Notes from the old tennant

To the new resident(s),

Hello! I hope you have as good a time in this apartment as I did for the past 23 years. I don’t know if I’m meant to tell you, but we were paying the landlord only £350 a month so if he’s making you pay much more than that then he’s ripping you off.

3-bedroom flat for so cheap, you must be wondering how you could be so lucky, right? Well, there are few quirks with the building, but once you get to know them, they don’t affect your day to day life at all. I know it’s odd getting a message like this from the old tenant, but you should heed my advice.

In 23 years I’ve accumulated a few tips and tricks to help make this place as habitable as possible, and I know which of the neighbours are nicest. The advantage of being a ‘little old lady widow’ is that no one suspects you’ll take notes on how they act – but I’ve made a note of everyone down below.

House Rules.

  1. The building has its own laundry room, but only go on Thursdays. They always refill the detergents and remove the lint Wednesday night, so you’ll get the best wash.
  2. The bins go out on a Friday morning – or you can just throw your rubbish down the chutes and it’ll be collected automatically. It’s an American thing apparently.
  3. There is a lift, but never use it between 7:17pm and 8:18pm. Never. I know you’re on the 5th floor, but the stairs are worth it during those hours.
  4. You will have noticed the cats. They’re harmless – when they come to be pet, spend some time but not too long. They may be harmless but they’re still cats.
  5. The hairless cats must never be touched.
  6. When he comes, do not look at the man who comes to clean the windows. He will knock at your windows for half an hour, smiling all the while. Whatever you do, do not answer him and don’t let him in. He will go eventually.
  7. The postman arrives at 8:32am precisely. His name is Cameron. He will help you.
  8. The damp patch above the bed can’t be cleaned. It’s nothing dangerous, but it does sometimes turn red.
  9. Sylvia lives next door, in no. 52. She’s lovely, makes a very nice fruitcake, in fact if you could get her to send me the recipe that would be awfully kind. She will ask you to babysit her twins. Don’t.
  10. If someone you’re chatting to says they live up on the 11th floor, make your apologies and get back to your room. Do not let them inside. That floor was gutted by a fire 3 years ago and was never refurbished.
  11. The people from floor 11 are scared of the hairless cats. That is the only time your permitted to go near those freaky animals. (I should point out, the hairless cats are not supernatural or anything, just weird)
  12. The landlord likes to be paid promptly, but is happy to get rent a few days late. Never pay your rent more than a week late. He will visit.
  13. Do not use the lift between 7:17pm and 8:18pm. Emergency or not – do not.
  14. Seb lives in no. 59. He’s a kind man and almost totally blind. Feel free to pop in whenever he wants help with something, but make sure you don’t cross his threshold after dark. He lets his pet free at night.
  15. The building screams. It’s okay, we think it’s lonely.
  16. Cheryl runs some sort of building community watch. They’re relatively harmless – just don’t accept their invitation to be on the committee and don’t drink the squash they make.
  17. My husband may still be in the building somewhere, if you see him please tell him to move on.
  18. We’ve left a jug of Pimms in the fridge for you. You can keep the jug too, I know that moving house can be stressful.
  19. Count your knives weekly. If you are missing any, call Sylvia. Her twins will often have them.
  20. Don’t worry. That’s how they know where you are.

I think that’s everything! If you discover something that should have been on the list please let me know or ask Corey – he’s good like that. Just try not to delay his route too much.

If you need anything over the next few weeks, please email me at:



Mumsy’s wishes

“Aww, too slow!” says the bald man as he slams the door shut on your outreached hand. Through the plywood you can hear him talking to the rest of the team. “So, gang, you’ve got a choice. You either spend a crystal and 5 valuable seconds in the dome to get him out or you leave him behind and hope you can do well enough without. What’s it going to be?”

They’ll get me out, you think, of course they will. They need me!

“Umm,” their pause worries you, “I think we’ll just move on. Sorry mate!” They shout for you through the grille in the door, but with that they turn on their heels are run off to the next challenge, or is the Aztec zone next? You’re too confused to think.

You wait, ready for the approach of the producer who will no doubt let you out get you to sit back in the green room, or maybe even watch the guys from the control centre that you were shown earlier. That would be cool, you think, I can laugh at Jim as he inevitably fucks up later.

You keep waiting, bouncing on the balls of your feet, getting slightly bored. You look up around the room and the puzzle you “failed”. You didn’t actually fail it, you think as you look down at the crystal still clutched in your hand, you were just a bit slow. It’s not really my fault though, you grumble internally, that pole just got stuck.

The producer still hasn’t arrived to let you out. All is silent outside in the corridor, no one is coming by to let you out any time soon.

You push on the door as that little flimsy bar is hardly going to stop you if you really put your shoulder into it. You try to force it and bounce off the steel. You try again, but your shoulder complains loudly. Hm, you ponder, this isn’t moving, at all. You slump against the door and decide to wait it out.

And then, nothing happened. Nothing happened for quite a while.

It kept on happening, as nothing is inclined to do.

You keep looking around the room, desperate for anything you might have missed as your stomach is starting to rumble. How long have you been in here? Your watch was taken away by the production staff before you entered the game. Is it only a few minutes? Hours maybe, judging by your sudden hunger.

You wrack your brain, trying to remember the episodes you’ve seen on TV before. The teams go into the dome, and if they win then the whole gang are presented to Richard and he gives you all your super prize. But your struggling to remember if the people locked in the rooms were there are the end too. They must have, mustn’t they?

“Psst, mate?” You shit yourself and spin around toward the voice, and see a dirty, small man gesturing at you through a gap in the wall. “Did they leave you behind?” You nod, mouth gaping, not able to form sentences. “Rude sods. They don’t know what they’ve done to you, do they?” You shake your head, dumbfounded. “Well, you’ve got a choice. Either stay there and starve to death, or come with me.”

Your head is spinning. What does he mean ‘starve to death’? This is just a game, if people really got trapped in here forever there’d be missing people reports, news stories, angry protests in the streets! People would be calling for o’Brian’s head, surely.

