Category Archives: Stories & Books

star

Star

First published in Universe #1

Star

by Damien Walter

Heinrich always volunteers for class activities. The last two study periods of Friday afternoon are put aside for a visit from a policeman. The students ask him why he does not wear a uniform. His answer makes everyone laugh. Criminals, he says, do not wear uniforms. The policeman asks for volunteers.

The icon is pinned to Heinrich’s shirt. The policeman explains that criminals can look like anyone. But they must use icons to recognise their own kind. The students must be vigilant for all icons, even if they do not know what they mean. The policeman makes the class play a game. Heinrich refuses to take his icon off, however loudly the other boys and girls shout at him.

Heinrich makes the icon late on Sunday evening. Heinrich’s family never pray at home, but attend church every Saturday morning. In the afternoon Heinrich and his younger brother attend cram classes in preparation for their Standard Assessment Tests, whilst his parents attend their monthly interview with the local panel of the Neighborhood Security Association. On Sunday morning Heinrich marches with his Youth Scout unit through Hyde Park to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Capitulation Day. In the afternoon Heinrich’s extended family share a roast dinner, before gathering around the television to watch the official celebrations until the state channel closes an hour before midnight. Alone in his room, Heinrich draws the icon on paper first, to be sure he has remembered it correctly.

On Monday morning Heinrich carries his school blazer over one arm, so that his mother will not see. The night before he cut the icon from the yellow cloth of his physical training t-shirt, and stitched it into place with needle and thread from his mother’s sewing box. It contrasts brightly with the charcoal grey blazer. At the school gate Heinrich pulls the blazer on over his shoulders.

The younger children notice him first. Heinrich sits on a wall, so that everyone can see. They come forward in groups and ask Heinrich; what is he doing? Does he have permission? Will he get in trouble? Groups of older girls point and laugh at the boy making a spectacle of himself. Before first bell, a squad of older boys surround Heinrich. They jostle and shoulder barge him as he walks to class. One is the son of a high-ranking officer. He stands in Heinrich’s way and then spits in his face. Heinrich walks around him.

After refusing to remove the icon from his blazer, Heinrich is escorted to the office of the Head Teacher. Waiting with the Head Teacher is the policeman with no uniform. It is explained that last week’s exercise is over. Heinrich agrees that he will not wear the icon again. The policeman shakes his hand before he leaves.

Heinrich’s mother is frantic and this makes his father all the more angry. Heinrich retreats to his room as soon as he has calmed them. After their parents are sleeping, Heinrich’s brother, who knows him better, comes to his room and begs him not to continue. Heinrich tells him to go away.

One week later Heinrich draws the icon on his face with a permanent marker pen, watching the lines reversed in the mirror of the boy’s toilet. People stare as Heinrich walks through the playground. He is completely calm when he spits into the face of the high-ranking officer’s son.

The cuts and bruises on Heinrich’s body throb as he waits outside his father’s study. The policeman without a uniform speaks to Heinrich’s father for a long time. Afterwards Heinrich’s father is terrified and weak. He drags Heinrich to the kitchen and scrubs his face with near boiling water and detergent until Heinrich’s skin screams red and livid. Heinrich is locked in the empty spare room and given no comforts more than his health demands.

Heinrich is moved to a new school, but rumours follow and he is shunned by students and teachers alike. He sits alone in class and spends recess periods alone in a study room. At home Heinrich’s brother will no longer speak to him, and his parents do not know what to say to their son.

A teacher of mathematics takes pity on Heinrich and trusts the boy with minor responsibilities in an attempt to begin re-socialisation. Heinrich repays the teacher’s trust by producing photocopied batches of the icon. After a month he has enough for every student in the school. He hands them out on a Wednesday morning, thanking every one of his peers who accept the gift. Hundreds of students are decorated with the icon before Heinrich is caught.

Two uniformed police officers collect Heinrich directly from the school. He is held in a detention cell overnight then taken before the court. The judge, dressed in full military uniform, reviews the case notes in silence then passes sentence. There is no one to explain to Heinrich what is happening. He wants to see his parents, but the court session is closed.

Heinrich is marched down into the basement of the court through a series of security gates. Heinrich is strip-searched and his head is shaved to begin his processing. In a medical bay he is strapped to a padded chair by orderlies. A doctor enters followed by an official. The doctor methodically prepares a hypodermic needle.

Heinrich is very scared.

Heinrich squeezes his eyes closed tight as the doctor inserts the needle into his neck. When he opens them again the doctor is holding a scanner beside his neck. The official notes the details of Heinrich’s implanted serial number.

The small cell has no window and Heinrich does not know where the train is taking him. When the hatch in the cell door slides open he expects to be given food, but instead a face stares at him. He recognises the eyes of the policeman with no uniform.

‘You must learn your true name.’ The policeman says. ‘There are many to choose from.’

Through the hatch the policeman pushes a slim book, bound in black. The icon is embossed in silver on the cover. Heinrich turns the pages. One side of every page is in an alphabet he has never seen before, the other in the language they have taught him to speak. The policeman is right, there are many true names to chose from.

‘Read it as many times as your journey allows. I will take it away before they find it. There are more of us every day. You must learn to see the truth without icons. Understand?’

Heinrich nods. The hatch is closed. He begins to read.

A Polaroid Polarez GL20 sunglass camera, part of Lady Gaga's Grey Label line, is displayed during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Micro Sci-Fi 2 : My eyes are dim, I can not see

A Google HUD journalist  auctions the eternal copyright to her feed for a Quora credit fortune but is replaced by a narrative AI generated from her lifetime experience.

Rules of Micro SF:

  • Tell a story in one sentence. It can be any length but must work grammatically and be reasonably well parsed by a reader.
  • Include at least two or more hyperlinks to current developments in science, technology or the humanities.
  • You may expand the stories meaning through the title, which is not part of the one sentence story.
  • Tweet me @damiengwalter and I’ll share your stories with others.
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female-sexy-robot-10

Micro Sci-Fi 1: When we hear the Siren sing

Cognitive computers employ evolutionary principles to design and 3D print perfectly beautiful bodies and lure man (or woman) kind to our doom.

 

Rules of Micro SF:

  • Tell a story in one sentence. It can be any length but must work grammatically and be reasonably well parsed by a reader.
  • Include at least two or more hyperlinks to current developments in science, technology or the humanities.
  • You may expand the stories meaning through the title, which is not part of the one sentence story.
  • Tweet me @damiengwalter and I’ll share your stories with others.
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A Vast Bit of Hod

This story is also a riddle. I will congratulate anyone who tells me the answer.

A Vast Bit of Hod

by Damien G. Walter

The bloody bell rang again. The bloody bell hadn’t stopped ringing all bloody day. Harold was bloody sick of it. How was he supposed to keep the shop spick-and-span with customers wandering in and out of the place all day like bloody great herds of cattle? If Harold had his way, they’d keep proper antique shop hours; half an hour at lunch, an hour in the afternoon and closed Mondays, Wednesdays and Weekends. Little sign on the door, ‘Customers by appointment only’, then no apparent means of making an appointment. But then it was not a real antique shop, was it? Not in the stricest sense. More like bric-a-brac really. And Harold only worked there, the owners made all the rules.

The bell ringer stood looking around the shop, unaware of his crime. Young man. Not too tall. Slender build. Dark suit jacket, worn with a polo neck, covered his throat. Slacks, brogues. Smart looking, but a little worn out at the seams. Face the product of breeding; domed brow, sharp cheeks, aquiline nose. Clear, very dark eyes. Kind that seemed to look right through things rather than at them. But not monied. Not really. Harold could tell. He could always tell.

The young man’s eyes flicked back and forth over the cluttered shop. Harold leaned one elbow on the sales counter and looked down at his newspaper. The final crossword clue was difficult, fiendishly so, been annoying Harold for an eternity. A Vast Bit of Hod. Really, what kind of clue was that? He took a sip of luke warm tea and considered. The young man carried on looking at the clutter, the kind of way people look at things when they aren’t really looking at them, but only pretending to look to avoid the awkwardness of actually talking to another human being.

‘Can I help?’ Harold knew bloody well he could help, but it was as good a place to start as any.

‘I…yes. How much is this bureau?’

‘That depends what you want it for.’ Harold said, looking at the young man over his tea cup. The young man looked back at him, wide eyed, surprised.

‘Pardon me? What a very odd thing to say.”

‘Just a statement of facts.’

‘But. This is a shop. You sell things. What I do with them is my own business surely?’

‘Oh, absolutely. But whatever you do, you pay the price.’

‘Look. Are you going to tell me how much money you want for it or not?’

‘Not much interested in money. Boring. Tell you what. You want something, you go ahead and take it.’ Harold thumbed a digestive biscuit from the packet next to the teapot, plastic wrapper rustling loudly.
‘Hold on there a minute. Are you telling me I can take the bureau for nothing? What about the rest, can I take that? Could I just empty your whole shop?’

