. “

At this the machine which contained some form of Morris started to make a lot more noise,

“Halibut!  Purple Antigone!”

The doctor turned to Charlie and shook his head in sympathy, and then led him out.  Morris tried desperately to call them back, but they seemed to ignore everything he said.  His last words as they flicked the switch were, “There.  Their.  Ther.”

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‘Language is Important’ longlisted

The nice people at Labello Press have longlisted my story ‘Language is Important’.  The shortlist, which will be published in their ‘Gem Street’ anthology, will be announced on the 10th March.

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Housework

I wrote this for a competition which gave a choice of opening lines (the same competition as for this, and the same opening line – I obviously didn’t like the other options).   It was for Halloween, but doesn’t really have any connection to pumpkins etc., which is possibly why it didn’t win.

 

Housework

“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

Yeah, thanks Dad for yet another piece of disturbing and ultimately useless advice.  If only he’d taken less acid when he was younger.  If only he was still here.

“Sorry, what?”

“I said, goodbye dear, and have a good day.”  His wife had a bemused frown on her face.

“Sorry, love, you too.  Knock ‘em dead!”

“Of course, and don’t forget, we’re having the Renquists to dinner tonight.”

Damn, he had forgotten.

“All planned, don’t you worry, I know exactly what I’m cooking.”

She smiled, perhaps a little uncertainly, and then after glancing at her watch rushed out with a passing air kiss.

This was his first day of being an official house husband.  His gardening leave was over, not that the garden had seen any of it, and his wife was back at work.  He’d looked for another job, but there just wasn’t anything for someone of his age, and qualifications, or lack thereof.  The world had changed, tablets, virtual spaces and social presence rooms were all the rage, and he didn’t have a clue what they meant any more.

He shook himself, and decided to take the day by the horns.  First step, shopping.  Laura had shown him what to do.  She’d learnt all the new ways, and when it came to finding a job she’d been beating them off with a stick.  Not that he minded really.  He was all for feminism really.  Anyway, shopping.  It was easy, he just needed to get the tablet thingy, click on the Isquibo icon and click go.  Then apparently it would all arrive.

There was no Isquibo icon.  Or anything else that made any sense.  He tapped a few things randomly before giving up.  This was just like work, why was nothing named properly anymore?  He’d go out to the local supermarket later, they were still around he thought.

The cleanerbot wandered into the room.  Made a sort of hello beep and then started vacuuming, or mopping or whatever.  He wondered where its brain was.  He wondered where his had gone.  Trusting the machines was easy for everyone else, they’d not woken up to the new world with a hangover and a fear of rounded icons.  Or any icons.

Right, he should load the dishwasher.  Except, the dishes were gone.  The cleanerbot had already taken them.  He couldn’t help himself, the anger began to build.  How he hated it.  This horrid square box which was making him feel ever more useless.  He walked into the living room.

It was spotless.  There was really nothing for him to do.  He wondered what his dad would say.  He decided to go for a walk.  As he left the house he could vaguely recall Laura mentioning something about an alarm, but he figured he wouldn’t be gone long.

The trees were lovely in the autumn, and he spent a restful half hour sitting on a bench watching the world go by in the park.

When he got home all was much as he had left it.  He checked in to see that the kitchen was now clean.  Suddenly there was a loud beep behind him, it was the cleanerbot.

“Go away, stupid thing!”

It followed him into the lounge, and beeped at him again.  He had no idea what it wanted.  Laura had told him how to check, but it had all seemed so easy, and yet now the concepts had slipped from his mind, like all these technical things did.

There was another, more angry sounding, beep, and the cleanerbot advanced on him again.  This was getting a bit worrying.  Hadn’t she said there was some kind of pass phrase?

“Shut down!”

It continued to advance, and he backed away, tripping over the table and falling over.  In the process he managed to knock over a vase which smashed.  Maybe the cleanerbot would sort that out and stop bothering him.

The bot stopped still.  Its front bot opened up and an arm extended, and he relaxed.  This was obviously the vacuum.  He started to get up when something jabbed into his side and all his muscles spasmed.  He fell to the ground, and darkness took him.

His wife arrived back that evening, tired, but excited by her day.

“Darling!  Darling?”

She looked around.  The house was absolutely spotless, not a mark or stain to show that anyone was there.