Your thinking is disrupted by the guy in the gap clicking his fingers at you. “Mate, oi, pay attention. Look you div, is this why you’re in ‘ere?” You still can’t process what he’s telling you, just staring at him blankly. “Fine, suit yourself. I’ll come back in a day or t-”

“No!” You shout, finally coming to your sense. “No, I need to come with you, I can’t stay here!”

“Good lad,” the says, reaching his hand out towards you. “We’ll get you out of ‘ere.”

He pulls you through the gap in the wall and you find yourself in a service corridor, dank and dusty, with the strange, grubby man pulling you along. It’s almost pitch black, but his feet dance around the mess of pipes and wires with the grace of a ballerina, whereas you are bumbling and tripping awkwardly behind him.

Then, there’s a piercing light growing brighter off at the end of the corridor, and you have to shield your eyes from it as you get closer. He keeps pulling you along, closer and closer to the blinding beam.

Just as suddenly it appears you are through into a bright, open warehouse, your eyes struggling to adapt to the new level of illumination and practically blinded. The man let’s go of your hand and your alone, stumbling around in the dark, your hands reaching out to find anything to hold.

A man’s voice break the silence and your skin goes cold. You recognise it and know what it means.

The dirty man is back, grabbing your hands and guiding you again as your sight slowly fades back. “I’m sorry, but it’s the only way we can get people. Good luck.” And with that, he’s gone.

The music blares, and you realise what’s about to happen. You go to run but your feet can’t move, they’re traitors to your brain.

“Welcome, to deal or no deal.”

You start to cry.

“We’ll need more than a 5p bag, Sarge.”

‘We’ve got another one, detective.’ There was no joy or surprise in Boulton’s voice, just greyness.

‘Same as the others?’ Detective Carter replied.

‘Dismembered, bits strewn around sections of a supermarket. It was an Aldi this time though, which makes a change.’

‘And I bet no one batted an eyelid seeing an arm in their weird middle section,’ joked Carter, although his mouth didn’t even attempt to form a smile, ‘I bought a set of self-brackets in one of those the other day. And the week before they were selling an harpoon gun. It was only £40, I nearly bought two.’ He saw Boutlon’s cocked eyebrow and stammered through his explanation, ‘Well… sometimes you forget to buy someone a birthday gift, it’s nice to have a back-up…’

Boulton sighed, donned his police cap and left to get in the response van. Carter started at the open door, punched himself in the head with the heel of his palm, and started after him.

By the time they arrived the local grunts had already done an adequate job of cordoning off the supermarket from the public, although a large crowd was starting to form. It could be that they can smell a story, thought Carter, or maybe it was the loud, blaring sirens and hamfisted way the local constabulary were assuring everyone that there was ‘nothing to see here’.

Boulton lifted the police tape for Carter, who laboured under the thin blue line. ‘Don’t say anything,’ Carter darted a look at Boulton, ‘about my weight.’ Boulton stifled a giggle.

‘All I’m going to say is it’s no coincidence that you’re the one assigned the supermarket murderer.’

‘Twat’, Carter muttered. They headed inside, Boulton’s shoulder still shaking with mirth. A visibly distressed junior officer met them at the door, his face completely blanched. ‘You alright lad?’ asked Boulton.

‘Fine. Yeah, cool. Just another day, isn’t it?’ said the officer, ringing his hands tightly. ‘Wanna see the remains?’

‘Well, I’m not too busy, I’ve got a few minutes. and this is exactly how I wanted to spend my Thursday afternoon.’ Boulton’s tone was flat with a soupcon of sarcasm. ‘Show us the crime scene.’ The young officer turned around and gestured at the whole store, his hands shaking.  ‘Alright you clever dick, show us the body.’

‘This way, sir,’ the younger man said. ‘We’re still looking for bits of him though.’

Boulton and Carter looked at each other.

‘How much of him is missing?’

‘Well,’ the copper said, swallowing, ‘his head was in the freezer section, one legs was in among the legumes, another amongst the instant custard, and his arms were with the bread rolls.’ He suddenly looked dejected. ‘So much wasted food.’

‘So what part’s missing?’ Boutlon chirped up, just as the rounded the corner and came face to face with the remains.

‘Let’s just say,’ said the copper, ‘I really wish for his sake that he was dead before that bit was cut off.’

‘Oh Jesus Christ. That poor bloke. Has anyone, umm, has anyone managed to locate his… meat and two veg?’ No one answered. None of the men dared to look each other in the eye. An awkward air descended upon the group.

And then, one sentence suddenly shattered the silence; Unexpected item in bagging area.

‘Do you scan it through as loose meats or a cucumber?’ said Boulton, who received a quick clip to the back of the head from Carter.

‘Shut up, Boulton.’ he said, angrily, before adding ‘it’s clearly a cream horn.’

The young officer threw up in his hat.


“Adam,” he asked, “you must

write a piece in a style you

really cannot stand.”


Adam thought a while

Before cracking what he’d do:

“I hate all Haikus.”


“How can you hate them?!”

the shocked group of artists asked.

Adam raised his hand,


“Look,” he calmed the crowd,

“They’re nothing special, are they?

It’s just some counting.”


“They are more than that:”

the horrified group proffered,

“Beauty and rhythm.”


“Beauty and rhythm?”,

he repeated, laughing hard,

“It’s maths and bullshit.”


“Only if you’re too

lazy to write them properly,

like the one we’re in.”


Adam went all pale.

“Stop it! You’ve made this meta.

They suck, and that’s that.”


The angry crowd roared,

Slowly walking towards the

outnumbered Adam.


“I think you’re just scared,”

One of the critics exclaimed,

“of an alien artform.


“You grew up engrossed

in a western culture and

so they’re different.


“The patterns must dance,

The rhythms waltz, spring and leap,

talking of nature.


“All you’ve done this far

is talk about your hatred,

whilst breaking the rules.”


“The rules?” Adam smirked.

“Rules oppose creative flow.

They restrict your work.”