‘You could, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Besides, there’s no point. You can come back any time you like, and take whatever you want.’

‘I see.’ Said the young man, in the way people say I see when they really don’t see at all. He pretended to look at the clutter again, a muscle in his jaw ticking furiously. He wanted to leave, Harold could see that, but he couldn’t quite gather the willpower to walk back through the door. Harold dipped the digestive in his tea, bit the soggy end off with his teeth.

‘Well. I don’t want the bureau anyway, so that solves that problem.’

‘Of course you don’t want the bureau, goes without saying.’

‘Really? Why wouldn’t I want the bureau?’

‘That’s a politicians bureau. Built to hold secrets. See all those little looked doors? It’s not for the likes of you.’

‘Likes of me? What is that supposed to mean? I’m very informed about politics actually.’

‘Of course. But I’d venture you have a thing for the truth, am I right?’
The young man opened his mouth, then bit it shut. He was thinking, Harold could see, that Harold was right. Harold liked being right. He liked it a lot.

‘Yes. Truth. And beauty. They are the most important things for a poet.’

‘Ah yes, a poet! That explains it.’ Harold had know the young man was an artist of some kind. If he had bothered to guess he might have said painter. But the boy didn’t have the vigour for easel work. No, poet. Obvious now he thought about it.

Harold put down his mug of tea, and hoisted himself up from his stool with a grunt. He shuffled out from behind the counter, navigating past a waist high stack of second hand paperbacks and a poorly located hat stand to reach the front of the shop.

‘What does it explain?’ Said the young man.

‘What does what explain?’ Harold said angrily. For the life of him, he couldn’t think what the young man was talking about.

‘You said, “A poet, that explains it.” What is the it?’

‘Oh that. Well, why you are here of course. Now let’s forget the bureau, and I’ll show you a few things you might want more, yes?’
Harold turned the young man around, and moved him a few paces sideways through the clutter. Harold sometimes thought of the shop as a harbour, and himself as a little tug boat moving the customer between walls of antiques, loading them up with purchases and then shoving them back out to sea.

‘Now then, how about these?’

They faced a tall dresser, crafted from some dark wood. Panes of leaded glass protected a chaotic jumble of objects distributed between many shelves and compartments.

‘Now, let me see. Ah, yes, how about this.’ Harold tapped on the glass just in front of a large pair of scissors, captured in a hard leather sheath.

‘Taylor’s scissors. What do you think?’

‘What do you mean, what do I think?’

‘How do you like them? Savile Rowe style, I do believe. Imagine the weight of steel in your hand. Snipping through yards of fabric on the cutting bench. There’s more to tayloring than meets the eye, you know. Clothes maketh the man.’

‘I disagree. It’s the man who makes the clothes.’

‘Yes! Now you’re getting it. What men might you make?’

‘No.’ The young man shook his head as though shedding the wispy remnants of a bad dream. ‘No. Making fine clothes for great men, wearing the scraps they leave behind. Not for me.’

‘Fair enough.’ Harold raised both hands palm up in obeysance. ‘How’s your time keeping?’

The young mans eyes turned with Harolds to rest upon a fine, silver cased fob watch. It had not ticked for some time, Harold knew. But no bother, it would soon spring back to life again in a warm pair of hands.
‘A butlers work is never done. There’s always masters to awake, guests to lodge, dinner services to orchestrate and so forth.’

‘Wait on hand and foot to the aristocracy? Become a lapdog of the bourgeoisie? Betray the proletariat? Never!’

The young man was geting his dander up, and had gone quite red in the cheek. Harold looked at him, in the way a person might look at an overly talkative spaniel.

‘A poet and a Marxist. How delightful. Someone has to be in charge you know. Then the rest of us don’t have to worry.’
‘The rest of you maybe. But not me.’

Harold sighed inside, but resolved to continue. ‘What’s your name young man?’

‘Anthony. Anthony Browne. But I don’t like it. I intend to write under a nom de plume when I am published.’

‘Very wise, very wise. Now I can see I’m not going to convince you of the value of a life in service. Come this way.’

Harold led the young man on with a theatrical flourish, in the process disturbing a large vase on a slender pedestal. Barely managed to stop the whole affair from toppling groundward. Breakages were an uncommon occurrence. The shops clientele were of the careful sort by and large. Which was good, because when breakages did occur they where an absolute nuisance. Three forms Harold had to fill out, all to be filed to different offices in the city. A day slogging through the hustle and bustle. Sitting in barren waiting rooms. Standing in endless queues. And he hated dealing with the counter staff of the Heirophancy. Harold doubted they even looked at the forms. But then wasn’t that the point of regulations, to be pointless?

‘I think I might be in the wrong shop.’ Anthony hesitated, as though wary of moving deeper into the chaotic interior.

‘Well, it’s possible.’

‘Does that ever happen?’

‘Now and again. You could try the pet-shop next door. Rabbit maybe? Or canary? They have a few puppies now and again. Or even the green-grocer. Broccoli’s good.’

‘No. No thank you. Is there anywhere else?’

‘Anthony.’ Harold addressed the young man seriously. ‘You came in here. The chances are, there was a good reason why. Now I’ve been showing you a bit of what’s on offer, only seems fair. But I have a feeling this will be more your style.’

Harold prodded the young man through a rattling bead curtain and allowed him a moment to taken in the back room. Sometimes people gave a little gasp, that echoed spendidly from the polished marble floor. The columns and the high painted ceiling were impressive, the priceless glittering crystal chandeliers were, well, priceless. And it did go back such a very long way. But Anthony was not so easily awed, and remained silent.
‘What is this?’ Anthony indicated a nearby glass display stand, housing what looked like a collision of brass arcs.

‘Naval Sextant. Good quality, good enough for a Captain with his eyes on the Admiralty.’ Harold remembered first touching that item, the ocean vista that unfolded in his imagination. The sight of a dozen spear wielding, naked savages running to the shoreline to meet the landing craft. the final moment of blood and leaking guts in the surf.
‘My grandfather was in the navy. Or I think it was my grandfather. Funny, I can’t seem to remember his name.’

‘Slippery things, names. And memories.’

‘How odd. I can’t think of my mother’s name either.’

‘Ever fancied it?’

‘What?’ The young man looked again at the sextant when Harold nodded towards it. ‘Oh, the navy? Maybe, as a boy perhaps. No doubt it seemed a fine adventure.’

‘Oh yes, very adventurous. Talking of which, what about this? Might not look like much, but don’t let that fool you.’

Tucked between two volumes in a display of ornately bound books, the edge of an old, battered hip flask was visible. Cheap even when it was new, black vinyl grip worn away almost entirely, baring the low grade, tarnished silver body.

‘Rhodesian issue. Given to mercenaries. Been plenty of other places mind. Nile Delta. Spanish Peninsula. Guatemalan Rainforest. And that’s just for starters.’

‘The life of a paid killer?’

‘Oh yes, but imagine the adventure! Life lived beyond the rules. And no man your master, not unless he can pay.’

‘No, this really isn’t…Good Lord, what is that?’

‘What, the shrunken head?’

‘Is it a shrunken head?’

‘Oh yes. Interesting one that. Man name of Carter. Explorer. Penetrated single handed in to the dark continent when it was still just a space on the map saying ‘Here Be Dragons’.

‘I’ve never heard of him.’

‘Why would you? The stories are for the ones who make it back.’

‘And he didn’t? Make it back I mean?’

‘Well. His head did.’

‘But. But. How did it get here?’

‘He brought it with him. Nice chap, talkative. Knew the score. Left with a very nice OC Bible, if I remember correctly.’

‘He brought it with him?’

‘Yes, not uncommon. Quite a number of the clientele like to leave a little gift. Good bit of our stock comes that way. The rest, well, not really my concern that. I’d venture you have a little something for me?

The young man looked aghast. The kind of face a man gets when he remembers a make or break appointment, then realises it was yesterday. Harold watched the young man pat himself down. Found the thing he was looking for in a breast pocket. Pulled out a silver barrelled fountain pen. Held it in his cupped hand, weighing it against expectation.

‘Give it to me.’ Harold said. He found that a firm tone helped immeasurably with the process.

‘I don’t know that I want to.’

‘Did I ask you what you want?’

‘No. Look, I’m not going give you my pen. I write. I have to write. It’s what I do.’

‘That was before.’

‘Before what? Look, I don’t have to put up with this. I’m going to walk out of here right now.’

‘Yes? Do it then. No? You’ll find you can’t. It’s too late Anthony.’

‘Why? What’s happened? Tell me, please. What’s happening to me?’
The young man was rubbing his throat through the turtle neck, the hand clenching and unclenching spasmodically. There it was then, Harold noted with no real satisfaction. Don’t let up now though. Keep the ball rolling. Hammer in the final nail.