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‘Feedback’ shortlisted

The nice people at thewordhut.com selected ‘Feedback’ for the shortlist for their ‘No. 12 Short Story Writing Competition‘  (You’ll need to scroll to the bottom to see the shortlist).  It didn’t win, but it’s very nice to be recognised.  Here is the story:

Feedback

Firemen today rescued a cat which had been stuck up an oak tree in a public park in Farnham, Surrey, for at least nine hours.  Mrs Kathleen Timkins, the cat’s owner, was distraught.

“Poor Tiddles was up there for so long.  I called the firemen, but they’re so understaffed these days, what with everything that’s going on.  I’m just so glad they could come and get him.”

Fire Chief Patton said, “We’re just glad to have been able to have help with this.  If we had more resources we’d have been able to get to Tiddles much earlier.”

A council spokesman commented that there were plans to have the lower branches of the trees cut off in the Summer to reduce the likelihood of similar issues.

Tiddles only comment was some purring as Mrs Timkins stroked him.

Report by Tracy Gared

 

Comment Feed (Chronological Order):

1 – Treehouse

Is this really the basis of modern journalism?  A cat in a tree.  How much money was spent saving this damned cat.

 

2 – MuttsNuts

Somun shouldve shot horrid little thing.  Would’ve saved everyun time.

<This comment is being reviewed for offensive content>

 

3 – PussyGalore

I like cats.  What is an outrage is just how short-staffed the fire service is.  When I was younger a cat wouldn’t have to wait for more than a couple of hours for rescue.

 

4 – SocialistWorker

It’s this bloody government.  Always cutting.  They don’t care about us.  I bet if it had been a Tory cat it would have been saved in minutes.

 

6 – PurplePasty

So nice of the BBC to finally allow us to comment on something real.  I’m assuming the propaganda police let this one through.

7 – ToryBoy

@SocialistWorker

You’re clearly an idiot.  Farnham is a proper Conservative area.  The real problem is that all our taxes are going on paying for scroungers like you, who seem to have lots of time to comment on BBC articles.

 

9 – TheTruthIsOutThere

what this report fails to mention is how tiddles got into the tree this is cleerly the work of aliens some form of sinister plot

 

12 – AverageTaxpayer

Classic BBC bias.  When are you going to report fairly and accurately on these kinds of stories and not whitewash them!

 

15 – SocialistWorker

@ToryBoy I have a job, a shift job, which I’m about to start.  I bet you’re one of those City types who only does a couple of hours before heading off to lunch or the strip club.  Probably commented on your post using your smartphone, while quaffing Champagne.

@AverageTaxpayer amen to that brother.

 

17 – LittleEngland

When are we going to get a vote on independence from Europe?  Now that we’ve ditched the Scots, let’s get rid of the real millstone around our necks, those damned bureaucrats in Brussels.

 

18 – CatGuardianFarnham

This is AN APPEAL TO RAISE MONEY TO BUY CAT RESCUE.  Please see our website here.  Remember, we get no money from the government, so are totally reliant on your donations.  From just £3 a month you can make sure that no cat will have to suffer like Tiddles ever again.

21 – ToryBoy

@SocialistWorker I’m a shift worker too, and not in the City, so don’t force your ridiculous left wing sterotypes on me.

@TheTruthIsOutThere stop smoking whatever it is you’re smoking.

@AverageTaxpayer did you even read the article?

 

27 – SocialistWorker

@ToryBoy doesn’t matter, it’s still government cuts which created this mess.

@LittleEngland I’m sure you read one of those so-called newspapers which constantly tell you that Europe is the cause of all our problems.  Maybe you should do a little research before parroting such ignorant views.

 

28 – ToryBoy

@SocialistWorker only because they’re dealing with the mess left by your lot.  If they hadn’t overspent so much!

@CatGuardianFarnham I’ve signed up.

 

29 – SocialistWorker

@ToryBoy they were just making up for the chronic underinvestment from the last time your lot were in power.  All you care about is making the rich richer, and damn the rest of us.

And giving £3 a month to save poor little Tiddles doesn’t absolve you of anything.

@CatGuardianFarnham I give money to the national CatGuardians, so hopefully some of that comes to you guys.

 

30 – ToryBoy

@SocialisWorker as much as I’d like to point out the fallacy of your comment, there is something else I’d like to mention.  Have you noticed we’re the only ones left on this thread?  I’ve looked and I can’t find any active thread anywhere else.

 

31 – SocialistWorker

@ToryBoy I assumed you were just using classic divide and rule tactics instead of arguing with me.  But I think you’re right.  Everything else seems to have just stopped.  My twitter feed is dead too.