The critic sighed loudly.

“That’s literally the point,

you colossal oaf.


“Without limits you

Struggle to produce work that

has any meaning.


“Artists from a range

of disciplines have all said

that limits help them.


“Some of the greatest

tv shows and films were born

From adversity.


“Budget restrictions

Helped ‘Withnail and I’ feel real;

they couldn’t go wild.


“Blackadder series 2?

No money. Almost no sets.

But it’s so funny.


“When you face constraints,

you must work differently

and you’ll overcome.


“When you learn to think

In a different way, you

get better results.”


He bowed to applause

From the haiku fans around.

“Touché” Adam said.


“Fine. You guys have won.

I will try to write Haikus

That follow the rules.”


The crowd then dispersed,

And Adam was left alone.

He started to write:


Sonic the hedgehog,

You are the best game ever.

It is snowing on mount fuji.


That was years ago,

And Adam has now learnt: don’t

Be a plagiarist

Holy Diver

“Noah, come in for your tea. It’s getting cold.”

Naamah leaned out of the window, yelling towards husband out in the garden. Well, to call it a garden would be kind. It had been a garden, it had been Naamah’s lovely, colourful garden full of flowers and vines and grasses, reaching up toward the heavens. But it was now covered by a large pile of wooden planks, iron ribbing, and machinery. Hunched over the bandsaw, Noah was pushing the remains of a birch tree through the blade.

He looked up, taking off his goggles. “What?!”, he shouted back toward the house.

“It’s your tea!” Naamah was getting sick of this game and pointed towards her ears. Noah cocked his head in confusion, before the meaning of the mime slowly weaned its way through his skull, and he took about his earplugs.

“Safety first!” He shouted back, cheerily. He popped his tools down on the bench, brushed the sawdust from his hands and skipped towards the house. He was enjoying having a project. Being a farmer was all well and good, keeping him busy through the summer months and kept his stores full for the winter, but it wasn’t that satisfying. But this, being asked by God himself to build an ark to save all the animals in the world? This was something different.

“S’on the table.” Naamah didn’t even look at him, just gesturing roughly in the direction of the stew. Noah sat down, spoon in one hand, knife in the other, and started to eat the coarse beef. Between bites, he began to whistle. Naamah hung her head and sighed.

He was so damn happy, she thought, so damn happy and so monumentally annoying.

Noah kept on whistling away, contently, apparently unaware that he was a perfect flattened fifth out of tune and was so engrossed in his own world he barely noticed Naamah sitting down at the table next to him.

“How’s it going?” she said, trying really hard to feign interest.

Noah put his spoon down and stretched in the chair, leaning back and pushing his arms up as far as he could. “Really well. The plan’s all done, nearly got all the planks cut. I reckon I’ll be ready to put the chassis together by Sunday, Monday at the latest.”

Naamah stared at him, unblinking. “And the animals?”

“Hmm?” Noah was still busy in his own head, picturing the completed ark with his mind’s eye.

“The animals. Weren’t you told-“

“Oh that. Yep, two of all the of them. That’s the plan.” He started whistling again.

“And how many,” said Naamah through gritted teeth, “have you got?”

The whistling stopped, and Noah flopped back to neutral, his arms hammering the table top. “Oh, you know, early days yet.”

“Noah, so help me God, how many animals have you got?!” Naamah was pointing at him now with a very accusative finger. An awkward silence fell over the kitchen table. Noah tried to look anywhere else but couldn’t break his wife penetrating, unblinking stare.

“I’ve got a couple worms and a ladybird.”

The awkward silence returned, which pleased the silence immensely even if it couldn’t express it.

“Two worms and a ladybird.” Naamah repeated.


“A single ladybird.” Naamah voice was growing colder.

“Well… you’ve got to start somewhere.” Noah explained.

“Dare I ask if you’ve even checked the sex of the worms, darling?” She spat the word darling out with pure venom. Noah flinched in his chair and looked to the floor.

“They… they didn’t fill out the questionnaire.”

Naamah sat staring at Noah, mouth agape. Her brain was desperately trying to understand what he husband had just said and apply any form of logic to it. After a few seconds it gave up and decided to instead to go on holiday to the Angry Islands. “What questionnaire?!”

Noah’s good mood had now entirely abated, replaced instead with dread. “I d-didn’t want to assume so I’ve written a q-questionnaire for the animals to fill out.” His confidence had gone the same way as his happiness, and he stumbled over the words as he say them.

Naamah planted her head in her hands and without even looking up, said “Noah. Darling. Do you know when God spoke to you?”

Noah lifted an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Was he speaking very loudly, from the heavens?” she asked.

“In a most biblical fashion, yes.” He nodded, enthusiastically.

“Are you sure he wasn’t talking to the Noah down the road? You know, the one with the big boat in his garden?”

Noah looked up and shook his head. “Nah. I mean, what are the odds of that.”

Naamah sighed heavily and looked out the window and up at the clouds.

“Looks like rain.”


Flesh and Bone

No one knew where she came from, but that she’d always been there. Sat, alone, atop the cliffs looking over the ocean. Never moving, never leaving, always staring out to sea, her eyes still on the horizon.

She saw ice ages come and go, carving great scars in the landscape as they split rock with their slow, beautiful power. The cliff face itself has moved miles without her ever noticing, the eroding winds and millennia passing in the blink of her eye. She saw the waters explode with life, from simple celled sludge to bright fish, plants, and reptiles. Then the land around, the rich green space, was suddenly full of animals, sniffing around her and taking her in. The reptiles became birds that filled the sky, giant creatures stalked the lands, small, speedy mammals bounced around her, and not before long tall bipeds began to walk the globe before her, conquering it’s four corners and claiming it as their own. And still she sat there, patiently waiting.

The bipeds formed tribes. The tribes formed together into nomadic clans. They settled down and built small farmsteads and villages. Those with the bigger farms made more food, more food lead to more power. These powerful villages attracted more and more people and grew into towns, the towns into cities with great walls and defences. The towns would fight against each other, throwing wave of men into battle, leaving dozens  dead. As the years flew past her, the towns grew bigger and so did the battles. The dead went from dozens to hundreds to thousands as wars were fought between towns, then counties, kingdoms and countries.