‘No. It’s not ‘me’ anymore Anthony. Not ‘I’ either, not any more. Me ended, in that dim stairwell. Was it a stairwell? Or was it a chair and light fitting jobby. Or did you manage it from a door handle? Now that takes some doing, from a door handle’

‘Stop please stop.’ The boy was near to crying. Soon the tears would come, muddying up his face and then the big bubble of snot bursting from a nostril.

‘The pen, Anthony. Give it to me.’

‘No. Please.’

‘Now.’

And then he did it, handed the pen right over. Like a little boy giving back a stolen chocolate bar. An odd look crossed his face, some unknown mixture of guilt and relief.

‘Good. Very good.’ Harold pocketed the pen. It would fit nicely with the others. He gave the young man a reassuring thump on the shoulder.
‘Very good sign. Many of our clientele find it so hard to let go, causes all their problems you know.’

‘I’m very thirsty. Can I have something to drink please?’ The young man said in a small, broken voice.

‘Not until this is done. Now I think I may have misjudged you Anthony. This adventurous life is more than you’re ready for I believe. So let’s crack on shall we?’

As they returned to the front room something roared past the the shop window, like a lorry, shaking the shelves and setting crystal glasses chiming. But not a truck. The roads of the city were forever deserted, no traffic thronging the byways, no jams and honking horns and clouds of choking smog. Harold was immensely glad of this, having hated the noise and stink of traffic his whole life. It more than made up for the disconcerting fact that Harold could not identify whatever it was that did go roaring through the roads now and again. The things, whatever they were, moved too fast and somehow he was never looking when they came, they were just a vast roar on the edge of perception.

‘What was that?’

‘Just a lorry, Anthony, Just a lorry.’

They stepped through a dark doorway leading from one section of the shop to the next. Harold flicked a switch, and a row of fluorescent tube lights flickered to life. If you could call the grubby light they produced life. The air in this part of the shop was forever stale. Harold had tried a variety of air fresheners, to little or no effect. The smell of the merchandise was subtle, but overwhelming. Paperbacks were the worst offenders. Not only did the dry pages begin to crumble, but they accrued blooms of black and grey mould. The comics offended similarly, and the garish inks they were printed in maintained a permanent chemical tang in the air. The cassette tapes were another matter all together. Harold did no more than stack them on the shelves, keeping them in roughly alphabetical order by artist, none of which he had heard of because it had been a very long time since he listened to popular music of any kind. The plastic cassette cases were like sealed space capsules. Every so often a customer would crack one open to peruse the liner notes, and a burst of the original owners atmosphere, molecules of breath and sweat and desperate longing would be flung around the shop. The VHS video cassettes, grimed with dust and grit from long storage, the old LP’s that soaked up the essence of a place in to their sleeves. Every item contributed to the crush of lives that filled the room. Lives lived in dreams and delusion, trapped inside the pages of trashy thrillers or the easy listening melodies of yesterdays pop hits.

‘Captain Crisp!’ The young man said with frank disbelief. He stepped ahead of Harold into the room to inspect a glass fronted display case, jammed with the kind of mass produced plastic toys that were sold to children brainwashed by badly animated Saturday morning cartoons.

‘It is Captain Crisp! Amazing!’ He pushed his nose up against the glass to peruse the full selection of toys. ‘Wow! You have every member of The Cereoes in here? They must be worth loads!’

He said loads it in the way an excitable twelve year old boy might say it, as though he had just found the most exciting thing in the world ever. Which in his mind he might very well have. Then he began to sing quite quietly.

‘Captain Crisp, Captain Crisp, and the Cereoes! Captain Crisp, Captain Crisp, leader of heroes. Captain Crisp!’

‘Anthony?’ Harold said in as much of fatherly way as he could muster.

‘Yes?’ The young man answered in an awestruck tone.

‘I want you to have a good look around and find one thing you like. And when you have done that, bring it to me at the counter. Do you understand?’

‘Yes sir. I understand.’

He should have expected as much the moment the young man walked through the door, Harold ruminated as he sat back down behind the counter. That little collection of ephemera was supposed to be for children, and yet more and more of his adult clientelle seemed to have a fascination with the stuff. People didn’t grow up any more, not really. They didn’t realise their own dreams. No lives of adventure. Or even of service. Just the endless cycle of consumption. He took a sip of tea and grimaced. It was stone cold, and sludgy with biscuit sediment. Time for another.

Standing beside the boiling kettle, with the carton of milk in his hand ready to pour, Harold wondered if maybe he could have made more effort to show the young man a few other parts of the shop. Upstairs perhaps. Even Harold could never be sure what he would find when he took a client upstairs. How the stock came and went was a mystery. Just a week ago he had shown a rather pretty school teacher an entire room of glittering gold jewellery, including a fine selection of crowns, from which the woman had politely selected a simple, unadorned gold circlet. Harold had never even glimpsed the display before. Only yesterday, he had been surprised to feel a gush of hot, moist air hit his face as he opened opening the third door on the left. Took him three two hours to find the client, who had gone foraging through the jungle undergrowth, hunched over a rare tropical bloom.

When Anthony returned from the back room, Harold was ready and waiting at the counter. In his hands was the Captain Crisp. On his face a broad and beaming smile.

‘Made your mind up?’

‘Yes thank you.’

‘Want me to wrap it up?’

‘No thank you. Captain Crisp is a protector of the galaxy. He can survive in any atmosphere. He only adopts the persona of mentally ill drug addict Anthony Brown to keep his identity secret from the evil Schizoids.’

Harold wanted to tell the young man he could not have the toy. To make him choose again. To choose better. But there was no helping people. They all got what they wanted in the end. Every last one of them.

The bell rang. The door closed. And the shop was empty again. Harold was looking at one of the cabinets. His cheeks were wet with tears and he did not know why. He kept this cabinet empty, except for the bowl. A very plain wooden bowl, burnished to a high shine by the many hands that had held it. It was the only item in the shop of any value to him. He thought then, as he often had, of taking off with the thing. Of walking out through that door and hearing that bloody bell for the last time. But then who would keep the stock in order? And stop the clients breaking things? Besides, he’d just made a cup of tea, and there was a new packet of hobnobs in the kitchen. And of course, he couldn’t go anywhere until he had finished that crossword.

ZombieBoyBand2

My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band

First published in Electric Velocipede #22/23. Podcast in Dark Fiction magazine.

My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band

by Damien G. Walter

I am excavating an eight pointed star onto the pages of my text book when I catch the boy looking at me. I keep the pen moving, the shiny blue ink bubbling and frothing, soaking the pink paper. At the centre of the doodle I draw a lidless eye. It gazes up at me unblinking, forever caught in devotion and desire. The boy is looking at me like he owns me. Boys are so dumb. Don’t they get that beauty is a trap you fall in to by looking?

Buy from the Amazon Kindle store UK / US

Cthul-You

First broadcast on BBC Radio.

Cthul-you

by Damien G. Walter

When I first heard about Cthul-YOU I was skeptical to say the least. Like most people I thought anything that promised so much had to be bogus. Like the sites for BDSM fanboys populated by 24,753 lonely I.T. technicians seeking submissive female slaves, and…NO submissive females waiting to be enslaved. I was glad that kind of thing wasn’t really my scene, but then being a follower of the occult wasn’t any easier. So when the e-mail that would ultimately lead me to my dark lord and master appeared in my Inbox, you can be sure I had my reservations.

Sometimes in life it’s the way you stumble into things that makes them special. A friend told me about some other friend who swore they could forward me some e-mail with a link in that would take me to the only site of its type on the net. From the get go, the site strikes me as interesting.  Usually the photos of animal sacrifice are obvious fakes, but here you could almost hear them squealing beneath the blade. You could tell that the guy advertising for a demonic soul mate was displaying real horns, not the joke shop variety. All the pics here were real original. REAL original. And they got me real excited.

So I signed up.

Now if I wasn’t sold before, this hooked me. At first I took it as a problem. I’m typing in my member name – TYPHINE2352BC – when a little red ‘Name Already Registered’ sign flashes up. This surprises me. I use that name everywhere. TYPHINE is my favourite non-corporeal daemon entity. 2352BC is the date of the last true pan astral invasion. Maybe five other people in the world could tell you who or what Typhine is, and the debate is still raging about whether pan astral planes even exist, let alone invade. Finding these combined together? Never gonna happen. Before I know it I’ve hit ‘ENTER’. I’m expecting a rejection but instead a profile page comes up. In my name. My real name. The one my mum who wouldn’t sleep well if she knew I was a ‘cultist calls me. Whadaya know. I think. I already joined.

But I didn’t.

But I am.