 

32 – ToryBoy

@SocialistWorker I think it might be related to this:  http://bbc.com/massive-comet-expected-to-miss-today the last update seems to imply that it would hit Europe if it landed.  If it did hit, that would be an extinction event on the order of the one which wiped out the dinosaurs.

 

33 – SocialistWorker

@ToryBoy don’t be ridiculous.  If that had happened then the website would be down.

 

34 – ToryBoy

@SocialistWorker we’re probably looking at a mirror site somewhere else, probably a local repeater.  I’m guessing you’re not in England.  I’ve tried phoning people.  Nothing.  Try it.

 

35 – SocialistWorker

@ToryBoy you’re right,  I can’t get hold of anyone.   I’m actually in Antarctica.

 

36 – ToryBoy

@SocialistWorker ditto.

 

37- SocialistWorker

Tom?  Seriously.

 

38 – ToryBoy

Yes.  Lucy I assume.  Want to get drunk?

 

39 – SocialistWorker

Well, I did say I’d only have a drink with you if you were the last person on Earth… so I guess, yes.

 

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Flower of Youth wins a prize!

I was thinking about the next few years and how things are likely to change, and I wondered what the next stage of gaming was likely to be, and that led me to this story.  It came out well enough to win a prize from ‘Writers’ Village’!  You can read it here.

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Winter’s Reign

This was another entry for the competition themed ‘Winter’, and I think I prefer this one:

 

Winter’s Reign

“Winter cleanses.  It takes the wild mud and confusion of Summer and Autumn, and transmutes them to soft, silent whiteness.  In the Winter it is possible to think, to consider the past year, and perhaps prepare for the next.”

Elder Phips recited the traditional greeting as the congregation settled.  His warm voice filling our hearts, while the warm church thawed our chilled bones.  It was cold outside.

“Let us all say thanks for the bounties which Winter provides.”

We bowed our head, and mumbled the ritual.

“Thank you Winter for cleansing us.  Thank you Winter for protecting us.  Thank you Winter for saving us.  Thank you Winter for providing for us.”

When I was younger I always questioned how Winter had done all these things.  Now I was a man, I knew what we were thankful for, though I didn’t entirely agree.  Still, the community around the church was strong, and our Elder kept us together.  I was not going to rock the boat.

After the ceremony Elder Phips invited me into his study.  His house joined to the back of the church, and there was no need for us to put on our full furs to get there.  There was some discussion of linking the whole village up in this way.

“Ah come in Jorgy.”

“Thank you Elder.”

“Oh hush, I’ve know you since you were a pup, please call me Phips.  Now I expect you are wondering why I asked you in here?”

I nodded.

“It is two things.  Firstly, I know the other hunters follow you.  Are you supporting the covered links for the village?”

I paused.  This had become an emotive issue.

“I will Elder.  While the resources required are substantial, I’m convinced that it will return more.  It will allow more visits, strengthening the community as well as reducing the time all of us spend getting ready for outside.”

“Good man, I thought you’d see sense.  Now if only I can get the salters to agree.  Any ideas?”

I thought a little.

“Perhaps remind them that they will get more visits, and more chances to sell their wares.  They aren’t fools, though they may act that way sometimes.”

“Excellent.  I shall.”

He stopped and looked at his desk.  The second thing, whatever it was, clearly bothered him.  It was also clearly the real reason he’d called me in.

“Ah Jorgy, there’s a more delicate matter.”

I waited silently.  I had a suspicion I knew what it was.

“It’s about, ah, the Spring.”

I had wondered if he had the courage to say it.  I stayed mute.

“Well, there have been rumours that you, ah, that you think the Spring might be coming.”

One casual remark, and now this quiet inquisition.

“No Phips.  I had but remarked that the South wind was less cutting than I would have expected for this time of year.”

He looked at me, trying to judge.

“That’s not all Jorgy.  I have seen your log-pile.  It is not up to the eves.  The Guidance clearly states that the log-pile should be built up to the eves during every long break in the weather.”

Digging himself out of this was going to be more difficult.

“Apologies Elder.  My son has been ill, and I spent the time looking for extra food for him to help him recover.”

“Hmm, I would have more sympathy if you hadn’t told Tomas that you didn’t think there was any point in having such a stockpile.  You claim that you didn’t use all of yours during the last big freeze.”

Ah, the crux of the hypocrisy.  He’d watched his neighbours when the snow had finally cleared enough.  They’d been manically burning their wood, to make sure that it was all gone.  The Interpretation of the Guidance was that all fuel supplies should be exhausted after a big freeze, otherwise Winter would send worse.