And still she sat, alone.

She started to garner attention from the people; amazed, horrified, curious by her presence. Queues of people started to form. Some were there to question her, poke her, take scientific reading and measurements, only to scuttle off and try and find some sort of logic from the results. Others came with garlands of flowers and tributes to lay at her feet, to treat her as a Goddess of a higher power, only to be met with silence. The rest came to announce their undying love; men, women, the young, the old, everyone from every background came to declare their boundless adoration and would leave in tears when she didn’t even move her eyes from the ocean to look at them. She’d just sit in silence, alone.

And so she stayed, silent, for almost all of time. And then one day she spoke.

There was no fanfare, no grand announcement. She didn’t even move to look at the one person within earshot, the one who would go off to tell the world of the development. Quietly, with a soft coo of a dove, it was a simple message.

“I’m worried it’s just something my soul needs.”

The man who heard it dropped his farming tools and ran. He ran through the nearest village, shouting the message to the heavens. He kept running, from town to town, carrying the message until he reached the seat of power and government. Presented to the heads of state, those with the most power, he recalled the tale with haste. After the routine scepticism had worn off, for these people had gone beyond the belief of magic and were now rational, the gathered themselves together along with the greatest scientists, doctors, philosophers, and scribes, a parade descended upon her position at the top of the cliff.

For years she repeated the sentence over and over again, as regular as clockwork. It was written down, the message analysed by top theologians, then the politicians, then the clergy. Everyone had their opinion on what it meant and why she was suddenly talking. Some said is was an ecological mantra, others decided it was a message from God, others built their own religion from it. But no one ever asked her.

One day, as is the way of these things, the World knew what she had been talking about. Reports came in that the woman on the cliff had stopped looking out to sea, and the cameras of the World raced to capture her new target. Night had fallen when the first lorries and reporters arrived and at first they saw nothing of any real difference. But as they got closer, sneaking through the crowds that had formed and passing under caution tape erected by the local forces, they trained their cameras on her. She was looking up at the stars, her eyes wide open, unblinking. And with the population of the planet watching she spoke fresh words for the first time in a century:

“I feel hurt and I feel shame. I am more than just these bones.”

And without saying another word, she stood. She’d never moved before, but it was executed with such grace and strength she looked like a ballerina limbering for a recital. She turned back to the baying crowd, smiled faintly, and fell forwards off the cliff edge.

There was no cry, no splash, no horror. Those watching felt a calmness fall over them, the weight of the world released from their shoulders. And everyone looked up as one, hoping to see her fly off into the night, triumphant. But nothing was there, just the darkness, stretching off into infinity.

People started to chatter and disperse, the cameras recorded their pieces and were packed away. The questions were asked, left unanswered and forgotten. But that wasn’t the end of her story. For those that stayed around, staring up to the skies and looking where she looked, something was happening. One by one, slowly and softly, the stars were slowly fading.

It started as a single, faint blur in the nights sky, just over the belt of Orion. But as the years ticked by the blur grew and became darker. And again, the greatest scientists, doctors, philosophers, and scribes all gave their theories and answers to those in charge, but this time their squabbling couldn’t help. They spent years forming committees, making plans and strategies, arguing over funding and fonts, contingency planning and emergency conferences, but they couldn’t stop the darkness.

And how we got here, my child. Sat alone in the darkness, freezing and dying. What did she want? No one still knows. Maybe she simply wanted to be loved, not idolised or worshipped, not fawned over and spoilt, but loved. Maybe she’s punishing us. She saw millions of years of this World as it grew, and it was only when she saw us did she ever cry out for help.

Whatever it was, we didn’t listen. And now we’re alone in the darkness, with you lying next to me. Just flesh and bone. Something my soul needs.

Based on Flesh and Bone by Keaton Henson.

To do one’s Duty

And without any warning, the shelling stopped. An eerie silence drifted in from No Man’s Land, highlighted by the occasional moan and racking coughs from those unfortunate to still be caught in the middle. The smell of cordite and gunpowder filled the air as a thick, white smoke rolled over the parapet and lay deep in the deserted trenches, pooling around the rotting corpses of men who had pushed their luck too many times before.

Deep in their hand-dug bunker, Private Dee lifted his head. Though the light was dim he could still see the silhouettes of the men he trusted with his life and held closer to his heart than any other soul. These 7 men, crouched and cold in a bunker made for 4, some holding their heads down, others trying desperately to sleep leaning against the walls, were who remained of the 1st Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. The famous Tigers, the regiment who had been through Sevastopol, Afghanistan, honoured for the Defence of Ladysmith, the pride of the East Midlands, found their remains sat in knee deep mud, sharing scraps of food with the rats.

“Look sharp, Dee.” Corporal Young barked. He was slowly rising to his feet, checking his watch. “Welshie, was that barrage ours or theirs?”

A shape in the corner turned and a head popped up from what looked like a dishevelled rag pile. “Depends, Sir. Did we lose anyone?” chirped Welshie in a voice almost unnervingly happy.

Young looked around, counting the men in the bunker with over the top miming. “…six, seven, eight. Yup, we’re all here”

“It was a Bosch shelling then. If it was from our sappers we’d have lost…” he looked about and threw a stick at a young, stocky looking man sleeping on the floor. “We’d have lost that bastard.” The stick bounced off the youths head and splashed into the mud. He moaned, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

“How do you do that, Daniels?” exclaimed Young, pushing him over with his foot. “Look, get up. You lot, form up outside, we’ve gotta have a chat.” He turned on his heel and ducked through the doorway and into the trench.

Dee stood up with great difficulty. His boots were full of water, his trousers caked in thick, heavy mud, and his rifle was slung over a shoulder. The Lee-Enfield Rifle was heavy, cumbersome, and “a piece of wooden bollocks” according to Welshie. But Dee disagreed. He’d had this rifle from the beginning of the war, carried it through training, through the journey across the channel, through Belgium to the front line. This was his rifle and he was fiercely loyal to it.