Whoever did join me, they didn’t pick up the tab. It takes a while for the payment screen to load and I’m shuffling through for my plastic. Fifty bucks. I think to myself. I’ll pay fifty bucks and not a cent more. Of course this place surprises me again.  Instead of the boxes for my credit card number, there are pull down menus for date of birth and they are like super accurate. Who knows when they were born to the second? At the bottom of the page where I’d expect to see VISA, MASTERCARD and PAYPAL logos are a bunch of arcane sigils so small I can barely read them. I scroll through it until I reach ‘I understand the conditions under which I enter into this agreement’ and tick ‘ACCEPT’. Nobody ever reads the legalese.

Race: Mortal.

Body: Human, Obese

Smokes: No

Drinks: Rarely

Drugs: Ceremonial Only

Sacrifices: Everyday

Languages: English (fluent), Latin, Sumerian, Klingon.

I am looking for…

A genuine, involved and determined demonic entity. I have had too many experiences of dark powers whose only interest is in making themselves look ‘bad’. I want to see this world destroyed. I want you to want that too.

My Life…

I work in a BurgerBoy because people make me sick, and at BurgerBoy I get to make people sick. I only eat BurgerBoy’s and now weigh eighteen stone. I want to be obese. When this world burns my flesh will fuel the flames.

Things Others Think About Me…

I am fat and ugly. I have not always been fat, I have always been ugly. No one I know now remembers I used to be average weight. No one I know now thinks anything about me except ‘who is that ugly fat person.’ This is the way I want it.

Message me if…

You want to make this world burn.

So I spend most of the night cruising through the personals on Cthul-YOU. I like to have checked out every option before I make a decision, and if that’s the case with retail purchases then it’s twice the case when I’m selecting a new dark lord to obey. Among the dross I find some familiar faces. I have pretty good fey-dar so I’m not surprised to find out that JT, my shift manager at BurgerBoy, or Miss Stimpson my primary grade teacher, or even Pastor Miller all have hardcore demonic tendencies. What got me was that they would be advertising it so blatantly. Did they think a stupid false name and a latex mask could keep that kind of thing disguised? But then I guess it’s no different than the stupid disguises they wear in the ‘real’ world.

It’s in the nature of the occult that there are far more leaders than followers. Every Joe thinks he has it in him to destroy the world. But 99.99% of them are nothing but sacks of shit, that is to say human.  Most people embrace the occult as a way of making themselves special. They want to rain down brimstone on the world. THEY want to. It’s more important that they do it than that it happens. But they have it all wrong. You want to know about the scene?. Rule Number One – It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not even about the dark lord. It’s about destroying the world. That’s all you need to know.

I went past Mark’s profile twice before I even noticed it. The page was almost empty, not even a picture. Most of the profiles got boring pretty quickly. For all their talk of bringing down vengeance and destroying the world you soon realised that between every line it was all me, me, me.

Mark’s words were few and simple, but they burned themselves into my heart and soul. They whispered in my head like a murder confession from the lips of a sex offender. They made me feel like I had never felt before in my life.

They gave me hope.

Once you give yourself to another, you can never take even the tiniest piece of yourself back.

For a year he commanded me at a distance, but all I dreamt of was seeing him for real. I wanted it so much but I could only wait for his command. I could not control him. He had to make it happen. I was terrified he would abandon me. So I waited and did exactly as I was told. And then one day the message came. A street address and a time and his command for me to come. I didn’t even think about not going. I had no doubt what I would find. I’m at the door, and it’s not like I have any questions. Its not like I’m getting suspicious. But the door is wrong. It’s no different to any other door on the street, but then this isn’t just any street. I would have to call it an avenue. Maybe even a boulevard. I guess I didn’t picture Mark living somewhere like this. A castle maybe, at the top of a mountain. Or even an MTV celebrity crib. But not this place, it’s just so…suburban.

The lady who comes to the door is pure WASP. From her twin set and pearls to her blonde curled hair with the perma-tanned skin and red lipstick smile. But not at all sexual, like she has all of the signs of it but none of the threat.

“Mark?” she says as the red lips smile in greeting. “Why yes. Who should I say is calling.”

Is this the maid or something? Beneath her pleasant demeanor I can see the look of disgust that flickers past her eyes as she beckons me through the door. At eighteen stone I was vast. Now at twenty-two I’m a monster. Add to that my permanently attached BurgerBoy uniform and I must stink like one.

We go through to what a realtor would describe as a spacious living room, with the kind of shiny hard wood floor people get careers as divorce attorneys so they can afford. It’s toasty warm inside, like a shopping mall only with air that hasn’t been breathed twenty times before. There is a log fire crackling in the hearth. In front of the fire stands this guy with his back to me. He is tall and slender like an athlete, dressed in beige slacks and a jersey so expensive it shows no brands. He flashes me a smile of ice white teeth and a haircut I’ve only ever seen before on network news anchor men.

“Hi. I’m Marks father.”

Oh boy.

“And you must be a friend of Mark’s?”

Kind of, Mr Mark’s Dad. I’m Marks first, true follower. I owe everything to Mark. If I were a sentence, I’d be on Mark’s lips. If I were a weapon, I’d be in Marks hand. I can and will kill on Mark’s command.

“Yes.” I say. Idiot.

“We’re always happy to welcome a friend of Mark’s.” The blonde woman reappears under Mark’s fathers outstretched arm. Dad almost hides the ‘who the hell is this’ look he shoots Mom. It doesn’t matter, they will burn with the rest

But they won’t, the voice of doubt begins to tell me.

“Well,” says Mom. “Mark is in his room. You can go on up.”

In his room? I think as I lumber up the grand curving stairwell.

Mark is playing X-Box when I first see him. He doesn’t even look at me where I stand, my bulk filling the door to his room, he just sits on the edge of his bed, fixating on a 72” widescreen TV as his thumbs manipulate the controller. On the wall is a huge Yu-Gi-Oh poster. I didn’t even know they made them that big. The rest of the room looks like the R’n’D section of Toys’R’Us.

He says hello but I barely hear him I’m breathing so hard. I’m wheezing, like some terrified animal being dragged to the slaughter. I hate the wheezing, it’s the only thing I don’t like about the new obese me.

He has the haircut Spielberg invented in the eighties, the blonde mop that lets you know, this is a good kid. This is a brave kid. Good and brave.

“You really are a freak.”

But this is the Spielberg kid for the new millennium, the emotionally manipulative spoilt brat who screams for mommy just to make us feel guilty.

“I reckoned you had to be a chubby, but this is just gross. And what is that smell?”

The kid stares up at me, eyes shining with the familiar look of ‘disgust’n’lust’. The kids at BurgerBoy used to look at me that way, like it hurt but they just couldn’t stop. I used to want it. Now it just makes me feel dirty.

My voice breaks as I beg him to tell me the truth. “Everything I wrote to you was BS. It was all stuff I found on Google. If you weren’t so fat and stupid you could have figured that out.”

I am fat and stupid.

“So I own your ass now, right?”

Yes.

“And you have to do whatever I say, right?”

I am yours to command.

The kid pushes something into my big, sweaty hand. Part of me expects to look down and see a G.I.JOE.

What I see is a knife.

“This is so cool! I’ve got hundreds of you suckers now, all obeying my every command. Like my very own army of darkness or something.”

The 72” screen splits into a grid of moving pictures, hundreds of faces filled with the lust for orders, the faces of true believers. Mark stands before the screen and brings his army to silence with an imperious gesture.

“So what are we gonna do?” He says.

Mark looks at me and I realise he already knows the answer. But he has called me here to speak for him, to be not just a minion but a true lieutenant in his cause. And I know as I say the words that they are the truth.

We are going to make this world burn.

Circe’s

First podcast in The Drabblecast #55. Reprinted in Serendipity : Magical Realism.

Circe’s

by Damien G. Walter

Feliks Duda has eight weeks left in country on the morning the letter from the Home Office arrives. He fishes the ugly manila envelope from its hiding place amongst the glossy junk mail. 0% interest loans and 12 inch pizza offers accumulate around the door like drifts of snow. They have misspelt his name again. Felix, like the cat. He tells them and tells them but they do not listen. They tell Feliks he has to go back to his country. That Feliks can not do.

He came over to be in a band. Crazy guys he found on YouTube that play furniture and kitchen appliances. They Skype together and they say ‘Hey, come over!’ so Feliks comes. First night they get drunk on Smirnoff and then on a dank Sunday in a dark room in a big factory they bang on cupboards and whiz blenders whilst Feliks plays the viola, his own that he brought all the way from Sofia. They all go quiet and one says ‘Feliks. You are a bad musician.’ And they all nod. Fuck you! Thinks Feliks. Seven years in the Academy and they call me bad musician! He leaves without a word.

Feliks phones his brother in Sofia, reads the letter from the Home Office down the line. Januk hisses through his lips.