The problem was, the big freezes were less common, less vicious, and shorter than they’d been even a few years before.  The weather was changing.  But these fools could not see it.  I was rocking the boat, even while trying to keep my own keel even.

There was nothing I could say to the Elder.  So I said nothing.

He shook his head sadly.

“Jorgy, the Spring isn’t coming.  The devil is playing tricks, and you are falling for his ways.  I’m afraid you must pay penance.”

I wanted to scream at him, but there was little point.  I thought voting for the covered links, a measure I thought would become irrelevant in a few years, would protect me, but clearly not.

“Yes Elder.”

“You must do ten hours a week on community work.”  Which would mean the covered ways.  Ten hours would be tough, but it could be worse.

“And half your next hunt.”  I nearly stood at that point.  It took iron will to stay still.  Half my hunt was already taken as tax.  The other half was to feed my family.  With both halves taken, we would starve, or be forced to live off the charity of the village.  Which of course was the whole point.  The Elder liked to make sure we understood that the community was paramount.

“Yes Elder.”

He nodded.  Then smiled, as if the unpleasantness was now in the past, and we would all be friends.

“Good lad Jorgy, I knew you’d understand.  Now, don’t forget to make sure the other Hunters vote the right way.  You know the way out?”

I did.

When I arrived home Mary looked at my face.  She could see the Thunder, but then she’d known it was likely to be bad if the Elder had called me in.

“Oh Jorgy.  What?”

“Half the hunt.”

“Nooo”  she covered her mouth.  She knew hunger and feared it.  But she also feared the shame of relying on the bits of stew and weak broth from the other villagers.  The women would be kind and helpful, but they would be judging.

“I’m sorry Mary.  Perhaps I can do a double hunt?”

“Stay out there for that long?  Winter will get you.”

I smiled wryly.  She was trying to get a rise from me.

“Perhaps he will, but I might snare Spring.”

She laughed.

“Jorgy, it’s that kind of talk that got us into this trouble.  Do you want them to do worse?”

“I know.  But, I don’t understand.  It is so obvious.  Spring is coming.”

She shook her head.

“Jorgy, it’s been a thousand years of Winter.  How many times have a group of hotheads decided Spring was coming, that the old ways are bad and that they should be in charge?”

“I know.  But I am not a hothead.”

“Not anymore.”

“I’m not saying the old ways are bad, just, that change is coming.”

“And you should be in charge?”

“Winter’s bones woman!  No.  I would not want that.”

“Then why challenge?”

“I wasn’t, not really.  I am just trying to get them to see what is in front of them.  Yet…”

“There are some that won’t believe until their faces are rubbed in the mud.”

Such language from Mary.  She was clearly upset too.

“Do you think we should…”

We’d talked about leaving.  I believed that the changing weather meant that it was safer to be out, and that travel was now possible.

“Oh Jorgy.  I don’t know.  What about Karl?”

“We could leave him here?”  I winked at her.

“Our son!  Never.  Who would look after him?”

“It’s hard out there Mary.  I may think Winter is weakening, but He still has some strength.”

“I’m strong enough Father.”

“Karl, how long have you been listening!”  The whole time probably, though I’d only noticed his slipper sticking out a little while before.

He walked forward, holding his head high.

“Since you came back.  I want to leave.  The other boys all taunt me, they call me Spring’s spawn.”

I reached out to him, and he ran for a hug.  How had we arrived at the point where Spring itself was evil?

The decision was made.  We spent the rest of the day packing.  There wasn’t much.  I made sure they both had extra furs, minimal food and some basic tools.  We’d start off fast and light, in case the Elders sent someone after us.  Once we were several days away and I was confident we were clear I would build a sledge, and then I’d be able to hunt properly.  We’d have a few days of hunger, but less than if we stayed.

I left a note for the Elder saying that he could distribute all that we’d left.  He would have anyway, but giving him my permission would enrage him.  I told him we were leaving to look for Spring.

Gathering all our belongings we stepped into Winter’s cold embrace.  After centuries of cleansing I hoped that humans were pure enough to be given back the other seasons.  We were ready for whatever came after Winter.  We were ready for Spring.

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Winter’s Lament

This was an entry for a competition where the theme was ‘Winter’:

Winter’s Lament

“Why do they hate me?”  she cried.

My dearest Winter.  Such beauty, so misunderstood.

“They fear you dearest.”

“It is more than that.  They think I’m hideous!”