Although he was short of years, Dee had signed up at aged 18 back in 1914 and had quickly proved himself long in skill. A natural born rifleman don’t come about every day, his sergeant had told him during basic training, you’ve got a God-given talent. From sharp-shooting at targets in a field in Sussex, through to crawling on his stomach on the battlefields of Flanders, he’d developed an uncanny ability to predict the arc of the bullet in the air, counteracting the blow of the wind and elements upon the shot, picking the right time to fire. He knew his way around this rifle and how to most efficiently use it. The rifle butt was scored with over 2 dozen marks, one for each kill he’s seen through his sights. Every time he put the gun to this shoulder, he felt proud. For King and country, he muttered with every shot, for King and country.

He shrugged his way out of the bunker and fell in along the muddy trench wall. The other half a dozen or so men lolloped out into the open air, a few mockingly taking in a lungful or two, exclaiming how clear the sky was or how the air was sweet this time of year. Daniels was the last to follow, scratching his head, messing up his thick brown hair before planting his cloth cap back atop the scrawling, wiry pile.

“What time is it?” he yawned, a hand barely hiding the remains of his nap.

“Just before 7,” replied the corporal, “right lads, fall in properly at least.” There was little movement from the group, who continues to bustle about and joke with each other. They’d done this dozens of times now and the routine has instilled a lack of discipline. Young sighed, puffed up his chest and barked his orders at the gaggle before him.

“ ’shun!” The men, shocked, instantly snapped to attention. The reaction was now subconscious, almost Pavlovian. As much as they were surprised by their reactions, what was more shocking was Corporal Young raising his voice. He wasn’t the largest of officers, even his kindest friends would describe him as average build, and was very careful to rarely raise his voice. He didn’t like shouting, he was more of a people person, talking through problems and getting people to follow him through trust and loyalty. The only thing scared men know is how to turn their backs, as his Dad had always told him.

“At ease lads.” He said, taking off his hat and putting it on a rung of the trench ladder behind him. His shoulders were bowed with the weight of what was expected of him, and as he walked in front his men he scanned each of their faces. “That was our shelling going on all night, softening up the enemy line.” With every word the fixed his eyes with a pair facing him, and with every word their eyes looked more and more tired. “At 0730 we’re headed over the top. We’ve been ordered to move up toward the German line and take the salient.” His voice was flat and lacked any emotion. He’d been rehearsing the line all night, trying to make it sound like a raucous, victory speech, but he knew what he was actually doing.

Dee gulped, and raised a hand. Young ushered him to lower it and ploughed on with his pre-written talk. “Gentlemen, I’ll see you at the German line by 0800 hours. I’ve packed a few things to celebrate when we take the line,” he darted a look at Welshie, “some of them might be alcoholic.” Welshie pulled his face into a weak smile which slid away as quickly as it arrived. Young reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small, postcard sized photo and held it aloft for the men to see. “Remember why we’re doing this, men. Not for the King, not because we were ordered to, but for each other. This regiment has given me everything, you have given me strength when I had none, and I trust you all with my life. I owe you all everything, so it’s time for you all to reclaim the debt.”

He paused. The gaze from 7 pairs of eyes were focused on him, transfixed. “It’s been a pleasure, an honour, and a bloody brilliant laugh. You’ve got 30 minutes to get ready. Every one of us are going over that trench looking holy. So sort your hair out lad, shine your buttons, and load your damn gun Daniels. Dismissed.” He turned on heels and walked 20 yards down the trench, sat down, and starting to load his revolved.

The men slowly milled about, dispersing quietly to collect their equipment. Private Dee, with his perfectly kept rifle and kit, was all ready to go. He’d seen this before, the awkward silence before the charging, the shouting, the gunfire. He knew what to expect and ran the noises through in his memory; the gunfire, the screaming, the retreating, the heavy silence. But this time he wasn’t safely ensconced in his sniper’s position viewing it all through a telescopic sight.

The minutes ticked by slowly, and at 0728 the whole line was full of men, braced against the improvised trench ladders that lead up to no-man’s land.

“90 seconds.” Whispered Corporal Young. There was a whistle in his hand, an inch from him lips. He was trying and failing to conceal his nervous shaking, lips pursed ready to sound the order.

“45 seconds.” He croaked, his voice betraying him.

Dee took a deep breath in and held it, clutching his rifle tightly, finger hovering over the trigger. He was ready.

“Good luck gentleman.”

A piercing noise blew out and bodies dashed and scrambled over the parapet, slipping and struggling. Dee looked down at his rifle as the rest of the group charged ahead of him. For King and Country, he thought, and launched himself up the muddy bank.


A Better End.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“We’ve come this far. “

“That’s not answering the question, James.”

“And going James won’t change my mind.”

“Fine. Let’s go on then.”

The pair took the barricade away from the door and crept out into the night, leaving the safety of the barn.


It had been 6 days since they left the safety of the London Cordon and started off on foot to the midlands. They’d stuck to the old canal paths and bridleways that linked town to town to town on their journey, only coming across a few shuffling, groaning undead, each dispatched with an ease and boredom that but a few months ago would have horrified them.

This was James’s mission. He would have very happily gone journey alone, but he knew that it was better to take someone else; “it’s harder to be caught by surprise” he’d said. Most of the group refused to leave the cordon and he bore none of them grudges. London had been cleared by the military and the corpses disposed of. Food was being flown in daily and survivors shipped out. To leave the fortress city now was madness.

As he was passing through the checkpoint to head out, he felt someone grab his hand along side him. He’d jumped out of his skin and wheeled round, hand on the handle of his machete, only to find the warm, round face of Moeko. She just smiled back at him, squeezed his hand tighter, and started to walk, pulling him along as he collected his thoughts.