‘You no way want come back to Sofia. Whole family are proud of Feliks. If Feliks come back now you be failure again, just like when leave the academy.’

‘What do I do? What do I do?’ Feliks panics.

‘Get a job Feliks!’

Everyday he takes the bus into the city centre to look for work. Job Centre Plus. Office Angels. Local newspaper on Tuesday and Thursday. No luck. Only the Cheapside agency takes immigrant labour, so the Poles tell him. Work paid cash in hand, up at 4am and get in van to who knows where to do who knows what. But when Feliks goes there a big, fat Pole tells him fuck off or he will break his fingers. My fingers are my life, thinks Feliks more scared than he knew he could be.

‘There are no jobs for Bulgars here brother!’

‘Have you tried burger places? McDonalds? Kentucky Fried Chicken? Pizza Hut?’

So Feliks hunts the streets for places that stink of grease and chips. Starts with the big boys but at the golden arches they turn him away.

‘You’re too old.’ Says the ill girl behind the counter as she gives him a form to fill out.

‘They don’t employ old people because you qualify for minimum wage.’ Same story at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.

One week left and Feliks gets desperate. Roams the streets asking strangers to give him a job. Down a dark alley he sits head in hand on the curb, all hope lost. Looks up with tears in his eyes and there is the answer.

The sign says ‘Help wanted’.

Handwritten on paper hung in a dark window of the closed restaurant.
‘Hello?’ Says Feliks.

The door comes open in his hand. Calls two more times but still no answer. He can’t just walk in? Can he? It is that or go home.

It is an expensive restaurant. The bar is made of hard wood burnished like beaten bronze. High mirrors reflect deep shadows. Hundreds of upturned wine glasses, huge, line every table. Polished into sparkling invisibility.

Feliks catches the scent of smoke. The tip of a burning cigar glows among the shadows, gripped in thick fingers. The other heavy hand swills thick brandy, sticky and dribbling over curved glass. Black eyes squint at Feliks from a beefy face attached to a big square head that jutts from the open collar of a white chefs jacket.

“What you doing in here?” The chef mumbles through sausage lips.

“Help wanted?” Feliks squeeks.

He looks Feliks up and down as he sucks on his cigar.

“You commis?”

Feliks shrugs, eyes wide with confusion.

“You chop vegetables?”

Feliks nods.

“Wash plates?”

Nod.

“Mop floors?”

Yes

“Then you commis chef. Follow me.”

The chef walks like an expert drunk with Feliks trailing behind as they wind through row after row of tables. The place is bigger than Feliks realised. Much bigger.
The kitchens are yard after yard of shining steel, the stink of bleach and strip lights that burn away every shadow. Racks of knives gleam like razors.

“Kitchen.” The big chef says grinning. Then he pulls the doors shut, steeps up so close that Feliks can feel the brandy soaked heat of his breath, sticks a carrot shaped finger in Feliks face and whispers. “You never go out that way right? Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Yes what.”

“Yes. Chef?”

The furious grin returns.

Feliks chops vegetables. Feliks mops floors. Feliks polishes cutlery until the spoons shine like moons. Feliks hauls giant canisters of olive oil from the larder. Feliks stirs bubbling pots of sauce on the hob. And as Feliks works others arrive. Slim, dark featured men in spotless white chef’s jackets and blue check trousers. They do not look at him. They do not talk. They cook. They approach each new dish like a chess player approaches his next move.

It must be evening by now, Feliks thinks. The sound coming from the restaurant has been growing louder for hours. The clink of knives and forks, the pop and glug of wine poured into glasses, the low murmur of voices in conversation. The twitter, bellow and guffaw of uncontrolled laughter. It grows louder and louder until even the cacophony of the kitchen is drowned out.

Feliks cleans plates. What an easy job, he thinks at first. One squish from the power hose and the plates are as good as new. And then Feliks wonders why the plates come back so clean, with just the littlest bit of sauce stuck to the edges. They are licking the plates clean thinks Feliks, each and every one of them. These are some chefs.

Then on one plate Feliks sees something like the shape of a twinged butterfly, outlined in sauce.

The kitchens double doors flap open and the noise of the restaurant overwhelms Feliks. And then he hears a snorting, grunting puff. Looking back he sees a pig, a pink pig so shiny it looks as though it has been polished. The pig skitters on sharp trotters over the smooth kitchen tiles, squeaking and oinking.

The head chef lurches forward, using his vast weight and huge, outstretched arms he herds the pig back into the restaurant.

“Wrong way monsieur!” He bellows. As he pushes through the door he shoots Feliks a threatening grimace.

Feliks looks down at the unwashed plate, now clearly branded with a small, sharp trotter print.

Feliks can not help himself. With the horrendous languor of syrup dripping onto silk he is drawn towards the doors flapping open in the head chefs wake.
At first they do not notice Feliks. Hundreds of diners continue their feast oblivious of his presence. Men in finely tailored suits, women in delicate and revealing evening gowns. All of them talking and laughing far too loudly to ever notice him.
But Feliks Duda has seen these men and women before. He knows their faces, sees them smiling out at him from newspaper pages on TV screen everyday. Feliks recognises these people of fame and celebrity, gorging themselves on a feast of rich meats.

Far across the restaurant Feliks eye is caught by one woman more beautiful than all the others, hair of burning auburn piled high, head thrown back in laughter exposing the pale skin of her throat. Around her cluster many men of great power, politicians and businessmen all pushing against one another in a desperate jostle to be close to her.
Feliks looks at the beautiful woman. Transfixed he stares into violet eyes, luminous and deep. She looks at me, Feliks thinks.

Too late.

Panic swells in Feliks chest. The restaurant has grown enormous, vast beyond his understanding. Reflected in polished mirrors the world of the powerful extends rank upon rank into infinity. But in the mirrors Feliks sees not people but pigs. Shining pink pigs sit wedged on their haunches in high back chairs, dark suits and delicate gowns stretched over corpulent flesh, forks and knives clutched awkwardly in ungainly trotters. For a moment they are silent, starring at Feliks through beady black eyes. And then they squeal as one, the high whine of enraged swine.

‘Run.’

The hot stink of brandy fills Feliks nostrils as the fat chef spits the word into his ear and the huge arms thrust Feliks forward, pushing him towards the exit door.
Feliks flees as the powerful pigs slide from their seats to attack him. He hurdles over porkine bodies and bounds past snorting snouts. Pulling the door open he looks back. The chef stands hip deep in swine, screaming at the auburn beauty, one huge hand gripping a kitchen cleaver.

Feliks plunges through the dark night, running until his lungs burn and he collapses in the gutter. I will go home. I will go home. I will go home! The tears come when he realises that he can never go home.

Circe’s Kitchen

First podcast in The Drabblecast #55. Reprinted in Serendipity : Magical Realism.

Circe’s Kitchen

by Damien G. Walter

Feliks Duda has eight weeks left in country on the morning the letter from the Home Office arrives. He fishes the ugly manila envelope from its hiding place amongst the glossy junk mail. 0% interest loans and 12 inch pizza offers accumulate around the door like drifts of snow. They have misspelt his name again. Felix, like the cat. He tells them and tells them but they do not listen. They tell Feliks he has to go back to his country. That Feliks can not do.

He came over to be in a band. Crazy guys he found on YouTube that play furniture and kitchen appliances. They Skype together and they say ‘Hey, come over!’ so Feliks comes. First night they get drunk on Smirnoff and then on a dank Sunday in a dark room in a big factory they bang on cupboards and whiz blenders whilst Feliks plays the viola, his own that he brought all the way from Sofia. They all go quiet and one says ‘Feliks. You are a bad musician.’ And they all nod. Fuck you! Thinks Feliks. Seven years in the Academy and they call me bad musician! He leaves without a word.

Feliks phones his brother in Sofia, reads the letter from the Home Office down the line. Januk hisses through his lips.

‘You no way want come back to Sofia. Whole family are proud of Feliks. If Feliks come back now you be failure again, just like when leave the academy.’

‘What do I do? What do I do?’ Feliks panics.

‘Get a job Feliks!’

Everyday he takes the bus into the city centre to look for work. Job Centre Plus. Office Angels. Local newspaper on Tuesday and Thursday. No luck. Only the Cheapside agency takes immigrant labour, so the Poles tell him. Work paid cash in hand, up at 4am and get in van to who knows where to do who knows what. But when Feliks goes there a big, fat Pole tells him fuck off or he will break his fingers. My fingers are my life, thinks Feliks more scared than he knew he could be.

‘There are no jobs for Bulgars here brother!’

‘Have you tried burger places? McDonalds? Kentucky Fried Chicken? Pizza Hut?’

So Feliks hunts the streets for places that stink of grease and chips. Starts with the big boys but at the golden arches they turn him away.