How could they think she was ugly?  When clothed in white she made the whole country look Christmas card pretty.  Perhaps it was because she stripped the dishonest leaves from the trees?

“Only a few fools my love.  Many love you.  Look how they celebrate you at your peak?”

“By hiding indoors!  Consuming food and alcohol in great quantities.  How many venture forth?  I give them bracing air, clear vistas and even a sprinkling of sparkling frost.  Yet they stay inside, staring at those flashing boxes and worshiping that fat man in red.”

This was a conundrum.

“Darling Winter, they honour you by spending time with their families, what more could you ask?  And as for the fat man… they do not shower him with worship, but with avarice and greed.”

She sniffed.  It was hard.  She had ruled once, a glorious time.

“Remember when this world was all mine?  My glaciers stretched across the continents, weighing them down.  It was quiet then.  So peaceful.”

“There are still echoes of that peace now.”

“Shattered by the coughing of machines, and wailing of human children.”

“And yet, on a cold crisp morning, there are many who still walk the hills and fields with wonder.  They marvel at how you reveal to them their environments anew.”

“This is true.”

“Some still worship you, delighting in your snow.  They swish across the mountains, and when you have left they mope.  Or fly to those places where you still have some sway.”

“They do delight me.”

This was better, perhaps she would calm.  I loved my Winter, but she could be a handful when enraged.

She was melancholy now.

“It is as if they would prefer only three seasons.  They would consign me to memory, and then forget.”

I could not argue, and perhaps it was better not to.

“I thought if I let them fly they would love me.  And they do, swooping across my icy ponds, scratching me.  Yet it is as if they can only focus on the bad.  Like the cold.”

“Which makes their cheeks red and healthy.”

Her withering look stopped any more such attempts at levity.

“What can I do?”

“Nothing my love.  Some will never be content.  Have you not heard how they complain about Summer too?”

“No, do they?”

“They claim she’s too hot.  That the sun it burns them, there are too many insects.”

“How interesting.  Yet they do not rejoice in my time.  I keep it nice and cold, and the sun knows its place when I’m here.  Insects, I remember them.  A few I will allow, but all the rest rightly sleep, and they do deserve it.  They have a hard task, they work hard in Summer’s glory.”

“They do.”

“So do they prefer Autumn?”

“Oh no.  It rains too much, the leaves fall and make a mess, and it’s too windy.”

“How strange.  I do not like rain too much, but it has its place.  And if the leaves did not fall they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the clean sculptures, showing the bones of the natural world.  Wind must happen for the leaves to fall properly.”

“Of course, and yet, they do complain.”

She was looking contemplative.  Then she looked at me.  “And you dear Spring, what do they say about you?”

“Ah well, they complain I’m late, or early.  That there are mad showers and that I’m still not warm enough.”

“None of us can satisfy them it seems.”

“It is why they build their boxes and hide away.”

“Yes.”  She was still looking at me, thinking.

I was worried she might ask the hard question.

“Dear Spring, why is it that I must leave during your glory?”

This was it.  How could I tell her?  How could I not?

“Winter my love.  You are my delight, my wonder, but I am weak compared to you.  You smother me and I cannot blossom while you are here.”

She shook her head sadly.

“Such a pity, I do so want to see your glory.  I tried last year.”

“I know, and how they howled at the sudden late snows and icy blast.”

“They did.”

She was tender then, and we just held each other.  Later she went out to spread some snow upon the world.  I slept, and hoped she hadn’t taken her thoughts any further.

She returned later that night.  There was an extra chill in her gaze.  She was wearing her icy armour, and carrying her hunting weapons, a spear and bow.  She stared at me, and I realised she knew.

“Now darling, you must understand…”

“Understand?  Understand!  Dear Spring, I do understand.  Now, finally after all these years.  In order for you to glory I must die.  Each year I die for you, and yet you do not have the courage to tell me.”

“I thought you knew, you must have…”

“Liar.  I can see the fear in your eyes.  You hoped to keep this from me.  Let me guess, there is poison in the wine you give me.  It works slowly, and even at my peak I’m already dying.”

I shook.  I wanted to deny it, but I couldn’t.

“This year there will be change.”

“No, you cannot.”

“I will kill you, and reign until Summer appears.  And then I shall kill her.  Autumn I might keep, for amusement.”

“But Winter, dearest.  You do not understand, only you can return from death.”

“Oh, I know.  And now the time has come dear Spring, for you to take a rest.”

She raised her icy spear and threw it straight at my heart.  I saw endless Winter rushing towards me.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.

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