The pair slowly crept along a deserted lane, hunched low to the ground as not to create a hard silhouette against the night. They moved on for a few minutes before James raised his hand up, gesturing Moeko to stop. Before them sat a cottage, white paint flaking off in places, ivy slowly reclaiming the brickwork, and most of the windows smashed by looters and most importantly for James, the red front door was still closed.

“Is this the place?” Moeko broke the still night.

James gulped. “Yeah.” He whispered. “This is home.”

“And she’s definitely in there?”

“This is where we had to leave her.” James never took his eyes off the cottage, scanning the windows for the faintest sign of movement.

“That was a month ago, she could be anywhere!”

“She could barely walk for 5 minutes when she was normal what makes you think she’ll be able to do better, now she’s a…” He trailed off. It’s not that he was averse to saying the word, unlike some, but when it came to his family, he’d rather not admit what happened.

Moeko put an arm around him. “We’ll find her.” She got no reply but felt James’ shoulders deflate. “And you will do what you need to.”


An awkward silence fell about them. The silence was still unusual to the survivors. There was no sound of traffic, no low hum of the electricity, no buzz of the phonelines. Just the wind through the trees and the rustling of animals in the undergrowth.

James had played it over in his head hundreds, possibly even thousands of times. It was always preceded by a short tussle, a burst of sudden violence and then it was done. No time to think or second guess himself, just a single clean blow to the skull. But he hadn’t counted on the feeling he’d get by going back home.

“This is the house I was brought up in, Moeko. That window?” He pointed up to one of the few intact panes on the first floor, “That’s my room. I had my first kiss in there.” He giggled to himself. “In fact, I think we’re sat pretty much where I took Fran to third base.” Moeko punched his arm playfully.

“Ew, shut up!” She hissed. “I’ve come with you for a reason, and it wasn’t to sit where you got fingered.”

They collected themselves, shoulders silently shaking as they held in giggles. Once the fit passed James let out an almighty sigh and started toward the door. He progressed slowly, carefully plotting where to plant his feet, making sure not make any noises that might give them away. The pair crossed the small lawn and made their way to the door. James slowly tried the knob. Locked. Good, he thought, hope that means she’s inside.

“Locked?” Moeko said, quietly. James nodded, and put a finger to his lips. He reached into his pocket and took out a key. He slipped it into the lock and turned. A faint ‘click’ emanated from the mechanism and James let out another, deep sigh.

He stalled, his hand just inches from the door knob. It was all going far too well, and he wasn’t very keen on going beyond the doorstep. Moeko reached around him and pushed the door ajar. “As you said, we’ve come this far”. She put a hand on James’ shoulder, and the pair stepped inside.

The air inside was stale. Dust hung thickly and the smell of mould was underlying. As they stepped into the hallway and disturbed the delicate balance of the air flow, another smell hit them. It was one that they had gotten disturbingly familiar with over the past few weeks. The unmistakable reek of old blood and rot. The stench of death.

Moeko immediately put her hand to her nose, but James remained stoic, following the scent around the hall, quietly trying to find the source. He pushed open the door to the kitchen, it’s surfaces now dusty and bare, the cupboards all flung open and contents now missing, but nothing else. He backed out, his brow furrowed, and tried the lounge.

The once white door was now grey with age, and as he went for the handle, he spotted browning spots around the brass knob, and a small smear on the doorframe. He looked up to Moeko, and slowly nodded, his face dropped. He pulled his machete out of its sheath and held it ready in his right hand. Moeko took out her heavy iron wrench. It was dextrous and weighed enough to be awkward, but the copper coloured marks that stain the tool were proof enough of its value as a weapon. James took a big breath in and barged through the door.

The instant the door opened the flies took off. Hundreds of big, black insects flew straight for the open door and straight into James’ face. Moeko shielded her eyes and grabbed the back of James’ coat, making sure he didn’t make any sudden, rash actions. She could hear James coughing but little else over the roar of their wings. After what felt like hours the flies dissipated and now all she could sense was the overpowering stench of death. She pulled James behind her and raised her weapon, ready to strike.

Sat on the sofa was an old woman, wearing a beige cardigan, chinos, and slippers. One of her hands was rested neatly in her lap, the other hung over the sofa arm. Moeko heard James recover and turned around to face him, her face looked relaxed. “Well,” she said, “I think you wasted your journey.” James looked around her and saw the body of his mum. He rushed over to her, machete still clasped in his hand. He looked over the body quickly, examining her. “She doesn’t look like one of them to me.” Moeko announced.

James knelt down and said nothing. He put his knife down and picked up the revolver off the floor. “She isn’t one” he said as tears began to well in his eyes.

From where she stood, Moeko hadn’t noticed anything peculiar about the corpse. But as she walked into the room the gunshot wound was obvious to see. “Shit.”, she muttered.

“She said she wanted to stay behind,” James’ voice was cracking, “I thought she just wasn’t able to make the journey.”

“She wasn’t” Moeko said, calmly, lifting up the walking cane leaning against the chair, “it was her choice to stay.”

“I know.” All the colour had gone from James’ voice.

“And she didn’t suffer.”

“No.” This time her barely even got the words out. As tears began to flow down his cheeks he reached out and grabbed his mum’s hand. It was cold and stiff, like holding a statue. Moeko saw a quizzical look cross his face, and he pulled back his hand. In his fingers he held a small envelope.

“For you?” She asked, trying to pump as much sympathy into her voice as she could.

James nodded, and tucked the letter into his coat as he stood up. Wiping away a tear, he quietly got to work.


“Feel better?” Moeko asked, the fire making shadows dance across her face.

“Not really.” A pause. “But I’m glad it’s done.” The cottage roof now caught alight and crackled. “We’d best get moving. It’ll be morning soon”

A chat between old friends

“Come in”, he barked, replying to the 3 short knocks at the door.

Nothing. Then 3 more knocks.

“Come in!” This time he punctuated the sentence with a light thump of the oak war desk that stretched out before him. It had a large, highly detailed map of the globe painted on the surface, tiny flags dotted about, highlighting the major cities. As the slammed his fist down, he crushed the south-island of New Zealand.