‘You’re too old.’ Says the ill girl behind the counter as she gives him a form to fill out.

‘They don’t employ old people because you qualify for minimum wage.’ Same story at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.

One week left and Feliks gets desperate. Roams the streets asking strangers to give him a job. Down a dark alley he sits head in hand on the curb, all hope lost. Looks up with tears in his eyes and there is the answer.

The sign says ‘Help wanted’.

Handwritten on paper hung in a dark window of the closed restaurant.
‘Hello?’ Says Feliks.

The door comes open in his hand. Calls two more times but still no answer. He can’t just walk in? Can he? It is that or go home.

It is an expensive restaurant. The bar is made of hard wood burnished like beaten bronze. High mirrors reflect deep shadows. Hundreds of upturned wine glasses, huge, line every table. Polished into sparkling invisibility.

Feliks catches the scent of smoke. The tip of a burning cigar glows among the shadows, gripped in thick fingers. The other heavy hand swills thick brandy, sticky and dribbling over curved glass. Black eyes squint at Feliks from a beefy face attached to a big square head that jutts from the open collar of a white chefs jacket.

“What you doing in here?” The chef mumbles through sausage lips.

“Help wanted?” Feliks squeeks.

He looks Feliks up and down as he sucks on his cigar.

“You commis?”

Feliks shrugs, eyes wide with confusion.

“You chop vegetables?”

Feliks nods.

“Wash plates?”

Nod.

“Mop floors?”

Yes

“Then you commis chef. Follow me.”

The chef walks like an expert drunk with Feliks trailing behind as they wind through row after row of tables. The place is bigger than Feliks realised. Much bigger.
The kitchens are yard after yard of shining steel, the stink of bleach and strip lights that burn away every shadow. Racks of knives gleam like razors.

“Kitchen.” The big chef says grinning. Then he pulls the doors shut, steeps up so close that Feliks can feel the brandy soaked heat of his breath, sticks a carrot shaped finger in Feliks face and whispers. “You never go out that way right? Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Yes what.”

“Yes. Chef?”

The furious grin returns.

Feliks chops vegetables. Feliks mops floors. Feliks polishes cutlery until the spoons shine like moons. Feliks hauls giant canisters of olive oil from the larder. Feliks stirs bubbling pots of sauce on the hob. And as Feliks works others arrive. Slim, dark featured men in spotless white chef’s jackets and blue check trousers. They do not look at him. They do not talk. They cook. They approach each new dish like a chess player approaches his next move.

It must be evening by now, Feliks thinks. The sound coming from the restaurant has been growing louder for hours. The clink of knives and forks, the pop and glug of wine poured into glasses, the low murmur of voices in conversation. The twitter, bellow and guffaw of uncontrolled laughter. It grows louder and louder until even the cacophony of the kitchen is drowned out.

Feliks cleans plates. What an easy job, he thinks at first. One squish from the power hose and the plates are as good as new. And then Feliks wonders why the plates come back so clean, with just the littlest bit of sauce stuck to the edges. They are licking the plates clean thinks Feliks, each and every one of them. These are some chefs.

Then on one plate Feliks sees something like the shape of a twinged butterfly, outlined in sauce.

The kitchens double doors flap open and the noise of the restaurant overwhelms Feliks. And then he hears a snorting, grunting puff. Looking back he sees a pig, a pink pig so shiny it looks as though it has been polished. The pig skitters on sharp trotters over the smooth kitchen tiles, squeaking and oinking.

The head chef lurches forward, using his vast weight and huge, outstretched arms he herds the pig back into the restaurant.

“Wrong way monsieur!” He bellows. As he pushes through the door he shoots Feliks a threatening grimace.

Feliks looks down at the unwashed plate, now clearly branded with a small, sharp trotter print.

Feliks can not help himself. With the horrendous languor of syrup dripping onto silk he is drawn towards the doors flapping open in the head chefs wake.
At first they do not notice Feliks. Hundreds of diners continue their feast oblivious of his presence. Men in finely tailored suits, women in delicate and revealing evening gowns. All of them talking and laughing far too loudly to ever notice him.
But Feliks Duda has seen these men and women before. He knows their faces, sees them smiling out at him from newspaper pages on TV screen everyday. Feliks recognises these people of fame and celebrity, gorging themselves on a feast of rich meats.

Far across the restaurant Feliks eye is caught by one woman more beautiful than all the others, hair of burning auburn piled high, head thrown back in laughter exposing the pale skin of her throat. Around her cluster many men of great power, politicians and businessmen all pushing against one another in a desperate jostle to be close to her.
Feliks looks at the beautiful woman. Transfixed he stares into violet eyes, luminous and deep. She looks at me, Feliks thinks.

Too late.

Panic swells in Feliks chest. The restaurant has grown enormous, vast beyond his understanding. Reflected in polished mirrors the world of the powerful extends rank upon rank into infinity. But in the mirrors Feliks sees not people but pigs. Shining pink pigs sit wedged on their haunches in high back chairs, dark suits and delicate gowns stretched over corpulent flesh, forks and knives clutched awkwardly in ungainly trotters. For a moment they are silent, starring at Feliks through beady black eyes. And then they squeal as one, the high whine of enraged swine.

‘Run.’

The hot stink of brandy fills Feliks nostrils as the fat chef spits the word into his ear and the huge arms thrust Feliks forward, pushing him towards the exit door.
Feliks flees as the powerful pigs slide from their seats to attack him. He hurdles over porkine bodies and bounds past snorting snouts. Pulling the door open he looks back. The chef stands hip deep in swine, screaming at the auburn beauty, one huge hand gripping a kitchen cleaver.

Feliks plunges through the dark night, running until his lungs burn and he collapses in the gutter. I will go home. I will go home. I will go home! The tears come when he realises that he can never go home.

t9

Chaser

First published in Pulp.net. Reprinted in Transmission #9.

Chaser

by Damien G Walter

For four years I didn’t eat. Not like you eat when you really want feeding anyway. I nibbled at things. I took crumbs left on plates. I surreptitiously sipped from other men’s cups. Then when I was thin enough that I could have slipped between the bars, they let me out.

Screws like to see thin men leaving their institutions; reaffirms their faith in the system to see you have no appetite left. I stood blinking in my first unfiltered light in four years. I was boney limbed and sunken cheeked with a concave belly but I could only remember what it was like to be hungry.

They call me Chaser due to my taste for spirits. I could line up ten little liquid filled glasses down a bar, empty them one by one and always want another. I could never have enough. I wouldn’t stagger either friend. Not that I wasn’t drunk. They say a drunk is a man trying to look sober. The trick is not to try. Never any point denying the truth. Somebody told me that once, if not in so many words.

You will always recognise the big jobs when they come along. The little ones you feel good you didn’t get caught. The middling ones you’re happy for the easy money. The big ones are all about reputation. Once they’re done you buzz on knowing on that every face that matters is going to wonder how it was done. You leave behind just enough so they guess at it being you but not enough to prove anything. You feel your name hanging on the lips of your competitors, whispered with a grudging awe by the very men who are paid to catch you.

That morning I felt better than a million bucks, better than the two million and a half again that was stacked in bearer bonds in the case beneath the bed. It felt like coming home, like the confirmation of a dream made real, like everything you ever wanted given to you on a plate. It was pure.

I was at the centre of a silent world. Outside the cars didn’t rumble, the crowds didn’t roar. The streets sat serene and unmoving as London took a minutes silence in awe of its criminal son. Out of respect the hotel suites white curtains chose not to rustle in the breeze. Even my hangover kept quiet as it crept out of the sticky dripping glasses strewn around the room. I rolled and turned, warm in a world of crisp white sheets. My arm stretched out to touch her and found the space where she should have been empty, her warmth gone. As hey kicked in the door and slapped on the cuffs my world had already imploded.

I don’t remember the streets having this many windows. Four years and now everything is made of glass, so that you can see the building right down to the bones. Window upon window of stuff. Watches and jewelry and rings, little piles of books on three for two, huge stacks of toilet cleaner now at rock bottom, the cheapest ever computer, footballs ready for the next big match, high heel under-strapped sandal shoes, music-music-music, everything must go, go-go-go, sale ends soon, 50% off designer suites and part exchange. electricals bought and sold, wi-fi hi-fi units ready in a week, buy now pay later, 0% interest until its too late to back out, buy it now before we go bust, desperate for your next fix then we’ve got the answer, cheap shit you don’t need direct to your door, another sham promotion to draw you suckers in, give us the cash now or we’ll fuck you later. Sell sell sell. Buy buy buy. Shit shit shit. I look at it all and I look at the people and I can’t understand how they want it all. I can’t understand how they want anything.