The door remained steadfastly still. “I said ‘come in’!” Both hands slammed down on the table and for the first time, Satan lifted his head up from his work. He walked out from behind the desk, his cloven hooves clacking against the hold, white marble floor, and headed toward the door. Just as he reached out for the handle, the door opened. Satan straightened and looked up into the eyes of his visitor. And instantly felt annoyed.

“Ah, yes, do come in. Drink?” He said, calmly, gesturing to a small pewter table that materialised by a small office chair on the near side of the desk. “We have brandy, whiskey, Rubicon, anything you need.” Satan wondered casually back to his chair, a large, imposing leather wingback, pausing only to brush some dust off his 3 -piece suit. He didn’t have to wear clothes, being an angel[1], but he liked a good 1930s style pin-stripe, finely tailored of course. It just added a certain sense of class.

“I’m fine… just like every other time you’ve ever asked.” Sighed the guest, as he settled himself down into his less than dignified seat, tucking his great white wings in behind him as he did so.

Gabriel was the physical and aesthetic opposite to Satan. He was tall, lean, with cropped blonde hair. He wore a white linen short and trousers, his tanned feet bare. He stretched out, his back popping quietly as he twisted. “So,” he carried on, “what do you want this time, Satan?” He spat the fallen angel’s name with poison.

“Oh, nothing, not really. You know me, Nige, always one for a chat. How’s life up there?” Satan put his head in his palms, elbows resting on the desk. He wobbled his head mockingly from side to side, “Or are you still being a wet blanket of a demi-God?”

Gabriel shuddered, closing his eyes briefly. “My name is Gabriel, not Nigel! You know this Satan-“

“Sure, that’s what the book says.” Scoffed Satan, “It says lots of things though, doesn’t it? You’re only Gabriel because God thought your bits weren’t holy enough. ‘Ergh, Nigel isn’t really very angelic, is it Nige? That’s what he said, didn’t he?” Satan was beaming. He’d missed Gabriel since their last chat, there was no one who he really liked mocking as much. “Where did the big guy get your name from again?”

“Satan, I’m not playing your little games, not this ti-“ But, alas, yet again Satan cut him off.

“I remember now!” Gabriel put his face in his palm, bracing for the worst. Satan paused for dramatic effect, grinning. “He must really have a thing for Welsh gymnasts, mustn’t he?”

“Now look here!” Gabriel erupted from his chair, thundering with an outstretched finger toward Satan, who put up his hands, oh so innocently. “I come down for these meetings to get an update on how everything is going on down here, not for you to mock me!”

Satan didn’t move an inch or break eye-contact, just raised a small crystal tumbler to his mouth and imbibed of the Mendis Coconut Brandy. He hated it, it tasted foul, sharp, but didn’t dare show it in his eyes. As he lowered the glass he sighed, “Fine. I have all the figures ready for you here.” He reached down and opened a small draw in the desk and tossed across a small file to the seething angel opposite.

Gabriel furrowed his brow. The file was thin, very thin, almost worryingly so. Gabriel reached down and flicked open the file.

There was a single slip of paper inside.

“What is this?” Gabriel stammered, picking the paper up. “It’s blank?”

Satan slowly stood up, his eyes darkening, his hands behind his back. “No, it’s not. Turn the paper over.”

Gabriel looked up at Satan. “Even so, one side of A4 is hardly enough to hold all Hell’s arrival names, let alone the raw data. And what about pivot tables? They’ve got to-.”

Satan slammed his hand on the table. “Turn the paper over!” he roared, his voice tinged with pain and fire. “Now!”

Gabriel jumped, his hands shaking. “Fine, calm down man!” He flipped the paper over. Then dropped it onto the floor. It gently floated down onto the floor, text up. In clear, bold letters it said only 5 words:

I know what you’re planning

Gabriel slowly collapsed into the chair behind him, his face completely white, his eyes dull, his mouth agape.

The silence was long, awkward, and Satan drank it in. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and let out a very happy sigh. “So, Nigel, I have a question for you….”

Gabriel looked up, his face full of fear. “…yes?”

“Does God know you’re planning a rebellion?” No reply. “Do you remember what he did to the last angel who tried one?” Still Gabriel didn’t even move. “Do you know what he’d do to you if I told him?”

“What… what do you want me to do?”

“Simple. I want to be an angel again. I want my second chance. And you’re going to help me get my wings back.” He smirked, happy. “Drink?”


[1] Angels are completely asexual, lacking any genitalia at all. Satan had chats with God about it, even just getting a base model to use at weekends, but their relationship had soured before they’d beaten out the fine details


Ford Cortina MkV TF 1600e (with optional time rotor)

The bonnet of the car was open and Nigel was hip-deep inside the belly of the beige Ford Cortina, “a true classic” as he always insisted no matter how many times his friends called it “a colossal pile of shit”. He’d owned her for nearly 18 years now and had spent more time underneath than he had driving her. “Essential repairs are just that on a model this old”, he’d said to anyone unfortunate enough to listen.

But for the last few years he’d barely left his beloved’s side. The Cortina was different. It didn’t purr like an engine should more roared like a waterfall. It’s dials didn’t tick the right way and, most bizarrely of all for an ‘80s Ford, there was thing on it that was always perfectly reliable. The clock.


Leofrick wiped his dirty hands on his trousers. It did little to clean them due to how much grime was ingrained on the fabric, but it made him feel cleaner even if it did nothing else. He leant on his tiller. It had been quite the uneventful day. The sun beat down, the ground got worked, time carried on. He spied the inn just over the way and licked his lips. Best part of the job, he thought, half pay in cider. Off in the distance a church bell chimed 4 times. 2 hours to go.


Nigel had taken it apart on more than one occasion to see why this clock was so special, and every time the workings had been different. When he’d first taken the face away it had been constructed of delicate brass cogs and gears, all ticking away in perfect, mechanical rhythm. Months later, when he wanted to rescue the contraption from it’s otherwise knackered home, the gubbins had evolved, somehow. Microchips, cables, solder and quartz hummed from the dashboard, an ultramodern, ultrasmooth motion that wasn’t there before. Nigel had pondered this for days, probing his wife (stop it) as to whether she’d updated the car as a birthday present. Her response was that he needed to get a life and a job.