I stop outside a fast food place selling burgers and spicy spuds. Through the window I can see the people chewing down their food. In the window I see me, a pale reflection of who I should be; stood in clothes three sizes to big, stretched and sagging in all the places where the muscles used to go but do no longer. Beyond want is need and as I need food I go into the place. I order a lump of grease battered chicken. The girl behind the counter looks so sad I just want her to die, a lost vacant thing without dreams, hope or desire. We look at one another and I see my look returned in her eyes.

I will never be lower than this.

I was in love with her face, but I wanted her ass and her legs. Especially her legs. I’m reminded of this as I sit letting the shitty chicken get cold, out on a bench on the street. A young thing walks past wearing a shirt that ends just short of decent, slim legs that trail into high heels so she is tottering along and I could knock her over with a laugh. She knows I’m looking because as house walks past she looks back and flashes me a look of contempt like I could never have her and ensuring the fact that I will want her forever.

She used to do that. Did it once big time. A flash of leg – come on Chaser. An inch of cleavage – we could be together. One less item of clothing – I’m yours, if you can afford me. So one big job was all it was then we could be together in our world of silence and white sheets, exchanging a warm embrace. I reach out an arm and she’s gone, and the doors kicked in and as their slipping one of the fuckers whispers her name in my ear, so that I’ll not have to speculate.

The girls gone without looking back again, just another set of legs on just another street. I’m left thinking of legs, and a face and two million and a half in bearer bonds that might be enough to take you to the ends of the earth but won’t get you close to escaping from me. There’s grease running down my chin and I’m surprised as I hadn’t noticed when I started eating the chicken, swallowing great chunks of flesh as gibbets of fat fall from my chewing, hungry mouth.

cover13_400_web

Momentum

First published in Electric Velocipede #13. Reprinted in Serendipity : Magical Realism and Arts & Things. Podcast in StarShipSofa #173.

Momentum

by Damien G. Walter

When great uncle Peter came to live with our family in the house by the sea I asked my mother why it was he never spoke. My mother explained that great uncle Peter had always been silent, that when he was born he came out without even a scream. Great uncle Peter could have only been young when the family; his mother and father and his sister Ranyevskya – my great grandmother, came over the sea from the old country. And in the smoky streets of London they learnt the tongue of their new home to speak in the world, and kept the language of the old country for home. But great uncle Peter spoke not a word of either. And years passed and then decades and my grandmother was born and my mother and then me and as far as anyone knew great uncle Peter still never said a word. When I was older and had children of my own I realised that for all my mother had told me of great uncles Peters silence, she had never been able to tell me why. She never could have because neither she or anybody else knew.

We knew that Peter was special and we looked after him. Through generations of the family he was passed from one relative to the next, always the women watching over this silent, detached man. But then grandmother died of old age and it came my mothers turn and there it skipped a generation. My mother was a working woman and did not have the patience to nurse great uncle Peter. At first she panicked when my father brought this strange savant down from London to our house by the sea. Panicked at the years of life she saw slipping through her fingers, sucked away by Peters needs. My parents advertised for a nurse. They could afford this with the money from two jobs that had already bought the big house and the best schools for me and my two brothers. But the nurse was never needed. Once a day I would take great uncle Peter for a long walk along the Brighton seafront and after only a few days we became a familiar sight on the promenade, the stooped yet still tall old man in the heavy black overcoat, the young girl with masses of unruly blonde hair in her own red windbreaker.

The pebble was always with him. At dinner times he would pop it into his pocket, when he slept it lay on the side table beside him. At any other time it was in his hand, rotating in his long supple fingers. For months I am certain I supposed that he took it from the beach. One day I looked at it more closely. The form of the stone was depressed in two places, where his thumb and forefinger rubbed against its milky surface. I remarked on this to my mother and she started with surprise – yes, Great uncle Peter had had the stone ever since she could remember, maybe as far back as his being a boy and always turning, turning, turning in his fingers until its shape became forever altered.

On our last walk along the seafront I took Peter down to the edge of the shore itself, a short walk from the promenade over the beach of grey pebbles that we rocked and rolled our way over in long, stumbling steps. From the shore we watched the sun drop towards the sea and the pink sky creep upwards from the flat horizon. The waves crashed in towards the beach, climbing higher up the narrow sand channel with each attempt and threatening to flood my expensive shoes. I was looking down at those very shoes when I felt great uncle Peter beside me move with a speed and determination I had never guessed him capable of. I looked up to see his long arm drawn up and back, the cupped hand close by his cheek gripping the pale pebble. He stayed in that pose for only a second before his arm swept forward, the hand unclasped and the pebble was sent soaring out over the waves in a massive arc. We stood silently watching the stone diminish into a tiny speck and then dip down and vanish into the cold waters of the sea, its sound lost amongst the roaring of the waves.

My great uncle Peter looked down at me, the first time he had seemed to even notice his niece and quite unexpectedly a giant smile cracked his face in two.

‘Hello’ he said.

‘Everything now will be just fine.’

And then on that spot he simply collapsed, his heavy body – that I had no way to hold up – falling against the mattress of smooth pebbled beach with a clatter and a crunch.

And the stone sank beneath the waves.

My father found the papers beneath great Uncle Peters bed the day we returned from the hospital. They were written in a tiny, tight calligraphy of nonsensical scratches that spread over page and then page and then page of notebook after notebook. We had never seen great uncle Peter write. The edges of the pages were worn round from fingering, yellow stains crept inward onto their whiteness, the eldest were thin and brittle as though they would crumble under the touch and the newest had been closed for the last time many years before. I keep them now in two large plastic boxes. When I peel back the lids the air they release is impregnated with the scent of those pages, the feeling of those words. I take them and I lay them side by side on the carpet of our bedroom floor and stare at the neat rows of nonsensical letters. I sit and I stare for hours that can become days until my husband or my son or then my grandson pull me away. There isn’t any sense in those words, however hard I try I can’t find a thing in them but however hard I try I can’t stop searching for their meaning. Those tiny shapes scare me more every day because I know, I KNOW that something out there understands them.

I remember great uncle Peter’s stone crashing down into the sea, its ripples quickly lost amongst the waves then carried to the farthest shore and off into the future.

For all our sakes, I hope he hit what he was aiming for.

Horizon

First published in Murky Depths #6

Horizon

by Damien G. Walter

 

I am grown in a birth cell. Embryonic implantation, organ formation, neural development in the nutrient gel of the chamber floor. Only a day and an adult body dries beneath artificial light.

They imprint consciousness with a series of complex stimuli. Music plays in the cell. Increasingly intricate light patterns flash across the ceiling. As soon as I can see I am ready for the screen.

The Head, as I name it in my first thoughts, leads structured lessons on the hour. In between they show me pictures of objects and creatures, figures from an alphabet, images of a place the Head calls my planet. I listen as the Head teaches me the knowledge of my species.  The Head speaks slowly and calmly, her eyes eternally warm and patient.

I listen with growing awareness. And then I begin to question. They have prepared the Head to answer all questions arising from the limited dataset provided to its subjects. My questions move quickly beyond the defined parameters. The Head falls silent, unable to answer.

I continue my questioning, hoping for a response from the Head, falling silent when this hope has gone. I begin to examine the cell as my fixation with the screen abates. When I return to the screen it has gone dark. In its black depths I see a face starring at me. I blink and the face blinks. I laugh in surprise and the face laughs back.

Who am I?

They are waiting as they continue to assess me. Deep within their shared circuitry basic protocols come into effect, statistical outcomes of this anomaly are calculated. A decision is made.

The door is opened.

 

#

 

A dim passage leads away from the cell in either direction. I find five more doors spaced along its length, all closed. In one direction the passage terminates in a dead end, in the other it opens into a circular space.

In the central chamber pristine blue uniforms hang in two arcs of twelve. Next to each uniform a locker stands open. Inside each locker are shoes, belt, a backpack.

I explore three more passages that run like spokes from the hub chamber, each identical to the first. A fifth passage leads from the hub, far longer than the others and climbing upwards on a shallow gradient. Pale light filters down the tunnel from far above accompanied by gusts of warm air. I start upward along the passage.

I pause near the surface, where white light cuts a hard shadow from the lip of a tall doorway. I stand blinking in the shining light as my eyes adapt. Vague shapes take form, the sweep of the landscape and the dome of the sky above. They showed me the sky in pictures, but I did not understand.

Arrayed against the electric blue dome a white sun star flares so brightly I can look at it for only a second. The red dwarf twin is visible in silhouette, outshined by the beauty of its sister. Far to their west a tiny spark of piercing iridescent magenta marks the systems third sun. Dominating them all is the massive crimson body of a giant planet, gaseous storms rage in slow motion over its upper atmosphere, its elegant ring systems encircle the sky.

The land beneath the sky is barren. The desert stretches from one horizon to the other, a desolate plain of rocks and dust, stirred only by the hot wind that howls across its surface, obscured by waves of heat distortion radiating from the hard baked earth.