Finally, when curiosity had gotten the better of him once more, he prized by the latch and took a look inside the workings. This time, he got the biggest shock of all.


Leo wondered to the edge of the field. His day’s work was done, and now he could relax.

And then there came about a rather peculiar noise…


A small, blue, swirling vortex yawned open before him, only a few inches wide and it’s terrible beauty ached in his heart. A light wind whipped up around him as the span, a perfect cyclone inside the small metal casing of the clock. A small bolts of lightning arced through the mysterious spinning cloud and met his hand. He yelped and dropped the clock to the ground, the lighting continuing to shower out of the face and connecting with the body of his car. The room buzzed with a faint hiss of static electricity as the lightning dissipated.

He picked the clock up again, studying it’s mysterious workings. In for a penny, he thought, and extended a finger towards the spinning mass. As the digit pushed through the swirling smoke and haze, it felt welcoming, warm, like being slowly lowered into a warm bath. There was no friction, no feeling, just a warm glow. He dove further, his whole hand, now up to the wrist, the elbow. The mouth of the chasm grew as he pushed further inside. It was at this moment he felt a breeze on the other side, could sense his fingers blindly running through grass. He pulled his arm free. And hatched an idea.

Since that moment he’d worked on nothing else. He’d tried different methods of widening the vortex as far as he could, had tinkered with ways of channelling the blue lightning away from the ‘wormhole’ and leaving it open for traversing.

He didn’t want to simply walk through this new gateway, he wanted to arrive in style.

He slammed the bonnet shut of the Cortina. She was working perfectly, the engine quietly ticked over with such grace and pomp you could well be within your right to assume she’s just rolled off the production line, but only if you forgot that this was made in the ‘80s at Longbridge where ‘being new’ was no guarantee that it would work properly.

Nigel got behind the wheel. His heart was racing as he flicked the switch on the seat next to him. With a bright flash the wall of the shed ripple and span, papers and manuals on the shelving were whipped up and thrown across the way, as the vortex burst into life.

It doesn’t take much energy to depress an accelerator, but it took everything Nigel had to press down on that pedal, pausing only to start his camera.

“This is it,” he whispered, “after all this time, this is it…”


The tiller looked up in confusion. A low, thunderous growl was coming from somewhere, but it’s origin was either hidden or very small, far too small to make such a great cacophony of noise. He lifted a foot. Nope, he pondered, not comin’ from there.

A sudden blinding light had Leofrick throwing his hands to his face, trying to desperately shield his eyes from this unnatural glow! He cried out and fell backwards in panic, scrabbling in the dirt to get away, the roar of the beast growing as it got closer, and closer. And then…

“It worked! Oh wow, it worked!” Nigel hit the bonnet of his car with glee. He caught sight of Leofrick on the ground, the colour drained from his face. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you, please let me help you up!” Nigel ran to aide his fallen friend, and bundled him to his feet.

“Thank you, sir. That was quite the entrance.”

“No need for thanks! It works, I’m just so glad it work!” Nigel embraced the still visibly confused farmer, who simply stood there unflinching. “I do have a question for you though…. I’m sorry I don’t know you’re name?”

“Leo. Leofrick.”

“Well Leo Leofrick, I have a simple question for you. Where are we?”

“You’re stood about a 3 mile walk east of Paddington”, Leo gestured behind him, “and another 5 miles over that rise is the famous city of London.”

Nigel’s mouth fell open. Then he laughed. “London? You’re joking!”

“No one jokes about London, sir.”

“But where are the buildings? The trains? The roads for pete’s sake!?”

And then a penny dropped in Nigel’s head. “What year is this?”

Leo put his head in his hands. All he wanted was a simple evenings walk home and a stiff drink, but now he was dealing with a congenital idiot. “It’s the year of our Lord AD 1714, black Death is on the decline, and the sun is still burning nice and hot”

Nigel dramatically fell against the side of his car. “Fuck off! It travels in time too!”

Leo looked at the car and started noticing a few things he recognised.

“Sir, your cart? Where is the horse?”

“Oh this, it’s not a cart it’s a car.”

Leo stared at Nigel blankly.

“A horseless carriage. We all have them ‘when’ I’m from. “ Nigel giggled, “but mine is special. This travels in time, apparently!” And Nigel burst into uproarious laughter. But Leo was completely transfixed by the Cortina.

“So this moves? On its own? No horse or man to push it? That’s incredible!”

Nigel’s laughter tailed off. “Well, yes? I guess. But you don’t get it – it also travels in time’

“Well obviously. I can see that. But there’s no horse?! How!”

Nigel was starting to get angry. “I know you don’t understand, but this doesn’t just move. It also-”

“Yeah, yeah, time travel. But you clearly can’t get back” Leo said, touching the metal of the bonnet and smelling the exhaust fumes in the air.

“What?” Nigel squeaked.

“Well, it’s quite apparent you can’t go back. Otherwise everyone would be travelling through time willy-nilly and we’d have seen loads of you in these ‘cars’, was it? And yours is the first I’ve ever seen.”

“…yes…” The truth was starting to dawn.

“So you obviously can’t get back to tell anyone, can you? It’s just logical.” Leo didn’t even look up as he spoke, he was too busy tapping the ticking radiator grill.

“I’m…I’m stuck here?”

“Seem to be,” Leo said cheerfully “unless…”

Nigel shot toward Leo. “Yes what? Unless what?”

Leo stood up tall, tapping a long index finger on the blue Ford badge. “There’s really no horse?! That’s amazing!” he exclaimed, smiling ear to ear in amazement.

Nigel’s vision became spotted with large, black smudges, as he keeled over, fainting. He was out.

Leo shrugged, and opened the door.  Sitting in the driver’s seat he moaned quietly – the interiors springs making this the comfiest chair in the universe.