A squat bunker marks the opening of the passage to the surface. Opposite and fifty metres distant stands another identical structure. Two rows of twelve bunkers face one another across the rocks and dust, the only visible landmarks on the desolate plain.

I step into the light for brief seconds, the hot sun burning my pale skin and pushing me back into the shelter of the passage.

Twelve structures, twenty four in each. Two hundred and eighty eight of us. How many are awake now? I imagine the small cells far below the earth, my awakening kin fixated by the Head. They will listen better than I. I am alone.

 

#

 

At first sunset I move out from the bunker. With the white sun star dipping towards the horizon the world falls towards twilight, the magenta spark casting the desert into surreal monotone. Less than ten paces from the bunker I can see the road.

Half-way between the two lines of bunkers a channel is recessed into the desert dust. Smooth flat paving lines the recess, hard graphite slabs laid two abreast forming a continuous surface that runs uninterrupted past the bunkers, over the desert, its parallel edges appearing to draw closer until merging with the far horizon.

I move along the roadway until I am a little way from the compound. Beneath a magenta sky the rocks and stones cast hard black shadows, turning the desert floor into an abstract confusion of shape and form. Even in the cool light of the third star the air shakes with heat disturbance, the graphite roadway discharging the stored energy of daylight. Through the haze it is a few seconds before I see the movement from the bunkers.

Another human emerges into the night. Two more follow immediately. They wear blue uniforms and I feel my own nudity. Thick hair covers their scalps where I have only a few lank strands. When they smile at me I see the rows of fine white teeth and think of the small nubs in my own mouth. They wait at the perimeter of the bunker complex, smiling at me across fifty metres of dark graphite.

I am running beneath the magenta sky, bare feet pounding along the roadway and never looking back, only hoping my brothers are not yet ready to follow.

 

#

 

After second sunset light evaporates and leaves the desert dark. I run at a high pace, screaming with exhilaration, the air rushes in and out of my lungs. Far away past my own whoops and screaming I hear the sound of distant thunder gathering on the horizon.

 

#

 

The white star rises and I feel terror for the first time. My pale skin will burn beneath the hot sun. There are no bunkers in the open desert, there is no shelter on the roadway.

With bare hands I dig at the dust and dirt until blood oozes from beneath my nails, but can manage nothing more than a shallow indentation before the light forces its way into the world. As the heat flashes over my skin I press myself down flat against the rocks and dust.

Pain bleeds from the nerves across my back. I imagine the skin bubbling and popping as I cry and whine into the desert floor, tears streaming into the dirt until in shock I pass out.

 

#

 

I awake to the flap of fabric in the wind and open my eyes to a crimson vista. The inside of the small tent is hot and moist, the light of the white sun shining through the red fabric. I sit up quickly, grunting at the shooting pain in my back, panic flares at the memory of burning. I stretch one arm round to gently probe the skin of my back.

“There is no permanent damage.”

I turn toward the strange voice.

“It is not dangerous, just painful. We are adapted for this place, but you left before you were ready.”

His teeth shine white through his smile as he talks. He crouches in the rear of the small space, the blue uniform tight against the well formed musculature of his body.

“You will adapt over time. Dehydration however is still a risk even with our advantages. Drink this.”

A large metal flask is offered and accepted. I take three long draws of water, relishing the relief from thirst. I drink again before passing the flask back to my younger sibling.

“The ambient temperature is actually lower than Earth’s. We began to raise it as a precursor to sterilisation.”

With one hand the stranger shovels up a handful of dust and stones, sifting it through strong fingers.

“They say these were plains of long grasses.”

Fine particles of dust cling against skin, tumble through space back to the desert floor, a silicone glitter in the radiant light of the white star.

The sound of thunder reverberates from the horizon. I expect it to fade but instead the roar continues on. I realise the world has been rumbling since I regained consciousness. Buried within the heavy vibration high pitched whines scream into the air, punctuated by the sounds of massive explosions from very far away. The desert floor vibrates with the cacophony of sound. I watch the grains of sterilised dirthe grains of sterilised eartustry award.

 

#

 

“I should have woken to a new world.”

The younger brother walks behind me, his half-formed sibling. In the deep night I can see only a few metres into a world lit by the faint radiance of distant galaxies. Our steps echo against the hard surface of the roadway. His voice is loud in the night.

“They woke me too soon because of you, to come after you.”

Far away but closer with each step the sound of thunder continues to roar from the horizon. Three vast explosions in quick succession rock the ground beneath us as we walk. A high pitched whine sets a ringing in my ears that in minutes grows to a dull ache spreading inside my skull and over my temples.

“This world is not ready for us.”

I apologise to my brother but he does not hear my words.

The third sun crests the horizon behind us. We have closed on a mountain range during our walk through the night. I see low foothills far away down the road, behind them the high peaks of vast mountains. As we approach the range grows, filling the far horizon from one side to the other. More and even higher peaks become visible that must tower far above the earth, scrapping the limits of the sky.

The white star begins to rise, its clear light illuminating the magenta gloom.

The towering forms ahead are not mountains.

I realise that on either side of the road the dust and stones of the desert floor have been replaced with vast swathes of grey graphite, the same smooth hardness as the roadway. The surface shines beneath the light of the rising sun, a glittering becalmed ocean of stone.

What I at first took for foothills are a sprawling conglomerate of low structures, their design similar to the low bunkers far back in the desert but of varying size, shape and scale. In places they are aligned in long straight avenues, elsewhere they are scattered at random or even pilled on top of one another like tiny toys sprinkled from the hand of a giant child. Their number is too great to count but there must be many hundreds of thousands to fill such an area. Beyond the sprawl high towers rear over the horizon, tall blocks shaped from steel, concrete and glass. Each terrace of structures is higher than the next, until it seems as though the towers have been stacked one upon the other. In the far distance the faint outline of towers piercing the clouds is visible. And then above them all, in a mockery of scale and perspective something else looms, little more than a terrible shadow at the limits of vision. But the shadow moves, and from it comes the vast roar that rumbles over the plain like a hurricane.

My skin blisters beneath the hot white sun. I will adapt.

 

#

 

We walk along avenues of vacant structures. The hard road runs straight through the mass of low buildings. At first they stand in flat-faced rows, variations on the same design but no two exactly alike. As we progress it is as though the buildings become copies of a copy, the original pattern lost in a mass of chaotic designs, basic principles extended beyond sense or reason through an endless procession of blind iterations.

Even the lowest of the towers stretches a hundred meters above us. Light dulls in the canyons between them until at their root we are trapped in a pervasive gloom, two pale dwellers of the deep drawn by the unseen currents of our stone ocean. At ground level the base of each tower is fronted with tall glass panels, sprawling transparent walls revealing rooms behind. In some of the rooms stand strange human figures, stiff inflexible mannequins that stare at us from painted eyes as we pass.

 

#

 

They sent the machine ahead, my brother explains. The first probe crashed through the planets’ thick atmosphere a decade and a half before our birth. The mechanism that rolled onto alien soil was comparatively small in size but had been built by our Fathers with the capacity to grow. Perhaps something of the life that teemed upon the planet was there to look through inhuman eyes at the new arrival. Maybe the strange animals of an alien jungle watched the probe drill its first tunnel into the ground, sucking out the mineral wealth within. Before even the first structure was made it began to build itself, to fashion more of the body that would build a new world.

“Do you think they knew?” my brother questions. “Were there intelligent species that might have guessed at the size it would reach?”

The machine is taller than the highest tower, bigger than the entire city. It grinds over the desert like a metal glacier, carving material from the bones of the planet from which to shape the new world.

We stand on a platform high on the body of the machine. Behind us a meandering stairway has brought us from ground level to the highest reaches of the machine. From here we can see down into the dark depths of the city, out over the sprawling conglomerate of structures behind us and forward into the desolate lands of the city yet to be. Small wisps of cloud float by below us as my brother speaks, leaning out from the platform to survey the world below.

His words are important, but I am no longer listening.

I am surprised by how little force it takes to push him from the platform. I can still feel the fabric of his uniform against my palms as I watch his tumbling body become tiny, bounce from a jutting segment of the machine and disappear from sight beneath the clouds.

I apologise to my brother but he does not hear my words.

 

#

 

In the control room at the summit of the machine banks of switches and instruments glow and bleep sporadically. A long window runs around the circular room from which I can see what seems to be the world entire, the far horizon visible as the curve of the planet, the stars of space twinkling through this thin atmosphere.

On a console in the centre of the control room the Head waits to greet me. Her eyes are eternally patient, her words as calm as the still desert air.

My eyes scan the banks of switches and buttons. I search for some time before I find it, a process of logic and elimination leading me on until I find what I seek. On a small panel a square button sits alone, glowing red from within with a regular beat. I stand before the button for some time before reaching out my hand.

I press stop.